An actor explains what it's really like to play a dead body

Have you ever wondered about the people who play dead bodies on TV?

We talked to Chuck Lamb, a 57-year-old part-time corpse actor, to find out how you get the job, what it pays, and what it’s like on set.

A decade ago, Lamb — a former computer analyst —
started playing dead for fun. Turns out he had a knack for it. To show off his unique hobby, in December 2005
he launched the website, where he would post pictures of himself in different death scenarios around his house.

The site has since garnered more than 50 million views, a ton of publicity, and, most importantly, earned Lamb more than two dozen roles as a “dead guy” in films like “Thankskilling,” “Horrorween,” and “Stiffs.”

Here’s how Lamb has made a living out of playing dead:

Now 57 years old, Lamb says he started his website as a joke.

Chuck Lamb

The former computer analyst for an insurance company had no idea what was to come.

While watching 'Law & Order' with his wife one night, he told her, 'I'd like to be in a TV show or movie just one time so I can see my name in the credits.'

A few nights later he had a dream that Lennie Briscoe, the character from 'Law & Order' who always looked down at the corpse of the victim and said something pithy, spoke to him. He woke his wife up and said, 'I can be a dead body!'

The next day his wife started taking pictures of him in different death scenarios around the house, which he posted on his website.

Chuck Lamb

'What really scared me at first was that she used to come up with different ways to kill me three times a week,' Lamb says. 'You start to think, well she's liking this just a little too much.'

After the first day, Lamb's website got about 30 hits.

Chuck Lamb

After the second day, it got about 200 hits. Six weeks later, Lamb was on the front page of the New York Times. 'Once it hit the front page, it just went nuts,' Lamb says.

Lamb began to get inundated with requests to appear on talk shows. The 'Today' show offered to get him a TV gig in exchange for his very first on-air interview.

'Good Morning America' and 'CBS Early Morning' wanted Lamb on their shows first, but since the 'Today' show promised to get him a television gig, Lamb agreed to the show's request.

He's since done 400 interviews and appeared on countless shows and news sites. He's also attended horror conventions, autograph shows, and the 2006 Oscars. His picture is even up on the wall at Carnegie Deli in NYC.

His first TV gig was with Amanda Bynes and Jennie Garth on the season four finale of 'What I like about you.'

Chuck Lamb

In early 2006, characters Val and Vic finally got married, and Lamb played an uncle who died because he -- like all of the fans -- had waited so long for the wedding.

The next night his dream came true and he got his first film offer.

Chuck Lamb

When Lamb went on MSNBC with Rita Cosby and Roger Marino, the producer of the horror film 'Stiffs' called in to the show and offered him a role in the film. Lamb gladly accepted.

Lamb says he loves playing dead guys, but it's not as glamorous as it may seem.

Chuck Lamb

He spent 10 hours on the set of 'Stiffs' for his four seconds of screen time. 'It's really neat, but it's nothing like what everyone thinks it is,' Lamb says. 'It's not very glamorous.'

'You're in makeup 100 times more than you're ever on the screen as a dead guy,' Lamb says.

Chuck Lamb

That means spending more than an hour in makeup. The corpse makeup artists use a makeup pallet filled with different shades of grey and tan that is informally called 'The Wheel of Death.'

And Lamb says corpse actors really do have to lay still the whole time and not blink, which is almost impossible.

Chuck Lamb

This is especially true if the scene takes place in a rainstorm. Lamb's best tips are to lay still, relax, slow your breathing down, close your eyes almost all the way, and go to a happy place. 'I just try to lay as still as I can and look as dead as I can,' Lamb says.

Lamb says he tries to emulate Bill Paxton as Morgan Earp in 'Tombstone.'

In his death scene, Paxton gets shot, says, 'Brother don't let him get you,' and dies with his eyes open. Kurt Russell, playing Wyatt Earp, 'grabs him, shakes him, slaps the piss out of him, grabs him by his ears, throws him, does everything to him but mug him, and he never blinks or anything,' Lamb says. 'I wish I could do that.'

Lamb showed nearly as much devotion to his craft when playing a strangled disc jockey for the television show 'The Jury.'

Chuck Lamb

The crew was shooting on a beach in Florida, and when the director called 'Action!' Lamb realised he was laying in a pile of red ants that were 'biting the crap' out of him.

When the director called 'Cut!' Lamb ran into the water to wash the ants off.

After explaining his abrupt behaviour the director asked, 'Why didn't you say something?' And Lamb replied, 'Because I wanted to be the best dead body you ever had.'

Lamb says that most of his 'featured extra' gigs as a corpse last one to two days and pay $A400 to $680 per day, although he did one gig for the STARZ comedy channel that paid $A2,000 for the day.

Chuck Lamb

This is in addition to covering food and hotel costs. And the grand total revenue from the ads off his website? 'About $A40 bucks,' Lamb says. 'I don't know how to use them.'

Lamb's favourite project to date is the 2009 horror comedy 'Thankskilling' because he got a speaking role.

Chuck Lamb

The film, about a demonic turkey that goes on a revenge killing spree, was called 'cheerily awful' by The Boston Globe, but the film became a cult classic on college campuses when it was released on Netflix a few years ago.

Lamb continues to get gigs today.

Chuck Lamb

Despite a back surgery that slowed him down a few years ago, 'America's Got Talent' called him up a few weeks ago and asked if he could play dead and tell 'dead guy' jokes during a 90-second comedic sketch.

Lamb says he is still shocked at the attention his website continues to draw.

Chuck Lamb

But he offers one plausible explanation: 'It's a lighter way to view something that we're all going to have to go through anyway. Death is not a lot of fun, but it's going to happen to everybody, so why not get a giggle out of it?'

Despite his high profile, Lamb still hasn't managed to play dead on his favourite show, 'Law & Order.'

But Lamb says he is still incredibly thankful that he's got at least one movie credit under his belt, which was his original goal.

Lamb believes he's proof that you should never give up on your dreams.

Chuck Lamb

'I was 47 before I finally got to do what I wanted to do,' Lamb says.

'I'm like a 6-foot, 140kg Cinderella,' he says. 'It's hilarious, and it's so much fun.'

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