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David Koechner on horror and being recognized for 'Hannah Montana'

"Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse" actor David Koechner talks about playing a zombie who won't die and how the dark comedy "Cheap Thrills" should be a stage musical.

In “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse,” comedy mainstay David Koechner has the misfortune to play one of the undead — a scout leader who, when turned, won’t seem to die, no matter how horrifically the teen cast tries. That means a lot of time in makeup, though Koechner — known for everything from “Anchorman” to “The Office” to “Hannah Montana” — didn’t seem to mind.

The zombie you play won’t die. What was the hardest of the attempted murders to do?

Maybe the one where I get clubbed and burned.

I can’t imagine they tried to fake-set you on fire, though.

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They’ve got stunt doubles. He did a great job. He has a nice sturdy back for when he got smacked with an oar. I acted that one out but I didn’t have to get smacked. They love it.

That’s a good thing to put on a résumé: “Can be set on fire.”

It’s an extra bump in pay! There are different levels for different things. That one is a good one.

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How was it being turned into a zombie, especially for what seems like a good chunk of the shoot?

It’s a choice you make. I chose to enjoy it. It’s four hours of makeup. And it’s working with people that operate on a very high level. You’re working with some of the best prosthetic and special effects people in the industry. It’s kind of flattering. They’re artists; you’re their canvas. We sit around have great conversations, watch movies, listen to podcasts.

That’s how you pass the time during long makeup sessions?

Yeah. If your eyes are going to be closed for a long time, podcasts work. But if you’ve got a couple hours with your eyes open, let’s watch a movie.

This is a rare film targeted at teens that is R-rated. Did you tend to go for those when you were younger?

I wish I could have. I’m from a more button-down family. They were not fans of seeing R-rated movies. They certainly didn’t take us. And the closest movie theater was 40 miles away.

You were a little too old for the advent of home video, so you missed out on watching them at sleepovers.

We didn’t have cable. We had three channels. You’re talking to a very sheltered guy here.

This is different from most zombie films. Usually there are traditional slow zombies or the newfangled fast ones.

That was [director Christopher B. Landon]’s design. The personality of the live person transfers over to the undead. So there’s a lot of different speeds of zombies. Some are strong, some aren’t; some are more aggressive, some aren’t. That’s an interesting detail.

Is the comedic breed the kind of horror you tend to watch?

I’ll tell you the honest truth, I’m not a big fan of horror. I get scared. They stay with me. Ever since I was a kid I would get afraid. At a young age people see it and get titillated and jazzed up. But for whatever reason I got freaked out. Maybe I get too invested.

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The horror you’ve done has tended to be the darkly comic kind, like “Final Destination 5” and “Piranha 3DD.”

Did you see “Cheap Thrills”? I wouldn’t describe it as a comedy. I didn’t know it had as many laughs as it did till I saw it with some festival crowds. I was shocked.

It’s more of a drama. It’s closer to a play.

Exactly. You could put that thing up as a play. It doesn’t have many sets. Stage-wise it would be easy to do. Let’s do it — as a musical.

You’ve done some drama, but do you see yourself doing more?

Absolutely. I’m doing one in two weeks. It hasn’t been announced yet, but it has a high-level cast. I enjoy expanding my repertoire into anything. Look, man, I did “Hannah Montana,” and I’ve done “Piranha 3DD.” That’s a lot of f—ing range. And the kids who watched “Hannah Montana,” they’re older now. I want them to see this picture and go, “Holy s—, is that Uncle Earl?”

That’s probably one of the things you’re most known for.

I went hiking with my family a couple weeks ago. There were a lot of young people climbing the mountain. It was interesting how many times you’d see kids who were just college-age, and they walked past me and whisper, “That was Uncle Earl!” It’s crazy.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
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