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Army Of The Dead Star Omari Hardwick Reveals How He Immersed Himself In Zack Snyder's Zombie World - Exclusive Interview

Veteran actor Omari Hardwick has experienced plenty of action in his 20-year career, from roles in such films as "The Guardian" opposite Kevin Costner, and Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna," to his compelling turn as James "Ghost" St. Patrick for six seasons on the TV crime drama "Power." Yet for all the exciting turns on the big and small screens over the years, Hardwick hasn't tackled anything in the horror genre until recently. It began with the lead role opposite Loretta Devine in the 2020 horror thriller "Spell," and now, Hardwick is part of the impressive ensemble cast director Zack Snyder has assembled for his new zombie heist thriller "Army of the Dead."

Playing in select theaters across the country before making its debut on Netflix May 21, "Army of the Dead" stars Dave Bautista as Scott Ward, a zombie war veteran struggling to get by until he's presented a lucrative yet potentially deadly proposal from business magnate Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada): infiltrate the walled-in, zombie-infested city of Las Vegas where, beneath a major casino, $200 million sits in a heavily fortified vault. Ward stands to gain $50 million from the score, but if he has any chances of pulling it off, he'll need to assemble a perfect band of mercenaries — including his former fellow soldiers "Van" Vanderohe (Hardwick) and Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), as well as an expert safecracker Ludwig Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) — and get the job done within a 32-hour window.

In exclusive interview with Looper, Hardwick revealed the physical demands he faced to prepare for his role in "Army of the Dead" and discussed his work with Snyder and Bautista, the film's powerful commentary, and of course, the monster saw Vanderohe wields.

Omari Hardwick appreciated the training the cast went through for 'Army of the Dead'

Hey, Omari, congratulations on such a badass role in "Army of the Dead."

Thank you for that. I think it's getting badder by the day in terms of badass, because you journalists are watching it and you all are spreading the word. I think the word is out there. The rumor is spreading. We got a cool thing here.

That's right. Of course, to be in a badass movie, you have to become a badass. And I was talking with Matthias Schweighöfer the other day, who told me that you went through Navy SEAL training?


Was that a first for you for a film or television role?

Now, when he states that, he loosely states it. We didn't go through all that there is involving Navy SEAL training. I don't want to be disrespectful to any prior actors who've actually done Navy SEAL training, and, of course, to the Navy SEALs who know what that training entails. I don't want to disrespect them, most importantly. But we went through the gun training and we were trained by Navy SEALs, and that was a pretty cool thing. There were two guys that were assigned to us who were connected to Zack Snyder and the team, and they were just second to none — really, really great guys. I had gone through a lot of military training from "Miracle at St. Anna" with Spike Lee, and the movie was shot in Tuscany, in Italy, and then equally for "The Guardian," with Kevin Costner, in '06. I had gone through Coast Guard training for that.

So no, it's not new to me in terms of military training, but definitely in terms of 105-degree weather with, as you state, the badass weaponry of choice for my badass character being this freaking chainsaw, this ferocious chainsaw, that's got a freaking monster painted on it. That was a new thing for me. But we did prior, go through some gun training with these incredible ex-Navy SEALs who just really, really dialed us in. Anything that Matthias said to you about the training, if he says that he did a great job, he means it. Because all he had to do during the training was do everything opposite of what we were told to do. So, if our s*** was all right, he was all wrong on purpose.

Well, yeah, Matthias told me that was part of the way he came up with the comedy for "Army of the Dead" — to do the opposite.

It's very true. What a method. I wish a lot of us could take that on, at least twice a week. It would take a lot of pressure off us.

Was Omari Hardwick's 'Power' role a powerful element in his casting?

You're bringing more than 20 years of film and TV experience to "Army of the Dead," including some gritty action movies. You mentioned the Spike Lee movie, and you did "Kick-Ass." Then there's "Power" — how instrumental was your work on "Power" to landing the role as Vanderohe in "Army of the Dead"? Was it that, or was it something else?

That's a great freaking question. I think I didn't want to ask Zack because I was perhaps afraid of the answer, either way. I was afraid that he might go, "Huh? Ghost? 'Power'? I have no clue as to what you're talking about," or he would say, "Yeah, that's the reason I hired you." And I think as an actor maybe, subconsciously for me, maybe this is a minuscule insecurity of mine. You kind of want to be thought of for what you sort of introduced, which is that of the career. You know what I mean? You want to be, and I knew that Ghost was becoming, in a way, such a larger-than-life character that many people were not obviously trying to disassociate me from that character. They wanted me to just be that guy. They want me to put food on the table playing that guy for the rest of my career and they can't see me as anything else.

I think that's fading. I think all cultures included, I think you're seeing the fans really take in Omari's gifts, and not just the gift of playing one character. But Zack never said anything to me, and I never asked, whether it was that particular project. I imagine, though, that you and I both would know it to be a misnomer if we didn't state the prowess and the prominence of "Power" and what the character of playing Ghost did for my career. And so, yes, I'm quite aware that Zack and Debbie — his wife, his producing partner — know about my work on "Power." But I don't know if it's the body of work that you speak about or whether it was that specific role.

Army of the Dead encompasses several genres

"Army of the Dead" has it all — stunning set pieces, scary zombies, mind-blowing action and visuals. And yet, the characters are never lost in the story. I mean, they're so well drawn. They are so relatable. And you usually don't even get that in an action film, much less a zombie action heist film.

It's so true. Zack and his writing partners, for them to be able to insert what you just spoke about, which is an amalgamated reality of all of those things you mentioned. What you didn't mention, but you know it to be the case, is the social commentary included.

Oh yeah.

We're dealing with some very, some real things at this moment in time globally, right? Not just upon the seven continents that we know life to exist on, but also just globally in every little nook and cranny of this great big thing called Earth, there's a lot of stuff happening right now. And Zack, within this parameter of 2 hours and 30 minutes inserted that which, as you stated, within the genres that are found within this show.

So, let's say there's drama. Let's say there's action. Let's say there's horror and thrilling moments. Let's say there's a zombie genre, which is its own genre. And let's say even love between Scott Ward and his daughter, which Ella Purnell does a great job playing ... There are all of these different genres within one genre. And then within those different genres within the one genre, he inserted all of these different things, broken characters included.

There is a fleshing out of all of our characters. You don't know who the Army of the Dead is. Is it the zombies or is it actually us haunting the zombies? Haunting them, hunting them, what have you. We might be the ghosts haunting them, we're bothering their space. They've now created a world and even made it because the genius of Zack where there's empathy. There's sorrow, too, where you actually feel for the zombies, and that's not something that you've ever seen before. So it definitely speaks to his genius.

Vanderohe is definitely the moral compass of the film and equally the most tortured, if not Scott. But the two of them are trying to figure out life together in a very parallel way. And then Scott obviously recruits me back in, recruiting everybody else, Dieter included. And now you see this "Ocean's 11" team meets these zombie fighters and that's pretty cool.

Like George A. Romero's zombie films, 'Army of the Dead' tackles social issues

You mentioned the social commentary. I was actually going to get to that in the sense because that's what made George A. Romero's zombie films so great — how he inserted that social commentary.

Yes, yes, I totally agree.

And then Zack picked that up with his "Dawn of the Dead" remake. And again, bringing the zombies to an entirely new level, redefining the genre in a way. So yeah, I mean, what a great thing to be a part of. You can't ask for anything more.

No, you can't. But yeah, I think that coming out of "Power," obviously there were opportunities for me. And so many of them of my specific or particular fanbase as it pertains to the drama world, right, and me being mostly in that, you saw me turn a bit of comedy in "Sorry to Bother You," in granules of my character Mr. Blank, and then obviously "Nobody's Fool" with Tyler Perry. But I had never done what I did with Loretta Devine in that horror thriller called "Spell." I had never done anything in the zombie space, prior. So, this was a moment for me to look at the options that lie ahead of me when I was coming out of "Power." And I went into "American Skin," respectively with Nate Parker, which was obviously very much about social commentary that  preceded the whole George Floyd moment, so there's that.

And then with "Army of the Dead," of course, Zack and his storytelling precedes an actual pandemic ... it's kind of an interesting thing to be a part of that when you're coming out of something as big as "Power." And you go, 'Wow, this is absolutely the world that 'Power' is going into, which is the spinoff universe." Hey man, we can go into the spinoff universe equally here with this project, you know what I mean? "The Dead." And we know that Matthias has already started with the prequel in "Army of Thieves," and who knows what Vanderohe will get to get down with and get his hands dirty on, and if this project continues and my character continues on. So it's great.

About that chainsaw Vanderohe carries around ...

You mentioned that badass chainsaw before. I mean, talk about a weapon of destruction, man. That Mongo-sized buzzsaw, chainsaw, whatever. I mean, move over Bruce Campbell with your chainsaw hand in the "Evil Dead" saga. What Van has, in "Army of the Dead"? That's a saw.

That is a saw. And I liked that you said Van because I think that'll stick. Obviously, Dave's character references him as bad. And we know, as you mentioned, Ghost to be James St. Patrick by name. But he became Ghost and maybe Vanderohe will become Van equally. But equally be known for that damn chainsaw because that's a character on the call sheet, for sure. Then when we looked at the call sheet every day, I think, I'm speaking for my castmates included, because it was often in their way. I got a gas pack on, I got a backpack, I got the gun. And then, of course, I got the chainsaw. So I was carrying the most weight, and not the physical weight that Dave Bautista carries around in being 250-plus pounds. But I was carrying the most.

And often my chainsaw had my castmates like, "Come on, O, you bumping me again, bro! Like, move the damn chainsaw!" So, I definitely was in everybody's way. And I think we have to say that Zack put the chainsaw on the call sheet, brother. It was definitely a cast member.

It was! Well, little fantasy idea here. Maybe you and Bruce Campbell could get together. Maybe "Army of the Evil Dead," huh?

"Of the Evil Dead." [Laughs]

Both of you guys and your chainsaws!

Yes, the most tortuous. Exactly.

Omari Hardwick says he bonded with Dave Bautista during filming

Dave Bautista appears to be the ultimate castmate. How did your viewpoint on acting change after working with him?

You know, it's interesting. He sent a picture to me and I thought, "That was a very slick move you did there, buddy." And he was like, "What?" And I said, "You posted this picture of us where we're out at gun training and we're just shooting at a range." Again, with those Navy SEAL operatives. And he put in the post the caption that reads something like, "Omari is the real deal." That's what he said, "He's the real deal." And in my mind, of course, I'm thinking, "Dude, this is like," how does the adage go? "The kettle calling the pot black" or vice versa, how does it go?

"The pot calling the kettle black."

"Calling the kettle black," and I'm like, "What are you talking?" I said, "The real deal? You're the real deal." And I thought it was super smart because what he did, was, I don't know, it's kind of like Sylvester Stallone's Rocky, you know? Like when he was in [the meat locker with] Paulie working on that big slab of meat, tenderizing that meat and also, obviously, bruising his hand when he was doing that. And Rocky won ... it was, like, in an adverse, weird way, how a boxer would train.

That's almost like mental [preparation], and we know it to be the case in sports, where Michael Jordan would walk up to a Scottie Pippin and go, 'You got it, you got it." It's like when you imbue your right-hand man with that sort of — or your right-hand woman — with that sort of confidence. My character already knows what he brings to the table, but for me to know that he felt like I had his back, and that I was a "real deal" like that? Man, that set the tone for what we'd be and what we still are.

He texted me two nights ago and it ended with, "I'm exhausted, I've had a long day. Good to see you on the Zoom. Why did you do not say hello to me?" I said, "I guess my mike was muted. I said hello three times and you didn't say s*** back." He's like, "I felt like you weren't saying anything to me." And I'm like, "There you go, there's a relationship of caring about each other enough to feel [bad] when we weren't talking to each other." And we ended, of course, the texts with, "Love you brother, have a good night." He is forever a brother and a friend, and I'd go to battle with him on any set in the future, for sure.

(Zombie) tiger tales

Wrapping things up — the zombie tiger. I mean, come on man. That's the nightmare fuel, isn't it?

That is nightmare fuel. Ironically, if you were on set with us, you would know that we didn't have that fuel right in front of our face. What we had was a cool stunt coordinator, walking around, holding a puppet of sorts, and acting like he was the zombie tiger. That's all we had. We did not have the actual zombie tiger, which was hilarious because Zack is wanted us to, of course, be that afraid, as if Siegfried & Roy's tiger is there, but it wasn't. It wasn't an actual tiger. So we all got the beautiful benefit of being able to watch the film like you, as the cast got to watch the film as well. And then we saw that zombie tiger. But it wasn't there on set with us that day. So there's the magic making the CGI in that world, and it was incredible they inserted a tiger within a zombie film, man. What's next, a zombie poodle, zombie birds? What's next, man?

Also starring Ella Purnell, Nora Arnezeder, Raúl Castillo, Garret Dillahunt and Tig Notaro, "Army of the Dead" is now playing in select theaters nationwide and debuts on Netflix May 21.