Making a great sequel – let alone a good one – can be a tricky thing. Let’s face it, most of them pale in comparison to the original film. However, two people that seem to have figured out how to make a satisfying second chapter happens to be Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Not only did they offer us a damn near perfect sequel to DEADPOOL, they now have another fun filled flesh-eating zombie comedy. ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP is that rare continuation that manages to keep things interesting, without losing the original’s charm. It helps that Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin are all back – as is director Ruben Fleischer – but the new film gifts us some inspired support from Zoey Deutch (who is astonishingly good here) as well as Rosario Dawson, Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson. Hell, I’ve seen the film twice, once in 4DX, and it was better the second time around.
Recently we had the great pleasure of speaking with both Rhett and Paul. The second the conversation began, their collective energy was very apparent. These two are incredibly nice, and not surprisingly, very funny. During our chat they discussed how things have changed since they originally wanted to do a sequel after the 2009 flick earned critical and box office praise. They also discussed what’s in store for DEADPOOL 3 after the Disney/Fox merger, as well as their plans for the upcoming big screen remake of CLUE. And of course, one of my favorite things in DOUBLE TAP happens to be the brilliant casting of Deutch, and both Rhett and Paul added their own praise to her terrific performance. If you dug the original ZOMBIELAND, I have no doubt that you will respond to this long awaited sequel which is currently playing at a theatre near you.
How much has changed since you originally planned for a ZOMBIELAND sequel? When I spoke to Ruben Fleischer about it, he mentioned a human villain.
Rhett Reese: We did have a human bad guy in, in the early drafts. We didn't think zombies were enough of an elevation of stakes so we entertained having a human villain. I think it was a misstep for that particular movie. And then we can add human villains moving forward. But it just totally went a little off, it didn't allow us to have quite as much fun as we had in this. But yeah, the story evolved quite a bit in different ways. So there are some things that are almost identical from that first draft that are still in the movie. And then there are many, many new innovations that happen over the course of eight years of development, which is what happened.
One of my favorite personal favorite things is the addition of Madison.
Paul Wernick: She’s the best!
RR: We saw early on auditions for that part and we were like, uh oh, this, this, this. They're just going to be annoying as hell if it's in the wrong hands. And then Zoey got it, and it became everything we hoped it could be at that point. It relieved our fears immediately.
PW: She took what was on the page and she elevated in her way that, you know, it really did steal the movie.
Honestly, guys, I feel like her performance here is Marisa Tomei, MY COUSIN VINNY good. It’s really… I think it's that good.
PW: Oh man, she would, she would die to hear that Jimmy. Those are some nice words.
Tell her for me because I honestly think its amazing work.
RR: We will.
Now another thing that works is it felt natural to see Woody, Jessie, Emma and Abigail together again. Was there any fear for you guys while writing their dialogue that they may not connect as well as they did back then?
PW: Not really, because again, they have such an amazing chemistry. You saw it in the first one, right? And that chemistry can't be written. It just comes across. It's just interaction amongst actors and, and connections that they make on and off set. And it's such a treat to have those actors voices in our heads as we write. And such wonderful actors too; and wonderful people. And it’s really a story about this family. It’s more than about zombies are living in this world, it’s about this family getting along. We always say it’s ordinary problems and extraordinary, you know, an extraordinary universe. Like, yeah, this family is just got to survive each other, let alone the zombies that lurk around the corner. So yeah, that chemistry is so important and, and we never had a fear that they couldn't recapture that.
Ruben also mentioned there was a lot of improv on the set. How closely were you guys involved in the production? Do you ever step in, making sure it all fits the character and fits the story?
PW: Well, it all depends on the project. The first ZOMBIELAND we were out there every day. On DOUBLE TAP, we've been so busy that we weren't there every day. We were there probably half the time they were shooting. And so the good news is that the characters are in such good hands with these actors – and with Ruben – that they know the characters just as well as we do. They know the voice. And then you know, the moves that they would make and, and how they would feel. So, you know, it's wonderful to know that the world that we created, that we all created or were so protective of, that I think that there never really any misstep in terms of tone or interaction or what they would say or how they would say it. So they improv and everything because, because again, we are also protective and we know this world all collectively so well.
Writing a successful sequel is very difficult, but you’ve done quite well with this and of course, DEADPOOL 2. What is your approach to making a worthwhile and solid continuation?
PW: Yeah, all the anxiety. It’s just like, oh my God, you take a movie that some people love, you know, that, that's beloved in some circles, and as Rhett says, when you do a movie that people do connect with, it becomes theirs’ right? Even more than it becomes ours, because it's a world that they've chosen to go and live in, so you want to do right by them. And so, yes, the terror drives us. The anxiety of like, man, we don't want people to feel like we let them down. And so yeah, we slave and slave and slave and worry and write and, you know, sleepless nights until we think all the screws are tight and it's working just right for us. And hopefully that translates on screen.
Well, yeah, I mean, again, it's really hard to do that. It's just how many, how often do you go see that sequel and you're like, oh, cool. It’s JAWS THE REVENGE, you know?
RR: [Laughing] Well there are some sequels that, you know, ALIENS and GODFATHER 2, like the examples of sequels that kicked butt. We just feel like if we can escape with somebody saying, you know, maybe it’s not quite as good as the first one, but it was still great. Like, you know, it's like we, we survived.
RR: Well, it's this whole parallel universe thing and we just felt like we always wanted from the earlier drafts to introduce a character who was a slightly more alpha dog version of Tallahassee. Someone that is competitive with him. And then that all morphed into, well what if you did the same with Columbus? But I think the joy of it ultimately was finding this cool new wrinkle with Jesse Eisenberg and Thomas Middleditch, which is basically not that they were competitive as much as they were…
PW: …like a mutual admiration society.
RR: Yeah, it’s like they found each other as soulmates, you know, kind of male nerds, soulmates. And when they introduced that wrinkle it got all the funnier. Sure they are one upping each other a little bit with the rules, or at least comparing. But that's a competition that was an exploration of two people. It’s like seeing two people on a date realize they all have the same interests. So they both watch the same movies or whatever. And it's really unlocked the comedy.
With DEADPOOL, you are facing a bit of a new challenge after the Fox/Disney merger. Is there any concern that you won’t be able to keep the R-rated tone of the first two?
PW: I think the good news is, I think Marvel knows what they have in the property. There is a promise that we're going to continue to explore DEADPOOL and its R-rated universe. And then the great news, the great wrinkle on top of that is that, you know, moving forward, the hope is that we get to jump into the MCU sandbox a little bit and play with some of their toys too and bring DEADPOOL into that world. So it's a wonderful new adventure that we're all looking forward to diving into. It’s timing that’s the one issue in the sense that Ryan [Reynolds] is super busy, as we are, and then the other issue is finding that right idea. Very much like ZOMBIELAND, we weren't doing it unless it's great, you know, or if we think we can make it great. So it's finding that right idea. And, you know, we’ve got a text chain going with Ryan in that, sometimes you get going at three in the morning if we wake up in the middle of the night. And I think we've discovered the next great idea for DEADPOOL only to wake up the next morning and realize that it was shit. We’re constantly kicking around ideas and once we land on something that we all get excited about, I think it'll be off to the races pending schedule.
Speaking of playing in the MCU sandbox, are there any other characters that you’d love to play around with?
RR: Well, secretly I’m sadly mourning Chris Evans’ departure because I always wanted Captain America and Deadpool to have to deal with each other. But I think we need to, ourselves, take a look at how the Marvel Universe is shaking out and find the characters that are really good foils for Deadpool. Like, you know, we always liked characters who feel like if you drop them in a room with him, they would immediately be in conflict with them because of his ridiculous, irreverent personality. Now, that may apply to anything, but the Marvel Universe is certainly full of those kinds of characters. And then also villains. They have much better villains on that side than Fox had in their stable. So that'll be great when it comes down to finding antagonists.
I love it. I want a Loki movie, man. Not just a Loki series.
RR: I mean Loki, he's amazing. And look, I think the Loki series could be amazing. Like, I dunno, we'll see. I'm curious to see how these series’ turn out.
PW: Our costume designer on ZOMBIELAND is working on that.
Oh wow. Wow. Well, I'm excited just because he's such a great character. I would love to see what you guys could do with a character like that.
PW: Yeah. Oh my gosh. It’d be so fun to write him.
RR: It would be so much fun to see Deadpool with a character like that.
Oh my God, that would be amazing. They'd probably get along.
RR: Yeah, they probably would with a little framing.
And speaking of sequels, are there more stories to tell in ZOMBIELAND?
PW: Well, again, it, well, there they're always stories to tell and, and it's a world we'd love to revisit. It will be dependent on how this one does. Hopefully the audiences respond to it as we had intended them to, and we don't have to wait another 10 years for the next one.
Was there something you wrote that you really loved that didn't quite make it into DOUBLE TAP but you really wanted it to?
RR: Well, that was one of the things that I really loved that didn't make it in with Bill Murray talking about Garfield 3, where the reporters were asking him what it was like to work with Sir Ben Kingsley. Because Ben Kingsley played the evil dog catcher in Garfield 3 – you know, the imaginary Garfield 3 – and Bill Murray started to dish in a negative way about Ben Kingsley where he started out talking about him. But then he started getting looser with his lips as the different questions came at him and started saying all these awful things about Ben Kingsley. It just, it was too long of a runner to really get it in, unfortunately. But man that made me laugh. I don't know why. It's just like this, this fictitious personality for Ben Kingsley where he was just a monster and it was, it was fun.
PW: Yeah, it's in development.
You also have CLUE that you are working on. What is going to be your approach with this? Will it be more comedic like ZOMBIELAND and DEADPOOL? Or will there be a bit more of a perhaps suspense fueled approach?
RR: Well, I mean, I think that it'll have suspense, and hopefully it'll be thrilling, but most of our movies are comedy first, and thrills second. So we’re definitely leaning in hard on the comedy. It's going to be really fun.
PW: Jason Bateman just came on board as director and he’s going to co-star with Ryan.
RR: It really will have stakes and gravitas. When maybe not so much gravitas, it's broad, but someone will die. So it's going to be real…
PW: Spoiler alert!
RR: Ultra. Yeah. So anyway, I, I think, I mean look, our hope is to make it in the vein of ZOMBIELAND and DEADPOOL in terms of its comedy.
ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP is now in theaters.