• DAVID STEPHENS

DEAD FAMOUS


10 Times Celebrities became the Walking Dead (but not on that TV show).

Zombie plagues and apocalypses won’t differentiate between the rich and poor. Nor will they hold up a hand and refuse to infect any human who’s identified as being a “celebrity”. So it’s only right that some A-Listers and accomplished actors have portrayed the Living Dead over the last few years.

We’re not talking vampires like whiny Brad Pitt in “Interview with the Vampire”, or the sparkly Robert Pattinson in the “Twilight” films. Nor are we talking about the surprise ghosts in films like “The 6th Sense” or “The Others”. No, we’re talking about the bona-fide pain-free somehow-walking shuffled-off-this-mortal-coil-at-least-once corpses that make a significant contribution to a film or TV show … not just a clever cameo where prosthetics hide the actor’s identity.

So here, in the spirit of the Halloween season, we present ten instances where the famous became fearful and played your actual zombies. Some are flesh-eating, some aren’t. Some are magically resurrected, some are disease fodder. A couple are massive cheats, but far too good to ignore… All are played with a surprising amount of gusto by the actors involved, especially as Zombies were often considered laughable b-movie characters or disposable extras. What times we (un)live in now!

Billy Connolly as Fido in “Fido” (2006)

Connolly is Scotland’s premiere stand-up comedian and the UK’s answer to the ground-breaking Lenny Bruce (and a great personal hero for this writer). Besides being a pioneering funny-man, he’s also a respected actor in the likes of “Mrs Brown” and “The X Files: I Want to Believe”. But it’s his endearing and well-judged performance in this offbeat zombie movie that earns his place here. Playing the titular role, he gives the mute character a lovely “Bub”-like quality and huge likeability, with his body-language and grunts & groans. Grey-skinned and clad in a plain boiler-suit, he nonetheless becomes the unlikely hero of this Canadian comedy/horror/drama. It wasn’t exactly a huge money-spinner and got some mixed reviews, but is actually a hugely underrated film and a quite charming take on the Zombie sub-genre. It’s like a tasty milk-shake blend of “Pleasantville” and “Shaun of the Dead”.

Imagine that “The Walking Dead” took place in the 1950’s…. “Space Radiation” has caused the zombie plague to momentarily mess up the white-picket American dream, but after the “Zombie Wars” Middle-America just picks itself up and carries on. The undead are domesticated via electronic collars and become “pets”. Fido (Connolly) is just one of those pets/servants, but through a series of misadventures – and despite taking chunks out of deserving victims and causing mini outbreaks – he shows himself to be the ideal husband and father to Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss) and young Timmy (K'Sun Ray). A heart-eating … err … warming tale and Connolly is absolutely excellent in the role.

Says more than “Brainsss…”? – Not even that. Fido just groans throughout the movie … but is still the most likeable character and has bags of charisma.

Davina McCall as herself in “Dead Set” (2008)

Davina McCall is something of a national treasure and one-woman production company on UK television. An instantly recognisable celebrity in Britain, having fronted umpteen quiz and chat shows, along with other light-entertainment programmes and fund-raisers. She is best known however for fronting the “Big Brother” reality show between 2000 and 2010, the UK version of which was an absolute phenomenon in its early years. So it’s appropriate that she plays herself in this great horror/comedy satire on both that very show and Zombie films in particular. “Dead Set” was created by the multi-talented (and wonderfully grumpy) Charlie Brooker who is now internationally famous for his “Black Mirror” anthology show. Something of a companion piece to “Shaun of the Dead” – although Simon Pegg and Brooker had a disagreement about the undead depictions – it thrilled UK TV audiences over five consecutive nights in 2008.

The zombie apocalypse hits the UK during “eviction night” on the (IRL) set of popular reality show “Big Brother”. Although the mini-series focuses on the (fictional) contestants and the attempts by show runner Kelly (Jaime Winstone) to escape the now-surrounded compound, Davina (playing herself and doing show-accurate links at the start) is bitten during the first episode. As she turns and becomes a vicious white-eyed flesh-eater, she traps some of the contestants in the studio Green Room, and proceeds to stalk the corridors for four episodes. To be blunt, McCall is brilliant as Davina-Zombie and totally up for really (and literally) throwing herself into the part. All credit to her, as she cocks her head, snarls in a feral manner, gets covered in gore and chews offal like a real trooper. Not generally associated with acting roles, this could have been a major embarrassment for her, but she actually nails her portrayal and seems to be having a whale of a time. Mc-Cool!

Says more than “Brainsss…”? – Not after the turn, but the pre-dead (and genuine) catchphrase of “I’ve coming to get you” takes on several ironic meanings…

Aubrey Plaza as Beth Slocum in “Life after Beth” (2014)

Another highly underrated undead saga with a talented comedic actor in non-living role. Plaza’s star quality has been sky-rocketed since roles in “Parks and Recreation”, and her wonderfully ambiguous (but menacing) turn in “Legion”. But she still gives a brilliant take on the undead here. “Beth” is basically a slightly low-key mumblecore version of “Dawn of the Dead”. It has a great cast including; Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, and Anna Kendrick, and a really droll sense of humour that’s quite beguiling. However, the plot circles around the character of Beth, who basically personifies the feeling of regret and loss that can come in a relationship … and also wants to chew your arm off and go “Hiking!!”.

Zach Orfman (DeHaan) loses his girlfriend Beth (Plaza) just as they are in the process of breaking up, when she dies on wilderness trail from a snakebite. So he’s flummoxed when she miraculously returns from the dead and gives him a chance to correct his emotional mistakes. But like other returning revenants, Beth is getting less cohesive as time progress and hungrier for flesh. As stated, Plaza is splendid here. Chatty at the beginning, but soon devolving into a rotting cadaver that shouts nonsensically and carries a massive cooker on her back like a rucksack (it would take too long to explain). The comic actress really goes for it at this point, spitting bloody-flecked saliva like nobody’s business, and picked up some critical plaudits for the performance, although the film itself sadly didn’t do so well. Her early sweet-natured appearances are also well-judged and shine with likeability and off-colour humour.

Says more than “Brainsss…”? – Absolutely. When first resurrected, she’s very chatty and mostly coherent … if a little weird (“Your hair is so warm”). But she reverts to hilariously just barking out the word “Hiking!” once her undead nature takes over.

Nicholas Hoult as R in “Warm Bodies” (2013)

Most genre fans were understandably wary of a YA zombie film with a PG-13 certificate. Sacrilege, surely! But whilst it obviously never reaches the majestic gore levels of most films about the undead, a small modicum of blood is splashed about, and the existence of brain-eating is at least not ignored. The fact that it works at all is at least due to Hoult’s turn as the good-guy zombie called “R”. Hoult is an accomplished actor who started off in a multitude of UK TV parts (including “Skins”), before becoming globally recognised in parts like Hank “Beast” McCoy in the “X-Men” films, and Nux (“Oh, what a day! What a lovely day!!”) in the excellent “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Here though, he is full-on walking dead and gives a nice portrayal of what it must be like to love someone, but wanting to eat their brains…

It’s been 8 years since the zombie apocalypse, and R (nobody undead can remember their name) just wanders around an airport, occasionally munching on humans and staying within a pack. When he’s attracted to a surviving human girl (and eats her boyfriend’s brains), it signifies a way for the undead to regain their emotions and gradually turn human again. Okay, it’s a little sappy with its love-conquers-all Zombeo & Juliet storyline, but at least it shows a little respect towards the genre and is good fun for the most part. The best ones being Hoult’s turn as the main character, awkwardly interacting with his human love interest and slowly being able to do something other than just grunting. It’s a good performance and Hoult is genuinely watchable in the part.

Says more than “Brainsss…”? – Not to begin with, but as his emotions return R gets a little chattier. Best line though is when his squeeze Julia overacts when attempting to impersonate a zombie. “Too… much…” chastises R.

Amber Heard as 406 in “Zombieland” (2009)

Heard has had a pretty varied and interesting career, even ignoring the recent bout of media-covered awkwardness between her and Johnny Depp. Never adopting the simple cheesecake or token female parts, she has flip-flopped between comedy (“Pineapple Express”), and dramas (“Spin”, “The Informers”). She’s also had a parallel career as a Scream Queen, with lead roles in films like; “The Ward”, “The Stepfather”, “Drive Angry”, “And Soon the Darkness” and the much-underrated “All the Boys love Mandy Lane”. Now she’s an integral part of the DCEU films, as she’s playing the part of Aquaman’s better half (Mera) in the upcoming Justice League films, including Jame Wan’s “Aquaman” itself. She also went full zombie in this much-loved comedy horror, and went for it in an extended cameo part.

“406” is so-called because that’s the number of her apartment, and the only thing that Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) knows about her. Apart from the fact that she’s an unrequited crush and looks to him for comfort when bitten by a homeless guy. Unfortunately just as she curls up with him, she dies and turns into a ravenous zombie. But at least she’s his first undead kill if nothing else, as he finishes her off with the lid from the tank of his toilet. It’s a pretty small role for Heard, but she has fun with it. Like most of the actors when they get the chance to play the non-living, she really seems to appreciate the opportunity to go feral and bitey. From hottie to nottie (alive).

Says more than “Brainsss…”? – Not after she turns, no. Her last words are a little sad as well … “Do you mind if I just close my eyes for a minute?” Uh-oh…

Bill Murray as himself in “Zombieland” (2009)

Another “Zombieland” appearance, but we had to separate it from Amber Heard, because … well, its Bill Freakin’ Murray … and he’s playing himself! It’s also a massive cheat really, because it’s Murray playing Murray impersonating a Zombie, and he’s not actually undead. If you can wrap your head around that, it’s a brilliantly Meta moment in the much-admired US comedy horror and well worth noting. It tends to be the one moment that people pick as their favourite from the film, and it’s brilliantly wacky.

As the central group journey across the ruined USA, ravaged by the mutated mad cow disease/zombie plague, Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) urges them to drop in on Bill Murray’s mansion. He and Wichita (Emma Stone) are delighted to see the comic actor still kicking it. He’s been disguising himself as one of the undead, so he can still play a round of golf and not be noticed. Unfortunately, Murray thinks it would be funny to creep up on Columbus as a zombie (whilst he’s watching “Ghostbusters” no less) and gets a gut-full of lead for his joke. Exit Bill. To be fair, he makes an unconvincing member of the dead brigade, all Frankenstein arm-waving and crap moaning, but that’s sort of the point. Bloody funny though…

Says more than “Brainsss…”? – Well, yes… because he’s never really dead … until he is. Great last words though. Any regrets Bill? “Garfield, maybe….”

Nick Frost as Ed and Bill Nighy as Philip in “Shaun of the Dead” (2004)

“Shaun” is one of the best-loved and most-viewed zombie comedies. Ever. So there’s no excuse for not having some great British comedy actors turning up as Romero inspired living corpses. *Some spoilers ahead*. Peter Serafinowicz (currently playing crap superhero “The Tick”) and prolific actress Penelope Wilton, both make very brief appearances as fully fledged zombies. But here we’ll pick on two of the cast due to their profile and importance to the plot. Nick Frost is multi-talented but best known for his working partnership with film lead Simon Pegg and their “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy of films (of which “Shaun” is the first). Bill Nighy has a massive CV filled with dramatic/comedic roles and plenty of voice-acting. He is perhaps best known to genre fans for his role as Viktor in the “Underworld” films and as Davy Jones in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. But they both have their undead parts to play here.

Frost is Ed, BFF to Shaun… and a bad influence and irritant to everybody else. The hilarious highlight of the movie has him make a noisy phone-call whilst the main characters attempt to sneak into the Winchester Pub, completely oblivious to the asshole he’s being. Of course, after resolving their friendship issues, he succumbs to a bite and passes on … after delivering one last fart gag. But there’s an oddly happy ending where he ends up “living” in Shaun’s garden shed and still playing videogames with his mate. By contrast, Phillip (Nighy) is Shaun’s disapproving step-father, who isn’t exactly mourned by the leading man when he expires in a car … although they have just come to a late understanding. Both actors make for great Romero-type zombies and really give their undead selves some pathos.

Says more than “Brainsss…”? – Just grunts after they turn, but actions speak louder than words. Ed still plays a mean joypad, and Phillip can’t help but turn off that annoying radio when he’s trapped in a locked car.

Ashley Greene as Evelyn in “Burying the Ex” (2014)

“Burying” isn’t one of director Joe Dante’s most high-profile films and it was one of his less successful ventures, but it’s still a fun little film that’s an entertaining love-letter to EC comic tales. It’s also sadly one of the last waves of films to star the late Anton Yelchin. It also features Alexandra Daddario (we don’t care what else she does, she’ll always be Leatherface’s cousin to us in “Texas Chainsaw 3D” … “Go get him, ‘cuz!”). But we’re here for Ashley Greene, although she’s done plenty of work, she’s probably fated to be forever best known as Alice Cullen from the “Twilight” films. Happily her undead character here is far from sparkly or vampiric…

Due to a McGuffin involving a wish-granting artefact, Max’s (Yelchin) manipulative girlfriend Evelyn won’t die after a car accident. Digging herself up from her grave, she returns to Max and sticks to him whilst slowly rotting away and developing a taste for flesh. To be honest, there’s a lot that doesn’t really work in the film. But Greene is actually pretty good, with sunken eyes and patches of skin falling off; she frequently comes onto Max, who unsurprisingly doesn’t want to make the beast-with-two-backs with a decaying corpse. She’s even better when she goes full-evil-dead and a bit wrathful towards the end. It is oozy being Greene apparently…

Says more than “Brainsss…”? – As she’s magically resurrected (although still pretty cadaverous), Evelyn’s pretty lucid when it comes to conversation. Best moment comes when she confronts her bae’s other woman. “Give me candy. Give me cake. Give me something sweet to take … “

Emma Roberts as Madison Montgomery and Evan Peters as Kyle Spencer in “American Horror Story: Coven” (2013)

A slight different kettle of cadavers here. AHS has squelched together all manner of genre tropes over the years, and each season has its own variety of living dead, be they ghosts or something else. With its focus on witchcraft though, “Coven” made a couple of its regular cast into differing kinds of zombies though. Roberts has been pretty prolific in the genre, having appeared in “Scream 4”, as well as two seasons of “Scream Queens”, along with her regular parts in AHS. As well as playing Quicksilver in the “X-Men” movies, Peters is the only cast member to appear prominently in every single season of AHS to date. The pair also actually dated for a while … before splitting after a “heated argument” when the police were called, and having an on-off relationship ever since. Allegedly.

In “Coven”, Roberts played the hateful Madison who was a Hollywood starlet, as well as being a witch-in-training. She’s one of the most promising students at “Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies” and expects to become the head of the coven there eventually. After using her powers to kill some Frat boy rapists, nice-guy Kyle gets offed as collateral damage. Feeling guilty, Kyle is magically resurrected as a Frankenstein-like boyfriend (complete with new body parts) for Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) by Madison. However, during a scuffle with Fiona Goode (the ever-awesome Jessica Lange), she gets her throat slashed. After some time, her corpse is also magically resurrected by Zoe. Got all that? Good. Because it’s basically a set-up for a threesome between Zoe, Kyle, and Madison – because Zoe can’t have sex without unintentionally killing her partner and both of these characters are already dead! AHS usual controversy-courting aside, Roberts and Peters play the you-can’t-imagine-what-it’s-like-to-be-dead card exceptionally well … although they never become fully-fledged moaning zombies with a taste for flesh. Some of those do turn up, but Zoe takes care of them with a chainsaw…

Says more than “Brainsss…”? – They never become mindless flesh-eaters, allow Madison does look very zombie-like on her resurrection and Kyle takes a while to acclimatise to living again. So they talk normally. Full marks for Madison’s first words on waking from the dead though; “I need a cigarette…”

Meryl Streep as Madeline Ashton and Goldie Hawn as Helen Sharp in “Death Becomes Her” (1992)

Meryl Streep as a zombie?! Well, yeah… sort of. Like the AHS entries, this undead state isn’t invoked by plague, biological weapons, or space-radiation. Nope this is a life-choice. Robert Zemeckis made this 90’s movie as a satire on the cosmetic surgery fad and the vanity of the Hollywood lifestyle. Bruce Willis uncharacteristically plays a timid plastic surgeon, and Streep and Hawn are the strangely undying women in his life. They aren’t strictly speaking zombies, but once necks are broken, guts are blown open, and bodies fall apart … they certainly aren’t mortal humans.

Madeline steals Ernest (Willis) from Helen and marries him. Years later a frumpy Madeline is shocked by the youthful appearance of Helen, and seeks out the mysterious Lisle von Rhoman (Isabella Rossellini) who peddles a potion that will give you youth and immortality, but at a cost. The cost being that fatal damage to the body can still occur to the recipient without death occurring. Cue comedy violence with Madeline obliterating her neck, and Helen (who’s also taken the potion) wandering around with a ruddy great hole in her mid-riff and dead eyes. It’s zombification in any other world and leads to some lively comedy horror moments, with the two actresses riffing madly on their predicament, and a lovely appropriate punchline at the end.

Says more than “Brainsss…”? – Yep. Their mental faculties are never affected by the ever-living juice, and they don’t snack on flesh. Their bodies just let them down as time goes on. *Spoiler Alert*. This leads to a neat epilogue years later when the pair attend a funeral, and their over-repaired bodies literally fall to pieces. Cue two disembodied heads glaring at each other, and Madeline asking; "Do you remember where you parked the car?"

#deadfamous #zombies

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