This past weekend, Sony Pictures’ Zombieland: Double Tap was released just over ten years since the original Zombieland.
Reuniting the characters played by Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin, the movie revisited their characters ten years after the original movie, now living in The White House safe from the zombie apocalypse that begun in the earlier film. They are joined by the likes of Zoey Deutch, Rosario Dawson, Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson as new survivors, and the sequel actually did okay this past weekend.
Like the original movie, Zombieland: Double Tap is the brainchild of writer/producers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who went on to write G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the 2017 sci-fi film Life, and most importantly, Deadpool and its sequel Deadpool 2, with Ryan Reynolds. Also back for the sequel is director Ruben Fleischer, who directed last year’s Venom.
The Beat spoke with the writers over the phone a few weeks back, and as usual, if you really want to get the nitty-gritty on how a movie gets made, then the writers (and producers) are the ones to talk to.
THE BEAT: We spoke for Life, which was about two and a half years ago, and I don’t think I even asked about Zombieland, because at that point, I felt that it was probably over and done.
Rhett Reese: So did we.
Paul Wernick: We did, too.
THE BEAT: I’m so happy that this movie is a real thing and that we can talk about it. I liked it a lot – it’s everything I hoped for and more after waiting the past ten years.
Rhett Reese:That’s great to hear. Thank you. I think it was a long slog. It’s like as you said. We literally felt the way you did, which is it’s not coming back now. We had given up hope, but you have some indefatigable people in our group, Gavin Palonebeing one of them. He just wouldn’t let it die. We actually can be the kind of people who hold torches for longer than maybe we should.
Wernick: Although, we gave up on it…
Reese: We were pretty moribund, but one of the things that helped us was the fact that the cast really did all love each other and wanted ultimately do another one. There was a lot of fear about doing it right and a lot of difficulty with schedules, getting everybody together and getting on the same page as to what the script was going to be. That was difficult, but at the core of it was this love of each other and the desire to go back to the camp, so to speak, and that finally won out.
THE BEAT: I spoke with Ruben earlier, and he mentioned you were developing a sequel shortly after the first busy one but put it on the backburner as you got busy with Deadpool. Since then, Emma and Jesse exploded, while Woody was always busy. Was there one key thing that just clicked in place to make this happen, or was it a slow build to that happening?
Reese: Woody’s sort of our guru. We all defer to him, and he’s the capo or the don of this whole situation. Look, we all had different, varying degrees of enthusiasm and/or the disappointing attitude that leaks when things haven’t gone for a while. Woody clicked in at one point, and it we all took that cue from him. We were all like, “If Woody is starting to get excited, this could really happen.” [We] talked amongst each other, realized we were all equally excited, and it sort of flowed off Woody at a key moment.
Wernick: Yeah, that was about two and a half three years ago.
Reese: And then it got real. It also helped that the studio and Tom Rothman had done some research into which of the various Columbia and Sony projects people were most excited to see a sequel to, and Zombieland was really at the top of the list.
Wernick: This wasn’t immediately after the first one. This was years and years [later].
Reese: Tom, to his great credit… you know how territorial executives can be, and they don’t want to push things that came before their regime. Tom looked at it and said, “I loved the first movie, and I believe in this, and I want to push hard from our side.” When you have a studio that’s motivated, and then you have multiple stars that are motivated, then things really do get rolling. We owe a lot to Tom, and Woody, and Emma, of course, and Jesse. It was a long time coming, but when it did, it picked up momentum nicely.
THE BEAT: As a viewer, it seemed fairly effortless for the actors to jump back into their characters. While you’ve worked on the Deadpool movies with Ryan, the actors have evolved, too, so it’s amazing they seemingly can get back into their characters like [snaps fingers].
Wernick: Rhett described it best, like it was putting on an old, comfy sweater. It fits perfectly. It makes you warm inside, and that’s how we all feel in this world, and with these characters. We love them, and I think that love comes across on screen. I think Woody really does love Tallahassee, and he loves Columbus and Wichita and Little Rock. I think that inherent love really does make the audience feel what’s on-screen, and hopefully adds to their enjoyment.
THE BEAT: I thought Zoey Deutch was absolutely hilarious, and I loved what Rosario Dawson and the other brought as well. How did you go about finding the actors to play the new character, especially having Tom and Jesse play off each other the way they do.
Reese: They’re two of the best improvisational actors around, Tom and Jesse. Consequently, when you put them together, and you see sparks fly with the thing that happens in improv when people are reacting to the improv coming at them, and they’re bouncing off that and trying something else. What came out of it really was this more cooperative, mutually admiring relationship between the two characters. In the earlier versions, there was a little bit of a competition between who has the better rules. Thomas’ character just kept one-upping Jesse, but what I think evolved once the actors dug into it was, “Wouldn’t two nerds who share this much in common, see a lot in each other and actually like each other and have sort of a man-crush on each other?” That made us laugh, and those guys just ran with it. When you rewatch that scene, the funny thing is to watch their reactions to each other, as opposed to what they’re saying. They’re so enamored of each other, and it’s just hilarious. Of course, it drives Emma Stone nuts that these guys are so nerdy, and they’re fueling each other. Ultimately, you’re looking for people who can elevate material, and Zoey is the same way. Zoey elevates everything she touches, just makes it funnier. We found them thankfully, or it could have stunk. You get new actors that you don’t know as well moving into a situation where everybody already has a relationship and a comic shorthand with each other. It could have backfired, but I think everyone really amped it.
THE BEAT: You guys have a pretty good track record with sequels now, between this and Deadpool 2. As you know from the jokes in Deadpool 2, it’s not easy making a sequel that’s as good as the original.
Wernick: Both those movies are so near and dear to us that we wouldn’t put our name on them, we wouldn’t be involved with them, if our heart wasn’t in it, and the passion was there. We really do love the worlds and want to give the audience the love that they’ve come to expect from the first one.
Reese: You almost have to be a risktaker, and Hollywood is full of risktakers, but it’s really easy after a success to be like, “Well, let’s not go back there. Let’s not spoil it. Let’s stay away from trying to recreate the magic, cause you’re likely to fail.” For us, it’s more of a challenge. We’ll lean into it, and be like, “Let’s see if we can do as well. Let’s not get nervous. Let’s get excited. Maybe we can’t, maybe we’ll fall on our faces, but let’s try hard and see if we can either top it or at least do as well. It makes you work really hard, because you’re terrified of screwing up. If you’re just as passionate on the first one, and everybody else is too, and it’s not just a money-grab, why not go make another great movie?
THE BEAT: And you got another writer involved with this one?
Reese: Yeah, we did. There were two really key guys in the middle of this process, ‘cause we wrote the early drafts…
Wernick: And then we went off to do Deadpool.
Reese: We needed people who were really great, who got it, who could take it and update it for the fact that all of these years had passed. Dave Callaham, who is a great guy and super-nice and a great writer came in and did a wonderful few drafts, and then Oren Aziel came in after him and also did a wonderful few drafts. We really owe a lot to those guys, and then we came back and a lot changed, but I think those guys left a good stamp on the movie. We’re not territorial. This is all a very collaborative thing. We’ve worked in television with other writers we love, so we weren’t really defensive or territorial. We like those guys. Ultimately, I think you’re seeing the product of a lot of people working really hard for a lot of years. We definitely and ended it for a few years, but there were key years in the middle there where they helped us.
THE BEAT: Did anything from your original ideas while developing a sequel make it into this one?
Reese: That’s a really good question, Ed. I’m thinking back.
Wernick: Me, too.
Reese: I think we always wanted to do a bit with vehicles, like this idea of having the coolest vehicle in Zombieland. You see it in the first movie when he wants the Hummer, and he wants the cool vehicles. That definitely bled over into this movie with the idea of the RV and the minivan.
Wernick: Were there monster trucks in the first one? There were construction vehicles.
Reese: No, I don’t think so, but we definitely wanted to do a monster truck from the very beginning. That was in our eariiest draft. There were things that were circling around in our head. Were there precise things that we had in the first Zombieland that we had to take out that we then got in later? Maybe not, but definitely a lot of things brewing.
THE BEAT: My next question and answer does involve a slight SPOILER, but I do want to ask about the Bill Murray bit. That was such a huge surprise in the first movie. This time, you did a whole end sequence with him. How did you get Bill Murray to come back? Was he really open to the crazy sequence you put him in?
Wernick: As hard as it was to get him for the first one, it was the opposite [this time] because it was super-simple to get him for the second one. He loved the first one and loved everyone involved. It was a pretty quick phone call, and he was in. I think Woody or one of executives at Sony who plays golf with him said, “Hey, Zombieland 2,” and he said, “I’m in. Let’s do it.” It was just working his schedule around to make it happen. There is no Zombieland without Bill Murray, and so we had to figure out a way….
Reese: It’s going to be hard to make a Zombieland 3. What are we going to do? How do we get him back? I have no idea. Maybe we’ll figure it out.
Wernick: Zombie Bill Murray.
Reese: But [our] zombies they don’t rise from the dead really in our version.
THE BEAT: I think a lot of people were expecting Murray to come back as a zombie.
Reese: But our rules were that this is not a supernatural rise-from-the-dead kind of zombie – it was a person with a virus – so I think we’d need to have to bend our own rules a little bit. Maybe that’s okay.
Wernick: It will be worth bending for him.
Reese: Probably, yeah.
THE BEAT: And Murray was up for the idea of doing a junket gag from the beginning?
Reese: Yeah, one of the actors we know said, “They don’t pay you to do the movie. They pay you to do the press.” The actors sort of hate press junkets … look, to a degree, obviously. They know that everybody is doing their job. The issue is just that they give the same interview 45 times. To some degree, they have to answer a lot of the same questions 45 times, and they have to go internationally and do it with international press. After three weeks of it, they’re really done, but we thought, “Let’s lean into that with Bill Murray, because he already made the joke about Garfield – how much he didn’t like it – so I’m sure he understands what its’ like to be long hours on a press junket, so let’s write to that.” Then we had these reporters who were so great about parodying themselves, asking questions that were not mundane but the same kind of questions they get from everyone about the Garfield hairball, stuff like that. It really was like lightning in a bottle, because Bill lit up, and he did enjoy it.
Zombieland: Double Tap is now playing in theaters nationwide. You can also read what the writing duo said about bringing Deadpool into the MCU right here.