Eddie McGee is a talented actor who initially came to prominence by winning the first season of Big Brother all the way back in 2000. He has since appeared in a number of television and movie projects. His latest, The Human Race posits him as a participant in a brutal pursuit in which those who lag behind are killed. McGee, who lost his left leg to cancer, plays a surprisingly resilient runner in the film. In an exclusive interview with Mania, he talked about the role and the unique way the movie reached the screen.
Question: How did you land this part?
Eddie McGee: I was very fortunate in that [writer-director] Paul Hough wrote the film with me in mind as one of the leads. If you’re an actor, that’s about the most flattering thing in the world, and it was such a great part. How could I say no?
Q: What was the central appeal of the character?
EMG: That he was a bad-ass primarily. You don’t get a lot of roles like that when you’re missing a leg. We tend to have pity parties thrown for us onscreen, or “look at how brave they are” stuff. But this guy was much different. He wasn’t perfect and that’s always fun to play. There’s sides of him that aren’t too nice. But he’s still a good guy at the end of the day. That’s the kind of role I like, a good guy with a little complexity.
Q: How hard is it find and develop those flaws in a character?
EMG: Some of it you pull from yourself. I have my share of quirks and shortcomings, like anyone else. I try to pull in some of my issues and problems and put them onscreen. It makes the character feel more authentic and helps the audience connect with the story if you do it right.
We wanted to hold up a mirror a little bit: to show people from all walks of life and ask how they would respond to a life-threatening scenario. We all have tendency to separate ourselves from the darker side. We’ll watch movies like this and say, “well I would never do that!” But we don’t know because most of us, God forbid, will never be in a place where we have to make those kinds of decisions. I like to think that these kinds of stories can help us acknowledge and understand those darker tendencies, and be better able to deal with them in the event they come up.
Q: What about the physical challenges of a movie like this?
EMG: It was definitely the most physical role I’ve ever done. It actually took us about four years to finish the picture, and I had to get in shape starting about six months before we began. I had to maintain that more or less throughout the entire shoot, so it was pretty demanding. Nothing compared to the next picture I want to do, but yeah… it took some doing. There was a fight scene between me and a trio of bad guys. That was pretty tough.
Q: Four years is a wild ride for any movie. How did that schedule come together?
EMG: Paul had a studio all set up. He had someone who was going to back the whole thing: sets, PR support, the whole thing. But they wanted to change my character from one-legged to two legged, and Paul wouldn’t do it. It’s kind of extraordinary, especially in this town, but he felt that it was absolutely indispensable to the film. After something like that, I was in no matter what. I was going to help him finish this film the way he wanted it and justify that amazing sacrifice for the integrity of the film, and to me as the character he was defending so strongly.
So we shot it ourselves. Paul worked his day job, I worked my day job, and we scraped the money together. We’d work for three months and shoot for a weekend. We’d get a windfall from somewhere and take a “vacation” and shoot for a week. We had somebody step up to the plate and give us the money to shoot the foundation in seven days. After that, it was Paul and I believing in the project and doing whatever we could whenever we could to bring it home. I guess we were a little like the characters in the movie that way. “Run or the movie dies.”
Q: How hard was it to keep the passion and the energy alive for all that time?
EMG: Paul believed in it so much, and I believed in it just as badly. We had a fantastic cast – these people were really incredible – and their dedication really helped see us through. Not only did they keep coming back, but they were fanatic about keeping their hair length the same and their beard length the same. One guy had a Mohawk and he had to re-shave it twenty times over the course of four years. There were moments when we were kicking and cursing each other, and wondering if the movie would ever end. But then we’d look at the dailies and we could see how good it was, how good we wanted it to be. That’s what saw us through.