FilmInk is sitting in an editing suite with director, Ruben Fleischer, who is excitedly showing us scenes from Zombieland: Double Tap, the sequel to his surprise 2009 debut hit, Zombieland. The film’s original foursome – Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) – is back, still doing battle in a dystopic future populated by the undead, but this time with a few new faces added to the mix, including Rosario Dawson’s Nevada, Zoey Deutch’s Madison, Avan Jogia’s Berkeley, Luke Wilson’s Albuquerque and Thomas Middleditch’s Flagstaff. This time out, the zombies have moved onward and upward, as have our heroes, who have made their way to two of America’s most famous addresses: The White House and Graceland.
“2009 was the first Zombieland, my first movie,” director, Ruben Fleischer (who followed up Zombieland with 30 Minutes Or Less, Gangster Squad and Venom), tells FilmInk. “And ten years have passed, both for Zombieland and for the rest of the world. We had thought about doing a sequel soon after the original, but it didn’t come together for whatever reason. And so, about five years ago, after Gangster Squad, I was like, ‘That Zombieland was pretty awesome.’ It was such a fun experience, and people really liked that movie. I thought that it would be great to get that cast back together and go on another adventure.
“And so, we started figuring out an idea for the movie. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who wrote the original, were busy doing Deadpool, so they served as executive producers and helped me to come up with the story. And basically, it took four years of writing drafts and getting to a place that we all felt confident in, to go and make the movie. The cast was all really excited about doing a sequel, but they wanted to make sure that if we were going to do one, that it was going to be at least as good as the original. Woody’s told me multiple times that the movie that he gets asked most about of all of his films is Zombieland. He just wanted to make sure that if we’re going to do another movie, it had to be really good. And the only way to make a good movie is if you have a good starting place. If the script’s great, then it makes everybody’s job easier. So we were really demanding on the script to make sure that it was a story worth telling.”
Was there a definitive reason why you didn’t do a sequel earlier on? “It was a combination of things. I felt, ‘Oh, I want to stretch my legs. I just don’t want to be the Zombieland guy. I want to go try other things.’ And my next two movies didn’t do nearly as well as the first one, so I think I quickly realised, ‘Oh, yeah, that was actually pretty good what I had.’ But also, the mistake that we made with that initial sequel idea was that the bad guys were other people, and it just changed the tone of it in a weird way. This movie’s a comedy first. The zombies are the bad guys, and that’s how it should be. We didn’t realise that at the time, but it just didn’t feel right. I’m glad that we didn’t make that version. Plus, it’s more interesting to see what’s happened in the time that’s past, in that ten years. Abigail Breslin, who was twelve-years-old in the first one, is now a woman. She’s a grownup, and that’s a big story point for her. She wants to go meet boys, or friends her own age, and not just be stuck with her family [of friends].”
Is Bill Murray reincarnated in this? “I wish. That said, we couldn’t do the movie without at least paying a little tribute to Bill.”
What was the biggest challenge for you this time compared to the first one, and due to the huge success from the first one? “The biggest challenge was self-imposed collectively, just feeling the pressure of having to make it as good as the first one, and trying really hard to always elevate it. And to make sure that if we were going to make a sequel, that it be at least as good, if not better, than the original. Most sequels aren’t, so it was really challenging to have a high bar like that and not wanting to tarnish the first one in any way. So hopefully, we succeeded.”
Was it hard getting the band back together? “Once we had a script that everybody felt confident in, they all wanted to do it. They really did want to make the sequel. That was their motivation. They all made sacrifices to be a part of this film, so it was motivated purely out of a desire to work together again and get the band back together, but also, to make something that we could all be very proud of.”
How did you balance horror, comedy, and action? “It’s tricky, but the good thing is, on the first movie, we had the template, so it was set. And since it was the original writers, the original director, and the original cast, we all knew what the target was. It was harder the first time to define the tone, but once we knew what it was, then it felt very comfortable actually, going back to that same tone. But for me, it was always a comedy first, and just letting the comedy and the character be the focus. And then the zombies and the action, and the horror are the icing on the cake. But the core of the movie is about the relationships and the characters. And when you have such great actors to work with, they make the characters so real, and they have such amazing chemistry among them that it just makes it really fun to work with them.”
After working with Tom Hardy on Venom, were you tempted to try and get him on board too? “No, this was a self-contained work, and it felt like these guys are in a different universe.”
Speaking of cameos, are there any other cameos that we can expect? There was talk about Dan Aykroyd…is that true? “No, that was an internet thing. I don’t know how that came to be. The ones that we tease in the trailer are Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch, who play doppelganger versions of Columbus and Tallahassee. That’s one of my favourite scenes in the movie. That was our Bill Murray special thing, and I am glad that it’s in the trailer, because it’s really funny. It goes in an unexpected direction, and it’s really, really fun.”
And in the ten years that have passed, have the zombies evolved in any way? “Yeah, they have. It’s similar to how the Eskimos have different words for snow. We have developed different words for zombies. There are ones that are really dumb that we call the Homers. There are some that are really smart that we call the Hawkings. And then there are ones that are really sneaky that are called the Ninjas. There’s a taxonomy of different zombies. They come across a new zombie that they haven’t encountered before, and that’s going to be the real threat. That’s the T-800. So Little Rock and [her new contact] Berkeley, they go to this commune called Babylon, which is a place that Berkeley’s been before, where there’s a bunch of young Millennial hippie types that have a commune where they all live together. So naturally, Little Rock wants to go there, because she’s been yearning to be around people her own age, but it’s a pacifist commune where they don’t have guns, or anything like that. And so, they’ve walled it off. They’re all hanging out at Babylon smoking weed and without a care in the world. Meanwhile, this horde of T-800s is making its way towards them. So our heroes try to save the hippies.”
This is not your typical zombie movie, but why do you think zombie movies and TV shows are so popular? “I really don’t know. For me, the fun of it is more about the apocalypse than anything. We’re all living in fear these days of lots of things. And so, it’s not hard to imagine the world coming to an end unfortunately. For me, the fun is in the post-apocalypse. People said with the original Dawn Of The Dead that the zombies were representative of a fear of nuclear proliferation, or just general anxiety. And I think that they’re an avatar for anxiety. But in our world, they’re just like an existential threat that is working against our happiness.”
Are there any Trump references in there? “No, because this takes place before Trump. The first film came out in 2009, well before he became President in 2016. But I don’t like those wink-y, knowing-the-future kind of things. It’s such low hanging fruit as far as comedy is concerned. Like, ‘Oh, I hope he never becomes President.’ It’s too easy. So we actively avoided that.”
How much did the film change in development? “Well, the very first version that was written is totally different. This is a separate movie. But once we started talking about it, I think the core components to the original idea were that Little Rock was gone and that they had to go get her. And then Madison was always a character from the beginning. And I’m pretty sure that Nevada was as well, Rosario’s character. But then you have tons of drafts, like multiple drafts, with changes and different plot lines and switches. But it was only until the original writers came back and did a pass that it really felt like Zombieland.”
What was the chemistry like with the reunion of the cast? “It was actually a dream come true. We’ve had Emma’s Oscar and Jesse’s nomination, and Woody, I think he’s gotten two nominations since the first Zombieland, and Abigail’s gone on to great things, and the writers did Deadpool and Deadpool 2, and I’ve done some stuff too. It was really like a family reunion. It was so much fun just being together. For Jesse and Emma especially, it was such a big deal, this movie, because they were just doing smaller movies, and this was their first big commercial movie. For me, obviously, it was a huge deal, and I’ve worked with them since. This is my third movie with Jesse, my third movie with Emma, and my third movie with Woody. Jesse and Woody did those Now You See Me movies together, and Woody and Emma maintain a really close friendship. We’re all connected, and it was just a true joy to come back together and make this movie. We all made a lot of sacrifices to be able to make the movie, because it was just out of the love of (a) wanting to have this great experience again, and (b) just wanting to make something that we hope audiences will really love.”
Zombieland: Double Tap is in cinemas October 17.