Gary Howard Klar is well known for portraying one of the most memorable characters in George Romero's iconic film, Day of the Dead. His performance as the loathsome Private Steel immediately made him a beloved fixture in the world of horror. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that Gary himself is the exact opposite of the character he portrayed. His appreciation for the fans and his endearing attitude have made him a favorite at horror conventions around the country. As fans ourselves, we were fortunate enough to get a chance to ask Gary a few questions about his experiences, and he was kind enough to let us pick his brains.
VILE REVIEWS: What was it like working with, and taking direction from, the legendary George A.Romero?
GARY KLAR:Having worked in every medium -- film, television and theater (off-off-Broadway, off-Broadway, and Broadway) -- I have had the good fortune to work with many talented people. However, just because they are 'talented' doesn't mean that they are a 'joy' to work with. To work with some people can be akin to having a root canal without Novocaine. I must say, and I have, for almost thirty years; wherever my travels have taken me, and whenever I have been interviewed, that to work with George A. Romero, and to collaborate with him, is an 'actors dream'. Remember, George is a writer as well as a director, and we, who have had the honor of working for and with him, consider him to be the Godfather of the genre. Nobody does zombies like George.
As we all know, George has a tremendous body of work and I am proud to be a part of it. To me, it will always be the Trilogy: Night, Dawn, and Day -- the latter, in which I play Pvt. Phil Steele (Steele to all those fans), puts me in special company. For fifteen hours a day, six days a week, over a period of twelve weeks, the shoot took place in a mine inside a mountain. The town, which I believe was called Wampum, was outside Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, about an hour northwest of Pittsburgh. The mine was cold and dank, and yet it was one of the best -- if not the best -- film shoots I've ever worked on; and all because of George, who not only writes and directs, but also allows you, the actor, to collaborate with him. Was the character of Steele someone you were excited to portray, and was it a dream-come-true to play such a fun role?
I loved playing Steele. I think any actor would have loved the role. I believe you must find something in your character to 'love.' Let me elaborate... to many fans, Steele, Rhodes (Joe Pilato) and the rest of the soldiers come across as the 'bad guys,' while the scientists and zombies (yes, even the zombies) are looked upon as good; or certainly better than the military contingent that's stuck protecting the scientific community in the mine. Steele, to me, is the ultimate warrior. The men look up to him. Captain Rhodes, on the other hand, is a lunatic and a martinet. He suffers from the 'little man's complex,' brandishing his big, phallic guns, and sporting ammo belts that criss-cross his chest. He barks orders and threatens people, including Steele.
Rhodes thinks he is Napoleon and, therefore, a military genius. But, In Day of the Dead, Rhodes shows himself for the coward he truly is. Not Steele, though. Steele fights to the end and the saves the last bullet for himself. Watch my death scene carefully. Steele makes the sign of the cross before blowing his brains out; and it revealed that Steele was a man of faith... he redeemed himself in the eyes of his God (though some would argue a contradiction in suicide). But, by killing himself, he can't become the thing he hates the most -- a zombie; and he trusts that his God will be merciful, because Steele is already living in hell-on-earth, for the dead walk. Steele may be loud, irreverent, and obnoxious, but in the end, it is he who is the true soldier and an honorable man of faith.
As an aside, my death scene was initially written very differently, but George liked my Steele-as-a-martyr idea better, and that is the concept you see play out on screen. This is why I say George is an actor's director, and the collaboration on my death scene is proof. I especially love it when fans understand this.
What is your favorite aspect of the horror community and its dedicated fans? I love the fans who really appreciate Day of the Dead and understand that, like most of George's work , it is an allegory (conventions, in fact, are a great way to meet fans who understand this aspect of the films). George uses his films to express himself; and If you watch Day carefully, and really listen to the dialogue, you will understand what I mean. Day of the Dead is a very dark and heavy film. Although it was not the most commercially successful, I can tell you that, of all the Dead films, it is George's personal favorite. Beware of imitations and remakes, there is only one George A. Romero; and only one Day of the Dead.
How does your experience with Day of the Dead compare to your other work?
I've enjoyed just about everything I've worked on, but you must remember, film is a director's medium. The stage -- the theater, is where the actor has the most control, and It's like walking a high wire without a safety net.
I take great pride in the fact that, in all of my film work (and where required on stage), I've always done my own stunts. Though not a stuntman by trade, I was a bit of an athlete in my youth, and I can handle most of the physical stuff. But a ten-story fall off of a building is when I say, 'stunt double.' Day will always be right at the top of the list of the films I have worked on, it may even be number one. My other film work includes the underrated Quick Change with Bill Murray; Legal Eagles, wherein, as usual, I did my own stunts (Robert Redford was awesome to work with and very complimentary); Jonathan Demme's Married to the Mob, starring Michelle Pfeiffer (again, awesome); George Armitage's Miami Blues (a quirky but very interesting and entertaining film); and Chattahoochee, a small film and a true story, starring a brilliant Gary Oldman before he became famous. I told my wife in 1988, while on location in Columbia, South Carolina, that Gary would go on to become one of the great actors of our generation. He has never, ever disappointed. I love his work.
Also, I can personally attest to the fact that Clint Eastwood is one hell of a guy and the real deal.
How has Day of the Dead impacted your life? What opportunities have come from it?
It may sound funny or even strange, but working with George Romero and a great cast and crew, still resonates almost thirty years later. First, it legitimized my career for my children. Forget Hollywood, forget Broadway, forget it all. Day of the Dead and the role of Steele has taken me all over the country and, if so desired by yours truly, all over the world. The genre has never been more popular. Look at The Walking Dead and the tremendous anticipation for Max Brooks' World War Z, starring Brad Pitt. The genre has exploded to critical acclaim. The CDC has even put out instructions on how to prepare and survive a zombie apocalypse. Wow! Day of the Dead has created a family for all of us. To this day I still see, talk with, and am friends with George, and many of the cast and crew. Greg Nicotero, who was Tom Savini's assistant on Day, along with Howard Berger and Robert Kurtzman went out to L.A. and formed their own special effects company, KNB. They went on to win an Oscar for their work on The Chronicles of Narnia. I remember talking with them backstage a few years ago, right before their Oscar win. Greg Nicotero is now one of the driving forces behind The Walking Dead.
There was dinner in Pittsburgh with Lori Cardille, Tom Savini, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and many others.
And, late last year, I was asked to write the liner notes to the Japanese Blu-Ray edition of Day of the Dead.
All these wonderful things and more, from working on Day with George. Do you ever get tired of people yelling fuckin' A at you?
Actually, the lines that most hardcore fans throw back at me or ask me to throw back at them are:
- Bang! You're dead!!
- Fuckin' A! Biggest piece of meat in the cave!
- Nice fuckin' hat, asshole!
- Come on you pus brained bags of shit! Here's a nice one hangin'!!
No, I never get tired of delivering these lines for the fans. I love the fans, for without them, we, the actors, are nothing.
Are there any future plans for the film world?
My current plans are to continue writing. I am currently working on a book, a screenplay, and a one man show. And all of it revolves around a very personal story that came into my life over a decade ago. In some ways you might describe it as my own life story. Dateline NBC with Stone Phillips devoted a full hour to it on February 16th, 2001. Appearances on Good Morning America, CNN, and Oprah soon followed. The Ray Darcy Show on Irish National Radio and many other outlets as well. I turned down Dr. Phil, Barbara Walters, and even Howard Stern because I did not want to over-expose the story. A story that I didn't know existed for over 50 years. Time to write. Time to die.
What is your favorite horror movie?
Well, the horror genre has many sub-genre's. There are the classics like Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy. I grew up on those and I still love them. Films like Godzilla, Rodan, The Beast from Twenty Thousand Fathoms, and others, were what we called 'monster Movies.'
Then there are the psychological thrillers like Psycho and Experiment in Terror. Some films like Mad Max and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior are also horror-type films disguised as 21st century westerns. There are slasher movies like Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and all the sequels and permutations -- so may I can't even think of or name them all.
Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs certainly keeps you on the edge of your seat. And not everyone knows that the first appearance of Hannibal Lecter on film is in Michael Mann's under-appreciated Manhunter, which stars a wonderful, if understated, Brian Cox as the cannibalistic psychiatrist! Great film, great music, great acting, and yes, for me, a horror film.
And if you want to see a horror film that influenced George Romero -- and Night of the Living Dead in particular -- watch Herk Harvey's early 60's film called Carnival of Souls. Both films are shot in grainy black and white. No Hollywood, no overpaid stars, just plain, simple, great low-budget movie making.
Then, of course, there's the 'Saw Franchise, The Devils Rejects, and don't think I've forgotten The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Well, how can one choose?