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Wingman Wednesday

Zach McGowan

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On your mark. Get set. Let’s go!

We’re celebrating the release of “Death Race: Beyond Anarchy” – available today on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand – chatting with the individuals responsible for revving our blood-fueled engines. This time out we’re sitting down with star Zach McGowan to discuss the double-edged sword that is present when joining an existing franchise, the reason his inner 10-year-old was “losing his shit” every day on set, and why “The Walking Dead” fans better get used to seeing his face.

TrunkSpace: “Death Race” is a popular franchise with fans. As an actor, when you’re going into a new project, is it exciting knowing that there’s already a built-in audience for you on the other side?
McGowan: Always. You look at it both ways. You’re like, “Sweet! There’s already people who love these movies!” And then you’re also like, “Wow, I hope they embrace me.” That’s the double-edged sword of it. I hope I did the fans proud.

TrunkSpace: For those long-term fans who have been following the franchise since the ’70s, what are they going to dig most about this one in particular? What does it do best, in your opinion?
McGowan: Well, for the people who have been involved with the franchise since its inception, basically like me – I started watching them in the ’80s with my brothers, probably too early. (Laughter) When I was like a little, tiny kid, my brothers would play them, and I’d be like, totally desensitized. I think to those fans, I think they’re the ones who will embrace it the most.

That was the whole goal of it, was to make it in the vein of those older pictures. When I read the character I was like, “Oh, this is like Kurt Russell in ‘Escape from New York’ or something.” That was what I saw. Don (Michael Paul) explained to me that they were actually building the cars and they were going to do everything practical and not rely upon the visual effects and all that. That’s when I knew it was going to be awesome, or at least I hoped that it could be. I’ve seen it, and I think that really shines through, so I think the original fans will dig those elements of it.

TrunkSpace: It does seem like a love letter to the fans who have been with the franchise for years, but at the same time, it could just as easily serve as a jumping on point for newbies.
McGowan: Yeah. For sure. I think it holds true to the genre. If you watch it and you have no idea what “Death Race” is, you would still know. It’s accessible on different levels in that way.

TrunkSpace: We already talked about what the fans will dig, but what did you dig about the experience? What did you take from the production that you’ll carry with you?
McGowan: When I first got there, I think what initially just jumped out was, I got to see all the cars that had been built. Literally, while we were doing pre-production for this, while I was in fight camp, the Oscars were happening. This was in 2016 when we shot it. The Oscars were happening, and I was running on a treadmill in the middle of the night, and I was watching the Oscars. That year, obviously, “Mad Max” cleaned house at the Oscars. The original ones were like the Australian remake of the “Death Race” movies back then. It was one of these weird confluences when I was sitting there watching that all happening.

TrunkSpace: And like you said, it has to be wild showing up on set and seeing those cars, especially growing up watching the original. 10-year-old you must have been pysched!
McGowan: Oh yeah! 10-year-old me was just losing his shit all the time.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked with Don before. Was that a coincidence or was there some sort of professional connection that you guys made that carried forward beyond just the one film?
McGowan: Well, we actually shot “Death Race” before “The Scorpion King.” I met Don on “Death Race.” Before I took it, I watched a bunch of his movies. His first movie is called “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man.” If you haven’t seen it, it’s just awesome. People should go back and check it out.

I was excited to just inhabit that world with him. Since then, we’ve done two movies together. I love Don. He’s got to be one of my favorite guys and, as I always said, he’s the smartest director in Hollywood because he cast me as the lead in his action film. (Laughter)

McGowan with Danny Glover in “Death Race: Beyond Anarchy.”

TrunkSpace: So going into “The Scorpion King,” with already having that comfort level of working together, you must have been able to just sort of hit the ground running?
McGowan: Yeah. In fact, actually on “The Scorpion King,” my schedule before it was pretty tight. Because of that, the fight training period had to be made smaller, because I was in the middle of shooting a period drama for USA at the time. But it was like we were ahead of things. We knew how each other worked, so it just all worked out. I look forward to making many films with him in the future.

TrunkSpace: Going back to 10-year-old Zach for a second… you grew up in New York City. If someone said back in the day, “Zach, eventually you’re going to be in one of these big franchises that you’re watching now as a kid.” Would you say they were crazy or was this always your path? Not necessarily this specific film, but acting in general?
McGowan: I decided early that this was something that I wanted to do for sure. As far as seeing myself now, I think 10-year-old me would be proud more than surprised. I had parents who always, always told us that the sky’s the limit and that you can do amazing things. “You can do anything if you just work hard enough at it.” If I ever had faith in anything, it was that. That hard work and dedication will lead to success in the end. I mean, the path’s not over, but I’m glad to have gotten as far as I’ve gotten thus far.

TrunkSpace: Finally, Zach, we know you can’t say much about it, but you’re due to join “The Walking Dead” this season. Just to tie it to “Death Race,” is your character Justin… is he in the same zone of badassery as Connor from “Death Race?”
McGowan: I think that every character’s different. Justin is definitely not the same guy as Connor, but does he do some badass things? I think anyone who’s lived to this point in “The Walking Dead,” who’s a human and is alive, has obviously been through quite a bit in order to have made it that far through the apocalypse. So, yeah, you get to see some stuff for sure. I got to have some fun on the show, and I hope you like it.

Death Race: Beyond Anarchy” is available today on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand.

Next up, Don Michael Paul directs “The Scorpion King: Book of Souls,” due October 23.

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Wingman Wednesday

Craig Jackson

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There have been plenty of talented people with the name Jackson who have left their mark on pop culture. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, is an obvious one. Randy Jackson, the “American Idol” judge and record producer who made “dawg” a household phrase. Shoeless Joe Jackson, the famed and shamed professional baseball player who later became fictionalized in “Field of Dreams.” And Samuel L. Jackson, the iconic “Pulp Fiction” actor who once had to fight motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane.

The list could go on and on, but only ONE Jackson has shared a passionate screen kiss with his scene partner while having a human eyeball pass back and forth between their lips. (At least we think he’s the only Jackson to do that. Truth be told, we haven’t actually fact checked that because it just felt like a safe assumption.)

South African-based actor Craig Jackson plays slacks-wearing, serial killing, lap-dogging Cliff in our favorite man-eating car drama “Blood Drive.” And the fact that we can even say that sentence out loud proves just how cool this interview is going to be, so put on a bib because you’re in for a treat!

We recently sat down with Jackson to discuss bloodthirsty love, putting the pedal to the hybrid metal, and why he’s so proud of having worked on the series.

TrunkSpace: We have been asking this of every Blood Drivecast member we speak with because, well, it just seems like an obvious first question. (Laughter) Did you ever wonder if the material you were working on in Blood Drivewould ever make it to air?
Jackson: All the time! When I read the line, “Back door entrance, Barbie,” my eyes nearly popped out of my head. I thought they might censor some of the material. I’m just so glad it all stayed in. It was just so out there and crazy and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard!

TrunkSpace: What is interesting about the show is, due to the premise, many of the actors had on-screen partners, in your case Jenny Stead. Do you think that helped the actors find their sea legs in a series that is so over-the-topbeing able to instantly rely on a scene partner who is also your character’s partner?
Jackson: Definitely! When Jenny and I first met at the studio, we hit it off immediately! I remember the crew asking me if we had known each other for years! It was nerve-racking coming into this series, because it was so off-the-wall and we were worried where to pitch our performances, being comfortable with each other made everything so much easier. Jenny is a really funny and talented actress, working with her was such a pleasure.

TrunkSpace: Your character Cliff is going through what a lot of long-married people go through. He is wondering what happened to the excitement and spark that he and his wife had in the early years of their relationship. However, Cliffs excitement and spark involves the longing to return to a life as a serial killer. Was it fun tapping into that totally relatable concept, and yet, sooooo not relatable at the same time?
Jackson: Such fun! I think Cliff is “comfortable” with their marriage and doesn’t like change too much, but adores Domi and would do anything for her even though she’s a ball busting narcissist who drives him crazy. Domi is on a mission to find that spark again and Cliff follows like the lap dog he is.

TrunkSpace: A bit of Cliffs backstory is discussed through some reminiscing with Jennys character Domi. Did you two explore that even further, either together or with creator James Roland? Perhaps, how the two ultimately met and fell in bloodthirsty love together?
Jackson: Jenny and I came up with a backstory, which was very dark. Cliff and Domi knew each other at a young age and fell in love when he helped her kill her parents. They realized then that they were soulmates. Years before entering the “Blood Drive” race, Domi had a miscarriage and Cliff saw the dead fetus, which put him off killing. This event has affected their relationship and their marriage had stagnated as they didn’t kill together anymore.

Before we shot our very first scene (the eyeball kiss), I spoke to James about my character. He said what he loved about my audition was that I reminded him of Winnie The Pooh! I loved that!

TrunkSpace: The amazing thing about Cliff is that although he looks like a suburban super dad on the surface, he is probably one of the more better equipped characters for this world, at least mentally. Hell, even Rib Bone had a weakness in the dog! Do you feel like Cliff is sort of the big psycho fish in the small Blood Drive” pond?
Jackson: For sure. That’s what I love about the characters that James has written. They look so normal. Your typical harmless, middle American couple, who are repulsed by the other drivers. They see them as lower class. Even though Cliff is a ballbusted whipping boy to Domi, his inner rage is unrivaled. When he loses it, he is a bad ass! And coupled with Domi,… well, lets just say… Arthur and Grace wouldn’t get out of their starting blocks!

TrunkSpace: We just spoke of weakness. Would Cliffs weakness be Domi?
Jackson: 100 percent. Even though she drives him crazy, he would be nothing without her. Oh, and the Prius! I mean, how emasculating can you get? Cliff would have loved a cool mustang, but NO! Domi insisted on a slow HYBRID!!!!

Domi: (staring at Cliff) Tone.
Cliff: Yes, Dear…

TrunkSpace: Eyeball make out session! How does one prepare for something like that?
Jackson: Hubba Bubba chewing gum.

I was really excited! Before shooting the scene, I thought to myself, “Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would be shooting a kissing scene with an eyeball! How great is my life right now!” The environment was so relaxed. We had such a great team around us and it was such a pleasure being directed by James Roday.

TrunkSpace: Just out of curiEYEsitywhat was the actual prop eye made of?
Jackson: Plastic dipped in some sweet blood syrup. Yummy!

TrunkSpace: How do you share your new gig with family when said gig is a show with cars that eat people and a character who is mouth-swapping eyeballs? What is that conversation like?
Jackson: Well, my family find it hilarious but can’t quite get their heads around the concept, but they are all very supportive and eager to see the show. I love watching my wife’s face when she watches the eyeball scene. It’s a look of pride with moments of disgust.

TrunkSpace: “Blood Driveis so very unlike anything else on television. That statement is said a lot about a great number of shows, but usually its just said for the sake of saying it. It truly is the case with your show. Does that make being involved with it feel all the more special?
Jackson: Absolutely. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun. Not being 100 percent sure how this show would turn out was both frightening and exciting and I’m so proud of the finished product. This show isn’t just about blood and gore, there are amazing, clever themes running through each episode and James Roland has done a sterling job. It was an awesome team to work with! I have also made lifelong friends. I’ve just got back from the United Kingdom where I met up with Marama, Thomas and Andrew. What a lovely, talented team! South Africa misses you guys! COME BACK SOON!

TrunkSpace: You spent multiple seasons starring in Black Sailsas Featherstone. What did your time on that series teach you about working with the same character over a prolonged period of time
Jackson: I find the longer you play a character the easier it becomes. You’re more at ease when delivering dialogue and can play more and try different things. We also had amazing script writers in Jon Steinberg/Robert Levine and Dan Shotz, which makes an actors work a whole lot easier.

TrunkSpace: When you look at your career moving forward, what would you like to accomplish? Do you have bucket list items that you want to check off in your career?
Jackson: I love what I do and want to keep doing challenging roles, whether it be for film, television or stage. An award or two would also be nice!

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