Walking Dead alum Neil Brown, Jr. sat down with Movie Vine to discuss a slew of upcoming comedy projects, the power of fate, and his small but impactful role on the hugely popular zombie drama.
Katie: Welcome to Movie Vine, Neil.
Neil: Thanks for having me
Katie, you guys rock!
Katie: You recently sat down with Movie Vine’s sister page, Officially Plugged In, but you have some new, really intriguing projects to discuss with us today. Currently you’re in production on a feature called, Rivers 9, which is an Ocean’s Eleven inspired comedy. What can you tell us about that project?
Neil: So much fun to do first off, just an awesome cast and crew to work with. It centers around a rag/tag group of misfits, led by lovers Jake Rivers (Tom Downey) and Grace (Elizabeth Rohm) who attempt to rob a safe in a casino run by Vinnie Jones’ character.
Katie: What kind of character do you play in it?
Neil: I play Virgil Dobbs, a “badass” recluse safe cracker, who along with Jamie Kennedy, Ed O’Ross and a slew of others help in their attempt to rob the casino. I’m the only actual criminal in the group, so this in itself leads to some very awkward and hilarious scenes in the film. Lots of funny moments and great actors that I have looked up to throughout my career. It’s been a pleasure.
Katie: You’re also filming episodes of the sketch comedy show, King Bachelor’s Pad . My personal favorite was your part in “Hot Zombie,” but there’s also a pretty great parody of Django Unchained, delightfully titled, Django 2 Chainz, starring New Girl’s Lamorne Morris. How did you get involved with King Bach and his merry band?
Neil: Well, I have to say, thanks so very much for choosing one of my episodes to be your favorite, as I know it’s a difficult choice being that the site is so immensely funny. As to your question, I have the fortune and blessing of knowing this director in town, Anderson Vilien who opened up a dialogue about his movie called The Larry Davis Project, which is a deep drama based on the life of Larry Davis. I mentioned how I really wanted to do comedy and it just so happened that he and Andrew Bachelor were producing this new sketch show, based on Andrew’s comedy. He linked us up and we immediately hit it off. We must have laughed for hours just bouncing off these ideas with his producing partner Jon Lesane. We all had roots in Florida, so the connection was sealed.
Katie: What’s the set like for one of these shoots? Is there a lot of improv, or do you stick to the script?
Neil: Well, what Andrew and his team writes is already so funny, you could stick to the page, but many people don’t know that I have a huge background in improv. Andrew and Jon picked up on it immediately and they gave me free range to act a fool, so I did. The director, Matei Dima also encouraged me to go with it and have fun, so I did.
Katie: The shorts on the site seem to have very high production value. Do you get the sense, as an actor, that there’s great creative vision behind the site? How is it working with executive producer Andrew Bachelor?
Neil: I can’t say enough good things about Andrew, the kid has an amazing vision and sensibility about how he approaches his craft. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet many actors that can keep up with me when it comes to comedy because I have so much energy. Andrew though, he is always right there, never missing a beat. He is young and gifted, and I think he is gonna change the game similar to how Tyler Perry did, by that I mean, have his own channel and studio. He’s developing a cartoon show next that I am looking forward to working on.
Katie: You produce your own comedy web series as well, Heroic Daze. Where did the idea for that show come from?
Neil: That show is actually the brain child of Matt McKinley and Bryan Lugo, who play Mr. Nyce Guy and Red Robbyn respectively. It’s a comedy about superheroes who aren’t super at all. The idea came from a special we all saw about actual superheroes living in America. I know of one from Downtown Florida. These guys aren’t crazy people, they just want to help, albeit they may not be going about it in the safest way. Matt and Bryan asked, would I be a part of the show and play their brother who actually had super powers, and I said as long as I could have “the glow,” the one Bruce Leroy had in The Last Dragon…they said yes!
Katie: What do you like about working on a web series? Is it a different universe from TV or movies?
Neil: There is a lot of freedom because the overhead is virtually nonexistent sometimes, so the lack of pressure makes the process more free, something any artist loves.
Katie: Have you received any feedback from fans on the series? Has the response been positive?
Neil: We’ve received very positive feedback, a good amount too, there could always be more, but I’m just so very grateful that the response has been consistent with the vision, people laugh.
Katie: Right now, you’ve got a lot of comedy going on, do you consider that your strength? Do you enjoy working in comedy more than drama?
Neil: I joke around a lot, and love to make people laugh. Comedy is actually my “go to,” it comes very easy to me. Yet for most of my career, I’ve played the heavy, or the bad guy, which I also absolutely love to do. I would say I love them equally and am humbled by the opportunity to do either.
Katie: In addition to comedy, something that seems like it’s defined your career so far as been your martial arts abilities. You’ve trained in several different forms, which is your favorite?
Neil: Face smashing! I’m joking, actually I am a traditionalist so I love Shotokan Karate the most, as far as technique goes. Yet boxing and Muay Thai will always be my strongest styles.
Katie: Do you find yourself using all of the various techniques in your projects? Or more of one type?
Neil: I haven’t had the opportunity to use many of the techniques I know on screen, but mostly my boxing and Thai boxing gets used.
Katie: What drew you to martial arts? How long have you been practicing?
Neil: My dad, Bruce lee, Bruce Leeroy and Jean Claude Van Damme–God I wanted to be those guys so bad. All together I’ve trained for about 25 years.
Katie: You actually got your start in acting through martial arts–a talent agent discovered you at your karate dojo as a child. Did you know immediately that acting was for you?
Neil: I sure did, before that, I thought I would go in the military, move to Japan and teach karate. But after that first scene, I knew this was my passion and I had to do it for the rest of my life.
Katie: Do you believe in fate?
Neil: Kismet? Yes, ma’am I do. I believe in many paths and within those paths steps are ordered. So what is supposed to happen, will, one must just take the steps.
Katie: Many readers will probably recognize you from season 1 of the AMC megahit, The Walking Dead. You played the very memorable character, Guillermo, leader of the Vatos and protector of the elderly. The show is such a huge hit now, but did you know when you were filming that it would blow up the way it did?
Neil: Two Words: Frank Darabount! Three Words: Gale Ann Hurd, I could keep going ya know. The source material was just so awesome, and every frickin’ person in the cast and crew kicked so much ass. They couldn’t go wrong, everybody loves a zombie apocalypse.
Katie: Guillermo was certainly an indelible character, and you imbued him with great heart. Was there a special connection with this particular character?
Neil: I truly enjoyed playing that character and am so flattered anytime anyone mentions it. Thanks so much for your observation. He was just a guy trying to do the right thing for the people who couldn’t do for themselves. He had to pretend to be something he wasn’t to do it. Shortly before I got the part, I lost my grandmother, Louise Lovette, she did so very much for me in my life and all I wanted to do was take care of her. I played pretend for a living hoping I could “make it,” so I could do just that. Unfortunately it wasn’t our fate…but I did make her laugh a lot, and I know she loved to laugh.
Katie: That love absolutely shined through in the performance. The show left it open-ended–what do you think became of Guillermo and his elderly charges?
Neil: In heaven with Louise, watching The Walking Dead on the big screen, what else?
Katie: You’ve been working steadily as an actor for many years, do you have a strong sense of what you’re looking for in the characters you play? What draws you to a character in general?
Neil: I love conflicted characters, even in comedy. They are the most fun to play. I say to myself, does this guy have layers and also…how much does it pay?
Katie: Is there any character you would never play?
Neil: Anybody with glitter anywhere on them, I hate that stuff with a passion.
Katie: Now this is something kind of crazy – is it true you’ve been hit by a car not once, not twice, but three separate times? What are the odds?
Neil: I should learn to cross the street properly, huh? Yes this is true, all before the age of 15, go me!!
Katie: Any other crazy injuries you’ve sustained?
Neil: I’ve got quite a few, I was a knuckle head with a hot temper.
Katie: Where can we next see you on screen?
Neil: I’m actually in post production on yet another comedy, called Wigga Please, directed by Paul Major and produced by Kris Edwards and Jamie Wilson. They also act in it, and it’s pretty damn funny. Paul is gonna be pumping out these skits through his company Visual Medium. There are a few other things in the mix, but I don’t want to jinx anything.
Katie: We’ll cross our fingers for you! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today, Neil.
Neil: Thank you so very much Katie for taking the time to interview me and for being so gracious with your compliments and questions.
By Katie Moeller