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Finding his inner zombie


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Don Misel, Amana, was one of three Iowa County residents to act in a horror film shot in Iowa this fall. Misel played a zombie.

Ask Don Misel, Amana, how he feels about horror films and you’ll quickly learn of his strong aversion to the genre.

“Too scary. I like loving kinds of movies, not scary movies,” he said.

And yet, despite his distaste for gory and scary films, the 76-year-old agreed to spend nearly 12 hours covered in fake blood to portray an elderly zombie in a movie filmed in Iowa this fall.

Misel’s zombie transformation starts with an article he read in the Marengo Pioneer Republican about casting calls for an Iowa film. Misel, who has acted in a few commercials before, had never been in a movie, so his curiosity motivated him to make the drive to Iowa City to audition. At the time, Misel admits, he didn’t even know the type of movie he was auditioning for.

“It was just something fun to do. I just thought it would be fun to try and do something like that - and it was, it was hilarious,” he said.

Even though Misel doesn’t enjoy horror films, he had no qualms about playing one of the many zombies in “Collapse.” In fact, he enjoyed it.

“The nice part about being a zombie is they don’t talk. I didn’t want to have to memorize paragraphs and paragraphs,” he laughed.

The plot of “Collapse” centers around a Midwest farmer who struggles to protect himself from a sudden zombie invasion. Misel was selected to be one of the 150 zombies who stalk the farmer.

According to Misel’s zombie training manual, given to all of the film’s zombies, a zombie is a “reanimated deceased human being whose only living part is the brain.” Zombies don’t breathe, talk, feel pain or experience hot or cold. Actors were highly encouraged to study for their role by watching a series of zombie films recommended by the producer, none of which Misel watched, of course.

“I probably saw a zombie in a B movie when I was little. I just mostly watched what everyone else did,” he said.

Despite his lack of zombie expertise, Misel was one of five zombies who got the most camera time on the West Branch set in October.

“I think my age was one of the reasons I got the part — because there were so many kids signed up in Iowa City. I think I was the only old man,” he said.

Because he was often positioned in front of the zombie pack, Misel’s zombie look was more detailed than others, consisting of blood-stained, ripped clothing, fake head wounds and blackened, rotting teeth. Misel describes the tooth-staining substance somewhat fondly.

“It was this liquid they’d squirt in your mouth. It kind of tasted like candy, like peppermint,” he laughed.

Though Misel’s part as a zombie only lasted one day, he made sure to make the most of it.

“I walked up to these little kids (sitting off set) and said, ‘This is what happens when you don’t wear your bike helmet,’” he laughed.

He had also hoped to wear the costume afterward for his teenage grandchildren.

“I thought it’d be so much fun because it wasn’t that far from Halloween,” he said.

The closest Misel ever came to running into stars on set was a far off glimpse of the film’s main character, the farmer, played by Chris Mulkey, who’s also appeared in the horror movie “Cloverfield.”

“He didn’t impress me too much. He wasn’t any Robert Redford or anything,” Misel said.

UPDATED December 16, 2009 11:08 AM

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