Interview: Co-Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick for ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP

Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have become known in recent years for their collaborative writing projects including, Deadpool 2, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and Life. Now they’ve decided to go back to a world that they had created over ten years ago, the world that would take audiences by surprise and where clown zombies became an actual thing. The team has joined forces once again to deliver us more of our favorite zombie-related shenanigans in ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP.

For the release of ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP, I got to chat with co-writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick where we discussed everything from the developmental process behind the sequel to the evolution of the zombies on film and what their favorite zombie kill from the films was.

The talk of the sequel began before the release of Zombieland in 2009. Why do you think ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP took ten years to come into development? 

Rhett Reese: With any number of factors, both script and schedule were the two biggest things. The script took a while to come into shape and the actors all blew up and the director, Ruben Fleischer, blew up. It was definitely hard to coordinate with everybody’s careers being dragged in different direction. We were also working on Deadpool for a big portion of it. As anyone who covers Hollywood knows, delay is always the worst, it feels like all these projects take much longer than they should. Deadpool took six years, ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP took ten years, and we’re hoping the next one doesn’t take 16 years (laughs). That just seems to be the way it works out.

Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone) in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP | Photo credit: Jessica Miglio for Sony Pictures Entertainment

Since there was this ten year gap, were there aspects that you wanted to explore more that you won’t able to, such as Little Rock growing up in Zombieland? 

Paul Wernick: Yeah, there were things we had to definitely move pass just because of that passage of time. Things that would have been interesting to explore had we done it sooner, like the evolution of Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Wichita’s (Emma Stone) relationship as well as Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) growing up in Zombieland from this young girl to a young woman. Those momentous life events that happened over the course of ten years, especially in formative years like Little Rock was living, and formative years of relationships that Wichita and Columbus were living. There were things that we kind of had just assumed happened and were life-changing or traumatic or all of the above. But really, the greatest gift that ten years gave us was the opportunity to explore this idea that Little Rock has grown up and did kind of want to leave the nest as well as Tallahassee’s (Woody Harrelson) struggles, emotionally, with how he deals with it. He had this girl who looked up to him as a father and then grew up and wanted to spread her wings, as all children do, and how he emotionally deals with it is similar to how Wichita dealt with it. She was always super protective of Little Rock as a kid and then realized she had to let go a little bit. More than anything this is a story about a family growing up and surviving. We always say that this particular movie, as well as our other films, are ordinary people living and dealing with ordinary things in an extraordinary universe. This family is growing up and evolving and having to deal with what the world throws at them in the midst of this zombie apocalypse. Just like Deadpool, it’s a romantic comedy, he’s dying of cancer and falls in love and this woman who saves his life and yet he’s cursed or blessed, depending on which day you look at it, with these abilities he’s given. It’s tapping into those grounded, real-life experiences that our audience can relate to in these extraordinary worlds.

I love the evolution of the zombies from the Homers to the T-800. Can you talk a bit about their transformation and were there any other zombie versions you wanted to explore?

Rhett Reese: The only other [zombie] we had that we took out was the weevil – where you could push it but it would never fall over, it would always pop back up. We thought that would be pretty funny, that there was this zombie that you just couldn’t knock down. Most of all, we just wanted to really pay service to the fact that ten years had passed and that zombies, like people, evolve over time, and in this case, the environment had changed the zombies. If they were forced to fight harder for their food they became tougher and if they were able to sit back and chow down they maybe became a Homer – they didn’t need to use their brains and their brains slowly decayed over time. That was really what it became about for us, was just making sure that this was a fresh world from the last world we saw, ten years later.

Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP | Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio for Sony Pictures Entertainment

The sequel takes us through some pivotal landmarks. Were there certain reasons why you picked places such as the White House and Graceland? 

Paul Wernick: A lot of zombie movies are dour and are like, “Oh my god, it’s the post-apocalypse and there’s these flesh-eating monsters crawling about trying to kill you!” We really try and tap into this wish-fulfillment like yeah, it’s the post-apocalypse but there’s no laws and no rules and you can kind of do anything you want. We literally sat around throwing around ideas about what [people] would do, where [they] would live. It’s like, “Oh man, the White House, that would be awesome!” And obviously Graceland, we are huge Elvis fans and so we thought that would be super cool. Just think of all the cool things you would do and all the cool places you could live and all the cool cars you could drive without any consequences, other than the fact that around the corner you could turn a corner and be killed (laughs).

Rhett Reese: And of course all that has to change over time, too, because we originally set the story immediately following the first Zombieland, so it was in Los Angeles in the Capitol Records building instead of holding up in the White House. You have to be sort of flexible with the constraints and when time passed it was like alright, well let’s not have them in LA anymore, they would have moved on from there. But then it’s like, where would they move? What’s cooler than the White House? It’s partly sort of the wish-fulfillment and then it’s partly sort of making it work for your plot and your characters.

Paul Wernick: What’s interesting, Rhett and I just thought of this, is in that first [film] when Tallahassee is driving and he mentions the White House and the Lincoln bedroom.

Rhett Reese: Exactly and then they end up in the Lincoln bedroom. We’ve always treated Zombieland as escapist fantasy, even for the characters within it.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone) in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP | Photo credit: Jessica Miglio for Sony Pictures Entertainment

Where do you see the Zombieland going after this? Is it the end of the road or is there the potential for the story to continue? 

Paul Wernick: Well, I think that will be up to the audience, whether they come out and support the movie like we hope they do. If they do, I think there are more stories to tell. More than anything, the challenge will be figuring out everybody’s schedule to get them back. It might take another ten years for that to happen, though we hope not (laughs). We love these characters, we love the actors who play these characters, and I think that the love is mutual. If given the opportunity, we would always love to explore more in Zombieland.

My last question is out of both the films, what is your favorite zombie kill? 

Rhett Reese: The Leaning Tower of Pisa dropping on someone’s head – it doesn’t get much grander than that. Silly, maybe, perhaps, that he was able to do it with his little crowbar but very dramatic in the grand scheme.

Paul Wernick: I’m trying to think what would be mine. Maybe the clown from the first film at Pacific Playland. I did love when Columbus overcomes his fear of clowns and smashes that Pacific Playland clown over the head and blood squirts all over the camera. I did love that one.

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP is now in theaters and you can read all about what we thought of the film in our spoiler-free review here.

Shannon McGrew
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