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'The zombie genre has evolved, so we're just trying to catch people up with the times'

It may have been 10 years since the original release, but a Zombieland sequel was always on the cards - it was simply a case of when and not if, the film's stars tell Gemma Dunn

Wasteland warriors: (from left) Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone in Zombieland: Double Tap
Wasteland warriors: (from left) Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone in Zombieland: Double Tap

No one could have predicted the cult following Zombieland would amass after it was released in 2009. The sleeper hit offered up a new genre - a blend of post-apocalyptic horror and comedy known as 'zomedy' - and paved the way for countless zombie-led films.

A decade on and the public interest in flesh-eating corpses is yet to subside, so you can imagine how excited fans were they learned Ruben Fleischer was making Zombieland: Double Tap, a sequel to the original film.

For the movie, Fleischer rejoined forces with writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and stars Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin.

But why did it take so long to deliver the follow-up?

"The challenge was getting a script worthy of making a second movie," explains Fleischer, who felt it was imperative that the original line-up approved of the story.

"Their feeling was, 'The first movie was so beloved, we can't enter into this unless we have one that's at least as good, if not better, than the original'."

Reese agrees. "We had to wink a little bit at the success of the genre because we feel like we did reinvigorate the genre in 2009," he explains.

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"When we revisited it, it was more a question of, 'How do we find an original story and also justify why we have been away for 10 years in the mind of the audience?'"

"It's a mix of comedy, action, drama and romance," adds Wernick, who, along with Reese, was inundated with project offers after the release of the original movie, including the triumphant Deadpool franchise.

"The zombie genre has evolved, so we're just trying to catch people up with the times."

For the actors, it was a case of waiting for the magic to happen.

"There were probably 10 scripts over the last 10 years, but it never felt worthy of making a sequel," recalls Eisenberg (36).

"Finally, the script was so great, like it would be a fantastic standalone movie even if it wasn't associated with the first."

"They made it so special and I think that's the reason we all wanted to come back," explains Stone (30).

Harrelson (58) concurs: "They hit a home run. They're just incredible writers and they finally cracked it.

"People always ask me, 'What movie was the most fun for you to make? And I think the first Zombieland was in the top three of the funniest movies I've ever made.

"Ruben is really open to everybody trying new things. And then the cast... it's one of those things [where] it's hard to be in a bad mood.

"If you came to the set in a bad mood, it was just going to flip eventually because everybody is so funny and so cool."

Once again straddling the line between terrifying and hilarious, the sequel features comic mayhem from the White House through to the heartland, where the slayers must face off against the many new kinds of zombies that have evolved since the first film, not to mention other human survivors.

Where the first film centred on the core four loners - played by Harrelson, Eisenberg, Stone and Breslin - battling through a zombie apocalypse and ultimately becoming a makeshift family, the follow-up is concerned with keeping that family together.

"It's just such a fun dynamic - the random luck of us all being nice, normal and funny people makes it work so well," says Eisenberg.

"Yeah, I mean, it was fun right away," agrees Harrelson.

"It's not like we haven't seen each other in 10 years, although I haven't seen Abigail in 10 years.

"But we gelled and we started making some pretty good stuff right away."

Did they have any reservations about the sequel?

"Yeah, of course," answers Eisenberg. "The movie had to be popular to the movie company that would make it, but the actors are coming at it from the opposite place - they want to do it if it's good because you don't want to be in something bad, obviously.

"With this, it felt particularly important because the movie is not just very popular, it's also beloved. For some people, it's their favourite movie.

"Whenever you're in a movie, you work on the same effort level. It's just random luck or the thing coming together well."

"Well, it was one of those things because I had that script - for the first movie - just sitting at the bottom of a pile of scripts," Harrelson remembers.

"I just wasn't getting to it and my agent kept bothering me, but I was like, 'Zombies? Has it come to this?'

"But then I read it and I was like, 'Wow'. But still, at the time there wasn't a big zombie craze like there is now.

"When we were doing it, I thought, 'You know, this thing could be good'."

Up next, Harrelson is starring opposite Mandy Moore in Midway, an action epic directed by Roland Emmerich that retells the story of the famed Battle of Midway, a turning point in the Pacific theatre during the Second World War.

Eisenberg, meanwhile, is returning to the big screen for Resistance, in which he plays the French mime artist Marcel Marceau in the incredible true story of his time in the French Resistance.

Would the pair return for a third slice of zombie action?

"I would do another one if it's good. It's the funniest experience to work with these guys," Harrelson responds.

"You're the best," finishes Eisenberg.

And that says it all.

Zombieland: Double Tap is in cinemas now

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