MORE ZOMBIES COMING TO THE BIG SCREEN IN ‘ZOMBIELAND’
by Paul Fischer
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Another zombie movie taking place in a post-apocalyptic world, Zombieland, directed by Ruben Fleischer. The horror comedy focuses on two men who have found a way to survive a world overrun by zombies. At Comic Con to previewed the film, stars Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, along with director Fleischer, talked about the film with PAUL FISCHER.
Q: For the actors, can you just talk a little bit about the characters and your particular role in this Zombieland saga?
EMMA STONE: I play a little girl named Wichita who was a con artist before the apocalypse happened, and is really using the zombie world to the best of her advantage in continuing the con, stealing cars and weapons from these boys..
WOODY HARRELSON: I play Tallahassee, who’s a fellow who’s probably gone through a little heartbreak in life, and is a bit of a loner, but then fortunately runs into Jesse Eisenberg’s character and we become an unlikely duo and we do a lot of zombie killing together.
JESSE EISENBERG: That’s right. I play Jesse Eisenberg in the movie, (laughter) no, my character has an obsessive-compulsive disorder before the zombies take over and then he uses it to his advantage when they do take over, because he’s obsessed with survival, and comes up with a list of 47 rules for how to survive in this post-apocalyptic world, including take Ziploc bags and buckle up because he has these very boring, practical rules that help him survive.
Q: How is this movie different from other zombie movies? What sets this one apart?
JESSE EISENBERG: It’s better. (laughter) It’s so much better. It’s like 10 percent better than all of them — all the characters in this movie, as we just described, also the other characters. Abigail Breslin plays Emma’s little sister. They’re kind of like a tag-team of con-artists, but every character in this movie is a very well rounded, interesting, fully dimensional, fleshed out, all those words that I learned in acting class, all of these characters are that, and that’s what, for me, separated it from other movies that are similar.
RUBEN FLEISCHER: Also, tonally I think it’s more comedic than a lot of other zombie movies. It’s not so straight forward. I mean, Shaun of The Dead is really funny and I guess that’s its closest kindred spirit as far as its approach to the zombie apocalypse, but I think that this is much more grounded, an American version of that. I would say it’s more of a comedy than it is a horror-zombie movie. It’s really about these characters and their unique experiences and the zombies are somewhat of a backdrop for it all.
Q: I’m always fascinated in these movies how the survivors rummage through the leftovers and find stuff they can use. What are some of the cool supplies or tools or impromptu weapons you guys find to handle yourselves in this world?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: I think Woody’s character’s the best at that.
WOODY HARRELSON: Chainsaws, (laughter) skillet, toaster, baseball bat, but you know, my character is really obsessed with Twinkies, so I’m rummaging around for Twinkies.
EMMA STONE: Which is hilarious because it’s Woody playing that, the last person who would ever eat a twinkie in real life.
WOODY HARRELSON: They did make up some good cornmeal Twinkies.
Q: Is it gory?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: There is a fair bit of gore, but I would say it doesn’t distance you from the movie because it’s so gory, but there’s a sequence of rules that introduces the film, kind of the rules that Jesse’s character has learned to live by in this zombie apocalypse, and there was some gore for sure in that sequence.
Q: Why is there a consistent fascination with the post-apocalypse? And why does that theme resonate so much?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: Well, I think now more than ever the post-apocalypse is something we all have on our mind, given the recent economic recession as well as ecological, environmental, food sources…
RHETT REESE: Bio-terrorism.
RUBEN FLEISCHER: Yeah, bio-terrorism, pandemics… There are a lot of threats that could happen.
JESSE EISENBERG: Social anxiety…
RUBEN FLEISCHER: (laughs)… yeah, that could have some serious bad effects on our world that we live in. I was just thinking about that though, because at this Comic-Con, there’s, with these other movies — 2012, The Book of Eli, The Road, our movie — there’s a bunch of these post-apocalyptic movies coming up, but ours is definitely the funniest. (laughter)
Q: For the actors, what are your favorite zombie kills in the movie?
JESSE EISENBERG: Well, Woody has the most interesting kills, but the most enjoyable one to film was where I’m being chased by a zombie and … (to Woody) Is it a banjo or a baseball bat in the supermarket?
RUEBEN FLEISCHER: Baseball bat.
JESSE EISENBERG: Baseball bat, and I slide under the bat as he’s swinging in order to kill the zombie that’s chasing me. It was fun to shoot, because I like sliding on floors. (laughter)
PAUL WERNICK: That’s actually my screen saver on my computer now.
JESSE EISENBERG: Oh really? That’s so cool.
EMMA STONE: I got to butt a zombie in the head with the back of my shotgun.
RUBEN FLEISCHER: And she actually gave him stitches, the actor.
EMMA STONE: (to RF) We’re going to talk about that later because I didn’t know that. Oh god (laughs). Yeah, so I really butted this guy in the head, apparently and he falls eighty feet to his death which is pretty…
WOODY HARRELSON: Well, I can’t top that, but I like this skillet, just the thud of it.
Q: Emma and Woody, did you really enjoy the kick ass action scenes that you guys were involved in? Is that something that you got a kick out of?
WOODY HARRELSON: (deadpan reaction) Yes. (laughter)
Q: Can you elaborate? In what way?
EMMA STONE: In what way? Well, I think any time you’re holding a weapon, and they tell you to pretend you’re shooting a zombie…
WOODY HARRELSON: It’s cathartic.
EMMA STONE: It’s cathartic. How often do you get to point a gun at a human being and have it not actually hurt them, but still have the effect of it?
JESSE EISENBERG: Not often.
EMMA STONE: I guess it’s horrifying that I said that.
???: Had you shot a gun before?
EMMA STONE: Horrifying and terrible. Weird insight into my psyche. I hadn’t shot a gun before this movie, before I went to the gun range and learned how to shoot guns. That was pretty interesting, getting to shoot all the different guns and learn the safety of weapons. (laughter)
WOODY HARRELSON: Do you feel safer with weapons?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: Some of the people’s most favorite movies of yours involve you doing action stuff, but it’s been awhile since you’ve done much action. Was it nice to return to that?
WOODY HARRELSON: Yes, I always fancy myself an action hero actor, (laughter) and then I didn’t actually get the parts to prove it out, but no, it was cool, and like she says, it is a very cathartic thing to be able to kick ass and not really hurt anybody.
Q: I’m curious where the actors and the crew stand on this slow versus fast zombie thing.
RUBEN FLEISCHER: Well, the guys, Rhett and Paul wrote the script, as fast zombies and that was the genesis of it, so do you guys want to talk about how you arrived at fast zombies for this movie?
RHETT REESE: Well, 28 Days Later, I think, re-invented the zombie genre and added a real threat to the violence which inspired us, and the new Dawn Of The Dead did the same, and the zombies just seemed scarier and, to us, that was crucial. But interestingly, I think, what we envisioned, more than anything, was an escapist fantasy, that this post-apocalyptic landscape is not something - - we all dread it, but I think in some ways it would be fun. It would be fun to not have any traffic on the freeway and to be able to walk into the White House and swing from the chandeliers in the Lincoln bedroom, and to be able to kill without consequence, to be able to take out your inherent violence that’s within you on these creatures, and not have to worry about getting sued or going to prison or all these things. So, to us, it seemed fun.
JESSE EISENBERG: It sucks when you get sued for it.
RUBEN FLEISCHER: Slow versus fast, I think it’s just as Rhett said, scarier and more modern, but also, Shaun of The Dead did slow zombies, and I think in order to distinguish our movie in a way, it’s good that we have fast zombies so that there’s not as much overlap. The fast zombies are scary, like truly scary and ferocious, and there’s snot and pus and vomit coming out of them as they race towards you and it’s truly frightening. One of the clips we’re going to show today, there’s a real zombie battle that will hopefully give you a good sense of the fast zombies in our movie.
Q: The new trailers are very intriguing. Will there be moments like that in the movie itself or is that sort of an opening prompt?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: We tried to go with a non-traditional storytelling. The movie kind of jumps all over, and it’s driven by voice-over and when you’re going between these different worlds that are non-linear, it’s fun to come up with cool graphic or creative transitions between them. So hopefully people will appreciate some of the effort we’ve made to do that in the film.
JESSE EISENBERG: Also these kind of tangential elements really round out this post-apocalyptic world, so like what else is happening besides these four central characters, these other kind of crazy things that are happening in the world.
RUBEN FLEISCHER: It’s definitely one of the smallest casts of any movie that’s been made recently…
JESSE EISENBERG: It’s like On The Waterfront. (laughter)
Q: Woody, is it gratifying for you to go from something like this to some of the smaller independent films you also do like The Messenger, which somebody told me yesterday could be one of your best performances?
WOODY HARRELSON: Thank you. Did you all hear that? (laughter) It’s great to be able to be a part of this movie, because I think it’s going to be, I mean I haven’t seen it yet, but I think it’s going to be really funny and hopefully a little bit horrifying as well. But I guess my heart is in the indie world in a way, because some of those movies they’re just not going to be big, studio blockbuster type of movies, but they’re great to be a part of, like The Messengers.
Q: Was The Messenger a tough film to do?
WOODY HARRELSON: It was very intense, very intense. I know we’re not supposed to be talking about The Messenger (laughter). Ben Foster and I played Casualty Notification Officers, so you can imagine it’s pretty intense.
Q: I guess this movie has blood, and sometimes blood has a taste or flavor, so did you guys find any vivid flavor for the blood?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: I tasted it ‘cause I just wanted to know what the zombies were having to go through and surprisingly, fake blood tastes like peppermint. (laughter)
JESSE EISENBERG: Unlike real blood. We all had puke at some point in our mouth, which was delicious. Puke, bile. It was like saltines and kind of a honey, a honey pomade. (laughter)
WOODY HARRELSON: A nice little chunky treat…
Q: A comment by Tony Gardner caused a message board freakout and frenzy on IMDB. He was talking about prosthetics on the A-listers. I was wondering if there is anything you could say about that?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: I’m not aware of it. What do you mean the A-Listers?
Q: He said we did some prosthetics on the A-Listers back in March on MTV. Prosthetics on the A-Listers. It caused huge traffic. I haven’t been able to find anything on it.
RUBEN FLEISCHER: I don’t know what that means.
Q: I don’t know either. That’s why I was hoping for clarification.
WOODY HARRELSON: Well, it’s a stand-off. (laughter)
Q: Emma, what are you doing next?
EMMA STONE: I just finished a movie called Easy A. Other than that, we’ll see. And a movie called Paper Man.
Q: What does it mean, the name?
EMMA STONE: Oh, Easy A is the story of a girl who a rumor gets started about her and instead of denying it, she decides to just screw it and just go with it, and everything kind of bubbles out of control.
Q: Is it a thriller?
EMMA STONE: It’s a big time comedy. It’s not a thriller at all, no.
Q: Woody, what are you doing in the world of environmental activism these days?
WOODY HARRELSON: Well, I’m really focused right now on mountain top removal and I think that’s one of the most egregious acts that’s going on ecologically now, where they blow the tops off of mountains to access the coal. And I’m just kind of focused on that right now.
Q: Are you finding the new administration is more receptive to these environmental concerns than the old?
WOODY HARRELSON: Well, unfortunately, I don’t think they’re really stepping up right now. I hope that it does happen, but in terms of what’s going on with mountain top removal, they’re letting more, another 42 more permits just went through and they’re backing off of sensitive oil leases and they’re letting those go through, so I hope it improves.
Q: Jesse, you did Cursed and The Village, how does this compare with your first zombie film?
JESSE EISENBERG: Well, in The Village, my grandmother saw it and asked me if she saw the wrong movie. I’m very in it for no time. (laughter) My grandmother is also blind in one eye so that might account for it. (laughter) Botched operation. Cursed is not so dissimilar. It’s kind of comedic as well as a horror movie, but as I said, this movie is so unique and it’s focused on these four eccentric characters, and also Cursed filmed twice because they scrapped the first… and this movie filmed only once.
Q: As far as the zombie rules go, we all know that once you’re bit, that’s it for you and then there’s the cleanliness aspect in this. What are the rules of Purell and how does that affect zombie germs and stuff?
RHETT REESE: Purell doesn’t help. (laughter) Well, the Purell in the movie, they’re disposing of a dead body, so it’s not as though they’ve been sprayed with zombie blood at that moment, but yeah, Purell is like spitting into the wind. It’s not going to help. (laughter)
Q: Does Abigail get any cool kills in the film?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: Yeah, she [does]. Abby also hadn’t shot a gun before and one of the first times I met her, I think the first day I met her, we went out to the gun range and I had a twelve year old shooting a shot gun and a rifle and it was really, really fun. And she has some serious kills. She does a really good job.
Q: Emma, what has this ride been like for you since Superbad? It was such a launching ground for many young talents.
EMMA STONE: Wild. It’s been a wild ride. It hasn’t been that long I’ve realized the other day. I just finished number seven since Superbad which is just like shocking. It’s been really nice that people keep letting me do this. (laughs) It’s been crazy.
Q: Has your daily life changed?
EMMA STONE: No, no. My daily life hasn’t changed. But just in terms of getting to go to a set everyday and I worked eight days on Superbad, so it wasn’t like I was there all the time, but now I’ve gotten to see sets a lot more and kind of experience what it’s really like to make movies a lot more and it’s definitely what I want to be doing. So, I’m lucky that I get to keep doing it.
Q: Ruben, sorry to bring up the slow and fast zombie argument again, you said you were doing it to stand out from Shaun of The Dead? Simon Pegg actually wrote this large article about how it has to be slow zombies and how fast zombies are not zombies. Do you maybe have a retort back to him about that?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: Well, it’s not fair to say, maybe I misspoke in saying that we did it to distinguish ourselves from Shaun of The Dead. I mean, it was incepted in the script as fast zombies and it was never intended as anything else, so it wasn’t like because we were aware of that film or whatever. But, I think it is helpful if you’re going to have two horror comedies that the zombies are somehow different in their makeup, yeah. But, I mean, zombie purists don’t accept the viral idea that like it’s supernatural and people rise from the dead and slow zombies and Romero in Land of The Dead made fun of fast zombies, and I know that zombie purists…, but I don’t happen to be a zombie purist, and I think all zombies can live together in harmony. (laughter)
Q: Woody, are you doing anything next, or are you just going back to Hawaii and finding sanctuary in a treehouse?
WOODY HARRELSON: No, I’m unemployed and I’ll probably be spending some time on Maui just coping with the unemployment.
Q: On Maui?
WOODY HARRELSON: Yeah, that’s where I live so I’ll probably get some time in the water and just try to move through it (laughter).
Q: How much time did you guys spend actually shooting on the open road?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: On the open road itself or on the shoot?
Q: Yeah, like the outdoor road movie aspect of it?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: Oh, lots of time. I mean, the movie has a couple different parts, like the ending’s at an amusement park, and so that part wasn’t on the open road, but the parts from when Jesse and Woody’s characters first meet is very much on an open road, and actually most of the movie takes place on the road. So, a lot of time was spent on the open roads of Georgia.
Q: So how difficult was that to film?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: For us, we got really lucky, because we had great cooperation from the state of Georgia, and they would shut down full highways for us, and allow us to dress them with hundreds of cars, broken down and backed up, and we really tried to create a post-apocalyptic landscape in all the sets that we were in. Any exterior shooting presents its own challenges, but it was such veteran actors. I don’t think it was too hard to deal with.
EMMA STONE: What about shooting on the open road on Hollywood Boulevard and on the Los Angeles freeways? That was insane.
RUBEN FLEISCHER: We had a great day. We shot one day in Los Angeles which you can see in the trailer, we have two great crane shots, but we shot on the 4th Street bridge approaching Los Angeles, and dressed it completely post-apocalyptic and then we had the good fortune of shooting on Hollywood Boulevard and kind of making Grauman’s Chinese Theater look destroyed and devastated and filled the road with zombies and I think it’s one of the cooler locations in the film.
Q: Jesse, can you describe the relationship between your character and Woody’s character? Is it adversarial? Are you trying to get away from him and he just keeps coming after you?
JESSE EISENBERG: It’s like an Oedipal thing. (laughter) I keep trying to suck on his breast. (laughter)
WOODY HARRELSON: I’m sorry?
JESSE EISENBERG: Oh, I mean, on set. (laughter) Yeah, we were kind of like foils in the movie, dramaturgically speaking. I play a character that always runs from a fight, and he runs into a fight in the most creative of ways to kill zombies and I have made a long list of how to avoid them.
Q: So do you need each other to accomplish some tasks?
JESSE EISENBERG: Yeah, we have to find the ring (laughter).
RUBEN FLEISCHER: They’re buddies, like it’s a buddy comedy and these are the two buddies in our comedy.
Q: It’s not a romantic comedy?
JESSE EISENBERG: There’s elements.
RUBEN FLEISCHER: There’s a zombie.
WOODY HARRELSON: We don’t want to reveal that.
Q: So they team up to survive?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: They can explain, I guess. What’s your take on the relationship, Woody? Does it overlap with Jesse’s at all?
WOODY HARRELSON: Well, yes it kind of overlaps. That foil thing we do overlap on. My character is very much a loner and really believes that to survive, you have to be alone, but I run into his character and we have kind of a tense moment where we don’t know what’s going to happen and then fortunately we end up ahhhh, becoming of buddies! (laughter)
Q: Do you think there’s room for more adventures in Zombieland?
RUBEN FLEISCHER: I hope so. I feel like it would be really fun to do more.
EMMA STONE: That would have been a nice title too, Adventures In Zombieland. (laughter)
Q: Would the actors like to do this again?
JESSE EISENBERG: Everybody dies in the end, so…
WOODY HARRELSON: Yeah, this might be the time to announce that we’re going to do Zombieland 2, (laughter)
EMMA STONE: And 3 and 4.
WOODY HARRELSON: Yeah, it’ll be a quadruple…
JESSE EISENBERG: Yeah, a miniseries…
Q: There’s a lot of zombie stuff out now — video games, movies and books…
RUBEN FLEISCHER: There’s a zombie zeitgeist right now, and we’re happy to be a part of it.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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