In the British action comedy “Cockneys vs Zombies,” a group of bank robbers team up with retirees to fight their way out of East London after a zombie apocalypse.
Latino-Review had an opportunity to speak with its director Matthias Hoene via phone last week about the production of the film. We discussed various topics including about the cast, gun violence, slow zombies and of course…..Cockneys.
“Cockneys vs Zombies” will be U.S. theaters and VOD this weekend.
The full transcript of the interview is below. Or you can also listen in on the audio recording of the conversation below. Spoiler Alert below.
Latino-Review: Let’s talk about your movie, “Cockneys vs Zombies.” First of all, I want to know is what makes this zombie movie different from the rest of the zombie movies?
Matthias Hoene: That’s a valid question. It’s one that I kept asking myself all the way through. When I came up with the thought of the idea—a film takes years to finance, make and release. It’s been a little while ago. I was working with a couple of actors, Cockney actors, on a web series. It was so funny. It’s the way that Cockneys have their swagger. Their attitude. They don’t show any fear. They’re never phased by anything.
Even faced with supernatural enemies, they never question on what is this. They would go and say, “Somebody’s attacking me. Lovely, have some of this.” Then they cock the shotgun and bang! They blast them away. Fuck off!
They would have this big swagger and big attitude. And [they have] no fear in their face ever. So I liked to do a film like that, a horror film in which the protagonist isn’t scared. They’re gangster. They’re not weak. They’re not screaming. They’re not running away. They have shotguns. And they fight back. They don’t take any shit from the zombies.
I haven’t seen that in any British film to be honest. While we were developing [this film], “Zombieland” came on, which is an amazing film. No ever done that in England or in London. “Shaun of the Dead” is like a romantic comedy with middle class people and zombies. This to me is a gangster movie with zombies. I felt that it was one of the keys points where I thought it was the justification for this movie to exist.
Of course, the other time when “Walking Dead” hasn’t come out. I said at the time that everyone’s doing these fast zombies. I love the slow zombies back from the day. Y’know, the old school zombies. Movies like “Brain Dead,” or Peter Jackson’s “Dead Alive” from the 80s. I watched them on VHS back in the days. There were also films like Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” is a big influence to me.
So everyone is seeing fast moving zombies [at this time] and I said that I want a fun film on the Cockneys with their quips and their banters. As they meet the zombies, we needed to do slow moving zombies. At the time, everyone said, “You can’t do slow moving zombies. We won’t be scared. Audiences aren’t used to them anymore. They want fast zombies.”
They insisted on it and then “Walking Dead” came out. Even though the zombies are slow, Cockney pensioners, with their wheelchairs and walking frames, were even slower. I felt like I haven’t seen in any zombie film before. I think that’s a unique thing, especially the slow motion chase. Those types of action sequences in which the heroes can hardly take them forever to walk from A to B. I think it’s an interesting concept for a zombie movie.
And it’s interesting on set, when the script says pensioners walk from the bridge to the docks. Oh, my god. It can take fifteen minutes to do that. It poses a lot of new challenges in the staging. It was also a lot of fun.
And another thing, out of all the zombie movies, I think this is uplifting and positive. That’s also key to me. It’s more like an adventure movie than a horror movie. It’s like a Cockney adventure movie with zombies. It’s a bunch of robbers caught up in a zombie outbreak rather than a traditional horror film structure. And it wasn’t contained. So I want them to roam around in East London and show off the landscapes. It would be more epic than a smaller indie horror film.
Of course, James Moran and me, we kept asking ourselves on what to give to the viewers that they haven’t seen before in a zombie film. For example, the Mickey character with the steel plate in his head. He can’t be killed. He’s the un-killable zombie. All of those details are put into the movie.
Latino-Review: Wow, that’s quite a bit. [Laughter]
Matthias Hoene: Don’t give away too much in the review, especially the steel plate. There’s a lot of little things we tried to put in to make it special.
Latino-Review: That’s terrific. Now, for American audiences, I’m an American for an Internet site…..we’re not quite familiar with….
Matthias Hoene: I’m a fan of Latino-Review by the way. I read it all the time.
Latino-Review: That’s awesome. We’re not quite familiar with Cockneys. Who are Cockneys?
Matthias Hoehne: The official definition of a Cockney is an East Londoner who is born within the sounds of Bow bells. It’s a church that rings every day. If you can hear it when you wake up, then you’re officially a Cockney.
They’re also known for their funny Cockney slang, which they usually use words that rhyme to describe something. For example, in apples and pears means “stairs.” Of course, on how they would meet a zombie, which I don’t want to tell on how that works—so watch the movie. Cockneys are known to be partial, maybe unfairly so, to criminal activities. They’re very good with machetes and knuckle busters. And at the same time, it makes a Cockney uniquely qualified as the best person to survive a zombie apocalypse. It’s the fact that they stick together as a family to protect the community and show a united front that they’re tough.
So for Americans, if they are caught up in a zombie apocalypse, they should find the nearest Cockney. They’ll be safer with them than anyone else.
Latino-Review: [Laughter] If we can only identify a Cockney on the streets. Are you a Cockney?
Mattias Hoene: No, I’ve been living in East London for twelve years now. To me, it’s my love declaration to my foster home for that time. I’m sort of a bit of a mutt. I was born in Singapore, grew up in Berlin, and lived in London for a long time and a bit in America. So this is my love declaration for East London having lived there for so long.
Latino-Review: I’ve seen many zombie movies. It’s sometimes that politics get in the way here in America over the debate of guns. I always hear people say, “There are no guns in England.” And when I watched this movie, somehow the Cockneys managed to get tons of guns.
Matthias Hoene: I know when the trailer came out on YouTube, hundreds of posts argued about that. “Wait a second. You guys in England don’t have guns like that. That’s not true.” And it went on and on and on. It makes me smile.
British movies aren’t really known for gun slinging in the way that American movies are. There are a lot of guns. For example, our armorer owns all these guns out of his personal collections. Of course, they’re licensed. There are guns, but a public person can’t get access to them. That’s why in one scene in which the crazy character has this armory.
Even though there’s a lot of shooting going on in a zombie movie, it’s fantasy violence for a release and not promoting violence. All they shoot is zombies and maybe at a person once or twice. That was important to me that all the fun is that Cockneys can get the guns and go on a rampage. And you’ll be okay with it, because it’s just zombies.
Latino-Review: Let’s talk about your Cockney cast here. You have a pretty good cast. I recognized Allen Ford in the movie. I even recognized former Bond girl, Honor Blackman. Talk about the recruitment for the cast of this movie.
Matthias Hoene: Of course the movie is called “Cockneys vs Zombies,” which you do the movie on the cheap and not put a lot of care into the movie. But, all the way in the development of the script, I wanted to make this movie special rather than just scenes of Cockneys and zombies.
When we sent out the script to the actors, they really responded to the humor and emotion of it. It’s quite charming as being action packed with all those other things. So we had such a really good response for the actors.
So what I wanted to do with the cast is that when people see and say “Oh, that’s a really interesting lineup of people” and not to expect in a “Cockneys vs Zombies” movie. I wanted to get a really bunch of character actors together.
We wrote it specifically for Allen Ford in mind. When he read it, he picked up on that. To me, he was the key in the casting puzzle. He is so Cockney. Everyone else around him could be a little less Cockney, he would still take them under his wings and show what it means to be a real Cockney.
Honor Blackman grew up and was born in East London. Then she moved to West London and very well spoken now. She was very excited with playing action packed Cockney role. Of course, for me, I was going “oh, my god. A Bond girl!” Even at her age, she was one of the most gorgeous cast members. She was so strong, powerful and majestic. I remembered when she came up to me during a pensioner breakout scene and I was lining up weapons for the pensioners from the kitchen with knives and forks—she looked at me and said, “No, no, no, Matthias. I want the sledgehammer.” Okay, so a sledgehammer. We got her a rubber sledgehammer. She started to wield that and knocking zombies out left and right. Everyone in the crew was just smiling. It was fantastic and she was amazing.
I want to talk about all the cast members and not to leave anyone out. Michelle Ryan, who is beautiful. And there was Georgia King, who was really funny and is on The New Normal at the moment for TV. Tony Gardner is a comedy actor.
Richard Briers is a legendary British comedy actor. Unfortunately, he passed away in February. I want to dedicate this film to him. There were a lot of great people to work with. I was blessed with them.
Latino-Review: That’s an impressive cast. I noticed that you used traditional makeup on these zombies, but a lot of the violence were CGI. Could you explain a little bit about that?
Matthias Hoene: My approach to the film is that I wanted to root in the reality as much as possible. As much as possible, we wanted to do real prosthetics with real blood, real stretchy skin, head explosions and all those practical gags.
When it came to some of those bigger gun battles, what you find on set is that with blood and real muzzle flashes—it takes a long time to set them up. Sometimes you can fire and it doesn’t work. You have to take another set of clean clothes and do it again. It takes a long time. It’s a very big budget kind of thing to do.
Alan Ford had to shoot an AK-47 next to Michelle Ryan. She was getting worried, because it projected 30 bullets a second. All of them can be hot and it might hit her face. As an actress, you don’t want to do that scene.
So for real bullets, you have to stage it in a complicated way in which everyone has their own trajectory with their safeties on. It makes an action sequence quite a long winded. It takes a little bit of the energy away. You can’t line up people in the iconic positions so we tried to do it in combination where it came down that we can’t shoot real effects—we would edit the film with specific green screen plays like bullet projections or blood effects to match each shot. We try to make them look like a custom effect. We used a little bit of CGI magic to put it all together.
Latino-Review: I also understand this is your first feature directorial film debut. How did that go and what was the greatest challenge for you?
Matthias Hoene: First of all, it was a fantastic experience. I love going to festivals and showing the film to audiences. It’s the fan boy in me making a film for the fans. It’s nothing quite like going to a horror festival and seeing the lights go down. And [I want] to see that everyone is laughing and clapping. That’s why you make movies for really. So that was an amazing experience.
On set, it was my decision not to make a contained movie. It meant that everyday shooting was like a crazy challenge of choreographing ten actors—half of them over 70 years old. Of course, there are forty or fifty background zombies. There’s also gun fights, prosthetics, complicated post-apocalyptic art direction and sets.
It felt like a big movie thing. But, at the same time, we had to be quick and be super decisive. It was only one day in which we had three actors talking to each other in a room.
I had a great time. It was so much fun. Everyone pulled together to put it together. It was really exhausting, but really fun.
Latino-Review: I’m going to give you a fun question.
Matthias Hoene: Okay.
Latino-Review: If the zombie apocalypse occurred today, what are you going to do to survive?
Matthias Hoene: First thing in any zombie apocalypse is to find the nearest Cockney. They are the most generally qualified to survive a zombie apocalypse. They stick together as a family. They don’t fight amongst each other. They will create a united front against the zombie invasion.
And then the next thing to do is to stock up and get weapons. Get anything you can whether it’s forks, machetes, guns, shotguns or anything that’s good for taking heads off. Then raid the nearest supermarket and lockdown a place to stay. You need to make sure the people you’re with are your friends. Also make sure there’s a good tender mix in the group. If you’re the last people on Earth, you want to make sure you do fun things with each other to ensure the survival of the human race.
Latino-Review: [Laughter] Great answer. Great answer. Of course, I could keep on talking with you forever, but interviews can’t last forever. I just want to wrap with what are your future projects from here and if we’re going to see certain sequels like Cockneys versus vampires or mummies or anything else?
Matthias Hoene: Cockneys versus Leprechauns. Or Cockneys versus Zombies 2: The Battle for Whopping. People always ask about sequels. Unless people are ramming my door down to have one, we put all of our love into this one. I kind of feel that I’m happy with [this movie]. I think we left it open for a sequel. But, I think that I’m quite happy to leave it as the one film. I’m happy it’s not a sequel or a remake and we’ll leave it like that.
Latino-Review: What are the other personal projects for you then?
Matthias Hoene: I’m developing a science fiction film with a writer by the name of Ian Shaw, who wrote a film called “Splinter” a few years ago. We just finalized a contract with Twentieth Century Fox with a producer Hutch Parker who recently produced “The Wolverine.” We’re just tweaking the script and hopefully we can nurture it through the system.
It’s about a man on the run thriller. The guy receives these capsules containing all these holographic messages from his future self. What I’m really excited about it is that it’s science fiction, fun and thrilling. I’m really excited about it, but at the same time—it’s early as we’re just putting it together.
Latino-Review: What’s the name of that film?
Matthias Hoene: “Capsule.”
Latino-Review: I appreciate the talk here and I just noticed you added me on Twitter.
Matthias Hoene: Gig, thank you. If you have any more questions just get in touch with me on Twitter. Thanks again for interviewing me for Latino-Review. I read it and I’m a big fan.
Latino-Review: Thank you very much.
Matthias Hoene: God bless. Thank you.