For many fans, the Return of the Living Dead series came to an anticlimax with Necropolis and Rave to the Grave. While they may have failed to deliver in the same way as the original, one character that made them appealing was Becky, played with a tongue-in-cheek attitude by Aimee Lynn Chadwick. At first presented as the geek, during the action-packed finale to Necropolis Becky transforms into a Ripley-type heroine, although sadly the character would be underused during the final instalment, Rave to the Grave.
Having relocated from a small town in Massachusetts to the bright lights of Hollywood, Chadwick’s first significant role came in 2004 with her appearance as a DJ in in the family comedy A Cinderella Story. She was then cast as Becky in the two-picture deal for Return of the Living Dead, both shot back-to-back in Romania and critically reviled upon release.
Having played both the hero and the zombie, Aimee reveals all about her experiences with the living dead.
What kind of movies did you enjoy when you were growing up and how did this develop into an interest in acting? Were you ever a fan of horror films and which in particular made the greatest impression on you?
Growing up I watched a lot of classics with my mom. Everything with Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire, All the old musicals, Shirley Temple…you name it. As I got older I started really get into movies that captivated my attention with their acting and performances. I guess I never really clung to one genre specifically for a long period of time, I really just enjoyed the art of cinema always.
How did first enter the movie industry and which project would you consider to have been your first big break? Have you found that work has come easy to you or has it been a struggle?
I first came to LA in 2001, at that time of my life I had to make a choice of what I really wanted, go to NYC and do THAT whole thing, or take the leap for LA, and get my Oscar. Upon arriving, things just seemed to fall into place. I found a manager, an agency, and was auditioning within the first three weeks. The life here in L.A., if this is what you choose, is always a struggle. You may book something one day and think ‘THIS IS IT! MY BIG BREAK!’ but, then a month later, the project just seems obsolete in the process of ‘making it happen.’ You always feel like you move forward, and as you do, fall two steps behind. The first project that felt like that, I would say, is The Cinderella Story. It was my very first studio production, and I was going to be working with Hilary Duff, and on a real movie. The struggles come after you shoot the movie, and have to find your next job. Some months are great, and some go by and totally miss you. The important thing is to just keep going full force, and keep your eye on the prize.
How did Return of the Living Dead come about? Were you looking for a horror project and what was it about the character of Becky and the scripts for Necropolis and Rave to the Grave that appealed to you?
I booked the character of Becky after coming off a shoot hosting a kids television show. While shooting, I had to ride a 50cc motocross bike during a Supercross race for the shot. I had never ridden before, and on one of the many takes I broke my pelvis and hip in three places. Needless to say, I wasn’t suppose to walk for a really long time. I think it was five days later when my agent called me to tell me he was going to pass on the audition he had just got for ROTLD due to my condition. I just about DIED! I pleaded and promised him not ONLY was I GOING to go, that I would book it. At that time, I was BIG into zombies, and punk rock, and would watch ROTLD every night to fall asleep. It was meant for me to be in this movie. I knew it.
So I practiced walking everyday till the audition, it wasn’t going well, and it hurt. The day of the audition, with my crutches and best friend in tow, I hobbled slowly to the casting. I took A LOT of pain medicine that day, and although every ounce of my body could still feel the pain I was being drawn by a force greater than me to go through with it. Once at the door, I hid my crutches and carefully walked in with my Texas Chainsaw Massacre lunch box, filled with gory, and zombie, pictures of myself that my friends and I experimented with. I wanted them to see, that not only should I get the part, but that I was an ACTIVE fan in the horror community. They asked why I was walking funny, and I joked It was my zombie walk. 1 month later I was flying first class on a plane to Romania, for 5 months to shoot 2 movies back to back. It was unreal.
Becky’s character appealed to me, because she was a fun-intense, light-hearted girl. She had a heart. Despite being clumsy, and naive.
The cast and crew were made up of both veterans (William Butler, Peter Coyote) and newcomers (John Keefe, Jana Kramer), was there anyone in particular you were looking forward to working with and who did you bond with most on set?
I was of course excited to work with Peter Coyote. His résumé is extensive and I really love to learn from actor’s who have fought the fight and are still working. I respect them. That , and I heard he use to be a huge hippie, and I thought that was awesome, I was curious to hear stories. I think all of us actors bonded together a lot. We were basically the only Americans in this new land and really had to look out for each other. It’s not like we were on some high budget Hollywood movie set. We were in a very poor country, with no experience of the culture or language, not knowing the environment. It got scary sometimes, but after five months it felt like home. We all really felt like a family. I still talk to some of the actors all the time.
How come the filmmakers decided to shoot in Ukraine and Romania and was this an enjoyable experience? How would you compare this to shooting a film in America?
I’m guessing that it is cheaper to film in Romania? Personally, I think where we were shooting, gave a whole creepy feel to the film. The structures in that country are incredible. I’d shoot there again and again. Maybe for not so long next time. I don’t think there is one single way to compare it to filming in America. There are hundreds of differences. Shooting there feels so guerrilla like, so surreal.
Was it exciting to fire guns and taken on such an action role and did you perform any of the stunts yourself?
This was my first time ever holding a gun. I don’t like guns, I don’t even like fake guns, so I’m not going to lie, I was nervous. After firing a few rounds I got the hang of it and loved it. I felt Badass. The flamethrower was the best! Although, I heard this story that no one was checking the weapons for safety, perhaps just a rumor, but a stunt guy on the film being shot near us got his nose blown off practically using the same flamethrower. It backfired. Lucky I learned of the tale, AFTER I shot the flamethrower scenes. I would have been too scared to attempt it if I had heard that story before. The stunt I hated the most of course, was running. Which we did a lot. I dreaded it, because as it was, I could barely walk and had to put on the façade I could. You can see in some of the scenes where I run, I look totally funny doing it.
Were there any particular issues or problems that occurred with yourself or anyone else during filming and how did these affect the shoot?
One major problem that occurred, and was the reason for us staying for extra weeks at the end, was Jana Kramer getting sick, then going home, and having to recast her for the second film. The second film which we already shot some of (we did both movies OUT of sequence). So they had to recast Jana with Jenny Mollen for number 5, and rewrite the script basically in a lot of places. During that time, we changed A.D.s and D.P.s. Tom Callaway came in and pretty much saved all our asses toward the end. He was a real hero, especially to us actors. Getting in there and helping direct us. He will forever be awesome in my eyes.
The characters from Rave to the Grave do not seem to mention the incident from the previous film, even when zombies begin to appear. Was this not intended as a direct sequel to Necropolis, and why do you think none of the characters had learnt anything from the last movie?
As you can see, halfway through we had a huge problem. With the recasting, and changing. We began shooting 2 movies together, completely out of sequence. They were rewriting on the spot, to save money, and time and salvage all the footage we did get. It’s an unfortunate event that I think if it didn’t happen perhaps the movies would make a bit more sense. Everyone worked their butts off though to make a final product. No one can fully prepare for problems of that size to arise, and everyone did what they could. I give them all a lot of credit. Down to the editors, because we worked with the cards we were all dealt, and we got it done.
Becky was very pro-active and strong in Necropolis, yet she seemed extremely underused in Rave to the Grave, with her death seemingly uneventful. Do you feel that she deserved better treatment in the last film and were you disappointed that you were no longer the hero?
Of course I think she deserved better treatment! Even if it was fun to change into a zombie and die, it bothered me that she was a completely different human being in RAVE. I questioned it, but in the end I show up to work and to do my job. I had no control over what was attempted to be fixed in the storyline.
Was it enjoyable wearing the prosthetics for when you became a zombie and is it more fun to play a hero or a monster?
I LOVED wearing the prosthetics. I had so much fun. The makeup and FX guys were incredible. John Vulich, and Greg Funk, were so awesome to watch. I learned a lot that summer with those guys. It enhanced my latent passion for creating monsters and bloody messes. Being a zombie is the funnest , it’s the whole appeal of being IN a zombie movie. Add that I have the chance to be the hero AND a zombie, hell, I have the best of both worlds.
Was there much gore cut out of either movie or did the filmmakers wish for them both to be more suggestive than graphic?
I know there was a some gore scenes that had to be cut out, not sure how many. It was a few years back now. It was everyone’s intention to have as much of it remain IN the movie, that I do know. What is the point of making a gore, zombie flick, if there isn’t GORE!??!
How have you managed to balance both your acting and music careers, as Necropolis and Rave to the Grave must have been a major commitment? How much of your life was taken by the preparing and shooting of those two movies and would you be willing to shoot two films back-to-back again?
Shooting both movies back to back till take it’s toll back in LA. I missed my premiere of A Cinderella Story, missed out on auditions, my band fell apart, and didn’t get back till mid September. When I did I had to start from square one again with my career. When you are on a roll with booking things it’s hard to jump out of the radar, then come back in and have people really remember what your last project was. You have to be constantly IN the game. So yes, I felt like I missed out a lot shooting them both, but I never would take back that experience. I learned so much there. Would I do two movies back to back again? Of course, and at least now I would know how to tackle it.
Both Necropolis and Rave to the Grave were first aired on the Sci-Fi Channel in the US and were expected to receive a theatrical release in other countries, yet they went straight-to-DVD. What kind of release were you expecting the films to have prior to their completion and were you disappointed that they were not seen in cinemas?
I was hoping for a major release, we all were. But, that’s the business, you just roll with the punches.
What kind of feedback have you received from fans of the series and would you say your Return of the Living Dead experience has been a positive one? Have you attended many conventions since the films’ release and what kind of impact have they had on your career?
I’ve gotten great feedback from fans. Fans that understand as an actor, you work with the material you are given. You work with the situation you are handed best you can. In the end that is all you can do. I think every aspect of the whole process of ROTLD was a truly positive one for me. I had the experience of a lifetime I wouldn’t change for anything in the world. After filming, I attended a few conventions, one being Fangoria. I always have a blast with the horror scene. Made so many great friends, and talented people.
It seems that the franchise has once again come to a standstill, with rumours of an inevitable sequel/remake possibly on the horizon. If you were ever offered the chance to return to the series would you accept and what do you wish you had done differently with regards to the last two films?
If I was offered a chance to do the series again, I would want a director that knows and is passionate about the genre the franchise, and I would want the budget to be a bit bigger. I was bummed when fans of the franchise felt like they got jipped of a sequel. I would want to be a part of THE BEST sequel to ROTLD that was ever made. I just don’t think it’s happened yet, but I think it could. At the end of the day, zombie movies are suppose to be fun. We had fun, creating the films and I’m sure in the future the superfans will watch these movies with a lighter heart, and find the humor in them as well.