The only thing worse than an undead, unkillable zombie is an actual Nazi, and Overlord, the new JJ Abrams-produced horror movie from director Julius Avery has no shortage of either. Avery told us about his own personal connection to World War II, while the film’s main villain, the mad Dr. Wafner (played by Pilous Asbaek) explained what it took to get into the mindset of a historical monster and a supernatural one at the same time.
Den of Geek: What I’m pleasantly surprised with the film is that it’s much more of a World War II movie, with just a twinge of the monster in there, which I love. Was that really the balance you were going for from the get go?
Julius Avery: A lot of war elements and then there’s a lot of sci-fi and horror, as well. What I really wanted to try and do is create compelling characters that you want to follow and get behind, before they get thrown into hell. So we spent some time setting them up. We started with a really big bang of this really intense aerial battle on D-day, Operation Overlord, and we followed these paratroopers as they got dropped behind enemy lines. Their plane gets hit, and we had the C-47 built on a gimbal, which basically means it’s a big hydraulic machine that can tilt 45 degrees in any angle. We had one of the heroes, Jovan Adepo as Boyce, hanging for dear life as we threw stunt guys around. Not only were they thrown at a 45 degree angle, they also had to be set on fire, because at the end of sequence, we had a practical fire. So there was a fire stunt as well. This is so insane.
Pilou Asbaek: It’s a good thing JJ [Abrams] wasn’t at the set that day. As a producer’s like, “Not going to happen.”
Stick with it because all World War II movies, a lot of people are going to stick to that landing on the beach on D-Day. But you got to create your own. Did you really want to spend so much time on your D-day version?
Julius Avery: For me, it was how do I get the audience hooked in and make them feel invested in these characters. And how do I make them feel they’re inside the action, rather than on the outside looking in. I want them to feel like they’re riding shotgun as one of the soldiers. Operation Overlord is just a jumping off point. Excuse the pun, but once we get to the village, everything, all the crazy experiments and all that are all completely fictional and fantastical, and all made up, it gave us some liberties to have some fun.
Do you get to spend a fair deal of the movie (sorry) as a punching bag?
Pilou Asbaek: Which is actually a controversial scene. It was meant to be R-rated from the beginning. But, I still think a scene where we have a German officer, getting his ass kicked by an American soldier, where he’s actually torturing him, is very controversial.
I understand this is a fun movie where we’re supposed to have fun, but there’s a lot of heavy stuff going on here too. The idea that it was always, the Germans, “I was following orders.”
Pilou Asbaek: Exactly.
And the whole time here in the movie it’s like, “Guys, are we following orders, or are we doing something different?” So there’s a lot going there with that as well it seems. Did you have to fight with that at all for creating the character?
Pilou Asbaek: No. A character is created in different stages. A character’s created in collaboration with the director, in collaboration with the writer. And with the set designer and the costume department and the makeup department. All these people go together, and they help you create the character.
For me, it’s very much based on the energy there is between the people you’re doing the scene with. You can’t fake chemistry. And I think what Julius did something amazing in this film is that he found a cast of people that all got along. Everyone has their scene. Everyone gets that little piece of the cake, that little moment where they can show off. And that’s what you want as an actor sometimes. And that’s what appeal to me.
And also I’ve read a lot of scripts. I read a lot of bad scripts, and I read a lot of good scripts. But I’ve never ever read a script like this.
Is there something about putting on that SS uniform that automatically makes it easier to meld into it though?
Pilou Asbaek: Yeah, but there’s a physical change. All the characters I’ve always done, there’s a physical change because one thing you see with your eyes. You feel something in your body. A Nazi officer is always like this. That’s how we know from the history books. That’s what we’ve seen in a million films. But he has the transformation in the film, and that’s what we were discussing. How can we create a monster? But he’s not a monster, but let’s call him a monster. How can we create a monster, on the inside? But also on the outside? So I had lessons with Andy Serkis, who helped me, because we were shooting in London, and he was doing this film at the moment. And he was incredible.
Let’s talk a little bit about other influences and bringing into creating it, because there are plenty of books or stories out there of what the Germans may have really been experimenting on back in the day. What helped you with this?
Julius Avery: I watched a lot of movies and read a lot of books. For me, it all started when I was a little guy. I used to visit my grandfather and all I ever wanted to do was look at his photo albums from World War II. He was in the North African campaign. I’d sit there for hours and I’d get him to explain everything. I’d do it over and over and over. What really struck me was this was something much bigger than him, and much bigger than me. Ever since then, I wanted to explore a war movie. Even though our movie is like a mash-up, it’s completely bonkers, that’s where the interest came from.
Now can we admit now that the real reason you all left the meeting in Games of Thrones is because you had a flashback to the film?
Pilou Asbaek: Exactly, exactly. No more monsters.
But there is room open for everybody to come back for an Overlord 2. Are we getting ready now at this point?
Julius Avery: That’s top secret. We can’t tell you.
Pilou Asbaek: I can tell that if we did it, I would love to do it.
Julius Avery: Yet, how are we going to bring you back?
Oh there’s plenty of ways.
Pilou Asbaek: If they can have that serum,if we can have T-rex on screen, we can have a Dane in the second.
Julius Avery: Yeah, yeah I’d like to see you as a giant zombie.
Overlord is in theaters now.