Let’s say aliens really do attack Earth one day; who do you think will defend us? Tom Cruise? Probably not. Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith? Not happening. It’s the army and not the army Mars Attacks!-style. We’re talking dead serious real soldiers with intense weaponry setting off some massive explosions and, based on my chat with Neil Brown Jr., that’s who the unearthly visitors go head-to-head with in Battle: Los Angeles.
With quite a few credits to his name, including Fast & Furious and The Walking Dead, Brown Jr. certainly knows what he’s doing on set, but there seems to be something about Battle: LA that really hit home for him and his co-cast. Not only did the group have to attend an intense boot camp right before heading to set in Louisiana, but they remained close throughout shooting up to this very day. Having gone through this training together, the men felt and acted like real Marines and not only did that lead them to develop strong bonds with one another, but it brought an impeccable degree of authenticity to the film, too.
As big as Battle: LA is, that’s not the only highly anticipated project on Brown Jr.’s plate. After a stellar first season, The Walking Dead is back, but the question is, will the nursing home protector Guillermo be back as well? Brown Jr. may not have been able to offer any definitive answer, but he did guarantee the second season will blow you away regardless.
Check out everything Neil Brown Jr. had to say about Battle: Los Angeles, The Walking Dead and a potential next project in the interview below.
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES
Can you tell me about your character in Battle: Los Angeles?
I play Richard Guerrero, Lance Corporal Richard Guerrero, who is, for lack of better words, [laughs] he’s from Detroit. He’s a fast-talking, sharp shooting, son of a bitch. He’s a tough kid, but funny. He’s always trying to find the humor in stuff, but he’s also a sharp shooter, so he’s all right. He’s pretty deadly.
I read that your dad was a Marine. Did he give you any advice for the part?
Oh, yeah. Keep your head down [laughs], your eyes up and Marine up. He was very excited about me playing a Marine. He was just like, ‘Do as your told, walk tall, be strong, Marines don’t quit,’ and I carried that in there.
Are you going to bring him to the premiere?
He lives in Florida and he’s on his job. I wanted him to come, but he’s not going to be able to make it, neither him or my mom, which is cool; he’ll be there in spirit. I’ll miss them. Love you mom, love you dad!
I’m curious to hear what he thinks of you playing that role.
He is going to flip! He was so ecstatic when I came from just training because we looked like Marines, we walked like Marines, we talked like Marines, I ate like a Marine and he just gleamed with joy. He would watch me eat and just smile. He’s like, ‘That boy is eatin’ like a Marine!’ I’m like, ‘Yes, sir.’
Can you tell me about that training you had to go through?
It was very intense. We had about three and half, four weeks of training very close with the Marines. They took us out to Templeton and this other camp out in Louisiana and we built a tent and we had to sleep in mosquito nets. It was just a very intense training regiment; up at 5:30, down at 9:00 and ready to get up the next day again. Lots of drilling and PT, physical training, as well as classes on weapons and the weapons that we’d be carrying, pretty much what the Marines do when they go to basic training. They wanted us to look, walk, talk, act like real Marines and not Hollywood Marines.
You’re a train martial artist though, so I’m sure the training wasn’t too tough for you.
I am a pretty physical person, the thing is, my cardio is shit and running four miles every morning and afternoon, I just don’t see the point. [Laughs] But it was a lot of fun and I did pretty well. I kept up with most of the guys.
Did any of your co-cast have a tough time getting through some of the boot camp?
Michelle Rodriguez, she has a knee problem, so she had a little bit of an issue with the running all the time, but she kicked through it. Jim Parrack, good buddy of mine, he got sick. He caught like a virus, so we had to work him through that. It was intense because it was so hot. My boy Gino Anthony Pesi who was in S.W.A.T. 2, he’s a big guy, he’s a 200-pounder, solid guy and he was running better than anybody! “I’m like, where’d he get that strength from, brother? Jersey?”
Sounds like the experience really brought you all closer together.
Oh, everybody was really close. Cory Hardrict, Ne-Yo, Will Rothhaar and Taylor Handley, everybody, we still hang out at least once or twice a month. We still get together, talk about the good old days back when we were Marines. [Laughs]
So once you got on set, did all of the behavior feel very natural?
Oh, yes. Everything was second nature down to the way we rested in between takes. We had cast chairs, but nobody ever really used them. We kind of just sat on the floor, put our weapon down a certain way and laid on the weapon and slept like Marines basically, sitting upward, ready to get up at any moment. The Sergeant Major, Jim Dever, and Master Sergeant would come by and they would smile every once in a while and [say], “You look like real Marines.” We weren’t allowed to do anything that wasn’t consistent with the way a Marine would respond down to the way we talked, the way we walked, the way we interacted with the aliens, the way we fought. It’s all the way it would really happen.
What’s it like working on a film with so many explosions and other big effects? I’d think you could only do a limited number of takes, right?
When there was an explosion or something, yeah, it was a limited number. It was high-pressure situations because we really didn’t have time to relax or rest or anything; there was really no lunches a lot of times. We would just get these 15 minute breaks to rehydrate and get water and all that stuff and get right back in there and the heat. That’s one of the reasons why they trained us so hard because it was so hot in Louisiana. It was like 99 degrees, 100 degrees and we had all that gear on and they didn’t want us passing out and having to stop and say, ‘Hey, no! That’s not the way a Marine does that.’ They needed us basically to be Marines who knew how to act [laughs], and were just able to get up there and do it. A lot of times there were mortars going off and explosions and we were having to reload weapons and everybody had to hit their mark and as a director, Jonathan Liebesman in his infinite glory, would come up and run over to me and say, ‘Hey, Neil Brown Jr., my man. I need you to say something funny, right now!’ And you just have to come up with a line. Either you had it or you didn’t! He’s like, ‘Okay, one take, Neil Brown Jr., keep the camera on him, go!’ [Laughs] You had to hit your lines, you had to be awesome and that was all you got.
Does that comedy come naturally to you?
Yeah, it pretty much does. It was the character; he’s a shit talker from Detroit. I’m naturally a [funny guy] myself; unfortunately I don’t always play those characters. I always play a bad guy or a mean guy, so I never get to do any of my comedy, but it’s pretty natural to me. I like pressure. If the pressure’s on, I’m good. If there’s no pressure, I’m just gonna float it on by. [Laughs]
What was the set like? How much of what we’ll see on screen was really there and how much was done in post?
There’s a lot done in post. There were huge green screens sometimes, some of the biggest ones I’ve ever seen, and other times, there were guys in suits and other times there was absolutely nothing there. I saw the movie, I watched the screener, and I am in awe of this movie. It is one of the best films I’ve ever seen and I’m a big film buff. I love sci-fi, action; I love all movies!
In that case, what’s your favorite alien invasion movie?
An alien invasion movie? My favorite alien movie would be Aliens as in Alien 2 with Sigourney Weaver. That’s my favorite alien movie. My favorite alien invasion movie would probably have been Independence Day, I think. The geek in me loves Starship Troopers, but that’s just between you and I. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Not any more! Hey, I’ll admit it too. I had a lot of fun with that movie!
I’ve just never scene a movie like [Battle: Los Angeles]. I’ve honestly never seen a movie so realistic because in every movie you see that’s an alien invasion movie, even Independence Day, it’s kind of comical if you think about it. ‘Yeah, we have one of those spaceships and we’re gonna make a virus from MS-DOS and then load it up to the spaceship and go fly it up there and pull it up and then we’re all good.’ That’s not gonna happen, brother. If aliens came here, the military would defend and if they fail, we would have a problem.
THE WALKING DEAD
Turning our attention to The Walking Dead; how does it feel to be part of such a smash hit?
I am astonished. I am truly blessed, I’m thankful. I am a huge fan of zombie flicks and horror; and I’m talking like real horror, like cheesy B, C movie horror. Those are my favorite. Oh, yeah, man! Give me black and white any day. So being part of The Walking Dead was such an awesome experience since the fans love the show. I love the show and everybody’s just been so supportive and I’ve got people from the Zombie Survival Group on the Twitter there, they’re hitting me up like, ‘Ah, man! Guillermo! It’s coming back! We love you!’ There’s been so much good response. Andrew Lincoln, IronE Singleton and all these guys who are very giving in the work, so it was an awesome tremendous experience and I’m happy. I love the fans, baby!
I’m sure you know there was no way you were getting out of this question; there’s been rumors that your character may return for the second season. Is it true?
Huh? What? What’d you say? The phone’s breaking up, baby!
Oh, really? I’m sure. [Laughs]
[Laughs] That was my first appearance. The fans have responded and the show has responded accordingly and all I can tell you is the next season is going to be amazing. Frank Darabont and Robert Kirkman, they’ve wrote new episodes that are amazing, so be prepared for it all to hit the fan next year. [Laughs]
What’s the deal in terms of your contract? Did you sign a multiple season deal at the start so they had the option to continue your storyline?
Well, they originally left it open and then there was some changes. Because, you know, my character was originally not in the episode and then Frank Darabont in conjunction with Robert Kirkman just created this guy and there was a happy response from fans and originally they left it open in case of that is what I was told. It’s been very positive, I can tell you that much.
I really can’t wait to see what happens next. I wish it were coming back sooner!
Oh, yeah. It takes a while because one thing they did with the first series, the initial run it was really a test run. It was a test to see if people would respond the way that they did, so now they’re going back and doing everything that would normally be done on the first run, like if it were Lost or something and how you’d have 13 to 26 episodes of awesomeness instead of just six.
NEXT FOR NEIL BROWN JR.
Beyond Battle: LA and The Walking Dead, what are your hopes from here? Is there anything specific you’d like to do next?
Actually, I was on Harry’s Law last night. I keep doing these characters that they leave open. They’re like, ‘You know what? We might be bringing you back.’ [Laughs] I’m consistently doing that on television shows. I would love to do a comedy and do a really nice show, like a sitcom or something like that. I’m having a lot of fun being the bad guy who actually has a good heart. I would love to do more movies like that. I’m actually working on a buddy cop comedy slash drama with Cory Hardrict and Will Rothhaar, two actors who are also on Battle: Los Angeles. One great thing about doing that movie is that you could make 30 more films with just the cast!
Are you guys writing that one together?
Funniest thing, Cory Hardrict and I, we were kind of praying about it. We’re like, ‘Man, we would love to do a buddy cop comedy,’ and drama, kind of like the original Bad Boys and one of the associate producers and one of the assistant directors approached us and said, ‘Hey, man. I have got this script that’s perfect for you, Neil Brown Jr., and Cory Hardrict,’ and then it turned out it was a buddy cop comedy. They’re talking to funders now and there has to be some rewrites, but it’s right there for the taking, so hopefully the fans respond enough so the movie can get made because it’ll be great. I’m getting a nice little run here. I’ve been doing it for 16 years and it’s almost like I’m starting over. [Laughs]
By Perri Nemiroff