October 24, 2018 Interview – Scott H. Reiniger
Back in the mid ’70s, George A. Romero envisioned the foundation plot for Dawn of the Dead. Officially released overseas in 1978, it would become one of his most iconic films ever, creating images of horror with subtly interjected satire, acting as a commentary on our society.
Sustaining itself relevant four decades now, one of the stronger attributes of the film lied in the cast of characters involved, particularly a group of survivors – Stephen “Flyboy” Andrews and his girlfriend Fran Parker along with SWAT officers turned friends, Peter Washington and Roger DeMarco. It was these four individuals audiences cheered for and inevitably fell in love with.
Which raises the question, what conjured the characters’ magic on screen? A good script? Good directing? The answer is both, but one of the most important factors was the casting of David Emge as Flyboy, Gaylen Ross as Fran, Ken Foree as Peter, and Scott H. Reiniger as Roger. After all, who was not totally struck hard the first time they saw Dawn of the Dead, witnessing the demise of Roger?
Portrayed perfectly by Reiniger as a rough, tough, ex-military man with a flair for danger, the character of Roger will live forever in the heart of fans. Set to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the film’s United States premiere in April 2019, Mr. Scott Reiniger graciously took the time to chat about his experience on the set of Dawn of the Dead, his love for music and theater, his current creative outlets, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – Studying theater in school, you would go on to to star in films and television. First, looking back, briefly tell us what inspired you to pursue a professional acting career?
Scott H. Reiniger – I started earning a degree in acting/directing and I fell in love with it. My original plan was to be a professional Jazz musician, because I play piano and I can write music – that is a whole other story why I didn’t do that. I started to purse acting and I was a training junkie, I went to the American Stanislavski Theatre, Circle Repertory, and also the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco.
After that I was acting professionally in theaters, then some television, and then I got into directing. That was very fascinating to me. I developed some new plays: I actually developed a lot of plays and have had them produced. It was all gradual. I then knew I wanted to direct in television, so I went to UCLA for a couple of years to learn television and film production. One thing lead to the next and then the next.
CrypticRock.com – Wow, it is very interesting to hear about the path you have taken. You would do your share of acting in film, as well. Speaking of which, one of your most-adored role portrayals came in the form of Roger in 1978’s George A. Romero film Dawn of the Dead. How did the role come about for you?
Scott H. Reiniger – I was in New York as an actor and I was also bar-tending at the time. Chris Romero came into town with George – they were boyfriend and girlfriend at the time, later became man and wife. Chris and I were schoolmates at Rollins College in Florida. She asked me, “Do you know who George Romero is?” I said, “I think so – he is the guy who did Night of the Living Dead.” I wasn’t a Horror movie follower, but I did know who he was. She asked me if I would like to audition for George and they would send me the script. They sent me the script, I read it, and I said, “Oh my god! This is one of the most bloody things I ever read in my entire life.” (Laughs) The role attracted me though because it had a very major arc.
I went in and met George; he was very low-key and had a very easy rapport. I auditioned the first time and he told me he really liked what I was doing, but there was some sort of but behind his voice. He told me to come back, so I went and did the call back. I did a few scenes, he is looking at me smiling, and told me he really liked what I was doing, but it not quite what I had in mind. I asked him, “So what is the ‘but’?” He told me he already cast this guy, he didn’t say his name but he meant Ken Foree, who is almost twice your size, and if you do this you’re going to be in the entire film with him. I started to laugh and said, “George, the audience are probably not going to give a shit about that after the first five minutes.” He laughed and I did a take on the character on what was not quite what he saw.
He may have saw a burly, Nick Nolte cop type. I took a very different angle. To suit myself, Roger was an ex-Marine and the only work he would do was police work because he loved living on the stage; so ultimately he became a SWAT cop. That was a different approach. George was really nice, and later that night he came up to me at the restaurant and said, “Okay, you’ve got the part!” (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – Your portrayal of Roger really stuck with people. What was the chemistry like between yourself and Ken, as well as yourself and the rest of the cast?
Scott H. Reiniger – It was very good. I brought my car down from New York to Pittsburgh, so every morning we would ride to the set together. We got to know each other, joking around, and got very familiar with each other. It was good company and from that rapport during the film there were certain moments that were improv between us. George was totally open to that.
CrypticRock.com – Many people whom have worked with George said he made the film set feel like a democracy where everything was considered.
Scott H. Reiniger – Yes, he would; he gave you a lot of space as an actor. If he saw something that was not appropriate he would say so, but he gave you a lot of space. For example, when I slid down the escalator, in the script it says, ‘Roger runs down the escalator.’ Before we were about to go down, we were at the top of the escalator and I said, “George, what if I slide down the middle?” He grinned, thought about it for a moment and he said to me, “Are you sure?” I told him, “Sure! As long as someone spots me while I get off at the end and I don’t break my back.” So he said, “Okay, let’s try it!” We moved the camera down the bottom and we did it in one take.
CrypticRock.com – That is great that he gave you that freedom to suggest changes. You would also go on to to star in George’s 1981 film Knightriders. Did you have a good working relationship together?
Scott H. Reiniger – Very much, we became friends. As I told you, I knew Chris ahead of time, so we were always friends. He became a friend of the family’s and every time he came to L.A. we would spend some good time together. His daughter Tina and my daughter Zoe are the exact same age; they got to know each other very well. To this day, they still communicate with each other.
George was very collaborative. He was able to do that because he is very relaxed on the set, because he is incredibly prepared; he knows what shots he wants to get. Because he was prepared, he had the freedom to try other stuff. Time wise, he was very efficient.
CrypticRock.com – Now Dawn of the Dead is celebrating its 40th anniversary! Will you be a part of any special anniversary plans for the film?
Scott H. Reiniger – We did a convention in Pittsburgh earlier this year that was actually at the Monroeville Mall. It was huge: there were panels, signings, and all kinds of events. It was great!
CrypticRock.com – Sounds like it was a wonderful time. October has actually been declared George Romero Month in Pittsburgh.
Scott. H. Reiniger – I am not surprised! At the convention we went to, they unveiled a bronze sculpture of George that is going to stay permanently in the mall.
CrypticRock.com – It is well deserved. If you look at the usage of the mall, that was visionary. At the time, indoor malls were a new concept in our culture, then they became the mainstream and lead to a new level of consumerism.
Scott H. Reiniger – Yes, it was very much visionary. I will never forget, near the beginning of the shoot, there was a Newsweek magazine and the cover said “The Malling of America.” That’s synchronicity. George is making this film in the mall and that whole concept was growing. I thought it was fascinating.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is. Also, the social consciousness of it. There was the illusion of safety, feeling you have everything you need within the confides of this mall, but it can easily collapse at any moment. Did you feel that when the film was being made?
Scott H. Reiniger – I felt it when we got to the mall and started shooting. Also, in the script, you don’t really get George’s humor through the words. Then once we started shooting, I realized, I see what’s going on here: he always has some social analogies in his films, which I think is really interesting. But you know George was not overtly playing social politics; he didn’t even talk about it. That’s really great, because he was not a flag-waver. He just does what he does, you see it, and you either accept it or you don’t. He was a bit of a renegade.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and that is what makes his work so brilliant. You continue to be a part of the art community teaching. Do you enjoy teaching and have you considered taking on any roles in film or television again?
Scott H. Reiniger – I don’t really pursue acting anymore because I’ve done so much directing. I run the film acting program at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, which is a three-year professional conservatory for theater and film. It’s a great job: I get to work with students all the time, it’s a very collaborative environment. The other aspect of what I do is I write. Even though I love acting, writing and directing uses more of the capacity of my brain and my imagination. That is why I got into it.
CrypticRock.com – That makes sense, it is a wonderful creative outlet. What about your music, do you still play, write, and perform?
Scott H. Reiniger – I don’t perform, but I do still play. I love it! I play a fusion of Jazz, Classical, and R&B. It’s hard to explain, but that’s what I do. (Laughs) Music has always been very important to me. Particularly when I am writing a play, I like to hear music; it’s always an aspect that is important to me to support whatever the scene or movement of the story is.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and music is so vital to television, theater, or a movie. For example, the music used in Dawn of the Dead seems a bit off beat at times. Nonetheless, it is effective and gives you a strange feeling.
Scott H. Reiniger – It does give you a strange feeling. (Laughs) Sometimes you have this upbeat music, but visually you have this sense of isolation; it kind of works together.
CrypticRock.com – Since you direct and write, have you considered composing your own music for your projects?
Scott H. Reiniger – I have done that a couple of times for plays. I play by ear, I don’t have a lot of great theory, but I did study piano when I was younger. I was able to play by ear and read music out of my head. I also worked with mostly Jazz groups. I did that for a couple of plays with piano pieces for a score at certain moments.
CrypticRock.com – That is great! It seems as if you are very fulfilled artistically. Last question. While you said you are not a fan of Horror films, do you have any favorites?
Scott H. Reiniger – A film I really liked was The Others (2001), I found it haunting and very mysterious. I have seen other Horror films, I had an experience when I went to A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Friends of mine who were super Horror fans asked me to come to see a midnight showing. I watched it and that film totally freaked me out! I didn’t want to go to sleep. I drove around the freeway for about an hour and half before I went home, because I didn’t want to go home and go to sleep. I had common sense – I knew my dreams weren’t going to realize themselves in my bedroom – but it just freaked me out like crazy.
On a side note, Greg Nicotero, who was working with Tom Savini on Day of the Dead (1985), it is interesting to see how far he has come. He has done so much with AMC’s The Walking Dead. He’s a friend and it’s nice to see how he is involved and the success he has had.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and George Romero’s films such as Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead pioneered the way for The Walking Dead. It is nice when people realize where it all started.
Scott H. Reiniger – Exactly! When George died, The Walking Dead gave a tribute mention to him. I went to Toronto to go to George’s memorial service and reception. The main thing that came out it was not just George as a director, but who he was as a person; it was a constant theme of how he treated other people. That was very moving.
Do you remember Creepshow (1982)? Well, Leslie Nielsen and E.G. Marshall were in that, two hugely established actors. Gaylen Ross, who was also in it, told me they said that George Romero was the best director they ever worked with. That’s pretty incredible! George gave you a lot of space, he didn’t micromanage you. That was a very important statement coming from people like that and they meant it.