Some character roles never die and any actor will tell you, the phenomenon can be both a blessing and a curse. Notoriety gained for a particular role can either become a calling card for future work, or stereotype the actor out of any future consideration because filmmakers are unfamiliar with his range. The annals of television and cult movie history are crammed with high-profile examples of both.
Then there are actors like Joe Pilato, who has taken his instantly recognizable turn as the unsavory and malicious Captain Rhodes, in George Romero's Day Of The Dead, and turned it into a decades-long career move. The no-nonsense Captain Rhodes, easily the most colorful character in the 1985 film, elevated the theatrically-trained Pilato from bit part obscurity to cult figure. The fact that it was only his third motion picture role, at the time, surprises many.
In truth, the fact that Pilato chose this career path at all comes as a surprise. Born in the Italian section of East Boston to a hardworking Italian family (his father was professional trombonist with the Les Brown Orchestra), Pilato admits that his flair for performing was discovered quite by accident, when he became an alter boy. Still, it wasn't until his college years that he took the big step towards honing his love for performance into a craft. "When I went to college," he says, "I didn't have a thought about acting. I was going to be a lawyer."
Unfortunately, once he got there, he realized that his only points of reference for law were those found on television and film. He realized quickly that he didn't want to be a lawyer, so much as he wanted to PLAY a lawyer. Acting classes followed at Emerson College and Suffolk University, in Boston, and soon he was on stage with such notable troupes as Boston Repertory Theatre, Stage One Theatre Company and Reality Theatre. Though the progression seems almost natural, he still credits both religion and law as his main influences for taking the big leap of faith.
Savagely bitten by the acting bug, the fledgling actor made his way to New York City, where he was an original member of the Working Theatre, studying with such luminaries as Joe Chalkin, Kristin Linklatter and Peter Kass. It was while in New York that he also began his collaboration with Jersey Growtowski's Polish Laboratory Theatre. In the late 70s, Pilato relocated to Pittsburgh, where he was a resident actor with the Pittsburgh Public Theatre and the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival. He also picked up a few gigs as an acting coach at local colleges.
His career took an upswing when he became a member of the Pittsburgh Film Family and consequently met the Godfather of cult cinema, George A. Romero. As odd as it may seem for a theatrically trained actor to pair up with a filmmaker of Romero's stature, the match appeared to be a heavenly one. Pilato's first role, a small part in Dawn Of The Dead (as a police officer), led to yet another small part in Knight Riders (as a disgruntled fair worker), alongside Ed Harris, followed closely by his signature role as Captain Rhodes in Day Of The Dead. In fact, it's his memorable death scene that really grabbed the attention of fans. Not surprisingly, it was Pilato himself who introduced the notion that if Rhodes was going to succumb to the zombie menace, he wouldn't do so quietly. That blood-and-guts-spewing delivery of his final line, "Choke on 'em!" will live on in annals of cult movie history for as long as such annals exist.
Since that auspicious "debut," Pilato's resume has grown over the years to include roles in Ron Howard's Gung Ho, Charlie Peter's Music From Another Room, and Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (as Dean Martin), as well as such cult fare as Bob Kurtzman's The Demolitionist and Wishmaster, Alienators, The Ghouls, Last Seduction and Zeb Desoto's upcoming Wardog. His voiceover work includes that of Metal Greymon in the children's animated series, Digimon. It's also a little known fact that Pilato was in the original trailer for the low-budget version of Tarantino's From Dusk Til Dawn, where he can be seen wearing the infamous black suit, white shirt, and black tie, which later became a Tarantino trademark in such films as Reservoir Dogs and the afore-mentioned Pulp Fiction.
Even so, he's never forgotten the role that made him famous and can often be seen at conventions, signing autographs and talking to enthusiastic fans about his experiences on the film. "I enjoy conventions" Pilato says, "without the fans we're nothing, so keep coming back." Ask him what his favorite roles to date have been, however, and you may be surprised. Though Captain Rhodes will always be near and dear to his heart, he waxes nostalgic about his roles as a professional Christmas caroler at Gimbel's Department Store in Pittsburgh, where he founded the Dickens Carolers, and as a stand-in for Robert DeNiro in The Deer Hunter.
Joe Pilato InterviewsCJ interviews Joe for Digital Retribution - March 15, 2010
An interview with Joe by the denizens of the Gentleman's Grindhouse
Listen to Joe Pilato discussing his work on Day Of The Dead HERE!
Read an interview with Joe Pilato
in the March 2010 issue of
Another interview with Joe can be found
in the March 2010 issue of
Another interview with Joe
in the August/September 2008 issue of
Joe Pilato Filmography* Night Of The Living Dead: Origins - 2011
* Someone's Knocking At The Door - 2009
* Krampus - 2008
* The Ghouls - 2003
* Digimon: The Movie - 2000
* Digimon (TV series) - 1999-2000
* The Last Seduction II - 1999
* Music From Another Room - 1998
* Wishmaster - 1997
* Star Trek: Starfleet Academy (Video Game) - 1997
* Snakeskin Jacket - 1997
* Neon Signs - 1996
* Visions - 1996
* The Demolitionist - 1995
* Angel Devoid: Face Of The Enemy (Video Game) - 1995
* Pulp Fiction - 1994
* Fatal Passion - 1994
* The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr. (TV series) - 1993
* The Evil Inside Me - 1993
* Married People, Single Sex - 1993
* Alienator - 1990
* Shooters - 1989
* Gung Ho - 1986
* Spenser For Hire (TV series) - 1985
* Day Of The Dead - 1985
* Knightriders - 1981
* Effects - 1980
* Dawn Of The Dead - 1978
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