The 2004 film Shaun of the Dead is not only a love letter to George A. Romero's 1978 zombie flick Dawn of the Dead, but it's also director Edgar Wright (Last Night in Soho) and actor Simon Pegg's (Mission: Impossible 7) first real feature film together.
Despite its humble beginnings, the British horror-comedy about one man's quest to save the love of his life, as well as his friends and family from the ongoing zombie apocalypse is chock full of incredible cameos, with Wright and Pegg having invited many of their friends to star in it however briefly — including Star Trek: Next Generation star Jonathan Frakes and Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss. (Though as the exclusive excerpt below highlights, Frakes' short audio recording never made it into the film.)
Author Clark Collis' upcoming book, You've Got Red On You, which details how the film came to be made, along with how so many now-well-known names came to be involved in the project. At 424 pages, the book features glimpses at the movie's storyboards and behind-the-scenes photos as well as interviews with more than 60 people involved in the movie's production, both in front and behind the camera, including co-star Nick Frost (Doctor Who), producer Nira Park (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), and noted horror luminaries Eli Roth (AMC's History of Horror), Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead), and more.
"Shaun of the Dead deserves a place in the zombie movie Hall of Fame. Simon Pegg always says that he and Edgar Wright never planned on parodying the zombie movie. They wanted to make a zombie movie, and they undoubtedly, gorily succeeded" Collis tells SYFY WIRE about the film's place in the context of wider horror film history — specifically the zombie genre. "I also think Shaun of the Dead is that rare horror-comedy that is both genuinely funny and genuinely frightening. In terms of quality, the film is right up there with An American Werewolf in London, which is widely regarded as among the greatest horror-comedies ever made and is also one of Edgar Wright's favorite films."
One of the many impressive cameos that turn up in the film belongs to none other than Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. For years a rumor persisted of his having played a zombie in the film. However, as an exclusive excerpt from the book (below) reiterates, Martin definitely did not don any special effects make up for his time on camera. However, even he seems to think he did.
"Funnily enough, when I spoke to Chris Martin, he initially recalled that he did play a zombie in the film, until I reminded him that he actually played himself," says Collis.
Shaun of the Dead might be considered a hit now. But at the time, it was a long, arduous process to get it to the screen, despite the brilliance of Wright and Pegg's vision — all of which Collis captures in the book.
"The biggest takeaway from the book is that making a great movie is really really really hard work, but ultimately worth the effort," says Collis. "Also: If a zombie apocalypse breaks out, do not head for the nearest pub and wait for it all to blow over. There will be casualties."
You've Got Red On You hits bookshelves Oct. 19. You can read an exclusive excerpt below.
The Working Title-produced movie version of Thunderbirds was being edited at De Lane Lea at the same time as Shaun of the Dead. The film would prove a critical and commercial disaster when it was released in the summer of 2004. "F***ing dreadful," says Mudford. "All the staff working on Thunderbirds were poking their heads round the door, going, 'I really wish I was working on this.' That really kept us going, because we knew that we were doing something good."
Wright and Dickens had their own encounters with the Thunderbirds team, in particular the movie's director, Jonathan Frakes. The American actor-filmmaker had become famous playing Will Riker on the TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation and had directed episodes of the series as well as the big-screen adventures Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection. "We shared our floor with Thunderbirds," says Dickens. "They were in the posh rooms, and we were in the shabby rooms. The loos were really horrid, but Frakes would go in there, sit on the loo, and make a phone call on his mobile. So you'd go in, and you'd hear Jonathan Frakes on the phone on the loo. It was just, hang on, this is not a good place to be working. Jonathan Frakes' nickname was 'Two-takes Frakes.' Edgar came back from the loo and said, 'I've renamed him Two-shakes Frakes because I stood next to him in there.' That's typical of Edgar."
Wright has "zero recollection" of coining that particular phrase, but remembers enlisting Frakes to record a voiceover for the fake TV show Zombies From Hell that features at the end of his movie. "He did that as a favor, but we never used it," he says. "I always felt bad. I don't know if he ever saw the finished thing and wondered why we hadn't used his take. He was up the other end of the corridor doing Thunderbirds, so we'd see him a lot. Obviously, he's got an amazing voice, but there was something sort of missing in the tone, even though he's the kind of person who would do one of those voiceovers for real. So Rob Brydon revoiced that bit. There's quite a few celebrity voices in the film, actually. Mark Gatiss is one of the newsreaders. [He] also does the David Attenborough voice in the footage of a leopard eating a gazelle, or something like that: 'Eaten alive!' That's Mark Gatiss."
The film's most notable cameo would come courtesy of Pegg's friendship with Chris Martin. The singer and his Coldplay bandmate Jonny Buckland agreed to appear as themselves promoting a charity concert called ZombAid in an interview conducted by youth TV host Vernon Kay. "We were very, very Method acting for that part, because we had been doing interviews all day every day for some months," says Martin. "It was very much like, okay, we'll do The Sunday Times now, and then we'll do that zombie film."
Wright also decided to include more footage from Jeremy Thompson, who is shown at the end of the film recalling the day he had to advise people about how to stop the undead. "I got a call saying, 'Simon Pegg would like to come into the newsroom with a film crew and do a follow-up interview,'" Thompson remembers. "So Simon pitched up with a camera crew and [said], 'I'm going to interview you now as if you're looking back on the story from a few months after it's all come to a climax and they've sorted out the problem.'"
Finally, Wright used some of the early test footage he had shot on Ealing Common to include a cameo of himself as one of the movie's undead fiends. "I am in the Z-Day bit at the end," says the director. "There's that shot of zombies approaching, and one of them falls flat on his face. That's me."
Pre-order You've Got Red On You here ahead of its Oct. 19 release.