Army of the Dead, out on May 21, sees Zack Snyder return to the zombie horror genre and pair it with a heist film. While the movie is full of memorable characters and a stellar cast, perhaps the actor who best connects with Snyder’s creative vision is Omari Hardwick.
Hardwick, who plays Vanderohe in the movie, spoke to Screen Rant about how he built the character and that Snyder’s direction means to him.
There’s a lot of zombie properties out there, but Zack Snyder shoots and tells his stories through a very unique lens. How does his style and approach to this film separate itself from the genre films that have come before?
Omari Hardwick: Great question. Leading with, I think what separates Zack is if a director figures out the latest and greatest camera, for example – this is an example. At some point, directors figure that out; technological advances, even down to camera phones, obviously, shout out to the late great Steve Jobs. There’s people that have technologically advanced the world of instrumentation that a director will use, the greatest of directors.
But when Zack grabs the same instrument called a camera, that has been advanced and that everybody’s now rocking with, he will go so far as to create a lens within that camera – or to add to the front of that camera – that literally has cracks in it. Just to give you not the whole view, but sort of a view.
I’m very humbled that you can state me as a pretty solid actor, but I definitely am equally a solid historian. I loved seeing the moments when I learned film even more and more and more, pre- becoming crafted and becoming a student of my craft. I remember at some point looking at all of the Quentin Tarantino films, and I always remembered the throughline. Tarantino would never be afraid to have a conversation, like between you and I walking. He doesn’t necessarily need to come with us or lead us. All you’re getting as the viewer is behind you. That’s fascinating.
He doesn’t need to necessarily be TMZ, right in the front as you walk in the airport. You’re just trying to get to your gate so you don’t miss the flight. You can be behind, and then answer TMZ while you’re walking and go, “Yeah, I love you guys. Thank you so much. I gotta get to the gate.” Tarantino did that beautifully.
I think what Zack brings is this sort of moxie. I guess moxie would be the word; this audacity of sorts where he goes, “Why not? Why not take the lens that we learned about or studied about or found?” And obviously, as his career increased, then the money increased for him to be able to afford that for his team. But once he adds it, it becomes his brand. Nobody’s done it before, and nobody will do it after. Because they’re a little afraid. Maybe they don’t carry the same moxie or audacity to do so.
Every director has their brand. Spike Lee, we talk about the moving sidewalks, right? We know. But Zack, what he does with the lens on the camera that is become advanced, is unreal. And then, of course, you bring the heart to the table if you’re Zack Snyder. You bring the heart and the sensitivity. You can make it about zombies, but they become the background. You can make it about Superman flying with a cape, but that becomes the background. It really is the truth.
The story at hand is the broken nature of a superhero. And the fact that we all root for superheroes must speak to the fact that we’re all broken, but we believe that we can be heroic in our own space. And so he tells that story. He tells the commentary of how Omari and Joseph would prefer to be in person having this conversation. They don’t want COVID to be between them, so why not talk about the isms that divide people? Because everybody wants to get close to each other, or say that they want to get close to each other. So let me call them out on that, and really make them decide whether they want to be in a world where they’re exclusively separate or if they want to be next to each other.
He inserts that, and you’re left alone to walk away from a zombie film having deep pillow talk with the person you watch the film with. And people don’t typically have that with a zombie film or in that genre, so he has refreshed design genre even when he did Dawn of the Dead. But now he’s graduated progressively along the way.
You are a true student of the game in every aspect of every project you do, which prompts this next question. What did you take away from this film that you’ll utilize in future projects?
Omari Hardwick: Great question. As an actor? Pace. I definitely think within my bag of tricks is this juggernaut of energy, and this battery that definitely makes it where I haven’t aged much. I don’t think I look that different from the guy that was Free in Gridiron Gang next to big Dwayne Johnson.
But I definitely feel like I’ve learned that in the aging that chronologically is actually happening, whether I look it or not – you are doubly blessed, because brown don’t frown and black doesn’t crack. So we’re blessed. But I’m chronologically getting older, as you know. I think after working with Zack, I now know because of his age and his energy – which of course, he hasn’t aged much and his energy is second to none.
I think pace was a big thing for me as an actor moving forward, in terms of being a producer and having opportunities to direct in the future like our dear brother Matthias was able to do. I think what you learn from Zack is, don’t spend time on the minutia; ron stuff that we know [will get taken care of] within the editing. And editors never get enough of a shout out, so let me shout out our post-production team on every film and project or TV show I’ve ever done. But particularly on this one, because you’re dealing with CGI left and right, and all the zombies and the worlds and the colors.
The editors really did their thing, but Zack also knows the big picture of what’s not going to really make it right. You have the brand of the Zack Snyder cut for a reason; he knows what’s not going to make it. I think he gave me permission going forward as a producer and a director and a writer to think in the framework of big picture. Don’t spend time on that, because you got Netflix calling and going, “How was today? Was the day in 12 hours, or was it 15 hours? And can we account for the money that went over?” There’s always a business. It should be called business show, not show business.
Zack is definitely figured out the epicenter of how to live between show and business and those two words. He’s nailed it.
One of the relationships that honestly pops the most in this film is Vanderohe and Dieter. They’re true brother in arms, but on a philosophical level, they have this vibe with each other. Can you talk to me about that added dimension to the characters and their relationship?
Omari Hardwick: Sure, that absolutely added dimensions to their duo and the duality that exists between them, or the very stark and differentiation that exists between the two of them. That added to this story of irony, where social commentary is inserted.
The zombies – shout out to Richard [Cetrone], playing Zeus – become not only a focal piece of the backdrop, versus the other zombie movies where they’re in the forefront. Equally, they become characters that might have impact. You might actually feel sorry for the zombies in this film, because we’re hampering their world that they’ve now created, and they’re not trying to leave the other side of that world and bother us when you enter.
Matthias is Dieter and Omari is Vanderohe, so what you now get is the parody. You get the comical relief; you get the the irony of all irony. You get cry now, laugh later; laugh now, cry later. You get Shakespearean reality at its finest. Then you insert that speech that Vanderohe gives, and you almost actually get Shakespeare.
I think what we were able to do is find the childlike quality in each other in pre-production. And then we’d just build upon it, even when Zack would yell cut. We’d get back to the hotel and check on each other. “Yo, let’s eat upstairs tonight. Let’s go to the roof, let’s hang. You wanna listen to music, what you want to do? Let’s talk about each other’s kids.” It was natural. We weren’t even forcing it. It just came very natural.
I think it’s really cool that the world is getting a movie within a movie. That movie is, of course, called Vanderohe and Dieter – inside the world called Army of the Dad. I think it’s super cool.
What did you want to bring to the role of Vanderohe that wasn’t on the page?
Omari Hardwick: Definitely the post traumatic stress disorder. That wasn’t on page. Because Zack and I were building this guy, and we did talk about that the intimacy killing. Everybody else has a gun, so they’re separated. But he’s got this ferocious chainsaw. And when he disembowels someone, he’s doing it in close quarters. He’s almost paying homage to the zombie he’s killing, like, “I respect you. I want to be in your eyes when I take you out.” That was what Zach and I created with that.
But when he’s doing that, he is also releasing something. There’s therapy of sorts in his killing, because he’s so damaged from war #1 and any prior fighting he’s done. I wanted to bring that damage, just to remind the world to shout out to soldiers. This movie hasn’t really been connected with the world of soldiers and all the different military branches. But equally, soldiers could be respected in this film or paid a bit of homage in what they do, and that which they carry in their cranium. We walk by them day to day and don’t even realize how much they need to be healed. I wanted to bring some focus on the damage that a soldier is going through.
Next: Ana de la Reguera Interview for Army of the Dead
- Army of the Dead (2021)Release date: May 21, 2021
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