For those of you who don’t know, John Amplas was a big part of Romero’s films from Martin to The Dark Half. That encompasses an almost two decades worth of work in some of Romero’s best output.
I asked him if he’d be kind enough to do an interview for my blog, and he was nice enough to agree to it. So without further adieu, here is the interview with man himself.
Q: How did you first get into films?
A: I did a couple of PBS films in college along with some industrials. But during my last year of school George saw me in a play at the Pittsburgh Playhouse called Philemon. He must have seen something in me he liked. A couple of months later I was offered the role of Martin . We shot it for six weeks during the fall of 76′. And that is the story of my first feature film. I’m a theater guy mostly, worked in community theater as a kid, trained for it in college and now work as an acting teacher, director and actor still with the Pittsburgh Playhouse, having done hundreds of plays. However I will all ways be grateful for George’s faith in me as an actor, Martin gave me the chance to work in five more of his films; Dawn, Day, Knight Riders, Creepshow and The Dark Half ( Timothy Hutton’s double and acting partner). The story I remember hearing about my getting Martin is; that George originally wrote the script with someone older in mind but when he saw my performance rewrote the script with me in mind. You’ll have to ask George if that is true or not? FYI; I was 27 yrs. old but looked 18. I think that was an advantage for me in playing the role, meaning I came with some life experience that a real 18 yr old as little of. I have enjoyed working with George over the years I think of him as my film acting mentor, if i know anything about it is because of him.
Q: After Martin you worked in Dawn of the Dead behind the scenes as well as an actor. What are some of your favorite memories from that movie?
A: Well, let see, you’re really challenging my feeble memory. In addition to Martinez the Hispanic on the roof that gets shot by Scott Rieniger ( I think?). A total of about 5-7 seconds of screen time. I played a zombie who gets it’s arm cut off in a sliding door, and various other stunts as they were dreamed up by George and Savini along the way. Mostly I assisted with casting (Zombies) and other minor roles. (For which I was given casting credit.) We had no problem finding people, everyone and their mother wanted to be a Zombie, they came from everywhere, all wanting to be a part of George’s 2nd installment of what became a Dead Trilogy. Of course more have been added in recent years including several remakes, as you know. We handled probably a thousand different zombies during the course of shooting. That figure may be a bit exaggerated but it sure seemed like it. Of course many of the lead Zombies were crew, and friends of the production team. (Dawn was still a family affair everyone pitched in, that’s really my favorite memory!) I helped with make up for the zombies as well, it was a production line of grey make-up and picking costumes to create a wide variety of zombies from all walks of what was once life. A great deal of shooting at the mall was inside so we were putting in long nights when the mall was closed. My friend David Emgee (Flyboy) he and I knew one another from the Pittsburgh Playhouse he was an actor with the professional company when I was a student there, but he also knew others involved too. I may have aided in getting him cast, but I don’t want to take credit for something I’m not sure about. During the shooting of Dawn I was already living in NYC and working at a restaurant called Lady Astor’s across from the Public Theater. Chris Forrest (Romero’s wife) had worked there, (actors work in the restaurant business because it’s a transient job), so several of us came from there Scott, David, me, and others whose names are currently lost to me. Many people came from Chris and that restaurant for Martin as well. I know I’ll repeat this many time during this interview but I have much gratitude for the opportunities provided me by working on George’s films. I have made a lot of friends that I’ve kept close to over the years, both actors and filmmakers and production people. Tony Buba for instance, I played the lead in his No Pets with Lori Cardille both of whom I keep in touch with regularly today. Although Lori was not in Dawn (Day, we can talk about that experience at another time), her dad Bill who was in Night of the Living Dead. Bill is a Pittsburgh Icon, “Chilly Billy” hosting Chiller Theater here in the sixties and seventies. Any way maybe you’re starting to understand way I said Dawn was a family affair. Almost like a self contained Company of Actors, Filmmakers, Friends and Family.
A: Yes, the family atmosphere did continue, the only difference is I was only on the shoot for maybe 10 days to two weeks. I think the budget was bigger with better food. Although the “fillet migon” must reference something Fisher said about or to Bub? Am I right? (authors note: CLOSE! It was a line said by Fisher during one of the meetings with the grunts). I seldom remember dialogue this many years after making a film. I don’t think I’ve seen Day since it’s initial screening. Speaking of Bub though, Howard Sherman was fascinating to watch! I don’t think I ever saw or meet him out of make-up. My first day, I went to the set and Howard was already there in character and we shot the scene with me and Richard Liberty, (a really wonderfully kind man and good actor) with Bub in the background. It may have been when Bub started to talk, any way watching Howard develop and express the emotional depth he was ultimately able to find for Bub was a real acting lesson. Day was the first time I meet and worked with Lori Cardille. We had a great time and became fast friends. As I said earlier we still keep in touch today. She and her husband Jim attended my wedding in 94′ and we all went to the London Film Festival later that year with Tony Buba for No Pets. Gary Klar is another guy I remember with fondness, I keep thinking I am going to meet up with him again at a convention, I hope so! He was really a good guy in spite of the character he played. What I remember most about Day were the converted mushroom mines we were working in, cold damp conditions. People were getting sick left and right. I was one of the lucky ones that didn’t, but I didn’t have to spend as much time underground as George and the Crew. However even in those less than desirable conditions, humor and friendliness prevailed.
Q: You have worked primarily in the horror genre. Did you have a liking for horror movies before you started working in them? Any personal favorites?
A: I have worked a lot in the horror genre because that’s what came my way at the time. It wasn’t my plan as actor. My primary focus has always been theater. However I must admit I would have liked a more mainstream film career. At the same time I am really grateful for my connection to George and his films, my two favorites with him are #1. MARTIN, #2.KNIGHT RIDERS. I grew up on all of the B movie horror of the 50′s. I could go to the movies for .50 cents two double features a short and seventeen cartoons. Of course Karlof’s Frankenstein. Yes I’m that old. I love films of all genres and watch films from all era’s from Orson Wells to the Cohen Bros. and certainly Coppola, who doesn’t love the Godfather yes even III, or anything Scorsese and many more. Friday Night is movie night in our house, with my son Harry who is 15 and I appreciate all of his favorites as well, from Disney animation to Harry Potter and Avatar. I think you get the point for me acting is acting and movies are movies and theater is theater and and I’ve been lucky to make a living from all three things for a long time.
Q: That’s really awesome. Even though your career wasn’t what you expected, you did gain a very loyal fan base that appreciates your works. If you could work with one director now, who would it be?
A: I too am appreciative of the fans. It would have to be Scorsese! He’s my all time favorite.
Q: What are some of your favorite movies?
A: My favorite movies are those made with originality! Movies with tension, grit and humor! I know I didn’t answer your question because I can’t.
Q: Haha, that’s cool. One final question: what would you like to say to your fans?
A: As far as the fans go, they fuel the film industry. With them people like me would not exist! I love the fans they give us life. Martin was made 38 years ago. It is still being discovered and discussed after all that time. The reason is because of the fans. I am so grateful to all of them. I thank them from the bottom of my heart!
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