Interview: Zach Gilford, once scared, is returning the favor

Zach Gilford had a hard time listening to “Thriller,” Michael Jackson’s classic song about things that go bump in the night, when he was a child growing up in Evanston. And the “Friday Night Lights” actor said it had nothing to do with the menacing werewolf or dancing zombies featured in the music video.

“I would listen to music before I went to sleep on my yellow Sony Walkman when I was 7 and put on the Michael Jackson tape,” Gilford said last week over the phone from Los Angeles. “When the guy came on at the end of ‘Thriller’ talking about (‘Darkness falls across the land, the midnight hour is close at hand,’) I was like ‘What is that?’ I thought the devil was coming through my headphones. I couldn’t listen to ‘Thriller’ forever. Honestly, it was the thing that scared me the most as a kid.”

Now 31, Gilford will have a hand in scaring others, the way Vincent Price’s voice scared him, when he appears in two horror films this year: “Devil’s Due” and “The Purge 2.” Gilford plays one half of an expectant couple in “Devil’s Due,” a found-footage film that opens Friday. It’s being called a contemporary “Rosemary’s Baby” because of its satanic pregnancy theme.

He said he was drawn to the script because it was a love story gone awry in which you actually like and cheer for the couple, unlike in some horror movies where the protagonists are so irritating you cheer against them.

“It’s not your typical horror movie where things jump out at you,” Gilford said. “It felt like we were always fighting against the genre. We really focused on making the movie logical with, obviously, an unreal idea of a devil baby. If this happened in the real world, how would it happen?”

He also clicked with Radio Silence productions, the quartet behind “Devil’s Due” and the last short film featured in 2012’s “V/H/S.” And that’s become very important to Gilford, who said he looks for roles that he will enjoy filming and tries to avoid the ones in which “I want to shoot myself in the face the whole time,” even if they might sound like better projects. “You have to enjoy what you do,” he added.

In recent years, Gilford has been part of two short-lived medical dramas: ABC’s “Off the Map” and Fox’s “The Mob Doctor.” He took pains not to be critical of the latter series, which filmed in Chicago, but he admitted its title was “more on the nose than it needed to be,” and he would have liked to have seen the show not rely so heavily on the mob aspect every episode. Gilford felt “Mob Doctor” began to come into its own by the end, but by that point its fate had been sealed.

Hollywood doesn’t seem to be holding the shows against him. “Devil’s Due” and “The Purge 2” are two of Gilford’s biggest film roles to date. But don’t expect Gilford to stress about their significance. He believes there are too many factors involved in a film’s success to put added pressure on himself. Gilford is more focused on enjoying the ride. Like “Devil’s Due,” Gilford feels “The Purge 2,” which began filming last week and is expected to hit theaters June 20, will make for a fun shooting experience.

“Blumhouse is a cool production company,” he said of the “The Purge 2” creators. “They keep egos in check; there are no trailers. Everyone is there because they think it’s a cool movie that could do well. At times it feels like we’re making a college film. Everybody is there because they want to be, not because they’re getting paid a ton of money.”

It also helps that Gilford gets to work with his wife and Glenbard North High School alum Kiele Sanchez, who plays his wife in the film.

“That was a huge part of it,” Gilford said. “We made the decision at the same time. She went out for a role, but for whatever reason they thought she didn’t look old enough, so they offered her another role that happens to be my wife. It’s superweird to be in scenes together. It took a while to get used to.”

It’s difficult, however, to tell if he’s more excited about working with his wife or co-star Michael Kenneth Williams, who played the iconic Omar Little on HBO’s “The Wire.”

“He only works one or two days, but I’m pumped to meet him,” said Gilford, a fan of “The Wire” and Williams’ other HBO show, “Boardwalk Empire.” “I don’t know what to do. It’s always weird to meet an actor you really like when you’re an actor. You don’t want to be a nerd, but I also want to let him know how much admiration I have for him. I’m going to try to play it cool.” | Twitter @TribLuis

For more celebrity news and sightings, go to

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Bold predictions for Lolla 2015

    Bold predictions for Lolla 2015

    The Lolla schedule is sort of like the NCAA tournament: there are millions of possible combinations, and it’s anyone’s guess what the winning picks will be. With that in mind, we make some bold predictions about how this year’s fest (returning to Grant Park Fri.-Sun.) will turn out. Breakout artist...

  • 2010 killing of Chicago cop detailed at trial; man claims self-defense

    2010 killing of Chicago cop detailed at trial; man claims self-defense

    The man on trial in the killing of Chicago police Officer Thor Soderberg hated police and surprised the officer as he changed out of his uniform at shift end and placed his duty belt down, a Cook County prosecutor alleged Monday.

  • Aldermen to hold hearing on untested rape kits

    Aldermen to hold hearing on untested rape kits

    Chicago aldermen on Monday called on police officials to provide information on how quickly rape kits are being tested by the state crime lab, part of a largely symbolic effort to determine whether a large backlog is hampering work to apprehend rapists.

  • Alderman's 'Chi-raq' criticism falls flat

    Alderman's 'Chi-raq' criticism falls flat

    A South Side alderman's effort to tweak filmmaker Spike Lee for using "Chi-raq" as the title for a movie about Chicago violence fell flat Monday with his colleagues.

  • ComEd to hold energy fairs to help low-income customers

    ComEd to hold energy fairs to help low-income customers

    Commonwealth Edison will hold energy fairs at satellite locations across the region Monday in order to get money to thousands of people struggling to pay their electricity bills in northern Illinois.

  • PAWS Chicago "Muttshots!"

    PAWS Chicago "Muttshots!"

    These adorable pups are on the loose looking for a place to call home. They have a warrant out for their arrest. Their crime? Being irresistibly cute and cuddly. If you're interested in adopting any of these dogs, please visit for more information.