From ‘Dawn’ to green acres

Special to The Times

STEVE ZAHN costars in Werner Herzog’s “Rescue Dawn” with Christian Bale, which opens in New York and L.A. on Wednesday. He’s appeared in “Sahara” and “Shattered Glass” and did voices in the “Stuart Little” films.

So where are you?

I’m out in Kentucky. I live on a farm outside Lexington. Before, we lived in New Jersey on a farm. That was so rural, compared to Kentucky. We moved here for more of the metropolitan life, which is kind of weird.

What the heck do you do all day?


I have enough [stuff] to do for three lifetimes, I swear. I got 330 acres, and all morning I cut with my Bush Hog in the back. That took four hours. And that’s like one-eighth of the amount of cutting I have to do.

Do you have pigs yet?

I don’t. I wouldn’t mind. Horses and goats and sheep. We have the fainting goats, which are really like dogs. They don’t climb much. Also we have five dogs. They all go in the pen with them. And the best is when people go to visit and they want to make them faint. It’s more fun watching people try to do it. They’re used to screaming and hollering. But if you drop your hat, they faint.

Do you do a lot of ... milking?

No. They’re just for pointing and laughing. I got too much to mow; I don’t have time to milk.

The New Yorker ran a long piece on the making of “Rescue Dawn.” Did they get it right?

Yeah! That was accurate. I mean, it’s someone’s interpretation; they come in for a short period of time. You know how it is when you go to a film set. Why?

Not fishing!


It was definitely a job that I will never forget. There are movies that have gone by that I can’t remember very vividly. But this one will -- it was just so unconventional. Or very conventional -- but a very primitive way of shooting. Scaled down.

[Herzog’s] happiest if we’re in a location that only four people can get to: camera, sound and the actors. The movie is about survival -- yes, Vietnam and that time, but it’s also a survival movie. And the jungle is the main character.

And so you guys really were just running around in mud and starving.

Our feet were so raw. Because he doesn’t “cover” in a traditional way, you could never put your shoes on. You never knew, maybe you could see our feet. We just stopped asking. Christian and I would sit in some rice paddy chatting and stop and laugh. “Crazy, man. We’ve been sitting here waiting for a shot for two hours literally in the mud.”


What did you shoot after that?

Back at the hotel, my agents left 6,000 messages. And they were like, “You have to read this movie in the next five hours and tell us.” I took my first shower in a week. So I was in my underwear in Saigon laughing my ass off at this script. I thought: Am I laughing because I’m in Saigon in my underwear and with Werner for the last two months? But I went right into this movie, “Strange Wilderness.” And yes, it’s really, really funny.

And I did a western. And I did “Comanche Moon,” which is a miniseries on TBS. And then I did “The Great Buck Howard,” the Malkovich movie. And then I did -- what’s that other one? See, I’m in farm mode, dude.

Right? You shoot and then years later you go on a junket, and they all say, “Gosh, you’ve been so busy.”


It’s like, “No, I haven’t. I’ve been making waffles for six months and driving kids to school.”

If you get really bored with not working, are you going to enroll at the regional theater?

No. Or I’ll get an alias and be in “Sweeney Todd.” Maybe “Grease”!