Martin Freeman on Becoming a Zombie 'Viral' for Netflix's 'Cargo'

In Cargo , a new Netflix horror movie, now streaming, Martin Freeman plays Andy, a father who must find a surrogate family for his daughter, Rosie, before succumbing to a transformative infection. Andy was bitten by a zombie—his wife—and has only 48 hours of humanity left before his eye sockets begin filling with rheum, before he spasms and claws at the ground, before his hunger for human flesh overwhelms his bond with his daughter. If finding a new family for Rosie wasn't hard enough, Andy is stranded in the Australian bush.

Based on a 2013 short film of the same name, directed by Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling, Cargo eschews the familiar slavering hordes and post-apocalyptic gangs for a more intimate, familial survival story, which is what attracted Freeman to the role in the first place. "It's a look at family connections on a visceral level—the family unit and the fracture of that," Freeman told Newsweek, describing the zombies as only one part of a larger survival story. "The background of having something terrifying and predatory out there is really good, but for me it was about survival in any context, really."

The zombies (or "virals," as they're called in Cargo) may be only one component of the movie's appeal for Freeman, but their nature is central to his performance. Cargo's zombies aren't just gooier than the average shambler, but also exhibit a very specific pathology. While disease is a common explanation for zombie apocalypses, Cargo goes to great lengths to make its epidemic as realistic as possible, such as in the kits released by the Australian government, complete with in-flight safety pamphlet-style illustrations and an efficient means of suicide: a spring-loaded ice pick. "There's a logic to it," Freeman said. "You go through these different stages, from a tremor to an out-and-out, almost bent double, convulsion."

Since Andy remains mostly in control of his faculties, at least for much of Cargo, the filmmakers paid careful attention to which stage of viral suffering accompanied each scene. "It wasn't just like he was normal and then—" Freeman lets his face droop to one side, his eyes rolling down in their sockets, "urrghhhh, full-on zombie. It's a developing thing."

Sounds like standard zombie behavior so far, but the virals get a lot weirder as they lose their humanity. In the last stages of the Cargo zombie transformation, sufferers are compelled to scratch at the earth and bury their heads, which Freeman compared to "going into a chrysalis" before emerging as a flesh-hungry viral. At other times, carriers "hibernate" with their faces pressed up against dark walls, keeping their energy consumption low between long waits for prey. The strange virals of Cargo serve a double purpose, not just innovating on the typical zombie formula, but also providing clear waypoints for understanding Andy's own transformation, with Freeman's performance taking on complexities never before seen in the genre.

Cargo is currently streaming on Netflix.

Martin Freeman on Becoming a Zombie 'Viral' for Netflix's 'Cargo' | Gaming