Sarah Polley on the scariest part of ''Dawn of the Dead.'' The star gets sick and twisted -- and says the days of ironic horror films are over

By Liane Bonin
Updated March 19, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Sarah Polley: Albert L. Ortega/

Having established herself as an art-house queen in such indie movies as the 2000 thriller ”The Weight of Water” and 1997’s Oscar-nominated drama ”The Sweet Hereafter,” Sarah Polley is naturally starring in… a horror film? But the ”Dawn of the Dead” star says this zombie flick (opening Friday) isn’t what it seems. Here’s what Polley, 25, has to say about the horror genre, her reason for diving into it, and what really scared her on the set (and no, it’s not zombies).

Given your résumé up to this point, why do a horror picture?
I never, ever thought I would be in a movie of this size. I met with [director] Zack Snyder and [producer] Eric Newman one night in a restaurant near my house, and they convinced me they were going to make a really daring, sick, twisted movie that was going to be true to the allegory of consumerism that’s in the original. I believed they were going to make a great movie. And if it was a big disaster, they seemed like people I was willing to go down with. During shooting I often wondered, was I sold a bill of goods? But I saw the movie, and I was shocked to see it was exactly what they described to me, completely sick and twisted and made by incredibly perverse people.

The genre has changed since the ”Scream” trilogy turned it on its ear. Were you nervous about making a straightforward horror film?
I think it takes a lot more nerve to not be in on the joke. When I saw the movie with an audience, people were shocked. We’re so used to this ironic tongue-in-cheek that we think we’re all way too sophisticated to actually be scared. That era has had its day, but people want to experience real things in theaters again. And it’s really great to make a movie that isn’t making fun of itself the whole time. And it’s funnier, actually.

You’ve shot a film you describe as ”completely sick and twisted and made by incredibly perverse people” — have you become sick and twisted yourself?
That’s possible. I was sort of horrified by my own reactions watching the movie. I was gleefully clapping and laughing as people were mutilated in terrible ways. But you experience things and you grow and you change as a person, so I’m comfortable with that.

So, what’s your favorite scary movie?
I love movies like ”Peeping Tom” [a 1960 film about a cinematographer serial killer], those sort of classic movies. I actually watched ”Peeping Tom” a lot while we were shooting this, because the most frightening thing is the look of fear. And you realize as an actor you can sort of wander through a movie like this, but you really have to work harder because your fear sells the audience on being afraid.

What was the scariest thing about working on this film?
The most frightening moment for me was on the second day, when I realized I was going to have to run every day. I was horrified. And then there was the scene where I have to drive a poker through someone’s eye. I couldn’t do that as many times as Zack would have liked me to. I was gonna puke if I had had to do it again.

Dawn of the Dead (Movie - 2004)

  • Movie
  • R
  • 97 minutes
  • Zack Snyder