Interview with Erik-Michael Estrada, Member of O-Town and Star of Syfy’s Dead 7

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By: Haylee Fisher (@haylee_fisher)

The boys are back in town. Or, more appropriately, Backstreet’s back, alright.

Yes, the members of your favorite boy bands of the 90s and 2000s are back and joining forces to fight zombies in Syfy’s newest original movie, Dead 7.

Written by Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, Dead 7 unites members of NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, O-Town, 98°, and more and finds them in a post-apocalyptic Western town battling the undead.

One of the stars of the film is Erik-Michael Estrada of O-Town. O-Town rose to fame on the show Making the Band in the early 2000s and despite original member Ashley Parker Angel leaving the band, the remaining members still make music and are currently on tour. I spoke to Estrada as he and his bandmates made their way to St. Louis for a concert, but he was more than happy to take the time to discuss how he got involved in Dead 7, what stunt training was like, why our inner 12-year-old fangirls will be delighted with the film, and more.

First of all, how did you get involved with Dead 7?

I guess the only reason I’m involved in Dead 7 is because of the boy band O-Town. [Laughs] But essentially, Nick Carter – who wrote, produced, and starred in it – wanted to get as many members from all of the different boy bands of our era to participate. Nick and I actually go way back to when I first moved to California about ten years ago. He and I have the same agent and we did a lot of acting side-by-side for different roles so he was really familiar with my acting ability and when he found out I was available, he offered me the role of what was called The Dragon, but we later changed it to Komodo. It was really a sort of organic relationship that we’ve had from a while back.

Your role involves a lot of stunts, including sword work. What was training like?

That was really my favorite part. I’ll go on record saying I have the coolest time out of everyone just because I get a chance to live out weird, 80s and 90s kid American Ninja dreams. Doing martial arts and all that sort of training.

Did you take special classes to learn the work?

Yeah, every morning I would get up, work out. The night before, I would meet with my stunt guy and we’d look over the scene for the next day. In the beginning, it was a lot of basics – just figuring out how to maneuver the sword, how to make it look camera-ready – and as we got deeper into filming, the fighting became a lot more intricate. So the night before when we would wrap, we would go over whatever the scene was the next day. I’d wake up the next morning, work that out – [the stunt trainer] would make a video of him showing me how to do it – work that out the next morning basically until I had to shoot my scenes. So as much as you’d think memorizing lines would be on my mind predominately, it really was more making sure I don’t slash a zombie extra by accident!

Yeah, don’t hurt anybody!

Don’t hurt anybody, including myself!

Since clearly none of us have ever been in a zombie apocalypse, what research and preparation did you do for the role and to get into character?

First, I am a huge Walking Dead fan. I’ve also watched all those B-movies over different times in my life – like Night of the Living Dead – and so I was familiar with the genre, which I think was important. But I’m also a fan of just action films and I’ve always wanted to be in one. Also with my dance training, I think it was also easier for me to memorize the moves and translate them over into martial arts. I had also never really wielded a sword around. There are a lot of really cool compilations [online] of Michonne from The Walking Dead and all her kills from all the seasons, so I seriously watched as many of those as I could. There’s one in particular that I would watch over and over again and it has all of her different swings and all of her different moves. I had the stunt guys on set that were helping me, but in a weird way, Michonne is sort of like my sensei and helped me prepare. And also The Bride from Kill Bill! She was a help, too.

You’re still making music with O-Town, but it also seems you’re getting more and more interested in acting. How do you balance the two and how do you use the skills in one to benefit you in the other?

I love acting. Acting is something that [has given me] the ability and the fortune to be in a few independent films and a few short films while living in LA. At least for me, I believe acting is about finding your voice and then applying the melody to your lines. So music really has helped me as an actor because I’m more versed in learning a new song, so I can apply a pneumonic device that I would use into acting. Whenever I get a new script or a new side, I try to apply a pneumonic device to each line. I think one has definitely helped the other, for sure.

It helps especially with the memorization, it sounds like.

Yeah, it helps the memorization, it helps the delivery. I think that’s one of the reasons why Christopher Walken is so successful is because he has such a unique delivery and if you listen to the way he delivers his lines, there’s a certain melody to it. It’s a unique melody. So I think finding that is really my process.

So I actually saw O-Town in concert in New Orleans 15 years ago on the front row –

At the House of Blues?

Yes!

I remember that show. It was an awesome show!

Oh yes, we were freaking out then so know that 12-year-old me is dying at me now knowing that all you guys and all of the other boy banders are in a movie together! Are there any fun behind-the-scenes moments other inner 12-year-olds would love to know about?

Oh, there are so many. Jeff Timmons [of 98°] was on set the longest, from the first day of shooting to the last day of shooting, and I was there the second day of shooting to the last day of shooting so Jeff and I actually grew pretty close. Which is ironic, because we were probably the furthest from having spent time with one another prior to shooting. I had spent a lot of time with Chris [Kirkpatrick], Joey [Fatone], AJ [McLean], Nick [Carter], and even Howie [Dorough], so it was a chance for us to bond. But story-wise? I think getting on stage and singing karaoke with everyone. There were only a few people who were in the crowd and can say they experienced seeing all the boy band members on stage at one time. So I think the fans would get a kick out of that. Being on the inside of it, I got a kick out of it.

Too bad there’s not video of that!

There is, but it’s just not a full video of all of us. I think people were so caught up in the moment, they were taken by surprise.

Like, “Oh my God, it’s happening!”

Yeah! We ran up on stage and the song was almost over, but it was cool. There wasn’t much to do in Montana so we just found ways to make it work. We also used to go back to Joey’s room and play music and games on his Roku. He has these interactive games you can play on your phone so more than a handful of times, we would find ourselves in Joey’s room with all of the cast members the majority of the production crew all stuffed into Joey’s room. Somehow he got the biggest room! But there was a lot of solidarity on set. We had a good time together.

Y’all also recorded a song for the film.

We did.

What was that experience like?

Most of us recorded in separate places. Joey and Chris recorded in Orlando. I just so happened to record my portion of the song with Nick Carter and Jeff Timmons in the studio on the same day. So for me, it was weird because I’m used to waiting in the booth for Jacob or Dan or Trevor to do their thing and I go in after them. It was weird to be in the studio and be looking at a different person from a different band singing and I’m going in after him to sing my part. Nick would be in the booth singing and I’d be like, “Oh, yeah, that’s Nick Carter.”

“And I’m about to sing, too.”

Yeah, “And I’m about to go in after him.” It was pretty sweet.

So why should audiences tune in to Dead 7?

There are so many reasons! If you’re a fan of the zombie genre, you’re going to be a fan of this movie. If you’re a fan of boy bands in general, you’re going to love this movie. If you’re not a fan of boy bands, you get to see boy bands getting killed off which is also kind of fun. I think all of those reason are worth tuning in, plus the production value of it is phenomenal. The way they shot it, our DPs [directors of photography] were incredible. And just the energy. I think a movie is a collaborative effort so when you have so many actors who are basically taking a pay cut to all be a part of it, it turns into a passion project. So you’re seeing a project where people really want to be there and really want to contribute, so overall, that’s probably the main reason why. We all really wanted to be there and be a part of something the fans would enjoy.

Yeah, I’m looking forward to everybody seeing it.

So am I, so am I. I hope people enjoy it and I hope that somehow, some way, we get to come back and do another one together because it was just a great time.

If you do get a sequel, who do you want to be in it?

If it was up to me, I’d make sure we got, like, Donnie Wahlberg in it. And I would love it if Justin Timberlake ended up being the supervillain of some sort. Because they’re such a part of our world, too, you know? But we also have 90s stars in the movie, too. Jon Secada and Gerardo make cameos. So it was fun having other 90s singers on set. When they walked on set, they could just feel the energy and we all had such a good time.

Dead 7 premieres on Syfy tonight.


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