ARMY OF THE DEAD is a fast-paced, self-aware zombie flick perfect for those ready for their horror to get a bit… evolved. Ahead of its Netflix release, we were able to take part in a virtual press junket for the film, helmed by Zack Snyder.
We’ve highlighted some of the best, most interesting, and funniest revelations from the cast and crew below. Read on, and don’t forget to check out ARMY OF THE DEAD on Netflix May 21.
How did this idea for ARMY OF THE DEAD originate for both of you?
Zack Snyder: We had made a movie a while ago called, Dawn of the Dead, which was a remake of the George Romero classic. And in the making of the movie, I kind of went on this deep dive into genre tropes and what is a self-aware film — like where is that line between when a movie knows it's a movie?
When I finished the movie, for a couple of years after that, I kept thinking about that conversation, and sort of developed this idea about a zombie plague… where the zombies come from Area 51. And they end up in Las Vegas, and they build a wall around Vegas.
Deborah Snyder: Since Zack had just done Dawn, he was like, "Oh, I don't think I can go back-to-back and do another zombie movie." So, we developed it for another director, and Joby Harold wrote the initial script. Then, for a variety of reasons, it just didn't happen. And then all these years go by… and we end up doing a lot of these superhero movies and playing in that playground. And we were trying to figure out what we were gonna do next, and I remember Zack said, "Well, what about Army? Because I think enough time has gone by that I can do it.
And we were actually rewriting the script at the same time as prepping the movie, which was, you know… it's such a credit to Netflix who had such faith in us to allow us to do that.
This is a zombie action movie, but it also has drama at its heart. Can you address that?
Zack Snyder: It's funny how the emotional part of the movie really is the centerpiece, in a lot of ways, the heart. Everyone's character and sort of where they are is really the star of the movie.
Deborah Snyder: I think in terms of the tone, you know, we always say, "It has fun, but does it make fun?" And that's the thing, you know, sometimes there are these beats of humor, but it also doesn't let you off the hook.
Zack Snyder: The movie is self-aware, but it doesn’t break the [fourth wall]… to the point where the stakes don’t matter.
How was production different on this film?
Deborah Snyder: I think the challenges were kind of two-fold in that, you know, when we were in New Mexico shooting, it was super hot in the middle of the summer. We built this giant backlot, and I think the elements were a challenge. Between the heat, and… also, it was like the monsoon season. So we would constantly get shut down because of the lightning.
There was actually this scene at the beginning of the movie, which Zack wanted to shoot during magic hour, so we only had 15 minutes a day to shoot. And then what ended up happening was, we were supposed to shoot it at dusk… but we were getting shut down by lightning. We'd get all set up and ready to roll, and they'd be like, "No, gotta go indoors." So, we had to flip the whole schedule, and then we had to shoot it in the morning, because there was less of a likelihood of getting shut down...
Zack Snyder: And then we had a lightning storm at dawn day one.
Why does this film feel different from any other action movies that you’ve worked on?
Dave Bautista: When this first came to my attention, I wasn't all that interested in it, because it was described to me as a zombie-heist film. I thought it was just an action film. It wasn't what I was looking for. I was really set out to prove myself, you know, as an actor.
Then, it came back around to me. When I found out that Zack was interested in me playing Scott, I read the script. It was completely different than what I thought it was going to be, and it afforded me the opportunity to really kind of show off all different sides of me, from being that bada** action guy to being a father who's just trying to redeem himself with his daughter.
Mikey is a go-for-broke type of guy. How is that useful in a zombie apocalypse?
Raúl Castillo: It's very useful… Mikey is one of the few characters that's actually from Las Vegas. He, along with Chambers, played by Samantha Win, have become these sort of tag-team zombie killers. I think the influencer thing is a big part of his character, but I think it all came up in gaming. He was a gamer before he started killing zombies, and he sort of translated those skills to survival.
What is it like being part of the Snyder-verse and working with Zack and Deborah?
Garret Dillahunt: This is like a dream… I’ve been a fan of his stuff for a long time. Then to get on set and just his enthusiasm, and this feeling of complete trust in him [Zack], you know… It's a big weight off your shoulders. I had complete faith in his vision and what he was trying to do. We had a number one in Dave [Bautista] who's just a great leader. The pathos that he had in Blade Runner and then the humor, say, of Drax… that's unusual. That's unusual in an action star… And I knew this was going to be something different than usual, that we all were going to get our moments to shine.
Dave Bautista: I could go on and on about why I love working with Zack and why I've wanted to work with him for years and why it was everything I thought it would be, and then some. But I really want to focus on something that Garret said, that Zack made sure that we all had our moments to shine.
Looking back on this film, everybody shined… I definitely feel like I had my moments, but I don't feel like my story is overshadowed by everybody else's. Everybody just had a moment to shine, and everybody stands out. Everybody's characters are so strong and portrayed so, so vividly. And I feel like it was such a diverse cast, and it could've been a disaster if we had not had such great chemistry. But everybody just melded together really well.
And the chemistry between Matthias [Schweighöfer] and Omari [Hardwick] is just magic. There's just so many great things going on in this film, and that's a credit to Zack as a director, who also had to pick up a camera every day, and be right there in the pit with us, dirty and sweaty.
We were carrying guns, and he was carrying a camera. And it just felt like he was another part of the cast. But that was a very special, comforting thing to have him there with us, just kind of in it with us, baking in the sun with us, dirty with us, just kind of in the grind with us which I've never experienced before on a film. I learned a lot. I got an education in directing from Zack, something I'll take with me and steal when I start making films.
What thought went into the title sequence, which really sets up the universe and kind of explains the world we’re about to go into?
Zack Snyder: The title sequence does a lot of work in setting up the why of the world we are about to go into… I wanted to use the title sequence to create sort of a small metaphor for what is going to happen in the movie emotionally. This idea that you’re seeing something that feels like it’s a lark or just a zombie romp… because Liberace is literally looking in the camera. He’s talking to the audience. So clearly there's some bizarro-ness going on in that aspect of the movie.
The Cranberries song - “Zombie” - that was on my playlist years ago as far as a song I wanted to put into a zombie movie, because it’s the perfect amount of irony. The song’s political and serious. It’s an amazing song. And then it’s just cool to superimpose it over an actual zombie movie. I just think that’s kind of funny and kind of heartbreaking at the same time.
The zombies in this movie have evolved from what zombies could do in Dawn of the Dead. Can you speak to that choice of evolving the zombies?
Zack Snyder: A zombie is a monster movie where the monster is us, right? So that's always a great way to think about zombies. It's us without our humanity. Not only did I want to homage classic shambling zombies, but I also wanted to kind of say, what else? And one of the main ideas I have when we were thinking about the movie was this notion that the zombies were an evolution, but they also represent maybe even a replacement.
Not only were they going to be this next level of zombies that could run around and think and act like pack animals, but they're not ambitious. They're not destroying the planet. They're not killing each other. They're not really that aggressive unless we, you know, we did them wrong. In turn, they returned the favor.
Which was the funniest sequence to film, and what was the most surprising thing to see in the final version?
Tig Notaro: Well, as I was saying before we started today, I don't know what it's like to have been in this movie… I would just say that my entire part in the movie was the funniest part, for me.
Zack Snyder: And the most surprising.
Nora Arnezeder: Carrying a zombie’s head that was actually moving for real - that was really interesting.
Omari Hardwick: I would have to say the zombie tiger was the biggest… not just surprise, but you know, we weren’t necessarily a part of that… So once I saw the zombie tiger I was like, “Oh Zack Snyder, you freaking genius, you.”
Note: They were all reacting to “a tiger backpack on a stick” when they filmed.
That was the most talked-about aspect of the trailer when it first came out, the zombie tiger. How did you come up with creating zombie animals for this film?
Zack Snyder: Zombie animals. Are you insane? We had always thought there should be zombie animals. That’s fun. If you think what animals are in Vegas, a white tiger is the first place you land. It wasn’t a huge jump, but it was fun. I like the idea that he gets along with the zombies.
Omari, your character is described as a zombie-killing machine. How did that influence your approach to building your character?
Omari Hardwick: We all have a movie within a movie… For me, my building block first and foremost was to gain weight… Our dear brother and teammate David Bautista, who looks like he's cut out of a rock. I'm in pretty good shape, but he looks crazy… I didn’t want Dave to be the odd man out in his physical stature.
From that point, Zack, Debbie, and I just built this guy together. The three of us decided that this guy, in being the moral compass of the story, would be such that when he was this killing machine, it sort of was formulated out of his massive amount of respect, dare I say, for these zombies… He found the killings to be that of intimacy… with the chainsaw, there's no headshot, per se, but there is that moral compass that you're forced to pay attention to with this guy, where, morally, he doesn't necessarily want to take your head off.
Tig, your character is a cynical helicopter pilot. How was it playing that type of person?
Tig Notaro: Well, I want to say I also buffed up for the role. I didn't want Dave and Omari to be alone in their huge buff ways. Anyway, after I buffed up… I would say the role, you know, although I'm not an actual helicopter pilot... I would say the character is me, heightened a bit.
What was your experience like coming in in post-production and filming your scenes?
Tig Notaro: It was a crazy experience to do this film by myself. Yes, Ana [de la Reguera] was there for half a day, and I appreciated her being there. But it was as crazy and bizarre as the experience was just looking at certain eyeline and having to pretend somebody was there or that I was looking at something. It was truly a very fun experience… And now that I'm hilariously meeting the cast for the first time, it's so sad to me that I didn't get to have the experience in person.
Matthias, what was it like playing the safe cracker? Also, can you give us any hints at Army of Thieves, the prequel?
Matthias Schweighöfer: First of all, playing Ludwig Dieter, which is the most common German name ever… playing the safe cracker was so much fun. We had the first navy seal training, and everyone was there with the guns and infiltrating rooms as a team. The guys told me, “Matthias, you have to do everything different than all the others. When they go backwards, you go forward. When they say be silent... you can be very loud.”
I think, Army of Thieves will be a very entertaining movie, too. It's a fantastic heist movie. Working with Zack Snyder, the whole crew… it was one of the best things I did in my life.
Ella, on top of all of the action in this movie, you also have this father-daughter drama. What was your experience filming with Dave and being able to play such a strong woman?
Ella Purnell: I think that is something that really attracted me to the script in the first place, was that relationship between Kate and Scott Ward. I think that there's a lot of parallels in this, each character has the physically impressive stuff from the action side of it, and each character has sort of an emotional thing to overcome.
What I like about this is, is it the best time for Kate and Scott to figure out their relationship issues in a zombie environment/life or death situation? Probably not. But the fact that it happens is so tender and realistic and raw. It's not cliché, and it's not any of the things that you would think it would be.
Zack Snyder’s ARMY OF THE DEAD hits theaters May 14, and drops on Netflix May 21.