Ken Foree on Dawn of the Dead and being a horror fan
Veteran character actor Ken Foree has deep roots in Denver. He graduated from a small Catholic high school here, where he was an all-city, all-state basketball player for two years -- "arguably the best player in the state of Colorado," he says -- and his appearance at this year's Mile High Horror Film Festival is something of a homecoming. "I'm terribly excited," he says. "It's been a long time since I went back."
Ken Foree will forever be Peter to generations of zombie fans
Denver's horror fans should be excited, too: Foree played Peter, one of the leads in the seminal zombie classic Dawn of the Dead, a featured film at Mile High Horror. It's showing Friday, October 4 at the Alamo Drafthouse, with Foree and fellow castmate Tom Savini -- who also provided the film's effects -- in attendance for a pre-screening Q&A. Before the big night, we caught up with Foree to find out his feelings on the horror genre, what it was like to work with George Romero and what he's up to these days.
Westword: You got your start acting off Broadway in New York. How did you get into film work from there?
Ken Foree: I auditioned for a episodic [television show] and got a guest-starring role and that was it. That was the beginning. I did another film, which was The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings with Richard Pryor, James Earl Jones and Billy Dee Williams. That was out of New York. Between these films, I would do a play here and there. Eventually I had Dawn of the Dead and that was it. I came out for Dawn of the Dead and that got me to California.
How did you end up in Pittsburgh, doing Dawn of the Dead?
Well, I was cast out of New York. We were performing Uncle Tom's Cabin -- I think it was the third or second time that it had ever been done since Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the novel -- and one of the actors told me they were auditioning in midtown if I wanted the information, and said, "They're looking for somebody that looks like you." I said, "That sounds like a good idea, I'll do that."
He gave me the information, I took the subway the next day and went up to Richard Rubinstein's office. I had no idea. I was a fan of Night of the Living Dead, I knew Duane Jones. I didn't know these were the same individuals who had created Night of the Living Dead. I was cast in New York, went to Pittsburgh a month later, and started shooting.
How was working with George Romero?
Aw, I hated his fucking guts. [Laughs.] No, I'm kidding. George was a teddy bear. He's a nice guy, good director. Some directors are not as collaborative as others. You kind of want that to happen if it's possible. Some guys, not all, but some [directors] are traffic cops. They just say, "Move here. Move over there." But George was collaborative, and so was Rob Zombie. Nothing but nice things to say about both of them.
I saw it a week ago. I hadn't seen Dawn of the Dead in, hmm... a year. I was very afraid, because there was an audience involved, and I was going to talk to them about it afterward. I said, "Oh, my god, it's going to be so dated and campy. It's not going to be good. I'm going to have to sneak out of here with my coat over my head." [Laughs.] But we sat there and watched it, and it still holds up. I was in entertained, the rest of the audience was entertained. Still, after 35 years, the film still entertains someone like me who's seen it a hundred times -- not that many, but certainly enough times. I was pleasantly surprised at the reaction from the audience and my own reaction.
When you were filming Dawn of the Dead, did you have any idea it was going to be such a phenomenon?
No. No clue. I thought it was going to be a fun job, but then it would be over and that it would get distribution overseas, but not here.
So you weren't even sure it was going to be seen in the U.S.? That's not a bad thing to be wrong about.
Exactly. It's not the first, and if you talk to my wife, there's a long list of things. I was dead wrong about that, as I was about rap music. I didn't think it would last, "It's a fad." Wrong again! I'm the wrong person to go to Vegas with, certainly. Don't let me bet on any horses. I'm just not the guy to select.