In a small editing room tucked away on the backlot of Sony Studios in Culver City, Los Angeles, director Ruben Fleischer talks Zombieland: Double Tap with STACK.
A decade after Zombieland became a box office hit and cult classic, the lead cast – Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin – have reunited for the hilarious sequel Zombieland: Double Tap, which sees our heroes travel through comic mayhem from the White House to the heartland.
Our four slayers must now face off against many new kinds of zombies that have evolved since the original movie, including some new human survivors. More than anything they must confront the growing pains of their own snarky makeshift family.
Naturally, the creative team wished to capitalise on the success of the original sooner rather than later, but life got in the way. It was only after Ruben Fleischer completed directing Gangster Squad in 2013 that he began to seriously contemplate a sequel.
“I was like, ‘Zombieland was such a fun experience; people really liked that movie. It would be great to get that cast back together and go on another adventure’,” he says.
“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 come up with the story [with Dave Callaham]. Basically, it took four years of writing drafts to get to a place where we all felt confident to make the movie,” says Fleischer, who also took a break from zombie planning while directing Tom Hardy in last year’s Venom.
“The Zombieland cast was all really excited about doing a sequel, but they wanted to make sure that if we were going to do this, it had to be at least as good as the original.”
The 2009 comedy-horror began with a shy student (Jesse Eisenberg) trying to reach his family in Ohio, a gun-toting tough-guy [Woody Harrelson] trying to snag the last Twinkie, and a pair of sisters [Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin] trying to get to an amusement park. The unlikely quartet ultimately joined forces to traverse a zombie-filled America with just 30 rules to help them survive; pro-tips like “look in the back seat”, “double tap” and “avoid public restrooms”.
Taking on the names of their birthplaces – Eisenberg’s Columbus and Harrelson’s Tallahassee, Stone’s Wichita and Breslin’s Little Rock – the foursome became a generation’s favourite zombie slayers.
Today they have evolved.
Presently camped out in the White House, Harrelson is antsy while Columbus and Wichita have been dating until the sisters decide to take off without them.
Left to his own devices, Columbus wastes little time in finding a replacement in the shape of Zoey Deutch’s hilarious, pink-wearing, valley-speaking Madison, whom he meets in an abandoned mall.
Introducing Rosario Dawson’s Nevada, Luke Wilson’s Albuquerque and Thomas Middleditch’s Flagstaff to the sequel, Fleischer shakes his head when STACK quizzes him about persistent rumours Bill Murray will return, citing every director’s complaint that Murray doesn’t possess a cellphone and is almost impossible to reach.
He was particularly interested in exploring Breslin’s story arc, given that she was only 12 when they made the original.
“Ten years have passed so Abigail’s Little Rock is now a woman. She’s only lived with her small nuclear family, and wants to spread her wings and leave the nest, like any teenager. She wants to meet boys and friends her own age, which leads to an interesting plot point.”
Borrowing from Tallahassee’s saying, ‘Go big, or go home’, the team particularly had fun in recreating the White House as their new base, where we see them celebrate Christmas. “They hang out in the Oval Office, decorated with stuff they’ve pilfered from the Smithsonian,” says Fleischer.
Tallahassee also has a new ride, The Beast. “It’s based on President Obama’s old presidential limo, which is this incredible bulletproof thing that the Secret Service dubbed ‘The Beast’, because it weighed eight tons, and it’s just indestructible. He’s customised it into his own Mad Max, zombie killer machine. There’s a little Twinkie on the front and bullhorns and a bulldozer. He’s made it his own.”
At least, he did, until the girls take off in it. “Naturally he’s sad the girls have split, but he’s even more sad they took The Beast with them.”
Deutch was a revelation. “She just blew my mind. I wasn’t familiar with her prior to her audition, and she just came in with the Madison character fully realised. I think, in part, growing up in the Valley, she just channeled that Valley girl, Kardashian, Paris Hilton kind of thing,” he says of the actress best known for roles in Why Him? and Dirty Grandpa.
“Zoey has a totally different energy to the original cast and it was fun to have a character that was stuck in 2009, Juicy Couture culture. She’s so Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan of that era, so it’s funny to think about somebody who for the past ten years has been living in that world as her reality,”
Call it a rebound, it doesn’t take long for Columbus to ask her to join them at the White House, although the honeymoon doesn’t last long.
Fearful for Little Rock and Wichita’s safety, the trio leave the safety of the White House, picking up the sisters’ trail in Memphis where they discover Elvis’s iconic Graceland home has been burned to the ground. On their way out of town, they spot The Beast parked outside The Hound Dog Hotel, where Dawson‘s Nevada has made her home.
“I’ve been a fan of Rosario for so long and was really excited to work with her. Nevada is a huge Elvis fan, and a keeper of the flame of Elvis; a natural kindred spirit to Tallahassee, and potential love interest,” teases Fleischer.
Certainly, the sequel has some additional rules and features new zombie varieties including Homers (dumb ones), Hawkings (smart ones) and Ninjas (sneaky ones). “We establish at the beginning of the film that there’s a taxonomy of different zombies.”
Working with such talent made Fleischer’s job easy. “It was really a joy every day because we were always finding new things and new ideas to elevate what was on the page. When you have such talented comedians, they bring so much to the table.”
Just don’t expect any cameos from Tom Hardy. “Venom is a self-contained work, that it just felt like these guys are in a different universe,” he says.
Zombieland: Double Tap is in cinemas on October 17