Say, whatever happened to all those zombies from Shaun Of The Dead? Well, we know what happened to one at least: he’s still skewered to a tree with a swingball pole. We talk to Nick Ewans about his memorable role in British zomedy (that’s zombie-comedy) Shaun Of The Dead!
How did you end up landing the role of Zombie In Pyjamas?
Very last minute and a bit random. I think they were planning to use one of the extras then decided they might need someone more used to taking direction – I could be wrong about that. I was on the books of an agent supplying mime artists; I’m not really a mime artist but ten years before they’d needed tall people for a Bond premiere and I’d stayed on their books ever since that job, without getting another call until Shaun. I went to an audition at the Shaun base in Ealing Studios, mucked around being a zombie in front of a whole bunch of cameras and people including Edgar Wright and the producer Nira Park. On the way back to the Tube Station I got the call from the agency saying they’d offered the job, the quickest that’d ever happened! Not because I was so good but because they just needed to get it sorted I think. They had sent me a script just before; it was obvious it was a great script, but I didn’t have time to work out who was involved. If I had known I’d probably have got nervous, messed up the audition, and not got it. I was at a rehearsal a day or two later, met Lucy Davis, and I was convinced she looked familiar because I’d met her somewhere before. She was very good about it.
Did you give your zombie a name and backstory? To me he looks like an Alan.
I don’t really work like that unless it’s necessary for what the audience sees, though I respect actors who do. I found out later that NIck Frost called me ‘The MP for Zombie North’ because he thought I looked like an MP, so maybe he was an MP called Alan.
What was it like working with Edgar, Simon, Nick and the rest of the cast? Who made you laugh the most?
It was a relaxed shoot, quite a young lot (cast and crew), though very professional of course. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were very funny together, I’d have to say they made me laugh the most, they’re friends of course and had this running joke that Nick Frost was jealous of people Simon Pegg knew before they met. Edgar Wright was a very happy and positive person, not at all concerned about his status, just with the work in hand. We were filming in two next door gardens and I remember finding Penelope Wilton between shots calmly reading a newspaper in a deck chair away from all the excitement – she’d seen it all before, maybe, but she was totally on it when needed, of course. They were all good to work with and welcoming to an unknown actor who was only around for a few days of a long shoot.
How do you create the illusion of stabbing a man through the chest with a swingball spear?
From what I remember they had a special telescopic prop which slides into itself so it looks like it’s going into my chest. I probably had a pad on under my costume for when it hits me. I do remember there was a second even more impressive prop which you don’t really appreciate from seeing the film, for when I’m skewered to the tree. It was screwed into the tree at the back and it was made so that when I wake up again I could walk along it from there right down the pole and the rope, like it was all dragged through me as I walked, until the ball at the end stops me from attacking them again – that was in the script. It had a harness that went round me under the costume and the bit of the pole in front of me telescoped down while the bit behind expanded. You couldn’t see the joins even a few feet away. It was a very clever prop. But that section was cut in the edit – they told me a lot of zombie stuff generally was cut because it held up the main characters’ story. In the film you can see the difference in appearance before and after though. It’s always disappointing to have stuff cut, but I could understand the reasons.
Are you a fan of swingball?
I’ve actually never played it. We didn’t have one when I was a child. Now I’m too traumatised (not really).
Are you a connoisseur of zombie movies in general?
I’ve seen all the big ones I think, and enjoyed them. I do like horror or action films and comedies more than drama. I prefer sci-fi films like Alien though, maybe because I find the scenarios more believable, but that’s probably wrong: a zombie apocalypse could maybe just happen in my lifetime, the space stuff probably won’t. Some people take them very seriously. A friend’s husband is a huge zombie movie fan and he was nervous about meeting me because of the film. We met at a barbeque at their place and there seemed to be lots of weapons to hand; he was swinging a golf club for no good reason and a short length scaffolding pipe was lying around which my friend had never seen before.
Why do you think zombies have such an enduring universal appeal?
People like to be scared and zombies are scary, maybe because they can not only kill you but also turn you into one of them; I’m not even sure which I’d prefer. I liked the ones in I Am Legend, they were still clever and it looked like they’d developed their own rituals. Maybe they were having more fun than they did when they were people doing boring jobs and watching TV.
If you had a time machine, where is the first place that you would go?
I’d go back and live in some original society like the native Americans of Aborigines, before contact with Europeans. It was tough but I’m convinced they were happier, living the life we were meant for.
Final question: what are you up to at the moment?
Nothing as interesting as Shaun unfortunately – the occasional small film or TV role, or commercials. I still go up for short films if I like the script and the character. I do a lot of roleplay work at one of the big car companies, playing a customer or co-worker to train their employees. Occasionally they recognise the zombie!
Many thanks to Nick Ewans. Check out his scene here: