Backstreet Boy AJ McLean Says His 'Dead 7' Character May Mark The Start Of His Whole New Career
AJ McLean was always the "bad boy" of the Backstreet Boys, but he's about to take that role to a whole other level in the Nick Carter-penned Syfy zombie western, Dead 7. As Johnny Vermillion, McLean plays the villain in Dead 7 , a demented thug who works for the evil Apocolypta. While the rest of the boy band cast of Dead 7 is busy killing zombies and saving the day, McLean will wreak havoc on surviving towns of humans and as Apocolypta's most devoted henchman, helping to convert and control her army of zombies. I spoke to McLean about stepping into the role of Johnny, who he calls "a f*cking hoot," and Backstreet fans, prepare yourself to see McLean as you've never seen him before.
That's because your boy's villain is not going to give you warm and fuzzy feelings. To put it simply, as fellow zombie-themed program The Walking Dead has shown the world time and time again, not every human who survives a zombie apocalypse is good. McLean's Johnny Vermillion definitely falls into that "not good" category. And the BSB singer wouldn't want it any other way.
As it turns out, McLean actually requested that Carter make him the baddie, facing off against fellow boy band alums Carter and Howie Dorough from the Backstreet Boys, Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick from *NSYNC, Jeff Timmons from 98 Degrees, and Erik-Michael Estrada from O-Town, who all play heroes.
"When Nick brought this up to me years ago, I was actually the one that told him I will do this on one condition. I said, 'I have to be the villain,'" McLean says. "And he laughed and he's like, 'Why?' And I'm like, 'Well number one, look at me: I have the tattoos, I'm like the perfect villain.'" In a separate interview with Bustle, Carter told me he always envisioned McLean as the bad guy in the script, so it seems the feeling was mutual.
Of course, there's always McLean's other reason for taking the villain job: "To be honest, everybody likes the villain better than the hero."
And while you're welcome to your opinion on that matter, the singer turned zombie movie villain has a pretty compelling argument behind him: "If you think of The Dark Knight, you don't think of Batman when you walk out of the film. You think of Heath Ledger as the Joker," he says. "You think of movies like A Clockwork Orange. Even the very first Batman — which is the best Batman in my opinion — with Michael Keaton, you still talked about Jack Nicholson as opposed to Michael Keaton. The villain is the one character that you love to hate and you hate to love."
McLean also was very influential in developing his character, even going so far as to come up with his bonkers costuming, complete with black contacts and a grill after doing some heavy research. The night he got the description for his character "after harassing Nick for months on end," McLean had a mini movie marathon to prepare himself for the role of Johnny.
"I watched A Clockwork Orange, Dark Knight, and a movie called Raising Cain with John Lithgow, where he plays a full-blown schizophrenic — he plays like six or seven different characters. And I combined all three of those together," McLean says. "I wanted to have the look of Clockwork Orange. I wanted to have a very ambiguous, very gut-wrenching laugh like the Joker. And I wanted to have that sociopathic, schizophrenic vibe, but I also wanted to be very articulate."
Just don't expect AJ McLean, teen idol, to pop up in any of Johnny's scenes. When I ask if his showy performance was a nod to Backstreet's dramatic music videos, particularly "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," McLean laughs and says, "I tried to go into this with literally nothing Backstreet related whatsoever. I didn't want to have any of myself in this film." He has the same hopes for his fellow boy bands on the side of good in Dead 7 too. "I want them to look at every single one of us, all of our characters, and not see Jeff Timmons, and not see Joey Fatone, and not see AJ McLean. I really want them to see our characters and then maybe a couple hours after go, 'Holy crap — that was AJ?!'" he says.
And if that sounds like McLean is awfully serious about preparing for a role in a quirky B movie like Dead 7, that's because this isn't his first rodeo; he was an actor before he ever became a member of the Backstreet Boys. And while I can't even bear to think of returning to the days before I heard McLean's voice in songs like "Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)," McLean confirms that with Carter's encouragement he is returning to his pre-BSB passion.
"It did spark something in me — getting to play such a great character — to want to get into film and shooting again. This was a nice little way to dust off the cobwebs," he says.
Lucky for McLean, his hope that Johnny Vermillion will be his own entity might already be on its way to reality. As the next Backstreet Boys cruise approaches, during which fans can hang out on vacation with BSB and dress up as famous characters for "Movie Night," fans are already considering Dead 7 when choosing potential costumes. "I've seen fans sending me direct messages or Tweets hand-making their own Johnny Vermillion costumes. And that's just awesome," he says.
And after watching McLean's wacky performance and epic costume in Dead 7 on Syfy on Friday, April 1, I don't think any of his fans will disagree that Mr. Vermillion leaves a lasting impression — just as McLean did in the music industry, and in so many Backstreet fans' hearts.
Image: Raymond Liu/The Asylum/Syfy