If you’ve watched Army of the Dead, you know that the opening credits could stand alone as a short film. The standout character in that sequence is “Soccer Mom,” played by Danielle Burgio. Danielle spoke with Team Wiretap about her experience on Army of the Dead and fulfilling her dream of working on a Zack Snyder film.
Can you tell us about how you landed the role of Soccer Mom?
I first worked with Zack Snyder on a commercial early in his career. Dawn of the Dead was already out, and we filmed a couple days before the release of 300. We didn’t really get to know each other from that project, but I was a huge fan. He’s a wonderful director to work with, and his energy is just perfect.
I was a stunt woman — I’m semi-retired from that now and focusing on writing, directing, and producing — and while working on The Matrix sequels I made a good friend who worked in visual effects. We’ve remained friends over the years, and our friend circle meshed with Zack and Deborah Snyder’s friend circle.
I knew Army of the Dead was their next project, and I had always dreamed of working with them, but I didn’t audition. I got a call from Deborah Snyder and she said, “I’ve got Zack on the line for you.” We’re friends now, but we weren’t that close at the time. And I’d certainly never been on the phone with Zack.
He told me about the role and said, “I would love for you to play this.” They presented it to me as a tiny role, and I thought I’d be going out for a day or two to film. It just snowballed into this bigger and bigger and bigger thing. It wasn’t written in the script. This was all in Zack’s mind. I knew Soccer Mom’s beginning and her end but didn’t know the in-between.
How long were you on location to film your sequence?
Because of the schedule, they had me out for a week doing the military training with the main cast. And then I’d shoot a day here and a couple days there. I ended up being in Albuquerque for five weeks and made friends with the cast. They really made me feel like I was a part of the ensemble. I have friends for life because of this experience.
What was involved in the military and weapons training?
I’ve worked a lot with weapons over the years for my stunt work. Most of the time, we’re working with blanks, and they are very dangerous. Even when you’re shooting a blank, you never point that gun at another actor because of shrapnel and gunpowder, and it can hurt you. For Army of the Dead, we used air guns. They were so much fun and super safe. They just pop air but actually move the weapon so you feel the power and like you’re really shooting. It was a brilliant choice.
They gave us a week of training with military experts that the Snyders have worked with on other films. The main cast and I got to work with handguns, machine guns, and our actual character’s weapons. The experts showed us the proper way and the improper way to hold the weapon, depending on the character and if they really know how to use a weapon.
The bond between Soccer Mom and her daughter is established in a way that we care for these characters although they have no dialogue and spend little time on screen. How did you create that chemistry?
How I work is to sit and imagine. Sometimes I journal, and that helps me create the character and relationship. I journaled — as Soccer Mom — about my daughter I lost a few months ago, how desperate I was to find her, and what was going on in the zombie outbreak. That helped me tap into the emotionality of it. And then, of course, I had the amazing Ava Wagenman who played my daughter, and it was really easy to bond with her. She’s a fantastic little actor.
I spent a lot of time in my head, and that’s how I work on all my roles whether there’s dialogue or not, and whether I’m on camera for 30 seconds or 30 minutes. I put as much as I can into the backstory and making the character a real person. If it’s real to me and I’m truly experiencing it, there’s an energy that comes through on camera.
How long did it take to transform into Soccer Mom every day?
It was pretty quick. The makeup department is amazing. The braids that I have towards the end? They rocked them out pretty fast. It was an hour or an hour and a half. I didn’t have any heavy makeup or prosthetics or anything like that. I had little to no makeup on. Most of my time in the chair was them putting dirt on me, or adding the tattoos to my hands.
Soccer Mom starts off in her khakis and pearls. For the next look, she still has the pearl necklace, but her hair is pulled back with her daughter’s clips. Then she gets the tattoos, and finally the braids when she goes full warrior. The pearls are replaced with a zombie ear necklace, and her gun has these marks for each of the kills she made.
When you look back at this project, is there one memory that stands out the most?
My very first day on set was in the tattoo parlor, where I’m drinking the whiskey and getting the tattoos. It was really powerful and great for me because it was an intimate setting. We filmed it in a dark, moody, small space. There was only so much crew that could fit in there. They sat me down in the chair, and Zack Snyder came over to talk to me. He checked the tattoos on my hands and made sure that everything was perfect. I looked around and thought, “Okay, take this in right now. This is a magic moment. A pinch-me moment. Like I’m actually here. This is happening.” I’ve been in film for a long time, and this project was a gift for me.
Did you expect Soccer Mom to be a hit with fans of the movie despite the limited screen time?
I’m on screen for less than three minutes and didn’t expect the character to have such an impact. When I saw the title sequence, I was impacted by it, and so proud of it. But I’ve been a bit taken aback by all the beautiful comments and reactions from people who love Soccer Mom and want to see more of her.
Get more behind-the-scenes facts and stories from Army of the Dead by adding Wiretap to Chrome and watching it with exclusive commentary from Danielle Burgio.