'Life After Beth' Stars Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, Director Talk Finding Truth in Zombie Rom-Com

Aubrey Plaza
Aubrey Plaza
 

Don’t get distracted by the zombies.

Life After Beth writer-director Jeff Baena insists that his new film, starring Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan, is just a relationship film in which the female half of the central couple is an undead flesh-eater.

Baena explained that while the idea came to him after he’d gone through a couple of breakups and was also reading about zombies, he tried to keep the focus on interpersonal connections.

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“[The film is] sort of dealing with issues and traumas and situations that you would deal with in a zombie movie, but more on a personal level,” Baena told The Hollywood Reporter after a New York screening of the dark comedy. “I wanted to focus more on the emotional carnage instead of the physical carnage.”

In order to keep the zombie elements from getting too out of hand, Baena says, “I just made sure that whatever was happening was happening in [DeHaan’s character’s] vicinity and if it wasn’t his vicinity, I wouldn’t highlight it because that would be sensational. I’d rather keep it more grounded.”

Plaza, who plays the undead Beth, said she just tried to stick to the script in terms of her character’s zombie transformation.

“A lot of the zombie stuff was in the script and it was sort of my interpretation of his interpretation of what a zombie is and does,” she told THR. “I really just made a lot of different choices and let him mold it into what he wanted.”

Plaza added that Baena’s script was what attracted her to the project, saying, “I felt like it was unlike anything I’d ever read before. I really loved the tone of it. It felt like he almost created a new genre.”

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For DeHaan, who plays Beth’s non-zombie boyfriend Zach, the film offered a chance for the actor to do his first comedy, with, he says, “some of my favorite comedians.”

“I knew I would at least leave there having learned a lot and getting to watch those guys work,” DeHaan told THR.

In keeping with Baena’s authentic approach, DeHaan explained that he learned about the importance of truth in comedy.

“One of the main things I walked away from was about finding comedy in the truth because ultimately it’s about being truthful and honoring the material. If you do that, then the comedy will happen,” he said.

Speaking of first times, Baena makes his directorial debut on the film but as DeHaan explained, you wouldn’t know it because of how experienced he was at working on film sets.

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“Jeff has been in the business for a very long time, and he’s seen a lot of really great directors work, and he was a pro, and he kept things going and he could be really efficient, which was important for our schedule,” DeHaan said.

In addition to working with David O. Russell as a writer on I Heart Huckabees, Baena also watched Robert Zemeckis work, as an assistant for the Back to the Future and Forrest Gump helmer.

“I think just being in those environments, you learn how to treat people and how to get things done,” Baena said.

DeHaan’s Amazing Spider-Man director Marc Webb was also on hand for the small screening and reception at Manhattan’s Crosby Street Hotel but declined to talk to THR. For his part, DeHaan said he learned of last week’s Spider-Man release date shifts when he read articles about the news and didn’t know any more than what was reported.

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The Fault in Our Stars screenwriter Michael H. Weber was also among the guests at the screening, explaining he was there to support his Spectacular Now distributor A24, which is also releasing Life After Beth.

Scott Neustadter and I are already chomping at the bit to find our next thing with A24, so I will come support anything they do,” Weber told THR.

Right now, though, Weber said he’s busy working on his and Neustadter’s adaptation of John Green’s Paper Towns, which he said seems to be moving forward quickly.

“Hopefully we’ll get to make it soon,” he said.

Life After Beth is being released through A24’s DirecTV partnership, with the film available on the satellite service since July 17 before it hits theaters in limited release on Aug. 15. Although The Spectacular Now was a purely theatrical release, Weber seemed enthusiastically supportive of A24’s new DirecTV distribution model, which the company is using for some releases.

“People are always talking about how Netflix and iTunes and Amazon and how TV is where it’s at now because you can watch what you want when you want to,” Weber explained. “In some ways, film is adapting to that and one of the ways you’re seeing that is the forward thinking behind this partnership, it seems, with A24 and DirecTV because people who want a theatrical experience can go see Life After Beth in the theater or, like my friends who have young kids, they can watch it at home, so it’s nice that film is catching up because for me at least, when you have a really great film like this, it’s just about getting it to the audience.”

Indeed, Weber, who’s written his share of relationship films, including working with Webb on (500) Days of Summer, said he loved the dark twist on the genre.

“Any relationship movie, I’m there but especially with a bit of a dark edge like this,” he said. “It was terrific.”

Watch the Life After Beth trailer below.

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