Interview: “Overlord” Actor Erich Redman Talks Villainy, Secret Scripts & Why He’s A Huge Sandra Bullock Fan
Actor Erich Redman, who plays the villainous Dr. Schmidt in Julius Avery’s Overlord, talks to Top 10 Films editor Dan Stephens about a very secretive production while recalling some of his career highlights which include working on films such as Saving Private Ryan, Captain America: The First Avenger, and In Love and War.
J.J. Abrams is the master of buzz. His movies are winners before anyone has seen them. That’s because Abrams is an astute salesman: generating anticipation through cloak and dagger marketing tactics that give the movies he produces the allure of an unknown begging to be discovered.
Overlord, the 2018 horror film directed by Julius Avery, is no exception. Indeed, the secretive production gained further recognition as rumours emerged that it was part of Abrams’ “Cloververse”, a group of films loosely associated with 2008’s Cloverfield.
The first film of this connected series, the handily titled 10 Cloverfield Lane starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman and John Gallagher Jr., started life as a spec script known as The Cellar which was re-written to form part of a wider selection of movies, liberating the franchise to tell a diverse range of stories albeit with a connected conceit. This led to The Cloverfield Paradox aka Cloverfield 3 based on another spec script – known as God Particle – that was reconstituted to fit the franchise.
These seemingly incidental details have not only created a curiously intriguing set of movies but lit the rumour mill torch to such an extent Collider.com confidently – but wrongly – named Overlord as “Cloverfield 4”. The fact that isn’t the case doesn’t matter. The fire’s already burning. Abrams’ devotion to intrigue through enigma and hearsay has given life to a film before life – in the way of a theatrical release – has been given to it.
That’s one of the reasons Overlord’s cast have been tight-lipped since production wrapped last year. But of course, NDAs are nothing new when producing a movie. What is perhaps unique is how Overlord wasn’t just a secretive project in regards the public, but the cast didn’t even know what it was about.
Russian-born German actor Erich Redman reveals he didn’t know anything about the film’s story beyond his own scenes or its outcome until the film was released this year. The secrecy was such that the actor, who plays villain, Dr. Schmidt, was never allowed to read the full script.
“I only got my scenes the night before my filming days via an encrypted link, the password for which was texted to me, so you can see the production worked very hard at ensuring nobody could leak anything before the release, and it seems to have worked, which is fully understandable,” he says.
Recently seeing Overlord for the first time, Redman finally found out what actually happens. But having such little knowledge of the film as a whole meant he could look at it somewhat objectively and he was impressed with what he saw.
“I thought it was great; a very well crafted and scripted film, with some amazing special effects and images. My favourite part was probably the first 30-minute segment of the American soldiers being flown into enemy territory and then jumping off the plane – the action sequences, the soundscape, the imagery are amazing! If you like action movies, this footage will blow you away!”
Redman plays the doctor responsible for creating super soldiers, a villain heading up the unit experimenting on French civilians and dead German soldiers. The actor had played baddies before but this one was a bit different; an evil emanating from someone who had taken the Hippocratic oath to preserve life.
“I looked at some such villains online, but basically made him cultured and very high status, as – after all – he was running the laboratory and was in charge. There were some challenges, yes: The part was a lot more physical than I had expected and than I am used to; I got a massive bruise on my arm on one of my first days during a fight/stabbing scene!” Redman says with a smile: “But it’s fine.”
The physicality of the part wasn’t the only hurdle to get over. One day, he says, “I was whisked into a mobile studio, asked to stand in the middle of it and was then photographed simultaneously from all angles by the 100 SLR cameras covering all the walls and the ceiling. Luckily, they didn’t use the flash!”
It helped having a director as focused as Avery, someone the actor says was staunch in his vision of the film, not deviating from it, and pushing everyone on set to do their best.
Of course, Redman, who will next be seen in Lawrie Brewster’s Automata, has worked with a goldmine of talent throughout his career so I had to ask about some stand-outs. A faux pas while acting alongside Sandra Bullock quickly sprang to mind.
“I am a big fan of hers. We had a scene together in the film In Love and War about twenty years ago, directed by British legend Sir Richard Attenborough. The scene did not make it into the final cut, although Sir Richard very kindly let me have it for my showreel; it is a prized possession now.
“There was a problem with the German translation of the script, I was insisting that I – as a native German speaker – knew better how to say a certain line in German than Sandra did. It then turned out that she has a German mother and is a fluent German speaker! I apologised profusely, but she was very gracious about it, and I’ve been a devoted admirer ever since.”
Other actors Redman has had the pleasure of working with include Hugo Weaving on Captain America: The First Avenger (“…a real gentleman, very charming, and not at all starry…”), Tom Hiddleston on The Night Manager (“…he is so English – constantly apologising and incredibly polite and considerate, a true gent…”), and Matt Damon on Saving Private Ryan (“…we had lunch together a couple of times on set, and he was very jovial and helpful, giving me tips on how to conquer LA…”).
The actor also has very fond memories of working with director Ron Howard (“…utterly charming and unassuming; he was just like ‘Richie’ in Happy Days, I couldn’t believe it! It was good to see that you can make it to the top without having to be an unpleasant individual…”). Another actress Redman admires is British great and Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley who he made Late Bloomers with. She’s a “fantastic lady”, he says, “beautiful – inside and out. And her voice – so silky and so smooth. A very classy lady.”
As for favourite characters, he recalls the German signals officer he played in John Henderson’s Two Men Went To War. The actor says he “had some really funny scenes with Kenneth Cranham. It was a bit of a comedy WWII film anyway, but he encouraged me to take it a step further, allowing me to make this German character really quirky and hilarious, which was very enjoyable. I still chuckle every time I see it!.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film on his CV he looks back on most fondly is Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. It’s because “it was so ground-breaking” and it remains “big and important”, one that “people are still talking about.”
Pleased with the response Overlord is getting with both audiences and critics receptive to its mix of revisionist war movie and zombie horror, Redman won’t reveal whether or not he’s working with Abrams on another project. But let’s face it, even if he was, he couldn’t tell us.
Overload is currently in UK cinemas.