SCOTT H. REINIGER
Interview by Brian Ridgway
For fans of George Romero's classic DAWN OF THE DEAD, detailed interviews and current information on the cast and crew have been rare. Most articles are several years old and are quite brief, offering few details on the present lives and creativity of these talented, memorable people.
DAWN OF THE DEAD exploded across movie screens in 1979, eventually becoming one of the highest grossing independently produced films of all time. Even though DOTD was released unrated and featured four relatively unknowns in the lead, it eventually experienced tremendous financial and strong critical success. For the four primary lead cast members, DAVID EMGE, KEN FOREE, SCOTT REINIGER and GAYLEN ROSS, their lives after DOTD would change and take them in different directions.
SCOTT REINIGER, remembered for his tempered, likable character of SWAT Officer ROGER DEMARCO, gave the first major film performance of his career in DOTD. He followed the role up with another part in Romero's next feature, Knightriders. A move to California and roles in television followed, until it seemed within a few short years, SCOTT dropped out of sight from fans altogether.
But he didn't disappear. In fact, he went into overdrive, of sorts. DOTD fans will be glad to hear he's doing quite fine and is alive and well in sunny California, where he lives with his wife and daughter. Scott, a New York native who had previously built an impressive resume in off-Broadway productions and daytime television throughout the 1970s and 80s, does little acting today in front of the camera. He remains extremely busy teaching, as well as freelance producing and directing, and recently talked extensively about his current projects to writers BRIAN RIDGWAY and DAN ROUSHEY of Michigan. A brief section of the interview follows:
It's a real treat to speak with you! We really haven't seen a lot on you for the last few years. I know you've been keeping busy, so maybe we could find out what you're working on currently. How is everything?
Okay! After DAWN OF THE DEAD…well, see, when I lived in New York, I was an actor on stage and also was doing some soap appearances in New York before I did DOTD. And then after that, about a year later, I moved out to Los Angeles. I was one of these actors from New York that was classically trained and always (thought)…oh, well, I'll never move to Hollywood. And then once I got out here, I really liked it -- so I moved!
I started to work on and off here in television doing guest spots on different television shows and theater. When I was in New York I started directing theater on a very occasional basis, because my focus was really selling myself as an actor. And then gradually, what happened was that I got more involved in play development at ACT (ACT-The American Conservatory Theater, in San Francisco). And over time, I gradually segued into directing for the stage and into script development because I worked with a lot of writers.
So by the time 1986-1987 rolled around, I stopped acting completely, and so since that time I've directed television, produced quite a bit. And I produced and directed over at E Entertainment Television. And I'm going to be directing my first film this year. It's not my screenplay -- it's a screenplay I've developed with writer ALBERT HARRIS, which is going to be produced for a $5 million dollar budget down in Georgia. And occasionally on and off, I teach. Basically, so I go between directing, teaching and writing. That's basically what I do, now. In a nutshell.
What is the project?
Mr. Roosevelt's Train.
Is it a contemporary story?
No, it's actually a period piece -- set in the 1940's. It's a racial story.
That has to be something fun to develop--a period piece like that --
It's really interesting.
A lot of research going into it…
Yeah. It's a true story. Based on this man's (Albert's) life…
And where do you say that was going to be done? Georgia?
Yeah -- in South Georgia. They were going to be shooting (in March) but that's not going to happen. So I don't imagine it's going to start until late summer 1999. However, it's all subject to them getting the final financing. The whole thing is packaged -- all put together -- it all looks good, but I know from experience -- it's doesn't matter at what level it's at … whether it's a $1 million or $200 million -- it could fall apart.
Of course, that's something that can also go back to theater, too--a lot of it's financing…anything can happen at any time…so it's probably nothing new to you.
I sort of don't believe anything unless I'm there--until I get my first check. Okay--now they're for real. I don't mean that in a cynical way, because I'm not really a cynical person but I just know from experience.
On his early work in NEW YORK, and his original DOTD audition:
As far as your background in New York -- I need to jump back just a second and I'd like to find out -- was the majority of your work in smaller theater productions?
Umm Hmm. Generally, off-off Broadway, and then some regional theater. Summer stock.
Where did you live in New York?
Oh, my God. It was in a lot of places.
I lived in the village and then I lived in a loft on 38th Street.
Are you a New York boy?
Yeah, I was born in NYC and I grew up near White Plaines.
Oh, you were?
Um hmm. I'm not from Pittsburgh, originally.
I guess most fans would associate you (with Pittsburgh, because of the work with George Romero) and they assume you probably came from that area…
From Pittsburgh? Not at all. You want to know how I originally got the role (in DOTD)?
Yeah, I don't originally remember hearing anything about that!
I was in New York. At that time, I think I was doing an off-off Broadway show. And I was also working in a restaurant. George Romero's wife, Chris Romero, then Chris Forrest, and I went to college together. We were in the theater department there -- and she suggested me to George. They were in town. They were auditioning, and she suggested I read for George.
So, I did. And I went to read for him and I was not at all what he was thinking -- AT ALL. He saw this role (of Roger) as a big, hulking, street-wise guy (i.e., NICK NOLTE) … not this very, sort of ex-marine, who could only be a cop after he got out, and the only thing he can do comes from a very strong military background. George did not see this character this way at all. He told me so and when I did my first reading for him, I had this particular take I took on it because I had (already) made all these decisions as to who I thought this guy was. And afterward, George said to me … he was immediately so easy to get along with … he said, "I love what you're doing … I really liked it … I'm going to call you back … but I only have one problem--it's your height."
I said "Well…so." He said, "Well, I'm thinking of this other guy I'm gonna cast -- 6'3/6'4"… he's this tall black guy"… he had meant KENNY FOREE of course…and I went, "Oh, well … so what, whose gonna care after the first five minutes the movie opens?" This sort of just came out of my mouth. Normally, I wouldn't say something like that in a casting session, but there was something about George (very personable)… and he went, "Yeah, okay. I'll think about it. "
So I auditioned for him another time, and I think even a third time … so finally, I got the role. And he told me he really liked what I was doing and it was completely different than what he was thinking--working with him, he was very, very flexible. He gave you a lot of freedom as an actor on the set, which was great.
All Interview Material Copyright 1999 BRIAN RIDGWAY and SCOTT REINIGER.
SCOTT REINIGER talks more about his original DOTD role; what it's like working with Director George Romero, and his life in California in the rest of this interview! Check back soon to the ZOMBIE FARM to see where you can find the full published interview!
Special thanks to SCOTT REINIGER and NORMAN ENGLAND.