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An Interview with Ken Foree

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With a career spanning over four decades, Ken Foree, the self-proclaimed “seefoodist”, is the kind of guy that could hang out with a glass wine while watching a movie on a rainy day. Spend time in New York, people watching in Central Park. He’s a man of music, listening to everything from Motown and Rock, to Country and Show Tunes, “If it’s good I like it. One of my pet peeves is people who don’t expand their acceptance of all good music.” He even volunteers for the Los Angeles Epilepsy Foundation, a cause dear to his heart.

But above all of that…he’s a f*#*ing badass.

From shooting zombies to shooting movies with Rob Zombie, Ken Foree has acted in over 100 projects in his career. And the number keeps growing. He’s played some of the most unique, charismatic, and memorable characters ever to grace the world of horror.

Starting his film career in the 1978 classic DAWN OF THE DEAD, Foree has since continued to scare and entertain audiences in cult favs such as DEATH SPA, one of this writer’s favorite roles, LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III, and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS. The 6’5” actor has even played roles on the small screen, ranging from sitcoms like 227, AMEN, and KENAN & KEL, to KNIGHT RIDER, THE A-TEAM, and DALLAS. Needless to say, when there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth and Ken Foree will still be making movies.

With his latest horror film THE RIFT coming in December, and the recently released THE MIDNIGHT MAN available at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Best Buy and VOD, Foree took the time to give FANGORIA a look into the life and times of his prolific career.

FANGORIA: So, what’s a day in the life look like for Ken Foree?

FOREE: Now, I get up to go workout for about 30 minutes, eat breakfast, and then attack the piles of paperwork, emails, and phone calls. Have lunch, do a few hours of either reading or working on something artistic. More phone calls. Relax for a few minutes, get back in my cage and keep turning the wheel. I squeeze in the news and sometimes I’m lucky to see a boxing match. I have a light snack and usually get to bed between 11:30-2:00 am. I know you don’t have to say it. “BORING”!

 

FANGORIA: Well, the projects you take on and the characters you’ve brought to life are anything but boring. Your most recent films, THE MIDNIGHTMAN and THE RIFT are proof of that. How did these indie-horror films fall into your lap?

FOREE: THE MIDNIGHT MAN was strictly a character decision. I liked Hamilton. If we could have maintained production values with an extremely low budget, we might be able to find the right place for it in the market. I got the script on the fly and had to dive in. I barely had time to learn my lines and I was on the set. Bad timing, shit happens! THE RIFT was a chance to work with a producer I’d worked with before. A very talented cast, professional crew. The character element was overriding here as well. I’ve played action hero/cop/special agent before, but this one had more colors, a chance of being multi-dimensional. It was also intriguing to be part of a Sci-Fi production in a country that hasn’t produced a film in that genre, so we were the first. It was the most challenging shoot in my career. Some of the most surreal frightening scenes never made it to the screen. 


FANGORIA: Do you have a method in how you choose the characters you play and the scripts you read?

FOREE: First, I read the script to see if it can work. Then I focus on my character and explore the possibilities of what I can do with it. Next I watch the director’s films and look for production values, his or her work with the actors, and the budget news. If it all falls into place, next we negotiate. Not every situation is perfect, but nothing ever is, so you make adjustments if necessary if there are enough positives. The most important requirement is the script and the blessing of the film gods.

 

FANGORIA: What’s your process in taking such a leap from who you are as a person to the characters you portray? Are there any rituals or superstitions that are incorporated in that change?

FOREE: The character becomes me. It almost all begins and ends with who I am and how I can use my experiences to parallel the material. There are many approaches to meeting the responsibilities…ok that’s enough. If I tell you my secrets where will the magic go, or next time it might not work…rubbish but a good out. I must insist on having some advantage. I’m the one whose emotional blood is on display. I will say this. It’s all about truth, isn’t it?

 

FANGORIA: Yes it is. And you’re right, you are the one on display, and getting there, I’m sure, has been an interesting journey to say the least. What would you say has been the biggest obstacle throughout that journey?

FOREE: Challenges are a forever part of life.  Some days are more challenging than others and I have had to deal with my share. If I’m philosophical about life, my love and hate relationship with humanity was a tremendous hurdle in earlier years. Being an African American of some size and presence in America has been a double-edged sword, with advantages and disadvantages. Balancing that equation has proven to be challenging, but far more for others than it’s been for me. In my career, of course, it has never been a cakewalk. I’m grateful for everything I’ve accomplished, but I worked hard for everything. I started as an extra and worked my way up. As a professional actor I can’t count the times that I won a role, only to have some executive send word down the chain of command that they wanted someone with a “bigger name” for the role or told what a wonderful audition and if they didn’t find a “Name” for the part, it was mine. They always found a “Name”. 

Overcoming obstacles have been something I’ve had to do my entire career. Pick any time in my career and I’ve got a story or three to tell you about it.

 

FANGORIA: Okay. How about the beginnings of your career, back in your high school plays?

FOREE: We had a senior boys’ annual high school play. I opened the play by stepping onto the stage. Now you have to imagine this visual. I’m in my mothers’ dress that came to my knees, sweat shocks, and a pullover hat that looked like one of those multi-twisted half inch design of cloth that looked like hair. Now I was the star athlete and had more than my share of visits to the principles’ office. I was known to be precocious (to put it mildly) and responsible for most of the disturbances, or at least thought to be, during my years there. The play was SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS and I wanted to play Snow White. My good friend Jessie Barbara got that role. So I stepped on stage as the wicked witch.  Before I could say my first line the entire school assembly burst into uncontrollable laughter. Nuns who had never once smiled during my four years there were having trouble staying upright in their chairs. I stood there for fifteen minutes before I could say my first line; they just wouldn’t stop laughing. I guess it was the outfit or me the six-foot five-star athlete playing the role, but it was quite an experience for me and more so for my fellow students and teachers. It was hilarious.

Photo Credit: Misty Moon Film Society

FANGORIA: I’m sure there are tons of hilarious moments in your career. Anything crazy ever happen on set that may have been a little less funny?

FOREE: Fighting wiry actors. Viggo [Mortensen] and Robert [Pattinson] were almost impossible to overpower without hurting them. I broke one of Viggo’s ribs (much to my regret). Another was being on the set of BINGO LONG TRAVELING ALL-STARS & MOTOR KINGS. That experience alone would take hours to write about. Definitely a short novel here. Every day on the set of THE DEVILS REJECTS was an adventure. Playing Joe Grizzly was entertaining, we broke two complete bathroom stalls, destroyed them. I saw it channel surfing and some numbskull cut the scene to nothing. One of the best scenes in the film and somebody ordered it cut. Who the hell thought that was a good idea? The scene only a few minutes as it is and the fans love it. Leave it alone…had to say it! 

 

FANGORIA: Speaking of THE DEVILS REJECTS. You’ve worked with Rob on almost all of his films. The characters you played are some of the most memorable. How have those experiences/roles affected your career?

FOREE: Rob has written memorable roles for me. I’ll be forever grateful to him. All of them have been so delightful and that they have left the audience with a lasting impression, sometimes for decades after. Charlie Altamont was a very cool character. His line of work was questionable, to say the least.  Running a Frontier whore house in the middle of nowhere. A sort of fenced in stockade, which upon entering is a brightly lit town with blatantly suggestive neon signs boarding the entrance to each specialized cabin. A saloon for large unmentionable parties and an anything goes option helped complement Charlie’s role as an eccentric pimp. Just one more example of Rob’s artistic genius. After it premiered fans consistently have commented that they would like to see a film made around Charlie’s character. They really loved the character. Which is another compliment to Rob’s writing and creative skills.

Joe Grizzly is another character that was fun to do. When I first read the script I was intrigued. I knew I would have to fight a very large actor in the scene, so I started preparing myself physically to meet the challenge. I wanted it to be real so I prepared for a serious struggle and fight scene. Somewhere in the middle of working out for the role, I twisted my knee. Went to the emergency room at my local hospital and demanded that they repair it right away. After X-Rays and several arguments with a few emergency room doctors, they suggested the only cure was three weeks of rest. I went ballistic and was summarily escorted out of the emergency room by armed security guards. When I arrived on the set I didn’t say anything to Rob, hoping there would be no reason to show the two huge elastic bandages wrapped around my knee until much later after I had died in the scene. Just before I entered the bathroom for to shoot the scene Rob asked me to do a spin move and then look into the mirror to say the line. The jig was up. I looked at him and immediately he knew and said: “you hurt your leg”. It would have made a great effect for that character to spin and look in the mirror adorning himself. Here again, fans worldwide loved Joe Grizzly and have stated again and again that they wanted to see a film with a story about him.

Herman Jackson in THE LORDS OF SALEM was an interesting character as well. I had lot of personal issues that I won’t discuss here, prevented me from diving into that role, but it was still enjoyable for the fans. Again here the fans wanted to see more of the Whitey character I played. To say that Rob has given me some wonderful characters to play is an understatement.

 

FANGORIA: Can we expect to see you working on another Zombie gig in the future?

FOREE: Perhaps, something in the not too distant future. I would enjoy working with Rob again.

 

FANGORIA: Any favorite lines from characters you’ve played over the years? Any favorite scenes?

FOREE: “I’m Joe Grizzly bitch” became an anthem; the change-of-shift-call for office workers, cops, editors, mechanics, etc. Almost everyone who saw HALLOWEEN remembers that character and that scene and most especially that line. “Guilty” in a HUNTER episodic. “When there’s no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth,” is the most famous line. I liked “Business is Business Baby” in THE DEVILS REJECTS. “Driving while sexy” was pretty out there, and was written better than delivered. My scenes in THE MIDNIGHT MAN. The toast I gave Roger at his grave in DOTD. TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE after falling down a hill and engaged in a conversation with Tony Hudson and smoking a cigarette.

 

FANGORIA: How about a favorite character you’ve played?

FOREE: Almost all of them. So many of them stick out. Let’s just say, being truthful, it will be my next role. Guaranteed

 

FANGORIA: I guess we’ll just have to wait and find out. So, with that said, what’s next?

FOREE: We have two film projects, a game show, and a pitch for a series I’m involved in. Everything is in development and I’m excited and anxious about the coming year, it may be my best. Wish me luck. 


If you’d like to follow along with Ken and his career, you can find him on FB and Twitter! (@TheRealKenForee)  

Of course, with the holidays coming up, don’t forget to check out the Los Angeles Epilepsy Foundation. It’s all about giving back and it would mean a great deal to Ken. If you’d like to add a name or sentiment to your donation, search: In Memory of Alex.

About the author
Adam Lee Price

Adam Lee Price has an intense love of horror films and has since being a child. This love of horror has led him to focus on a career in writing films for the next generation of genre fans. Adam has recently completed writing his first feature length horror screenplay entitled THE MASQUERADE. Now, he looks forward to the next chapter of his life working alongside great writers in the horror industry and at FANGORIA Magazine.

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