[This story contains spoilers for Zombieland: Double Tap.]
Ruben Fleischer has passed the 10-year challenge. Historically, comedy sequels have mostly been unsuccessful, especially after prolonged periods of time. Fleischer’s Zombieland: Double Tap is one of the rare exceptions, as the film has been well received by 67 percent of critics on Rotten Tomatoes and 90 percent of the verified audience. And despite significantly more competition at the box office than its predecessor, Double Tap bested the original’s opening weekend gross with $28.9 million.
With the core cast returning, the film could’ve easily rested on its laurels by just focusing on the proven chemistry between Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin. But it’s the new additions, such as Zoey Deutch’s scene-stealing Madison, that are getting the most praise from the audience — including Fleischer himself.
“I would love to do a Madison stand-alone movie,” Fleischer tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So I think that story remains to be written. That would be a fun thing to go find out. That actually would’ve been a good post-credit scene, where those two [Madison and Berkeley] are in Babylon just being pretty dumb together.”
Like most comedies, Double Tap had plenty of material that didn’t make the cut. Fortunately, the Blu-ray will feature some of those deleted scenes, including an explanation for why Tallahassee (Harrelson) has such an aversion to minivans in both movies.
“There was a scene that got cut out; it’ll be on the DVD. It’s where the cast realizes that he used to own that minivan, and that’s why he hates it so much,” Fleischer recounts. “That scene had some other challenges, but it was a really funny notion, that the reason he hates it so much is because he used to drive it and he’s trying to get away from his previous identity.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Fleischer also discusses the particulars of the Hound Dog Hotel oner, Bill Murray’s return and Venom’s staggering box office numbers.
While it’s an unimaginative first question, what took so long?
It was a combination of us wanting to pursue different worlds after the first one. I know I was curious to not just do the same movie again. I was excited to try my hand at other stuff. After I did that, I realized just how special the first one was and how lucky I was to have that be my first movie. So after about five years, I talked to the studio about trying to get the sequel going, but Rhett [Reese] and Paul [Wernick] were very busy with Deadpool. So they worked as executive producers and helped us crack the story. Then we worked with a few different writers to get the script to a place, and every draft got better and better. Then Rhett and Paul were able to take a pass, and when that draft came out, the cast all felt very confident in the script and our ability to make a movie that could at least be as good as the original. Then it was a matter of schedules. So it took a while to get the story right, and it took a while to line up everyone’s schedules. Once that happened, I basically started prep in November of last year. We shot it in January, and it’s coming out in October. So it was really fast once it all came together; it just took a while to get it together.
The movie acknowledges that the zombie marketplace is far more crowded than it was in 2009; it even references The Walking Dead. Since you shot in Atlanta, which is where that show shoots, did you guys go out of your way to avoid any overlap in terms of locations and zombie kills?
I was definitely conscientious of The Walking Dead. The ways that it factored in were not wanting to cast Walking Dead extras. There’s a lot of extras that play zombies in Atlanta, and I wanted to make sure our zombies were distinct from their zombies. So that was an aspect. In terms of locations, our movie didn’t overlap too much with them. We have Graceland and this hippie commune, so there weren’t too many opportunities for overlap. We just wanted to harness the spirit of the original Zombieland as much as possible and not worry too much about the other zombie offerings.
Did you tell your cast to go back and reference their original performances, or did you not want them impersonating their younger selves too much, since people are supposed to change over 10 years?
They’re all such talented actors that I feel like they showed up knowing their characters and where they would naturally be at this time. So we actually didn’t have too much discussion about it; I think the script was the guide. It was just a matter of letting that incredibly talented cast do what they do best. As soon as we were all together again and reading the script through, it was like it was just yesterday, and everyone just fell into that rhythm and chemistry very, very well.
Woody Harrelson’s Elvis impression is what started his acting career in high school. Was that one of the reasons why you incorporated so much Elvis into his character and this movie as a whole?
Definitely. I think Woody’s love of Elvis contributed to Tallahassee’s love of Elvis, and Tallahassee’s love of Elvis is what drives aspects of the story. So I think it’s all pretty enmeshed in terms of Woody’s love for the king and Tallahassee’s love for the king.
I now understand why he loved the script.
Did Woody allow you to eat cheese this time?
(Laughs) Woody is a very committed to his vegan diet, but on this one, he wasn’t as demanding of me. He let me eat what I wanted, but you should know that I haven’t eaten meat since that first meeting with Woody Harrelson. He turned me into a non-meat eater since I first met him 11 years ago now.
Regarding the slow-motion title sequence, are the actors moving slower than usual to aid the effect?
No, it’s a really neat camera called a Phantom that can shoot up to a thousand frames per second. I think we were running it at 450 frames per second. It just shoots incredibly slow and is specifically for slow-motion. So the actors do their actions in normal speed, but the camera is able to capture it so slow. It works especially well when there’s liquid, debris, explosions, muzzle flashes and things like that, where it can really accentuate the slowness.
Who deserves the credit for the Columbia Pictures gag?
That’s Rhett and Paul who came up with that. I think it was really cool that Columbia allowed us to have some fun with their logo. I think it’s so satisfying to see her [Columbia, the personification of the United States] take those zombies out. It just sets the tone for the movie, and you know that you’re in for a fun, good time if the opening credits start like that.
The Wesley Snipes pardon destroyed me. Was he the number one choice for the pardon gag, or did it evolve?
(Laughs) We were just pitching for that montage sequence, and somebody pitched that. As soon as they said it, everyone just knew how funny that would be. What’s cool is the audience always seems to have a good laugh at it. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but it’s so funny to see it get the reaction that it does.
This might be a reach, but were the bizarro versions of Tallahassee and Columbus, Albuquerque (Luke Wilson) and Flagstaff (Thomas Middleditch), inspired by the Seinfeld episode where they encounter their bizarro selves?
It definitely wasn’t inspired by Seinfeld. I’m remembering now that there was originally this guy that was like an alpha Tallahassee. He was less of a doppelganger and more of a one-upper. I’ve always imagined what it would be like if Tom Cruise played a version of Tallahassee. As I mentioned, there were many versions of the scripts, and it just evolved from alpha Tallahassee to bizarro Tallahassee and Columbus. It’s definitely one of my favorite sequences in the film when Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson show up.
There are some really impressive visuals in this movie, such as the Babylon drone shot, but can you talk about the particulars of the Hound Dog Hotel oner?
When you do a movie with action, you try to distinguish the action sequences as much as possible from each other. So the opening slow motion is pretty distinctive, and the RV shootout is a pretty fun gun battle. With Hound Dog, we were just trying to think about a way to make it distinctive. It was the second unit director, Markos Rounthwaite, who pitched the idea of doing it as a oner. He had done some similar types of choreography for other movies, and he showed me some examples, which I thought were really cool. That location was a practical location, so we could plan it out in that environment well in advance. We mapped out what the action would be, and then the stunt guys worked on what’s called a stunt-viz or a pre-viz, where they shoot a version of it with stunt guys playing the roles of the actors. Then we rehearsed it with the actors. I think they only had a day to rehearse it, and then we shot it over the course of a day and a half. It has a total of seven cuts to make it feel like a oner. Without giving too much away, there’s some clever cuts throughout that. It even weaves between the real actors and stunt guys, as well as steadicam and dolly, within the same shot. We used different camera tools in order to accomplish different sections of the shot. And then all of the blood in the movie, for the most part, is all CG. So all the gun hits, smashing of heads…was all done in post. As we were shooting it, I had a stream from the video tab, and I was cutting it in iMovie. I could confirm that all the edits would work, and I wouldn’t move on until it was seamless. What made it really fun was that the cast could gather around and watch it as it evolved. So every time we added a new shot and moved on to the next piece, we could all watch the thing come together.
Was Madison (Zoey Deutch) always supposed to return in the third act, or did you rewrite the ending in response to how hilarious Zoey’s performance is?
No, it was always intended that way. One thing about this movie that I’m really proud of is that we didn’t reshoot anything. In modern films, it’s really uncommon to not have any reshoots. We got it all during principal photography. So Madison was always intended to come back at the end. We used to have a line when Columbus first meets her where she talks about having an allergy. It tipped the hand a little bit too much. It made Columbus look not as smart, because he would’ve seen her eating nuts and made the connection. It was also just too obvious to the audience. So by removing that line, pretty much everyone thinks she’s gone and are so happy when she comes back.
Did you have to call Bill Murray’s 800 number to get the ball rolling on the post-credit scene?
We did on the first one. Woody had the 1-800 number and called it. On this one, because of the connection to the first movie, the access wasn’t quite as hard. Although I can’t take credit for having reached out to him. I think there were some other helpful people involved.
You’re going to hear from a lot of envious film reporters during your press tour, since being killed by Bill Murray is quite an honor.
(Laughs) Yeah, that was really fun. Josh [Horowitz], Grace [Randolph], Al [Roker] and Lili [Estefan] were all such good sports and had a lot of fun doing that. Bill was really great, too. We shot that whole fight in an hour and a half, because we only had limited time with him. We had so much fun when he was doing all of the improvisation during the junket stuff that we ended up going late. So we were running out of sunlight because it was big, glass atrium in the hotel where that fight sequence was. So we shot that whole thing in an hour and a half, and Bill did all of his own stunts. So it’s all him, and I think it’s really impressive.
Over the years, did you guys spend a ton of time trying to figure out the perfect celebrity cameo to match or top Bill until you realized that you should just stick with him?
I think we decided pretty early on that we couldn’t top it. So we never really went down that road. Also, in wanting to harness the spirit of the first one, it felt like if there was a way to bring him back, it would be really fun for audiences. We were just really lucky that it all worked out.
There were reports that Dan Aykroyd would be in this movie. Was that ever the case?
I think that was just an internet rumor. I’m not quite sure how that came to be. I saw that was on IMDb, but I’m not sure how that evolved.
Did Madison and Berkeley stay at Babylon, since they’re not in the Cadillac that rides off into the sunset?
I would love to do a Madison stand-alone movie. So I think that story remains to be written. That would be a fun thing to go find out. That actually would’ve been a good post-credit scene, where those two are in Babylon just being pretty dumb together.
Plus, she wouldn’t know who Bob Dylan is. So Berkeley’s game would work for a change.
(Laughs) Yeah, exactly.
The characters’ understanding of pop culture ended in 2009. So you were able to take elements from 2019 that the audience is aware of, such as Uber, and mock them through the characters’ 2009 perspective. Was there anything from 2019 that didn’t make the cut in this regard?
I share your appreciation for pop culture…everything culture…ending in 2009. It was a great way to look back on things. I love Madison’s Von Dutch and Juicy wardrobe. It’s not really featured, but she has a Motorola Sidekick that she is trying to find cell service for at different times in the movie. There was an exchange between her and Tallahassee at one point where she’s looking for cell service and he goes, “You know that thing is never going to work?” and she kind of says something. Then he goes, “And all your friends are dead,” and she was like, “Whatever.” It was just so funny to me, but it didn’t get laughs during our [test] screening, so I didn’t put it in. I can’t think of anything specific that we didn’t include as far as pop culture, but I did think it’s such a funny notion that they’re in Obama’s White House. There were some Trump jokes pitched, but that just seemed like such low-hanging fruit. I think it’s better to not acknowledge things that they wouldn’t know. For example, “Boy, I hope that guy on The Apprentice never becomes president” seemed a little too easy.
I appreciated how you built on that small moment in the first movie where Tallahassee unloads on a minivan. In this movie, you saddled him with a similar minivan and wouldn’t let him upgrade no matter how many times he tried.
Yeah, there was a scene that got cut out; it’ll be on the DVD. It’s where the cast realizes that he used to own that minivan, and that’s why he hates it so much. That scene had some other challenges, but it was a really funny notion that the reason he hates it so much is because he used to drive it, and he’s trying to get away from his previous identity. It was a nice explanation of his hatred of minivans, but we had to cut it for other reasons.
I’d like to discuss Venom’s box office for a minute. Sometimes you know exactly how a movie is going to perform before it opens, but did you have any idea that it would make anything close to $856 million?
Definitely not. It really came out of nowhere. I knew what Tom [Hardy] was doing was really special with his performance. I also knew that the character of Venom was a very beloved and distinctive character. In setting out to make the movie, I just wanted it to have its own tone and not try and feel like other superhero movies. I think I just got really lucky that audiences seem to appreciate that it was a little bit different from everything else.
Has Venom’s box office performance opened some doors that were previously closed?
Not really. I had Zombieland 2 lined up prior to that movie being released. I’ve been working on this longer than Venom even existed. So I was always planning to do this, and I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do next. So the answer is we’ll see, I guess. I hope that it will.
Comic book movies have so many voices and expectations involved. Do you see yourself making another comic book film someday, or did you get your fix already?
I wouldn’t be opposed to it. I think it’s fun to be able to tell stories on that scale. There’s something about having access to so many toys and being able to work with some really talented people when crafting action sequences and visual effects. Working with characters that have a long legacy is also really exciting, especially when finding new and original ways to interpret those stories. So I’m definitely up for it.
In 10 years, are you going to be willing to take the 20-year challenge with Zombieland 3?
I’d be thrilled. It would be a dream come true. It may take that long to get another story worth telling, but I’d be thrilled to go back to Zombieland.