By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger reveals his dramatic, tender side and sheds a few tears as a farmer struggling to care for his dying daughter in "Maggie," an unconventional zombie film.
The drama that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday night spins a different take on the zombie genre, concentrating more on the father-daughter relationship than blood-soaked gore and cannibalism.
It also provides Schwarzenegger, 67, a former bodybuilder and governor of California, a new acting challenge.
"This was a very unusual role for me, because as you know, I never normally do dramatic roles," he said after the film's premiere.
The star of the "Terminator" and "Conan" movies is synonymous with action films and showed his comedic flair in "Kindergarten Cop" and "Twins" with Danny DeVito. But a dramatic role, even in a zombie horror film, is one he said he couldn't have done 30 years ago.
"Now for the last 25 years I have been a father and I think you can relate to this situation when you are a father," he said. "When I read the script I had tears coming down my eyes just reading it. It was so powerful, so well written."
In the debut feature film by British director Henry Hobson, Schwarzenegger is Wade, a farmer in a small town hit by a global outbreak of a deadly disease that turns its victims into zombies and threatens to wipe out humanity.
When his daughter Maggie, played by 19-year-old actress Abigail Breslin, is infected, he insists on taking care of her at home. British actress Joely Richardson is his wife, who must cope with her own fear, her stepdaughter's progressing illness and her husband's reaction to it.
"It pushes the zombie genre, with a very small film, in a new direction, in so far as saying what does it look like for a small family to go through the trauma of death and the eventual terrifying consequences," Hobson said.
As the disease progresses and infected victims develop a taste for human flesh, their loved ones are forced to put them into quarantine where they face certain death.
"It is the most human character I have ever played and I think it is also the most human zombie movie that was ever done," said Schwarzenegger.
While he won't be giving up action films, Schwarzenegger said he "will be looking for more dramatic roles like 'Maggie.'"
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Andrew Hay)