Des Plaines’ Jeff Daniel Phillips stars in the horror film “The Lords of Salem.”
Updated: May 15, 2013 6:25AM
There is life after your caveman days.
So says Jeff Daniel Phillips, a Chicago native best known for the prehistoric bachelor he played in Geico ads and the 2007-08 ABC series “Caveman.”
“The funny thing about playing a caveman is I never got recognized at all in real life,” says Phillips, who adds, “It’s not like I walked around in the makeup. It was my Clark Kent thing. I’d go off, be a caveman and then walk through crowds surrounded by people. No one knew.”
Now it’s his face that’s on the line as the star of “The Lords of Salem,” a film by indie director and musician Rob Zombie. Co-starring his wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, it revolves around a radio DJ who is sent a box containing a record, which is dubbed “a gift from the Lords.” The music triggers flashbacks of the town’s violent past in Salem, Mass.
“You definitely need to see it in a theater,” says Phillips. “The first time I saw it was a midnight screening, and the people came in all amped up. Fifteen minutes into the movie, it was stone-cold silence.
“This is a dark ride,” he says.
Why do people want to be scared to death in a movie theater? “Like you don’t?” says the good-natured Phillips. “It’s all part of our psyche. Sometimes you want to laugh; sometimes you want the tragedy.”
His character in “Salem” is one of three DJs who is closest to Sheri Zombie’s character, Heidi. “You realize there is something more going on between the two of them,” he says.
The plot came straight from Rob Zombie’s past. “He grew up in Massachusetts. When you grow up in Chicago, you visit the Water Tower. Rob was a kid who would go to Salem, where they were always re-enacting the witch trials.”
“Salem” was shot in four weeks.
“In the beginning on the set we were laughing and having fun,” he says. “That worked because we shot in chronological order. By week two, we were drained from jamming all of the terror into one day. “
There was nothing scary about his real childhood in Des Plaines, where Philips attended Maine West High School. “It was your typical blue-collar, very-strong-work-ethic upbringing,” he says.
He was never one of the drama kids. “I never even did a play at Maine West, although in fifth grade I did do the lights for our school production of ‘Ten Little Indians.’ That was the closest I got to the arts.”
Eventually he went to college at Michigan State, art school in Rome and finally film school.
The Geico gig came from a theater piece he did as a “crazed, punk ’zine writer.
“The directors from the commercial saw me,” he says. “They knew I’d be a great caveman in a roundabout way from my stage work.”
Phillips lives in L.A. and has been writing an indie film. “I also did a commercial recently where I’m fitted into an ice block,” he says.
No, it’s not the evolution of his caveman. “It’s not even for Geico,” he says with a laugh, insisting he is sworn to secrecy.
Man cannot be a caveman forever.
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