Exclusive: We Talk With 'Dead Man Down's Rat King, Rob Vataj



dead man downDead Man Down isn’t exactly the kind of film we normally cover on FEARnet: an action-revenge flick starring Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace. But there was one aspect that got our attention: being eaten by rats. In the film, Rob Vataj plays a man who is subjected to this cruel, unusual torture. We grilled him about what it is like to spend an entire day beneath a blanket of rats. 

Tell me about your role in Dead Man Down.

I am a bad person, obviously. In the movie, I basically end up doing damage to Colin Farrell’s family and he is looking for revenge. So he takes me hostage, and he manipulates me in certain ways. I don’t want to give away too much about the story, but it is very much revenge towards me. 

The scene that we are really intrigued by is the scene where you are being eaten by rats.

Let’s put it this way: there is no preparation you can put in to be covered by dozens of rats. There is a fear factor that you can’t get over. You can look towards the director, towards the crew, and make sure you have a sense of trust in them, in case something goes wrong. These rats were supposedly trained. I don’t know how you train rats. When I spoke to the trainers, they said, “Yeah, they’re trained to scare the you-know-what out of you.” There is no training for a rat - it does what it does. When a rat is put up against the corner, it can chew through a pipe. 

When they put the rats on you, did any of them actually bite you?

They didn’t put the rats on me. The rats came to me. Once they were let loose, they decided to come to me. My feet were covered with a few inches of water. Rats look for high land, and I was the highest land - they didn’t want to stay in the water. I’m talking dozens of nine-inch rats. At one point I was under the assumption that they wouldn’t be going on my face. But they will do what they want to do. At one point one of the rats actually dove into my mouth. Think how uncomfortable that was - all while staying in character!

As far as biting, I would say... it was bearable. While it was happening, it seemed worse than when it was over. Once it is over, you are over it. But [during] you can’t put that fear aside. This is 30-something rats running towards you, looking for food. We tried to move it along as quickly as possible.

How long did the whole scene take to shoot?

The whole day. I think it was like 14 hours. And I’m strapped in a chair. I stayed in that chair the whole time. I had a blindfold, too, and I even lost 12-15 pounds of water weight in three days. It took its toll. Once your skin dehydrates, you feel the rats more. You are more sensitive to pressure. It literally felt like someone was [poking me with] thumbtacks over and over. It’s not something I would wish on anyone. But you make sacrifices. You go where the director wants you to go. 

Fear of rats is a pretty common fear. Did you have a fear of rats before this movie, and if you didn’t, do you now?

Who doesn’t? This isn’t one rat on the floor. One rat, fine. Two rats, fine. But we are talking dozens, climbing all over you, not knowing what they will do. I was tied down so I couldn’t move, and with the rat in my mouth I couldn’t talk, so I really had to rely on my director and everyone around me. I grew up hanging out in the Bronx, so seeing a rat is nothing new. I’m more afraid of the people-kind [of rats.]

Dead Man Down opens in theaters on March 8th.