ZOMBIELAND’s Jesse Eisenberg and Ruben Fleischer on Raising the Stakes for DOUBLE TAP

A lot can happen in ten years. Time shifts everything; people age, humor evolves, and things that were once in style can fade miserably out of it. Luckily for the cast and creators of Zombieland, the 2009 horror comedy about a group of zombie apocalypse survivors banded together by circumstance—who wind up forging a pseudo-family—the alchemy was just right for a sequel. It’s been a decade, but the film never quite faded from the conversation; its slow-burn popularity is part of why they could get away with revisiting the characters after such a long time. That time apart only made the desire to regroup all the more exciting for director Ruben Flesicher and actor Jesse Eisenberg, who recently sat down with Nerdist to discuss the sequel in question, Zombieland: Double Tap.

“The first movie was actually not a roaring success,” said Eisenberg, who plays the neurotic, rules-obsessed Columbus in both films. “[It] had a very strange, and from what I understand now, very unusual journey to becoming very popular. It kind of picked up over the course of ten years, to the point that the movie company actually did polls a few years ago asking people in malls, ‘Out of all [the films] in our catalogue, what movie do you want most to see a sequel of?’ And people said Zombieland.”

The pressure was certainly on for the talent to live up to those expectations. Fleischer had recent success with the mega-blockbuster Venom, and original Zombieland screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have since written both Deadpool movies. Eisenberg also dabbled in the realm of superheroes, playing Lex Luthor in the DCEU, and Emma Stone has since won an Oscar for La La Land. Toss in Woody Harrelson, and one has to wonder: Even with that audience demand, how do you reassemble a team like that without any major hiccups?

“We were all very eager to do it,” admitted Eisenberg. “I mean, Emma’s probably the busiest, and that’s the only person where I thought, ‘Well, maybe she’s going to be too busy to do it.'”

“But it was always a priority for her, because she had so much love for the first one,” added Flesicher. “And also love for the cast, that I think she was always really excited. I can imagine after doing some pretty dramatic stuff, it’s fun to just come back. She’s truly one of the funniest people of all time.”

Zoey Deutch, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg, and Woody Harrelson in Zombieland: Double TapSony Pictures

Once Reese and Wernick had the script in place, things started coming together. With the original starring cast, which also includes Abigail Breslin, all aboard, the easier elements were in order. But a sequel can’t really earn its place at the table without a little bit of evolution; for Zombieland: Double Tap, that growth came in the form of some changes to the zombie mythos, but also in the form of new characters and settings. The most exciting addition to the cast is Zoey Deutch as Madison, a scene-stealing valley girl drenched in pink velour, whose peppiness adds a foil to the group dynamic.

It’s a role that could have been a little too much, but Deutch walks the line of hilarious and annoying super well, making herself a worthy addition to the team. Fleischer was careful to make sure she never came off as simply a dumb airhead, wanting her to have strength and personality unto herself.

“We didn’t want her to just be the dumb blonde who gets walked on,” he said. “We wanted to give her agency and to have her stand up for herself.”

The film’s scale also evolves; in Zombieland: Double Tap, the characters take up residence in the White House, and later travel to a hippie commune called Babylon, which is settled atop a giant high-rise where the zombies can’t reach its inhabitants. But even with these bigger set pieces, the film never feels too big, and never tries to cram in too many ideas or major bits of action, the way a lot of sequels do. Instead, what you’re left with is a film that feels very much of a piece with the original, something that was intentional for Flesicher and the writers.

“We were conscientious to stick with what worked from the original,” he said. “The movie’s really just a road-trip comedy with these four really charming people together, so we were sure to have these characters be the focus and for things like spectacle to be secondary.”

The result is a film that feels like catching up with old friends, even if they’re on the road running from mutant zombies. Zombieland: Double Tap is currently playing in theaters.

Featured Image: Sony Pictures

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