To celebrate the phenomenal success of Wyrmwood: Road of The Dead, Fernby Films sat down with several of the cast members for a quick chat about the film. If you haven’t seen Wyrmwood yet, there’s some spoilers in this interview, so please check back here after you’ve seen this brilliant film.
Luke McKenzie is undoubtedly the villain of Wyrmwood, as The Captain, a military type working under orders to carry out some pretty horrific acts after a zombie plague takes over the Earth. Luke was kind enough to sit down for a brief chat about his time on the film, which was shot on weekends over a three and a half year period.
FF: Luke, thanks for chatting with us today. Let’s start at the very beginning. How did you hook up with the film initially? I gather many of (director) Kiah Roache-Turner’s friends were involved…
LM: Pleasure! Kiah and I first met in I think 2007 (or maybe 2008) when he was putting together his breakout short film “Roadrunner”. Jay and I both auditioned for the film and I remember the process to consist of giving my best Chopper Reed impersonation, which he liked. Shortly after we flew to Broken Hill to shoot the film, it went on to win a bunch of awards and we kept collaborating over the years on my projects, his projects and joint projects. I’ve told him I’ll work on anything he is attache to and it’s grown to be a great relationship over 7 or so projects!!
FF: Wyrmwood is a pretty intense zombie film, the kind of genre which has really reached saturation point in entertainment these days with shows like The Walking Dead and films like World War Z. Do you like the genre at all (favorite example?) and if not, how did you approach being in this movie?
LM: I agree. I would’t say I liked or disliked the genre. I was kind of impartial to it, it wasn’t really on my radar. Since being involved in Wormwood I definitely have a soft spot for it. I did like World War Z to steal from your example, and also really liked Night of the Living Dead.
FF: Your real moment in the film comes towards the end, when you “unmask” and take on the remaining hero characters, played by Jay Gallagher and Leon Burchill, while Bianca Bradey flits about the circumference. Given your character is operating “under orders” as it were, how did you emotionally take on the role of being the non-zombie Bad Guy here? Must be fun to cut loose in this way?
LM: It was a fun scene to shoot and also to talk about with Kiah and prep. I think the way into it for me was that The Captain – in his mind – is not the bad guy. He is of total conviction that what he is doing is for the greater good and Barry and his gang are the ones with selfish motivations. Sure he likes a bit of brutality and could be seen as slightly off in his actions, but in terms of motivations, the greater I could hook into the fact that they were the bad guys, it gave it some opposition along with hopefully making him a bit more 3 dimensional than what could have been expected of the “good guy/bad guy” climactic scene.
FF: What kind of film set was it, did you have loads of fun or was it pretty demanding? And how did you approach a three-and-a-bit year filming schedule from both a performance and lifestyle perspective, in terms of maintaining focus and the demands of other projects?
LM: Well it didn’t really grind on me at all as I kind of dropped in, did my bit and buggered off! I actually shot a completely different character originally. It was Barry’s brother called “Jonno”. I hope it finds the light of day somewhere because it was a hell of a lot of fun – he was a wiley, loveable rogue who is trying to acquire some “clean piss” to pass a drug test… I digress…. hahah. But a year after I shot that stuff, Kiah contacted me to play The Captain and explained that Jonno’s storyline wasn’t in the picture any more. Of course, as I mentioned, I’ll do anything for the boys so I flew to Sydney over 2 weekends and shot some big days with them. It was a very collaborative albeit guerrilla set. It is widely known that the boys didn’t have much of a budget. I’ve been doing this a while now and knew what to expect, and it was fun to kind of get into the DIY and creative side of indie film making again. I helped haul gear, we sat in the mud, pissed in the trees, ate sausages day in day out and borrowed jackets to keep warm. But the boys make such a positive and powerful team that you just cannot help get on board their vision and truly believe in what you’re doing. The sacrifices in comfort are welcomed when you can see something you’re proud of made by people you respect.
FF: You obviously had a great time making Wyrmwood, so what are your fondest memories? Got any particularly funny war stories from the shoot?
LM: Oh shit, there are so many… Maybe everybody laughing and ruining takes when Tristan joined us in a scene dressed in underwear but playing it dead-pan in the aforementioned “Jonno” scene. Or Cain declaring himself “the strongest bloke on set” after we set him up and baited him (I’m sure it’s on the extras somewhere). They were funny moments that I can recall, but one of the filthiest was before the head burning scene when I had to get smeared in soap, pigs fat, fake blood, get my eye lids stuck down and lip stuck down in make up while the temperature was hovering around freezing and then wash it off afterwards with recycled cold water and dirty hand towels. hahah. All in good fun, right?
FF: Tell me about Kiah Roache-Turner as a director. How did he (and his brother, Tristan) approach the film technically, and how much flexibility were you able to have with developing your character and the scenes you were in? Are any moments in the film there purely because you came up with it?
LM: One of the greatest things about working with the boys is the flexibility they allow. They truly believe in collaboration and welcome ideas. If any idea is more efficient, suitable or just better than the original, they use it. There were dozens of moments, big and small that were ideas to solve problems on the day – whether they be dialogue, blocking, action or otherwise, it truly was a puzzle we all figured out together. There was big Captain’s monologue which didn’t make the final edit where I had a lot of my words in there and little improvised bits but again – I think that’s one for the extras.
FF: Given your final fate in the film, if or when a sequel to Wyrmwood is made, how would your character come back, if at all?
LM: I don’t think he could – unless he was a Zombie?!
FF: Are you surprised by the success the film has had not only here in Australia, but internationally? I don’t think I’ve heard a bad word about it anywhere, to be honest. That must please you.
LM: I’m not surprised but I am definitely amazed. I’ve believed in the boys since 2007 and it honestly felt like it was just a matter of time before they made something that reached that far and wide. It is amazing though to see it happen and read reviews and see it in cinemas around the world. That is a trip. But it’s just something that felt was inevitable, the same way their next film will be bigger and the one after that bigger again. They take risks, believe in their vision, are highly intelligent and honourable men and conduct themselves well in all areas. It’ll be amazing to see where the next films go, but not surprising.
FF: Now that you’re part of a global zombie phenomenon, have the blockbuster movie roles started flying in? All night parties at Leo’s pad, appearances at Ibiza? Whirlwind of fame and glory? Or are you just hanging about the house eating cereal at lunchtime waiting for the sequel to be funded? 😉
LM: I’m writing this from Steve’s lounge room… Sorry, I mean Steven Spielberg.. We are about to go for a round of golf to discuss me playing ET in a reboot he has in the pipes. I think it will be more soap and pig fat make up as it was with The Captain, but I’m sure it will be worth it when they see the emotional depth I bring to the role…
FF: Ha ha, glamorous!
LM: Hahah, no I think the glamour is always overstated. I am happy, I’ve done a couple of series of TV I’m proud of and a few smaller projects that were challenging but now I’m in the states waiting to begin a film here and as always – auditioning. We’ll see where the road leads. I’m just enjoying that Wyrmwood got some attention and the genre fans reacted well to it.
FF: The film makes great use of its low budget to execute a raft of awesome effects, namely the zombies and the “kill shots.” How hard or easy was it working with these practical/visual effects while shooting?
LM: It wasn’t too much of a challenge, it’s all a bit technical with the camera. Knowing where the line is and how to sell effects. With the Zombie stuff, you don’t really have to do much except point camera left or right and shoot. The rest is in post. But the effects such as fight scenes and getting hit by things that aren’t there (the boomerang) are just fiddly and technical. You need to know what “sells” on camera and work on your timing and be prepared to commit. It’s a learned skill. The editing department (Kiah) does most of the heavy lifting to be honest…
FF: You’ve been around the industry for a few years now, namely in television shows like Wentworth, Winners & Losers and the now-defunct Rescue Special Ops. What can you tell us about any other upcoming projects – stage, screen or other – that you have going on? Open mic to promote your stuff, if you like!
LM: I had a busy year last year with a couple of short films that are doing well and a pilot which I’m waiting to hear if it gets picked up. Aside from that, Wentworth series 4 is in talks with us now so we’ll see how that plays out. Other than that, auditioning here in LA and seeing where the road leads. I kinda like the idea of fading away and making guitars for a living… Obviously until the ET reboot with Stevey;)
FF: Luke, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you today, congratulations on the success of Wyrmwood and I sincerely hope we get a sequel! All the best with the future and we look forward to seeing more of you on our screen in years to come!
LM: Cheers, thanks for taking the time to invest in this project in the way you have:)