Tear that Man Apart Interview: Joe Pilato by Greg Tiderington

Millions of horror fans will remember Joe in the George A. Romero classic 'Day of the Dead' as the cold blooded Captain Rhodes in which he brilliantly portrayed and had the goriest death of all that fans will always remember with him being torn apart in which it shows that karma is a bitch and got it heavy big time.
He has been a horror icon for years in which has a list of them like in another Romero classic 'Dawn of the Dead', 'Effects', 'The Evil Inside Me', 'Wishmaster', 'The Ghouls', 'Someone's Knocking at the Door', 'The Black Box' and an upcoming remake of 'Night of the Living Dead'.
He has also worked steadily in other types of genre's like 'Gung Ho', 'Shooters', 'Alienator', 'Marriage People Single Sex', 'Pulp Fiction', 'The Demolitionist', 'Neon Signs', 'Snake Skin Jacket', 'Music from Another Room', 'Fatal Passion', 'The Last Seduction II' and 'CWZ: Walking on Pins and Needles to name some.
He also made TV guest roles along with doing voice work for the animated series for Fox Kids 'Digimon: Digital Monsters' as well as their motion picture.
Not only that he started out doing live theatre which is the true craft of acting in productions like 'The Glass Menagerie', 'Kahoots MacBeth', 'Canterbury Tales' and the title role in 'Sweeney Todd'. I did a phone interview with him as he gave me every nitty gritty detail and a genuine guy to talk to since I met him at the Weekend of Horrors Convention at Burbank, California in 2009 beforehand.
Alright everyone let's take a wild ride into his interview and what he had to say!!!!


  At what age did you see yourself as an actor?

Before I answer any questions I would like to thank my fans for their support through the years. That story is a very interesting story. Three things that come to mind. I think fairly important me and interesting as well. When I was a kid playing cowboys and indians and I don’t know if its polically incorrect to say cowboys and indians but if it is I don’t give a shit in this wonderful world of cnecorship that we have. When I was a kid playing cowboys and indians or WWII Army games not on a gameboard but real playing I noticed that nobody died as well as I did. For instance if somebody would get shot they’d fall down. If I got shot it would be brandoesque as in shooting in 'Godfather 1'. I would critique myself in my head and the other kids played. I would think myself how I would fake my dying better. But I had no idea that this related to acting.
Also as a kid we had something when we only had 3 channels called Sunday Afternoon Movies which would always be filmed of the 1940’s and I saw the Lon Chaney story called 'A Man with A Thousand Faces'. Jimmy Cagney played Lon Chaney and if you haven’t seen it you should. But I never missed a Sunday Afternoon movie and found myself acting out the movies in my playroom. At that time we called it a rumpus room.
Also on Friday nights we had our local horror host who would usually show the 1940’s Universal collection 'Frankenstein' and the rest. And if you haven’t seen those reconsider your devotion to the genre.
Flash forward to being a catholic alter boy especially service at a funeral and I was always engrossed by the ritual actions, incense burning, the drinking of the sacred wine which supposedly the real body and blood of Christ. Talk about legalizing cannibalism and the latin and the gableuax of the altar and the special relationship to the priest who was elevated and the altar boys and at that time time the only person allowed to touch the host was the priest and once he touched the host for the first time after serving communion he would keep his thumb and his index finger closed until he washed his hands.
At that time when communion was served the altar boy would follow the priest with a golden plate and put it under the chin of the person receiving the communion for safety so the host (the communion wafer) would not hit the floor and I remember like it was today one time as we were moving to the next person. The person who had just received the host gagged and the host hit the floor. Which is the the worst thing that could happen to an altar boy. The priest would immediately place a white linen cloth after he picked up the host on the spot where the host hit the floor and after the mass was over the two altar boys had to stay and the priest went to spot where the white linen cloth was bent down on his knees had a chalice filled with water and washed that spot meticulesy.
As an altar boy at the mass / funeral / weddings I was subconsciously aware that we on tha altar were performers and the cingregation were the audience and would conduct myself in a very stern manner.
Fast forward to college I was in prelaw in Boston and after a couple of years finally I realized that the only thing I knew about lawyers was the great performance of actors over the years playing lawyers and realized that I did not want to be a lawyer I wanted to be the person playing the lawyer. At that time the shootings at kent state occurred I left the university as a protest and started to pursue my acting studies. Unfortunately I have as yet never a played a lawyer.

Did you see yourself acting in horror films?

Absolutely yes and no and what I mean by that is when I started to get my chops I saw myself playing in anything and it just happened that I got a role in a horror movie.

What was your first horror film?

'Dawn of the Dead'. Let me say something about George Romero besides being a great director and a wonderful human being he had a strong devotion to Pittsburgh actors and when he cast his movies he would cast out L.A., New York and Pittsburgh. I initially auditioned for the role of the helicopter pilot in 'Dawn of the Dead' wonderfully played by David Engee. I didn’t get the role because I was too similar in stature to the actor playing Scotty wonderfully played by Scott. So Geroge cast me in a very nice scene in which I played the head of security at the loading dock which was cut in the American released to barebones and a wonderful director named Dario Argento who added the entire scene to the black triple box of three different versions of 'Dawn of the Dead'.

What was it like working on set of 'Dawn of the Dead'?

It was amazing and besides acting I went to the Munroville Mall and assisted Tom Savini’s crew in making up the zombie extras. One of the asssitants  was a young man named Gregg Nicatero who was one of the founding members of K&B effects who besides doing all the of the make up and special effects for Quentin Tarrantino’s movies, one of which I have a small role in, is now the executive producer of 'The Walking Dead'.

You also played a character named Dominic in 'Effects'. What was the experience like working on this film?

I was working for the Pittburgh city players at the time and had gone to Boston for the holidays and when I came back and we were in rehearsal. One of the actresses said "I need a ride to a film audition" and I said "How can there be a film audition and I not know about it?!" She said "Well you were out of town and it happened very quick." So I drove her to the audition it’s a very cold winter night and I dropped her off and I said I’ll wait in the car she said no no come inside it’s too cold. So the director Dusty Nelson says to the actress "I’m sorry the guy reading for the part of Dominic cancelled. So I’ll read the part of Dominic." He looked at me and said "Who are you?" I said my name and he said "Are you an actor?" and I said yes and he said "Well you read for the part of Dominic with her." I had never seen the script knew nothing about the character, read the scene with the actress and two days later I got a phone phone call from Dusty Nelson saying saying "Based on your reading we’d like you to play Dominic."
Before I answer your question who kudos to Dusty Nelson the producer John Harrison who directed the TV movie 'Dune' and the entire cast and crew.
Working on the sets was great. We lived on the sets for 2 weeks which was a farm with houses which I believe belonged to Bill Heinsman the iconic cemetery zombie from the original 'Night of the living Dead'. We lost him this year and he will be missed in the genre community.
We put in long days and the director gave us all great latitude. Sadly the film was so ahead of it’s time no one seemed to get it and it sat on the shelf 4 years. Remember this film effects was made before the movie S/X. It finally got distributed by dimension films and every convention I do people raved about the film and my portrayal of Dominic.

What was the most challenging thing you did while working in this project?

Dominic played a cinematographer in the movie 'Effects' and I had to learn everything about the ancient 16 millimeter camera. Changing the film in the black bag was difficult and the chase scene through the woods was the real deal and it took about 10 hours to shoot forest thorns and all.

Millions of viewers remember you as the obnoxious Captain Rhoades in 'Day of the Dead' as you worked with Romero beforehand in 'Dawn of the Dead' did he write the part for you in this one?

(Laughing)  No absolutely not. He had written 'Day of the Dead' as a huge in and out of doors special effects crazed movie with camps of good zombies and camps of bad zombies. It’s interesting to read the original script on the internet. Originally Rhoades was a dark Dr. No (007) figure who was the leader of the bad zombie team. The producer Richard Rubenstein in his infitine stupidity said "We cant make this it would cost 20 or 30,000 more". George re-wrote the script put everything underground in the cave with only one exterior shot that btw you should look up my quote 'Raves from the Cave' on the internet.
George cast again in NY, LA and Pittsburgh I auditioned three weeks later I got a phone call saying that I got the part of Rhoades. I hung up the phone and kind of just really screamed "YEAH!" Then I got very scared because I knew I beat a high level of  performance and expectation.
Incidentally I believe I am the only actor or among very very few that can say I in pre or George Romero movies. Besides 'Dawn' and 'Day' I had a very nice scene with a young unknown actor named Ed Harris.

What was it like doing this film?

Working conditions were atrocious. We were were unground in a mine at winter time for about 12 hours a day which was very cold dusty and damp. We never saw the sun. We all got upper resparitory infections.
When we got back to the hotel when you blew your nose the most incredible black material would come out of it. We all had little offices with an army caught in it so that when we weren’t shooting we could rest.
Besides the other great actors in the ensemble I believe these working conditions made the cast performance even tighter. George was fabulous to work for. He knew exactly what he wanted but would allow us to try anything. The example of this is the last day of shooting was my death scene when I’m torn apart by the zombie’s, it’s funny cause each principal actor had an entire on day to shoot their death scene's which gives different significant’s to me the title 'Day of the Dead'.
When I walked on set that day the script supervisor said "Good morning Joe. It’s a great day to die isn’t it?". I said "Yes and where’s George?" She said "He’s very busy I said I really need to speak with her". Prior to this I was instructed not to drink or eat anything. When I asked why they said "You will be stuck with a hole in the ground 6 to 8 hours" and I said again "Wheres George?" They said "He’s very busy" again. I said "I really need to see him." He came in to the green room and said "What’s up Joe?" I said "George, I don’t think Rhodes would die without saying something." He said "Look Joe, you're torn in half. How are you going to be able to speak?" I said "If the audience is thinking about that we’re in big trouble!" He said "Besides we got 3 camera’s rolling and only 1 take." Then he said "What do you wanna say?" I said "I kinda don’t wanna say it out loud as there other people in the room" I said "Can I whisper it in your ear?" So this big 6 foot plus giant of a man smiles and bends over to me at 5 foot 8 puts his ear to my mouth and said in a whisper “Choke on him” George quickly straightened out looked at me said "Yeah you got it!" It is one of the most quoted lines from the film by the fans besides the quote greek salad wine.
To show you the kind of man George is one morning I woke up to go to the set at 5:30am it was cold ice was covering the windows of the whole cell room. I’m getting dressed and about to go down for breakfast to the hotel restaurant and I heard from outside this strange scraping sound. I looked up the window and saw George Romero scraping the ice off the windshield of his car. Now I would be driven to the set in a very nice car driven teamster and I’m sure George could have been driven to the set in a Lincoln town car. But instead he chose to scrape his windows and drive his car. Maybe that’s why he had such clarity of direction.

What scene was struggling for you to do?

Well of course the death scene I spent on 6 hours in the ground in a hole drilled into a false floor. I felt like a fucking astronaught. They put on the false legs and torso and now came time for the guts. Unfortunately, accidentally or not the refrigerator of the guts was unplugged for about  8 days while they were exteriors in Florida. I’m sure you can imagine the smell and decay of dead after 8 days. Once the guts were brought out the entire set was infected with the most horrible smell in the world and we had another 3 hours of prep time. The smell got so bad that they to put a respirator mask over my mouth and nose. And P.A.’s were around me spraying vast amounts of ungothly smelly cheap cologne. They finally covered up the torso we were ready to shoot. They took off the respirator mask and I’m shitting my pants (Not literally) because I thought I’m never gonna get through this shot without gagging.
Anyway pre-camera’s are rolling zombie’s come in and tear me apart. I inhale the foul air deeply and say choke on him ten seconds later they yell cut I’m stuck in this hole and start horrendously gagging. They pulled me out of the hole very quickly.
I can’t stand and feel my legs as they’ve gone to sleep after 8 hours so two PA’s are holding me up and I am violenting wretching nothing because I haven’t eaten in 8 hours. So it would show even more painful and long because I had an empty stomach.
I think some of this was captured on one Tom Savini’s quote 'Scream Greats'. Anyway to this day that was 1984 to this day 28 years later when I talk about it I can still smell that smell. Incidentally the quotation "Puss Fuck" close quote was an ad lib and when they yelled cut on that hallway scene where Bubb is chasing me the sound man said "Wait a minute did he say Puss fuck?" And George says "Yes and I like it."

I definitely want to hear about your work in 'The Evil Inside Me' as Palvo. What did you play in it?

I'm glad you asked that I’ve done several films for Chad Ferrin he’s a great director. Has great visions. I hope to work with him again. In 'The Evil Inside Me' I play a very strange lunactic doctor in a brief cameo at an insane asylum amd it was truly crazy.

What was it like playing the role of Mickey Torelli in 'Wishmaster'?

It was great working with Bob Curtsman but the memory really pisses me off because I only shot for one day and without the character the story would never have happened because at the end when the Wishmaster unwittingly ends up in the vase because he grants the woman he was about to kill a wish and she says “I wish Mickey Torelli never came to work drunk that day” It was great fun being on a shift and handling heavy machinery and shooting the scene twice the same scene drunk and then sober. It took about a half a day. He was brief but fun.

What grabbed my attention is that you were in the Quentin Tarrantino 1994 classic comedy-crime flick 'Pulp Fiction'?

That’s a happy and a sad story I came to LA in 1986 got a call from Bob Kirsten who directed 'Wishmaster' he said "Joe Im doing a project Id like to have your name attached to it." I said "Bob I just came out here I’ll attach my name to a toilet bowl. Whats the project?" I asked. He said "A sweet little low budget movie called 'From Dusk Till Dawn'. I said "Yeah ok send me a script. Btw who wrote it?" He said 'This neat kid who works in a video store." I said "Well whats his name?" He said "Quentin Tarrantino." I said "Oh an italian that’s good." He said "I'm having a party next week Id like you to meet him." I go to the party and he introduces me for this young unknown Tarrantino and the guy knows every frame of the 'Day of the Dead'. I said to Bob hes a nice guy but he talks very fast and he says "Yes that’s Quentin". Bob gets a panavision camera and we shoot the trailer you could see it out there in computerland. Just look for the original 'From Dusk Till Dawn' ... 'Bob Curtman's Joe Pillato'. Now remember this Quentin Tarrantino movies did not exist at this moment. In the trailer you’ll see me the first actor actor like walking on the moon in the black suit white shirt and black tie which had a great play in 'Pulp Fiction' worn by Travolta and Jackson.
Anyway, we shot the trailer and it’s beautiful. One month goes by I said "When are we starting the shoot?" He said "I don’t know I haven’t heard from Quentin somethings going on." 3,4,5 6 months go by nothing.
I woke up one morning read the LA times a film about 7 guys in black suits, white shirts and black ties that I was the first one to wear. The film gets a splendid review. Tarrantino is lauded as the next Hitchcock. The film was called 'Resevoir Dogs'. Quentin brought the script back from Bob and made it. The person played the role I would have originated was George Clooney. Had I been a featured character in Tarrantino's what should have been first low budget feature my creator would have gone in a completely different path. Hooray for Hollywood!

A film on imdb that grabbed my attention was 'Ghouls'. What was it about and what kind of role did you play in it?

That’s another wonderful Chad Ferrin film I play the cheap editor of a newspaper. So the protagonist reports this strange incidents were happening and I would approve them or cut them. There’s the wonderful scene in the movie I’m not in that scene of the dying severly burnt person. It’s great acting and directing you should all see it.

Now I noticed that you were in a horror anthology called the 'Black Box' which was a small indie production. How were you approached to play in one of the chapters?

Well I know the director Buzz Aldridge I knew him and he’s big in the genre he says Im doing this project and doing an anthology as a different spin of David Carradine’s death. He asked me to play the David Carradine character and I said yes. If you’ve seen it you know we had a ball. But not the ball you’re thinking of.

Now you did a one of the key in an animated version of 'Night of the Living Dead: Origins 3D'. Im excited to hear about what this is about. Can you tell the viewers about this one?

It’s a CG remake of George Romero’s 'Night of the Living Dead' directed by a young brilliant director named Zeb Vesoto. I play the role and produced by Simon West Productions. The people who brought you 'Black Hawk Down'.
The film is completely sticking to the original story in all the scene’s but it’s a present day of retelling of the story. I play Mr. Cooper the guy who doesn’t want to come out of his cellar.
Incidentally as we speak the movie up for sale at the film is being presented for sale at the Cannes Film Festival for world wide distribution.
Incidentally the original 'Night of the Living Dead' by George Romero is in the museum on modern art in New York City and because of a legal error 'Night of the Living Dead' became public domain very quickly.
George has never seen a dime on the film. Anybody can make it a thousand times and not pay pay George and that’s a sad story.

Will you be in any upcoming horror projects as we speak?

Yes actually I’m shooting a project next week. It’s a horror project. But because there’s still working on the finals and for certain issues of secrecy I’m not able to tell you the working title. It’s a great project and it’s a blind house murder/horror mystery.

Now here’s some fun stuff: What are your favourite horror films?

Two come to mind the seem to come mind one would be classified as science fiction. The horror movie 'Son of Frankenstein' starring Basil Rathbone and I believe the director is from the original 'Frankenstein'. The cinematography and the acting will knock you out. See it.
The second one is the science fiction is 'Thing from another World' produced by Howard Hawkes with a wonderful cast in including the monster played by a young James Arness. Famous for his role as Marshall Dillon in 'Gunsmoke'. The wonderful thing about this movie is the gallop a pace dialogue and what horror should always be. You only see the monster in the movie for a total for about 30 seconds. Hawkes horrific presence runs through the entire movie. And don’t forget to see Bela Lugosi’s 'Dracula' and original the 'Day the Earth Stood Still'.

If you were a horror film actor for a day whether he was alive or dead who would he be?

Boris Karloff. Incredible actor. I demand you to rewatch 'Frankenstein' and when you get to the moment of Karloff walking in backwards turning his head and the lights hitting his eyes. Freeze the frame. That aint make up. That’s acting.

What show were you in that you cherish to this day?

Day of the Dead.

Which one were you in that you weren’t proud of and would like to change?

Well the answer to that is I’m proud of it but would like to change some of it and surprisingly the title is 'Married People Single Sex'. The first one. I play character named Arty blue collar guy who’s having marital problems. It’s a great cast and could’ve been another sex live and videotape if it was directed properly.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Not being afraid of death.

What are your ambitions?

To continue to love my daughter, to continue to play the guitar, writing poetry and  scripts, to continue acting and say this always to my fans. Genre fans are the best fans. I do many conventions and genre fans are not looky-loo’s. They always come to the table they know their movies, they appreciate my work, they ask very intelligent questions, they’re real people and I consider them my family.