An Interview with Ken Foree
He’s fought zombies, pineal gland induced demons, Leatherface and even
(horrors!) precocious tweens. He’s genre favorite Ken Foree, best known
for his iconic performance as Peter in the George Romero classic “Dawn
of the Dead.” His long, eclectic career also includes roles in John
Badham’s “Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor King’s” (his debut),
Sandra Bernhard’s performance film “Without You I’m Nothing” and campy
‘80’s cult favorite “Phantom of the Mall.” More recently he’s won a
whole new generation of fans as the dad in the popular Disney Channel
show “Kenan & Kel.” This year finds the busy actor back to his genre
roots with a role in Rob Zombie’s eagerly awaited follow up to “House
of 1,000 Corpses,” “The Devil’s Rejects.” Mr. Foree spoke with
Monster’s That Snow Ghost about his long career, his relationship with
“Night of the Living Dead” star Duane Jones and his collaboration with
an altogether different kind of Zombie.
SG: Today all roads lead to Mr. Foree. “Land of the Dead” started
today, which I saw this morning.
KF: “Land of the Dead” started today?
SG: Yes, and your trailer for “Devil’s Rejects” played during the
KF: So, “Land of the Dead” opened in theaters today? Oh, I guess they
had the premiere last night then in Pittsburg?
SG: My film companions were very jealous when I told them that I was
going to be interviewing you right after the film! It is truly an honor
and we are very happy that you’ve taken the time to talk with us.
KF: I’m very flattered, thank you.
SG: I recently read and that you were in the National Black Theater in
New York with Duane Jones. You were friends with the star of “Night of
the Living Dead!”
KF: Yeah, Duane and I went back a long time. You know, when “Night of
the Living Dead” first was released, I think in ’68, I saw it playing
on a marquee and I saw Duane’s picture all over the front of the
theater, I said, ‘My God!’ So I ran up to the theater where we (worked)
and I said, ‘Duane, you know you’ve got a movie going, it’s all over
the place… and hey, what is this about?’ And he said, ‘Shhh! Quiet, I’m
trying to keep it quiet.’ I don’t know if Duane really realized the
impact of the film.
SG: Probably not at that time…
KF: I don’t think so. Plus there was a lot of flack for those kinds of
films back in those days. You know not everyone was a fan, a lot of
people thought that it was in poor taste. You had to deal with a lot of
people with their noses turned up towards “Night of the Living Dead.”
It got a great release and, of course, it had legs and in my estimation
was a great film. And I’m sure that Duane in ’68 with everything else
going on… Nixon, the Watergate scandal, Bobby Kennedy was killed. It
was a very dramatic era in history and I think that with “Night of the
Living Dead” coming out he might have taken a lot of flack about that
so he was trying to keep it quiet.
SG: Did you ever get to speak with Mr. Jones about your involvement
KF: You know, I don’t really remember if Duane and I talked… because we
had lost contact with each other. Between “Night” and “Dawn” we lost
SG: Do you remember where you were when you heard about his death?
(Jones passed away in 1988.)
KF: Yes. I was in New York again shooting a film in Jersey. I was
staying at the Ramada on 8th Avenue and 50th Street. I had a flight out
in about 3 hours out of LaGuardia and I just took a walk around
Broadway to see the sights one more time. I ran into a young lady in a
tie-dye t-shirt handing out flyers and she looked at me and said
‘You’re Ken Foree aren’t you?’ It was during a time when it still kind
of shocked me when people would say ‘You’re Ken Foree!’ And I said
‘yeah’ and she said, ‘Oh, I’m with National Black Theater and you know
we’re very proud of you.’ And I said, ‘Oh great, how is everybody up
there?’ And I mentioned a few names and we talked for a minute on the
street corner. And she said, ‘What are you doing this afternoon?’ And I
said, ‘Well I’m leaving in about 2 hours. I’m flying back to
California.’ And she said, ‘Oh, that’s too bad because we are having
Duane Jones’ wake today.’ And that’s how I found out.
SG: From his audio interview on the Elite Entertainment edition of “Night” he
comes across as a really intelligent, articulate man. An actor very
connected to his craft.
KF: Oh my God, yes! He was a very well educated man. He comes from a
family of professionals and upper-crust, definitely upper-crust.
Something I certainly wasn’t. I had one of the more enjoyable times of
my life with Duane Jones. I have very fond memories of Duane and he was
very kind to me and very generous. That’s why whenever I do a lecture
or a Q&A… or just get up to talk in front of an audience I always
mention Duane Jones. Had it not been for him and his heroic stand
against the zombies… I think all of America, the entire world, cried
one tear for him when he was shot at the last moment as he peaked
through the door.
SG: You were rightly given a cameo in the “Dawn” re-make last year.
What did you think of the Zack Snyder “re-imagining?”
KF: I thought it was a good film. I thought it was a good horror film,
I thought it was a tribute to us. I thought there were some really
great special effects in it. The acting was good. It was different. I’m
kind of wild about directing and shots. The two helicopter shots, the
crane shots where the tanker is plowed into by the car and it explodes
in the beginning of the film - and the end of the film when they come
out of the mall with the bus and they are surrounded by all the
zombies. I thought those were two very nice shots.
SG: James Gunn’s script seemed very respectful to the original. I
thought the best part of the movie was your cameo where you get to say
KF: I was happy to say the line and I… really wasn’t going to do the
film. I went to Indiana for about two months laying around with my
family and my mother feeding me and just having a great time and going
to barbecues… It was just wonderful but I blew up to about 360 pounds.
So my agent called and said, ‘We better do this one, this cameo.’ And
so I get on the plane to Toronto and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God.’ I was
puffy… When they released it you saw just my face. (Laughing) But the
director’s cut comes out they’ve got this big huge Pillsbury doughboy
like-ish character sitting there spitting at people! So I said the
line, but I would have liked to have lost about 60-70 pounds before I
SG: I think you were the only one who noticed.
KF: Yeah, you’re more critical of yourself.
SG: You’ve worked with several well-respected directors; John Badham,
Phillip Kaufman (“The Wanderers”), even Richard Pryor (“Jo Jo Dancer”).
Several of them, Romero included, were working with scripts that they
wrote themselves. Do you find auteurs to be more involved with the
actor’s process? As opposed to a director coming in and directing
somebody else’s work?
KF: It’s not more involved… I think that (for) the writer/director, if
a line doesn’t work he has to dismiss that line and his thought process
for creating that line. Where a director won’t have to think about
that, he says, ‘this line doesn’t work, let’s change it, let’s move
another line in.’ Whereas a writer/director… there may be some
conflicts there you know. ‘How do I make this work? I’ve got a little
more invested in this.’ I thought that Richard (Pryor) was very
cautious, very protective about “Jo Jo Dancer.” I thought that
certainly George (Romero) had all his apples invested in “Dawn” when I
worked with him. I thought that John Badham… you know, the writer was
there. All John had to worry about was directing a cast of thousands. I
do think there is slightly more pressure, slightly more of a risk. At
least I would imagine you’ve got your head really on the block if
you’re a writer and director. I mean you get it from both sides there
you know… I wouldn’t have many restful nights if I knew I had written a
project and was now directing it.
SG: You’ve appeared in several popular genre films in addition to
“Dawn.” Stuart Gordon’s “From Beyond,” Jeff Burr’s “Leatherface,”
“Phantom of the Mall…”
KF: “Phantom of the Mall,” oh my God… with the guy from “Silk
Stockings,” uh Rob Estes and Pauly Shore - who else was there? Morgan
Fairchild. A lot of people I knew on that set; the stunt coordinator,
heck there were a few guys who were security guards on my team that I
had worked with before. I was an interesting shoot.
SG: In casting were they specifically thinking about you and your
association with the Monroeville Mall? Was Peter still fresh on their
KF: (Laughing) No… you’d think they would have tied that together,
‘Let’s get Ken Foree!’ Not a chance.
SG: As an actor what is it about the horror genre that attracts you to
KF: I am a fan, you know. I grew up with the ‘scare me to death’ kind
of chills every Friday night on Chiller Theater or whatever the Friday
night scary movie series was in my home town. I grew up with that…
wanting to be afraid and terrorizing my brothers.
SG: So, what’s your favorite horror movie?
KF: My favorite horror movie… The smart thing would be to say “Dawn of
the Dead!” You know that is one of my favorites. It surprises me that I
can still sit and watch it… I could throw “Night of the Living Dead” in
there as one of my favorite horror films. “Alien” was a great horror
film. I liked the “Exorcist” and “The Omen.” The list goes on and on…
SG: I had to ask…
KF: And hopefully… you haven’t seen the “Devil’s Rejects” yet have you?
SG: Haven’t seen it yet.
KF: They had a review in Daily Variety yesterday on it.
SG: And how did that go?
KF: I think this person is not really a fan.
SG: (Laughing) Did they mention you?
KF: They did mention me, yes.
SG: Well, I’m sure it was positive.
KF: (Laughing) Uh, I guess… I guess it’s positive. As a matter of fact
I have it right here. I’ll read what they said. I wont read the entire
review because it’s very… toxic.
SG: Horror films aren’t generally reviewed well in the “legit” press.
KF: Yes, especially when you’ve got a Rob Zombie film. He does “House
of 1,000 Corpses” and he comes back with something like this. (Looking
over the review.) What do they say… ‘A solid Ken Foree...’
SG: Well that’s good.
KF: Yeah, that’s good.
SG: How did you hook up with Rob Zombie? I’m sure he was a fan…
KF: Rob contacted my agent, sent a script and asked if I would like to
be a part of this. I did read it, I told him I’d like to be a part of
it and we took a meeting and we spent 20 – 30 minutes together. We knew
immediately that we liked each other a lot and this was going to be a
fun and creative experience - and it was.
SG: Were you familiar with “House of 1,000 Corpses?”
KF: No. The last thing I said to him before I left that meeting was,
‘Hey Rob, I’m going to go get “House of 1,000 Corpses” and look at it
right now.’ And he said, ‘Don’t do it. I don’t want you influenced by
it because the two films are nothing alike. “Devil’s Rejects” just has
cross over characters from “House”’ so he wouldn’t let me see it.
SG: Now you play Captain Spaulding’s (Sid Haig’s) brother in this,
Charlie Altamont? He’s a, how do I put this, a pimp?
KF: Well… that’s what he ends up being. He gets involved in all kinds
of businesses and he’s not very good at any of them. He’s like one of
those people that succeeds and fails constantly. Charlie kinds of stays
at one plateau… he just keeps bringing more projects up to the plate
and they never go anywhere. And he loses money or ends up in jail and
he’s right on the razor’s edge of criminal behavior. Charlie started
off with a frontier resort town and it didn’t quite work so he turned
it into a frontier “whore town” and he’s no better a pimp than he was a
resort owner. So that’s Charlie Altamont, kind of a crazy guy, you know
a fun guy… but a sleazy character. (Laughing) Nobody you’d want to
bring home to momma. You’re not introducing your sisters to him and
you’re not bringing him to Sunday dinner.
SG: It’s got a huge cult pedigree; not only Bill Mosely and Haig, but
Michael Berryman, Steve Railsback and P.J. Soles. And aren’t you
working directly with Deborah Van Valkenburgh from “The Warriors?”
KF: Yeah, I’d never worked with Deborah before but she certainly was
fun to work with on this. It’s got a heck of a cast. I didn’t really
have scenes with everyone… But they have Matthew Mcrory, E.G. Daily,
Geoffrey Lewis. Leslie Easterbrook is in it, she was a lot of fun,
Priscilla Barnes, she was very good. Good performances, good people in
SG: From what I’ve seen, Zombie certainly has captured that early ‘70’s
drive-in movie aesthetic.
KF: It certainly does speak of the ‘70’s and it is going to take a lot
of people back I think.
SG: Could you tell us a little about this new script that you are
writing yourself? Is it a genre film?
KF: It is. It’s called “Dead and Alive” and it is in the horror genre.
What can I tell you about it? It’s my attempt at a zombie film.
SG: So you’ll be starring in it as well?
KF: I’ll be in it, but there will be other people. I’m still in the
process of writing it… I have to finish this thing before the month is
out so I’ve got a week. People are pressuring me to get it written
because they feel they can get financing for it.
SG: That’s great news! I’ve heard that you might be directing it as
KF: I’m not quite sure yet. I’m not quite sure if I’ll direct it.
SG: Well we hope you’ll give us another interview when you’ve completed
that because Ken Foree in a new zombie movie is kind of a big deal.
KF: Absolutely! That will be huge. Especially if it’s well written.
SG: How can it not be? Thanks so much for your time Mr. Foree!
KF: Thank you.
Mr. Foree can be seen in theaters everywhere this July 22 when “Devil’s
Rejects” is released nationally. For more on Ken and his upcoming
projects, visit www.kenforee.com.