Embracing the intriguing challenge of embarking on a seemingly compelling and equally frightening situation can be both a daunting and liberating experience. Skilled actor and comedian David Koechner, who rose to fame with roles in the comedy genre, including the ‘Anchorman’ films and the NBC television series ‘The Office,’ effortlessly took on the intimidating process when he happily switched into the horror genre. After appearing in last year’s acclaimed black comedy thriller, ‘Cheap Thrills,’ the alum of the popular improvisational group Second City moved into the horror comedy subgrene. Koechner can now be seen in co-writer-director Michael Dougherty’s ‘Krammpus,’ which opened this weekend in theaters. The film was released after the actor starred in helmer ‘Christopher Landon’s ‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,’ which was distributed in theaters over Halloween weekend. The movie is scheduled to be released on Tuesday on Digital HD and On Demand, with the Blu-Ray and DVD release scheduled to follow on January 5, 2016.
‘Krampus‘ follows sensitive and caring pre-teen Max (Emjay Anthony), who’s just beginning to realize that Christmas isn’t always as festive as he has always imagined, especially now that he no longer believes in Santa. After being scolded for ruining his school’s holiday play by his parents, Tom (Adam Scott) and Sarah (Toni Collette), who have grown emotionally distant from each other over the past several years, Max becomes upset they no longer value their family;s traditions and connections. He even becomes dismayed that he’s no longer close with his older sister, Beth (Stefania LaVie Owen), but relishes that he’s still close with his father’s mother, Omi (Krista Stadler).
Max becomes even more upset with his dysfunctional extended family, including his mother’s sister, Linda (Allison Tolman), her husband, Howard (Koechner), their four children and his Great Aunt Dorothy (Conchata Ferrell) arrive for their annual Christmas dinner and continue to bicker. As a result, the disillusioned adolescent turns his back on Christmas, and writes a letter to Santa, in which he wishes his relationships could change. Little does he know, Max’s lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus, a demonic force of ancient evil that’s intent on punishing non-believers. So the pre-teen and his broken family must learn how to love each other again, and fight together if they want to survive.
‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’ follows three high school sophomores and lifelong friends, Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller), and Augie (Joey Morgan), as they embark on their final troop camping trip. The trip is meant to celebrate Augie being set to receive his latest patch. While he’s still passionate about being a scout, Ben and Carter want to quit and get girlfriends. So once Augie falls asleep, his two friends decide to sneak away and attend the party being held by the seniors in their high school. But once they arrive in town, they realize that a vicious zombie outbreak, which was accidentally caused by a cleaner at a laboratory, has spread throughout their town.
Along the way, the duo meets Denise (Sarah Dumont), a cocktail waitress at a local club who knows how to use a shotgun. They all attempt to save everyone who’s left alive from being attacked by the zombies. The two boys also receive help from Carter’s older sister, Kendall (Halston Sage), and her friends, which makes Ben happy, as he wants to win her heart. Augie eventually meets up with his friends again in town, as the trio is concerned about the disappearance of their Scout Leader Rogers (Koechner). When Augie goes to Scout Leader Rogers’ house to check on him, the high school student is attacked by the group’s chief. As the three scouts bond together over their terrifying experiences in fighting the zombie uprising, they realize what their friendship really means to them all.
Koechner generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Krampus’ and ‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actor and comedian discussed how he was drawn to portray Howard because not only did he appreciate Dougherty’s vision for ‘Krampus’s visuals, which he dedicatedly planned before filming began, but he also enjoyed the family humor the filmmaker infused into the script; how he was interested in playing a zombie in ‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,’ as he has not played the popular undead character before, and was also intrigued that Landon encouraged him to infuse Scout Leader Rogers with the same personality after he transformed into the title villain as when he was alive; and how it was fun and interesting to take on the challenge of acting in horror comedies, as it allowed him to use his natural talents as a comedian to make the stories and his characters amusing, while also indulging his passion of trying diverse genres.
ShockYa (SY): You play Howard in the new horror comedy, ‘Krampus.’ What was it about the character of Howard, as well as the overall script, that convinced you to take on the role?
David Koechner (DK): Well, I met with Michael Dougherty and really enjoyed his vision. He had shown me all the storyboards and pre-visuals that he had done for the movie, and they were just stunning. I was also attracted to the humor, as well as the true horror side, of the film.
At the same time, Michael was pulling off this trick that there’s this family film element to it. So I thought it would be really interesting to be able to play with that aspect. Plus, the rest of the cast is amazing. It includes Adam Scott, Toni Collette and Allison Tolman, so it was a fortuitous event to work with them.
SY: Speaking of the fact that Michael storyboard the movie before you began shooting it, do you feel that having that visual representation before you begin filming your scenes to be beneficial to you as an actor?
DK: I think it’s advantageous at any point, because they let you see what the director is envisioning. It also gives you a visual aspect of what you’re supposed to be doing, and how the director wants to communicate that on film. It really allows you to give your character your own spin.
SY: Besides directing ‘Krampus,’ Michael also co-wrote the script with Zach Shields and Todd Casey. What was your experience of collaboration on the film with Michael, as both the director and a writer? Do you prefer working with helmers who also penned the script?
DK: Michael is very intelligent and intensely focused, but at the same time, he’s also child-like in his desire to almost lure people into his way of thinking. He wants the audience to think, this is a fun family horror movie. (laughs) So that’s a lot of fun to be a part of while making a film.
SY: The success of making a successful horror comedy largely depends on finding the right balance between the horrific and comedic elements of the story and characters. While you were working on both ‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse’ and ‘Krampus,’ how did you showcase both the horror and comedic elements in your characters?
DK: Any time you get a different challenge, it’s a lot of fun, and is also very interesting. I’ve never been in a horror film like this one before, where we had some practical effects that were created by some of the best people in the industry.
It was great to be able to shoot (‘Krampus’) with those practical effects on location in New Zealand. We didn’t have to react to a green screen; we used real puppets, which can be advantageous when you’re trying to act horrified. We also didn’t have to do much work with that fantastic cast-acting together came naturally.
SY: Speaking of filming in New Zealand, do you prefer filming your projects on location? Does that experience help you better connect to your characters?
DK: I think so. I think everything that goes on while you’re filming a movie adds to its overall make-up. With a film like ‘Krampus,’ we had to travel and be away from our families for two months, which was difficult. It’s a beautiful location, but being away is tough. But you can use that difficult situation to help you film your scenes.
Being away from your families also helps bond the cast. If you’re shooting in Los Angeles, you tend to have fewer dinners together. But when you’re on location, you tend to spend time with your co-stars after your day of shooting, which can add to that ensemble feel.
SY: Also speaking of shooting the films’ special effects practically, how does that experience help you relate to your characters and the overall story?
DK: It really does help, as it gives you something to focus on, as opposed to just a dot on a green screen. You have to work harder to envision what’s coming at you. With practical effects, you get to physically work with the props, and you do really get attacked by these objects at some point. You get to wrestle with them, which is certainly a different experience.
SY: You also starred as Scout Leader Rogers in this fall’s horror comedy, ‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,’ which follows three teens who try to recruit new members for their scout group before their town is overcome by zombies. What was it about the project that convinced you to take on the role?
DK: What attracted me to the role was that I had never been a zombie before. (laughs) So I thought it would be fun to do. I became involved in the movie after I had lunch with Christopher Landon, and he asked me to be a part of it.
SY: With the zombie subgenre of horror currently being so popular in films and on television, what was your experience of transforming the scout leader into a zombie, especially in a comedy-driven horror movie?
DK: It was a lot of fun. It would take about four hours to put all of the make-up on. But you realize that you’re getting a four-hour facial and massage from some of the top artists in the industry, and there isn’t anything bad about that. While we put the make-up on, we’d watch movies or listen to podcasts. Everyone had the chance to decide what they wanted to watch or listen to, and that was always fun.
They also had a guy on set who would help you define the personality of your zombie. Chris wanted our alive personality to transform into our undead personality, so it was fun finding that.
SY: Speaking of working with Christopher as the director of ‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,’ what was your collaboration process like with him as you were developing the character of Scout Leader Rogers?
DK: He’s a very fun, bright and talented guy, who has a very specific vision of exactly what he wants. It’s great to know that the director is already editing the film in their head, and they see the final version visually. But it’s also nice when they’re collaborative and open to your interpretation of your character. It’s a fun way to work.
SY: Since you play the scout group’s leader, what was your experience of acting with Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller and Joey Morgan, the up-and-coming actors who play the three teens in the film, Ben, Carter and Augie?
DK: All three of them have very distinct personalities, energies and levels of maturity, which is a lot of fun. They all had great enthusiasm for the project, which is a ton of fun to be around.
SY: Does the film’s comedic elements differentiate it from other zombie movies and television series, especially those that are solely driven by their horror elements?
DK: I think so, because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows it’s a bit campy and over-the-top, and takes the zombie thriller for a ride.
SY: While you have been appearing in horror films recently, including ‘Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,’ ‘Krampus’ and last year’s ‘Cheap Thrills,’ you’re also known for your comedy work in such films as ‘Anchorman : The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ and its sequel, ‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.’ Do you feel it’s important to continuously reinvent yourself and maintain versatility in your roles?
DK: It certainly does help, career-wise, to switch between the genres. It’s also personally a lot of fun to work on different types of projects with different directors. I think it stretches you as an actor, and perhaps widen your audience. So I love working in all mediums and genres.
SY: You studied improvisational comedy in Chicago at ImprovOlympic and under the teachings of Del Close, before joining the Second City Northwest. Do you find improv to be equally important in both types of genres?
DK: Well, it’s case-by-case, because you don’t always get to improvise on a movie. But when you do, you know that you have that ability, so you’re not intimidated by it. Hopefully you can add something viable to the script. But for me, it’s just another training tool, and another aspect of your ability that can inform you in a different way.
It can also help in your preparation, because hopefully you can take on the entirety of your character. It also allows you to speak naturally as your character, which is the goal.
SY: Do you find that working with directors who also wrote the script, like Michael on ‘Krampus,’ are more open to you and your co-stars improv while you’re filming?
DK: Well again, it’s case-by-case. In terms of this particular film, there wasn’t a lot of latitude, because for the most part, we were on a tight budget and time schedule. But there were a couple of days where we did to get to improvise, but we didn’t everyday, because it’s not that type of movie. Since there are so many moving pieces, you can’t necessarily keep playing with it. There are certainly movies and times that call for improvising, but there were few instances in this one.
But overall, acting is improvisation. You have to improvise with the props and the other people on the set, and the situations should feel real. So that background and training can help inform your experience on the set at all times.
SY: Besides taking part in the improvisational groups, you’re also a stand-up comic. How do the two types of comedy compare and contrast? Does being a stand-up comic also influence your acting in comedies?
DK: I hope so. That’s a great question, but they’re all different muscles. I can’t draw a direct correlation between them all. But I think they all do inform everything you do. I think whenever you do anything for an audience, whether it’s acting, improvisation, a play, a sketch or a film, it all makes you better.
SY: Like you mentioned earlier, you filmed ‘Krampus’ independently. Do you have a preference to shooting movies independently, as opposed to with a bigger studios? Does filming independently influence your approach to acting at all?
DK: When you know you have a tighter budget, you better be one hundred percent prepared. You’re not going to be rehearsing on camera. Sometimes when you’re filming a larger budget film, you’ll have time to do multiple takes. But on a tighter schedule, you have to get it a little bit quicker. You hope that everyone’s fully prepared when you go onto any project, and I always strive to be prepared. But on these independent films, you want to make sure you nail your scenes on the first take. If you get two or three more takes, good for you.
On films like ‘Cheap Thrillers,’ where the budget was really tight, we have to go in with our game ready. That movie was an amazing experience. The actors on that film were truly gifted, and really elevated the project. Not to say it wasn’t already elevated, but we just tore the doors off that film. Pat Healy, Ethan Embry and Sara Paxton were great. The way (director) E. L. Katz put it together just blew my mind.
SY: Speaking of rehearsing, do you prefer having time to collaborate with your co-stars before you begin filming, or do you like having your relationships develop naturally as you’re shooting?
DK: I don’t have a preference. To me, any day you’re working is Christmas. If we’re doing rehearsals, we’re making everybody better. If we’re shooting, we’re only going to get better. But to me, it’s all so much fun. If you have the chance to work in show business, that’s a day to celebrate.
SY: How important is it for you as an actor, in both your comedies and horror films to take on the physicality of your characters? Does performing the action influence your emotional connection to the characters, as well as the comedy?
DK: I’d say absolutely. There were a lot of physical aspects to ‘Krampus,’ like when we were dredging through the snow. There was fake snow powder that was up past our knees. We were really physically struggling, so we didn’t even have to think about acting like we were having trouble walking. Plus, we also had to say our lines on top of that, so it took quite an effort to get through it. So those physical challenges can definitely texture your performance.
SY: Besides starring in movies, you have also acted in several television shows throughout your career, including ‘The Office’ and ‘American Dad!’ What is it about television that you also enjoy starring on different series? How does your approach to acting on TV compare and contrast to starring in films?
DK: Well, the best thing about television is that it usually films in Los Angeles, so I get to stay home with my family. Although I will be honest, and say that film is probably my favorite medium. There’s something about the scope of film that’s more romantic. You have the chance to influence your character’s portrayal a little bit more than you do on television.
SY: Do you take a different approach to playing your characters when you’re in a film, for which you receive the entire script before you begin shooting, or when you’re on television, and learn something new about your characters with each new script you receive?
DK: Well, I think there’s something great about both mediums. You can really lock in and define the story in films, and then it’s over. Whereas on television, the challenge can be that your character is slowly changing over time. But it can also be a challenge if the character stays the same all the time, because you have to keep the consistency. So both mediums present beautiful experiences.
SY: Besides ‘Krampus,’ do you have any other upcoming projects lined up that you can discuss?
DK: I have a semi-recurring role on ‘American Dad!’ But the big project is (creator, writer, actor and executive producer) Bill Burr’s (animated sitcom television series) ‘F Is for Family’ (which is set to debut on December 18 on Netflix). I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed so hard in a recording booth as I did when we were recording this show. It was an absolutely hysterical experience. They wrote an amazing character for me.
I’ll also be shooting the Johnny Knoxville pilot for ABC in the spring. I’ll also be filming a movie in Toronto. That will be an exciting challenge for me, because it’s a straight drama, and there isn’t any comedy in it whatsoever.
Written by: Karen Benardello