The ‘Outlander’ star is thrilled, and a little curious, to enter into a new arena of fandom.
As a recurring character on the Starz phenomenon Outlander, Sophie Skelton is used to accepting the adulation of a rabid fanbase. However, now she enters into the land of the dead. It’s a popular wasteland established by one of cinema’s greatest mavericks, often copied but rarely equaled. Is she concerned that this latest remake of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead will have fanatics seeing red? Maybe a little. On the other hand, she is absolutely confident that Day of the Dead: Bloodline offers something new for those who cherish the original Dead trilogy.
As Zoe, Skelton transforms from passionate scientist to ass-kicking Rambo. She must fend off the unwanted advances of Johnathon Schaech’s undead creeper, Max, as well as save the world from rotting away into oblivion. We chatted with Skelton about the appeal of Romero’s zombies, the critical eye of his fans, and how her ballerina training came in handy against the shuffling, sometimes running, horde.
FSR: With your work in Outlander and your various trips to Comic-Con, you’re already quite familiar with geek culture…
Sophie Skelton: (Laughter) Yeah.
Are you prepared to enter into the horror fandom arena, where Day of the Dead is surely going to excite?
I don’t know, I’m a little unsure what to expect. Day of the Dead has such a cult following, which is amazing, but I didn’t really know what to expect with the Outlander fandom. Obviously, it’s huge, but you don’t quite grasp how vastly huge or vastly invested people are until you go to something like Comic-Con and actually meet people. Who knows? It’ll be great to see how the horror fans differ from that.
Well, you’re going to have to answer questions about the pros and cons of slow zombies versus fast zombies.
I know. Romero had a very strong point of view on that one.
How familiar were you with the zombie subgenre? There’s a bunch out there these days.
Yeah, that’s the thing. He obviously started that genre off, and then it really just kind spun off, and remake after remake wasn’t there? There’s so many. Yeah, I watched Romero’s original Day of the Dead just to get an idea and everything like that, but obviously ours is a reimagining of it, so it’s not exactly the same. But yeah, I was really familiar with his; he is sort of the Godfather of zombie movies, so I suppose everyone will have seen his work at some point, whether they are aware it’s it or not. I suppose everything has stemmed from that. Zombies are sort of everywhere now, aren’t they?
Very much so. We just had the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead tonight, and my social media feed is flowing with zombie talk.
Yeah, I saw that, how was it? Was it good?
Meh. It certainly went for that big shock surprise ending. But what do you want for Day of the Dead? How does this film separate itself from the rest of the herd?
I think with this one, you have a little bit of a mix. So, Romero obviously does think that zombies should be slow moving, which his original ones are, and then this one you then have a mix of some fast and some slow. What’s cool about this one is that you have Max based on the Bub character, which is obviously from the original Day of the Dead. But then it’s so different because the other zombies are really kind of fast moving and really stand out differently from Max. Obviously he doesn’t fully turn into a zombie, so you have this really psychological element of this half-human, half-zombie, which is really creepy and hasn’t really been done before. So that’s one thing that really makes it stand out from the crowd, and also the way that it does combine this sort of fast and slow argument in one.
That relationship between your character and Johnathon’s Max is definitely unique within the genre. It reaches some very grim and dark depths that are probably more disturbing than the zombie outbreak itself.
Yeah, absolutely, because I think there’s almost this element where you, at least initially at the very beginning of the movie, you almost have a tiny bit of sympathy for Max because he is this sort of seemingly, obviously very strange, but seemingly kind of shy guy who has these feelings for this girl and there’s almost this element of just thinking, oh he’s a bit weird, that’s a shame sort of thing. Then obviously he turns into this half-human, half-zombie and it just creates this really spooky relationship between the two of them. So even as a viewer, as you said, yeah the ending is a relief for the viewer, but it does have this huge climax, whereas in a normal zombie movie, any zombie you kill you would feel zero sympathy and you probably wouldn’t feel really anything apart from just the gore side of it if that was shown. Whereas in this one, because he’s still half-human you sort of feel like, oh, but could he have been saved? So there is a nice little element to that. You don’t really get this beautiful sense of catharsis at the end because actually he was half-human, so even though he wasn’t necessarily a particularly nice human being, he wasn’t just your average zombie, so it’s a really cool ending in that respect.
Sure. But if the apocalypse hadn’t happened, you could see this awkward flirtation between your character and Max turning into a horror film, a stalker film.
Oh absolutely, yeah yeah yeah. Completely, he was just as horrific as a human as he was half-human, half-zombie. Absolutely, yeah it could’ve stood alone without the zombie elements. Yeah, that was what was really great about it because it did keep true to Romero’s Day of the Dead, but then it did have this whole new layer on top of it, which like you said almost made it like another movie in itself. So that was great.
What was it like working with Johnathon as Max, both the human side and the monster side?
It was great, it was amazing to see the difference. Sometimes you’d see Johnathon in the makeup chair and he’d just sort of been in there for four hours getting it all painted on and all the prosthetics and everything, and it was amazing because he would change and it really did help the scene, because it’s not all just special effects or anything, it really was makeup. So then and there in the scene it was really great to see. Obviously you’re acting against a character that doesn’t speak — he can understand what you’re saying, but he can’t particularly sort of voice the words himself anymore. So that was really interesting to play, and it’s kind of all in eye contact and reading each other that way as opposed to line by line.
And the mood on set, was it a gas or was it as miserable as it looked?
No, no, it was a joyous experience. We all got on really well actually. It created a really nice sort of family between everyone in the bunker scenes. So, it was a really fun set, believe it or not.
Your character — you alluded to this a little bit already — she starts off as this quiet, rather meek scientist type, but by the end of the film, she has her Rambo moment.
Yeah, absolutely that was very much a nod to that; yeah she really does. I think we see an element of that early on with Zoe, but yeah she has gone through this massive change in five years. The apocalypse has really changed her as a human, as a woman, and I think it’s really good to see, as sort of growing into herself like that and sort of really becoming a kind of military personnel.
A real hardcase.
And then get her revenge at the end, which is a great climax at the end of the movie.
It had to have been cathartic. I know that you didn’t have a lot of time or preparation when you joined the cast, but did you have a reference point? What was your preparation for the movie?
Yeah, it was very quick actually. I was away on holiday, I’d just done the audition a couple of days before, and then I got the call to say that I needed to fly to Bulgaria the next day, so it was all very quick. Yeah, I’d watched the 1985 version before the audition and then I looked at it again because I wanted to make sure that I gave a nod to that. Obviously, it does have, like you were saying before, such a cult following, such a great fandom that I wanted to make sure that there are aspects of sort of the original sorrow that they can see in that. But then mainly it’s just kind of looking at the words you’ve got on the page. Zoe is her own character and she is very different from Sarah, so mainly the prep really was just sort of looking into that and just taking it from there really. It’s almost like prepping two different characters, sort of Zoe at the beginning and Zoe at the end.
You’re a Royal Academy trained ballerina…
I read that you bring your pointe shoes with you wherever you go.
Does that training help you prepare for the zombie apocalypse?
Yeah definitely. I think when you’re doing action scenes it’s really important to have that stamina, but also scenes are just very structured sometimes. It’s almost like choreography sometimes, especially for fight scenes and things like that. So yeah, it actually comes in very useful, which is good. Especially for things like that end scene, that mud mound was so heavy, you wouldn’t believe how heavy the mud was because we were promptly buried in it and then to try and sort of stand up out of it and do that end bit where he sort of stabbed the sickle into Max, which was actually a dummy at the time. It took some strength to do that 20 times over. Luckily it did help.
That is absolutely my favorite moment in the film. Incredibly satisfying.
Yeah. That was really mud, I was absolutely covered in it, so I sort of had to hold my breath while they covered in the mound of mud and it was in my ears and everything. So yeah, that’s all real.
Well, your character survived.
Spoiler alert. Will you be willing to return to this realm again?
Yeah absolutely, it would be great to. I feel like by the end of the movie Zoe really has this sense of catharsis and she can now sort of move on with her life and she really has till the end of this sort of growing journey, where she’s really come into her owns shoes a bit, and I think yeah that would be a really great thing to carry on. To explore Zoe as a character but also to see what happens after when they find a vaccine. What happens to the zombies.
Day of the Dead: Bloodline is currently available in theaters and on VOD and Digital HD.