In the 2010 remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 horror film “The Crazies,” actor Larry Cedar plays Ben Sandborn, a pitchfork-toting high school principal who is one of the residents infected with a chemical that has seeped into the town’s water supply. Once infected, the townspeople transform into zombie-like killers devoid of any conscience.
Cedar, 55, who has been in the film and TV industry for over 30 years, has starred in such movies and TV shows as “Deadwood” and “Hollywoodland.” In one of his most famous roles, which most people will not recognize him from since he was in costume, Cedar starred in 1983’s “Twilight Zone: The Movie” where he played The Creature on the wing of the airplane who causes actor John Lithgow some serious mental anguish.
During an interview with me, Cedar talked about his gory scenes in “The Crazies, what he thinks about being on the cover of the DVD, and why he personally feels zombies will always have a leg up (albeit a dead one) on vampires and werewolves.
You’ve been in this industry for over 30 years and have starred in a number of different horror projects in that time. What are your thoughts on how studios are revisiting many of the old classic horror movies and remaking them for a new generation?
I think it’s terrific, but a real high wire act. Audience expectations run high. Not only do they demand that the original theme be respectfully preserved, but that the new incarnation takes the whole concept to the “next level.” For filmmakers, it’s do or die so to speak. If it all works out, everyone goes home happy. If not, you’ve sullied an icon and there’ll be hell to pay.
What was it about the character of Ben Sandborn in “The Crazies” that you found intriguing?
How slowly he moves in the morgue. Director Breck Eisner made a point of dialing me down almost to the point of stillness, which gives the scene its uber-eerie vibe. But the really interesting thing about Ben – and all “the Crazies” for that matter – is that he isn’t your stereotypical brainless zombie. I made a point of NOT lurching along like the living dead. Rather, he is smooth, methodical, calculated, and frighteningly aware of his surroundings, making him all the more terrifying. It was suggested that the virus merely brings out the infectee’s deepest, most repressed sub-conscious impulses. And by the way Principal Ben treats those kids on the gurneys, he apparently harbors some deep-seated animus toward his students. You see inklings of this when he first refers to them in the bleachers with Sheriff Dutton.
As an actor, where does your mind have to be during a scene where you character is crossing over into some dark territory and impaling people with a pitchfork?
Very, very focused. Any individual like Ben who’s decided it’s time to start gutting helpless victims has pretty much shoved aside all moral and social parameters and is acting out of sheer egotistical will. For purposes of doing the scene, that meant shutting out any consideration for the needs of the people around me – professional courtesy notwithstanding – and getting down to the serious business of maiming.
George A. Romero, of course, has been the master of the “zombie movie” for years now, although “The Crazies” doesn’t technically fall under that umbrella. But nowadays it seems like the “zombie” has taken a back seat to other movie monsters who are getting more playing time like the vampire and the werewolf. Is there still room for the “zombie” to thrive in an industry that is trying to keep up with the trend?
Zombies and their marauding cousins the Crazies will always have a home in horror and even perhaps an edge over their fanged and hairy brethren for one very important reason: vampires seduce and even fall in love; wolfmen mournfully howl at the moon over their lost humanity, but the zombie just doesn’t give a shit. He’s a heartless, killing machine. No happy endings, no rhyme or reason, just death and destruction. Dude, that’s cold.
You’ve played a number of pretty scary characters in the last three decades. What has been your most memorable? Also, which “non-horror” role has been your favorite and why?
Until Ben Sandborn, my favorite had always been The Creature on the Wing, from “Twilight Zone: The Movie.” Working with John Lithgow and George Miller was a one of a kind experience to be sure. Flying on a wire in near atmospheric conditions on a Warner Bros. sound stage, suspended over a mock hydraulic jet airplane wing….hell, it was almost like being there. But for sheer psychological terror, the pitchfork scene takes the cake. Favorite “non-horror” role? Toss-up between Chester Sinclair in the feature “Hollywoodland,” and Leon, the opium addict in the HBO series, “Deadwood.” Those guys really got under my skin. Both, incredible, unforgettable gigs.
Ben Sandborn is featured on the DVD cover. How exciting is it to have your character as the “poster boy” for “The Crazies?” Have you ever been featured on a DVD cover before?
Nope, first time, and it’s an honor. What’s funny is how many times I’ve been asked, “Are those really your feet in the picture?” Answer? Yes.
What scares you? Have you ever had nightmares about the work you’ve done?
The ocean, drowning, being attacked by sharks. “Titanic” was a rough go, and you couldn’t pay me enough to sit through “Open Water.” The only time I ever had a nightmare about my work was when I played Vermin Man in “Constantine” with Keanu Reeves. I’ve worn plenty of prosthetics, but that particular suit included a thick neoprene hood zipped skin-tight over my head and face with nothing but tiny holes cut for air and vision. Because of the time involved getting in and out of the rig, I was asked to remain in the piece for hours at a time and it got, shall we say, claustrophobic. Other than that, working in horror flicks has always been a thrill. Fact is, I’ve yet to do a role that was as scary as my actual nightmares. Believe me, if I could transfer them directly to film, I’d be rich.