SPOILER WARNING: The following story reveals surprise elements of ‘Zombieland 2: Double Tap.’
Arguably the funniest moment of 2009’s undead comedy ‘Zombieland’ comes when the intrepid gang of survivors — Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) — discover that comedy legend Bill Murray has found a foolproof way to survive the zombie apocalypse: disguising himself as one of the walking dead.
“He was the highlight of the first movie,” said Paul Wernick, who, with Rhett Reese, co-wrote the script of both the original and its sequel.
But Murray’s attempt at pranking Columbus backfires and he is accidentally killed, limiting his cameo potential for the sequel.
“There is no world of ‘Zombieland’ without Bill Murray,” Wernick said. “So we thought, how do you top a Bill Murray cameo in the first movie? You put him in the second one.”
In theatres now, ‘Zombieland: Double Tap’ features a post-credits Murray cameo that is meant to predate the events of both films: The comedian is seen sardonically promoting the fictional ‘Garfield 3: Flabby Tabby’ at a press junket when the zombie apocalypse breaks out.
“We hint at it early on when they’re at the Hound Dog Hotel and Nevada mentions to Columbus how Bill Murray died,” Wernick said. “We thought, ‘How fun would it be to call back the line from the first movie where Little Rock asks him what his greatest regret is and he says, ‘Garfield?’”
“People always ask us whether we write these jokes where actors make fun of their previous projects like Ryan Reynolds does with ‘Green Lantern’ and Bill Murray did with ‘Garfield,’” Reese, who also co-wrote both ‘Deadpool’ films with Wernick, added. “The answer is we would never have the guts to do that. Those jokes come from the actors themselves and then we just riff off that.”
Though his cameo would become one of the most beloved scenes of the first ‘Zombieland,’ Murray’s role had originally been written for Patrick Swayze. After the ‘Dirty Dancing’ star had to drop out because of illness, the writers got to work reshaping the role to fit a new actor.
“We ended up writing 12 different versions for different actors to try to convince them to do it,” Reese said. “We went through guys like Sylvester Stallone, Mark Hamill, Jean Claude Van Damme, Matthew McConaughey and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. But ultimately when Bill Murray took the job we just felt so lucky that none of the other people said yes because he’s better.”
The part was conceived as a zombie, but he agreed to the role with the caveat that it be fleshed out.
“He said, ‘You know, I really love this script, but there’s not enough for me to do. Is there any way I could be alive and actually speaking?’” Reese recalled. “And we thought, ‘Let’s have him pretend to be a zombie because that could be funnier and allows Bill to do more.’”
Rather than playing themselves, Thomas Middleditch and Luke Wilson turn up in a different kind of cameo role: as the spiritual doppelgangers to Columbus and Tallahassee, dubbed Flagstaff and Albuquerque.
“They’re reminiscent of Woody and Jesse in a way that made us laugh,” Wernick said of the casting. “They’re wonderful actors and wonderful improvisers. And the way they played off each other, I think, is pretty magical on-screen. It’s one of our favourite moments of the sequel.”
The original scene called for just one doppelganger, then known simply as ‘Alpha Tallahassee.’
“He was this guy who was kind of like a bigger, brasher, tougher, cockier version of Tallahassee,” said director Ruben Fleischer. “He was like this heightened version of Woody’s character.”
“And somewhere along the line someone had the idea of, ‘Well, if we’re going to do it for Tallahassee let’s do it for Columbus too,’” added Reese.
Flagstaff and Albuquerque were the original drafted names for Columbus and Tallahassee, but after deciding to film in Georgia rather than the Southwest they were renamed to make more sense geographically. That back story makes the scene an even bigger Easter egg in addition to supplying one of the funniest moments in the movie.
“That was, on the page, my favourite scene in the movie,” Fleischer said. “It was just such a funny idea conceptually, and then once we cast Thomas Middleditch, who is just a world-class improviser, he kind of jumped into the role with both feet and elevated it beyond my wildest imagination. So many of my favourite jokes in that exchange are ones that Jesse and Thomas improvised.”
Don’t miss it!
‘Zombieland 2: Double Tap’ is now showing across the UAE.