Garret Dillahunt plays another creep in the post-apocalyptic The Road

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Garret Dillahunt—you don't know his name, but you know his face—has made a nice career for himself playing craven assassins (Deadwood), cold-eyed corporate villains (The 4400) and killer cyborgs (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles). And soon, a creepy member of a gang of cannibalistic highwaymen in the upcoming film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic The Road.

Dillahunt's role is relatively small, but crucial, and he shares a key scene with star Viggo Mortensen, who plays the unnamed father. In the film, as in the book, the father and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) journey on foot across a devastated, lifeless landscape in Southeastern America following an unspecified cataclysm, eking out an existence and avoiding marauding survivors who prey on others.

"I play the Gang Member, and they meet up with a pretty nasty road gang toward the beginning, in the first quarter," Dillahunt said in an interview on Tuesday in Los Angeles, where he was promoting Fox's Sarah Connor Chronicles. "Yeah, in the truck. And me and Viggo have a great scene in the woods where I try to take his son. ... The big fight in the woods."

Dillahunt said the film shot in winter in rural Pennsylvania, a bleak setting that mirrored the book's grim landscape, which Dillahunt described as "beautiful in its spareness."

"We shot in just horrific places, you know," Dillahunt said. "We found this incredible stretch of road that hadn't been used since 1964, outside of Pittsburgh, these incredible tunnels and everything, really spooky, and the trees are bare, freezing cold. And I think they assembled a group of people that's very interested in preserving the book." The movie is directed by John Hillcoat and written by Joe Penhall.

Dillahunt—who, unlike many of his characters, is the nicest guy possible—says the role made him wonder how he'd react in similar circumstances. "I like to think I'd be like Viggo's character or Guy Pearce's character, you know? I'd like to think that that's how I'd respond to that crisis. But if I'm starving, I wonder what I would do. I'm pretty certain that it wouldn't be cannibalism."

Still, Dillahunt said that he had to get into the mindset of a cannibalistic marauder. "I had more sympathy for the guy when I tried to think of it in those terms," he said, but added with a smile: "That might have been ... too kind." The Road is slated for release sometime in 2009.