Zack Snyder Army of the Dead Interview

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Zack Snyder Army of the Dead Interview

“Where’s the wrinkle?”

This is the question that director Zack Snyder continued to ask himself when coming up with ideas for Army of the Dead, a sequel to his first film Dawn of the Dead (2004), which was a remake of the George A. Romero classic. A lot had happened in the zombie genre in the past 16 years, and he felt like Army needed to represent the new forefront.

There are classic zombie genre tropes: one still gets infected by bites, they still die with a shot to the head, and the film has social commentary alluding to concentration camps at the borders and the lack of support for veterans. The most traditionally zombie genre part of the movie is its breathtaking opening credit sequence, which shows Las Vegas being overtaken by zombies, and a rag tag team of normal people banding together to battle there way out and close off the zombie attack from the rest of the country.

On its surface, Army of the Dead, which was made for Netflix and partially shot in the empty casinos of Atlantic City, pushes the zombie movie into heist territory. Think Oceans Eleven, with zombies. Scott Ward, played by Dave Bautista, has to assemble a team of mercenaries including Matthias Schweighöfer as a safe cracker and Tig Notaro as a grizzled helicopter pilot to capture millions of dollars trapped in an underground safe in Vegas which belongs to a mysterious billionaire played by Hiro Sanada.

And while a zombie tiger and casting Tig Nataro would be enough to push the genre even further, there’s more. This may be a bit of a spoiler, so don’t read on if you haven’t seen the film, but the zombies are a bit more sentient, a bit more alpha than you may be accustomed to. They move fast, but they also communicate, work together as a teams, and, apparently, just want to have babies and perhaps settle down.

We chatted with Snyder about zombie babies, how Morrissey ghosted him, and if this represents a new chapter for him, post the Snyder Cut and the DC universe.

Esquire: The last time we spoke, I told you that I showed my daughters the Snyder Cut, and now they go around saying, “Fuck the world.”

Zack Snyder: And I told you that wasn’t my fault!

ESQ: It wasn’t. It was R rated, as you said. And you warned me Army of the Dead was a true R rated film so I decided not to make it the feature presentation of family movie night.

Zack Snyder: Probably smart. They would’ve loved Tig. They would have loved the zombie tiger, even though it would’ve been terrifying.

ESQ: Most importantly, I would’ve had to explain to them where zombie babies come from.

Snyder: That’s true.

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ESQ: Which brings me to my first question: How are zombie babies made in the Zack Snyder zombie universe?

Snyder: I like that you were, “I need to know that first.” Well, I believe that some zombie love happened, some sweet zombie lovemaking. I don’t know if it was sweet. It was probably pretty aggressive.

My theory is that the zombies in our movie are working toward not needing a human host to procreate their species, if you will. That’s the ultimate evolution. They’re like a better us. I think that’s the fun genre part of it. They’re no longer destroying their environment. They’re not fighting with each other. They’re less bad for everybody. They’re less toxic. Unless you cross them, and then, well, it’s not that good.

ESQ: To confirm: in Army of the Dead, zombies have sex?

Snyder: Yeah, unfortunately, we don’t see that. But yes, I think theoretically they do.

ESQ: Well, Netflix did sign off on two prequels. And hopefully there will be sequels.

Snyder: Exactly. Maybe in the sequel we’ll see it.

Netflix

ESQ: Well, “Do Zach Snyder’s zombies fuck?” was the big question I had in my notebook, so this interview can be over now.

Snyder: I like that. “I wrote one question down, and I needed this answer.” That’s good. No, listen, I mean, the truth is, we had a hell of a lot of fun asking ourselves all those questions. Even the zombie baby was a thing that we all debated for a while. But as far as I was concerned, the zombie baby was cool for a variety of reasons, and one of them was that it tests you, it pushes you.

You think you know what the genre is. And that’s the cool thing about the movie—I wanted to have a shorthand with the audience, and go, “You know what? You guys know this stuff, right?” Even when Deiter says, “How exactly do we do the killing?” Scott’s like, “Really?” That’s the audience. That’s like your friend saying, “How do they kill the zombies?” And you’re like, “Really? You’re going to ask that? You shoot them in the head, obviously. Are we going to have this conversation?”

And so I feel like that’s the thing that’s interesting about the genre, is that we are so down the road with it. We’ve had what, 10 years or 11 years of The Walking Dead? That’s unbelievable. How many hours of zombie mayhem is that? That’s so much content. Not to mention the countless films. And I’m just talking between Dawn of the Dead and now, for me. What’s the wrinkle? How can we throw a wrench in the genre a little bit?

ESQ: Speaking of shorthand, the credit sequence is a gorgeous montage of zombies taking over Las Vegas that has the emotional arc of a full blown film. I could have watched 2 hours of that. Did you always intend to have this mini movie before the actual movie? The apocalypse before the post-apocalypse?

Snyder: It was. Because, in my mind it’s always a story of veterans. I just personally find the story of the old gunfighters that put their guns on for one last fight, to be more interesting to me than the rookie gunfighter who goes into battle and isn’t exactly sure what’s going to happen.

But with a good zombie movie you have to have social commentary. These are forgotten vets, they were heroes. They saved the Secretary of Defense, but now they’re flipping burgers. It’s Rambo. But yes, the title sequence was one of those things that I designed really carefully. I wanted it to be stylized, and fun. Ana’s shirt, did you catch that? It says: “The future is female ejaculation” on it while she’s shooting the 50 cal and obliterating the zombies on the car.

army of the dead  l to r deborah snyder producer and zack snyder director, producer cr clay enosnetflix ©2020

Clay Enos

ESQ: Ah, right. That was a nice moment.

Snyder: My costume designer and Ana had gotten into cahoots and right before the shot, they went, “Zack, what do you think of this shirt that Ana’s going to wear in the shot?” And I was like, “How can I say no?”

ESQ: Since we’re talking wardrobe, I noticed one of the first people who die in the montage has on some pretty cool underwear. Was that Versace?

Snyder: That is Versace underwear. So far these questions are awesome. These are all the questions I was hoping I would get.

ESQ: The readers of Esquire need to know about cool underwear. Army is very big spectacle. But it also felt very intimate, too. I’ve read that you wanted a much leaner crew than you’re accustomed to.

Snyder: The thesis was let’s do a small movie, small crew. I’ll shoot it. We’ll just do it. I’ll write it. Debbie, Wes, you guys can produce it. Let’s just do this the way we know how, old school. And like I said, it was really fun to do it that way. But it is nice that Netflix has seen it sort of like, “No, no. This is a big movie and we’re going to pull out all the stops for it.” I’m not going to say how much the movie costs. But suffice it to say, it didn’t cost anywhere close to what a normal big budget, tent pole summer movie, normally is. We were just happy to make a cool genre zombie heist movie, with no expectations that it was going to be a monster for Netflix. Knock on wood, who knows what will happen.

ESQ: Did you feel as though you had more creative control in working with Netflix as opposed to Warner where you made all of your DC Universe films?

Snyder: Easy answer: Yes. Oh my God, yes. I mean, look Warner as far as I’m concerned is just different… for me anyway. I’m sure a lot of people are having a great time over there, and getting a lot of creative freedom. I could just tell you that in the old days with Alan and Jeff it was just a different vibe. And maybe that’s just my experience.

With Watchmen, that’s an R-rated, gigantic superhero movie, with crazy sex in it. It’s a heady little movie to be honest. A movie where it was probably 10 years too early. But they amazingly let me just make that movie. And I just don’t think that movie in the theaters happens right now. You know what I mean? And it is what it is. Netflix has been an amazing partner. And they’ve been creatively supportive. And honestly, I’m like, “I just want to make this movie a hit, because you guys have been so cool. Just tell me what I need to do.”

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ESQ: I did read that you cut out some full frontal zombie nudity though.

Snyder: I did cut out a Zombie penis.

ESQ: Did that come from above or was that your choice?

Snyder: It was a collaborative decision. I was fine with it. I didn’t feel offended that my creative visions were being upended. Although, it was sweet. It looked like it was bit—like an apple. It had a bite out of the side of it. I had done it more to say, “If I’m going to have these topless zombie showgirls, I might as well have this.”

ESQ: Equal opportunity zombie nudity.

Snyder: Exactly. That’s all I wanted.

ESQ: Well, I hope that Zombie cock makes an appearance in the Snyder Cut of Army.

Snyder: Well, it’s one of those things that you think you want to see it. I want you to maintain that point of view. But it might change if you actually did see it.

ESQ: There’s a zombie baby, there are semi-sentient alpha zombies, there’s zombie nudity. Was there anything else that you thought you had to reel in?

Zack Snyder: No. Not really. I feel like that was the big… no pun intended, but that was the thing where we all were like, “Okay. It’s all fun and games until one brings out a zombie penis.” There’s a million editorial decisions you make every day. I wasn’t that attached to it, I’ll be honest.

ESQ: Nor was it attached to the zombie, apparently.

Snyder: Again, with the puns. But no, but seriously, It didn’t feel like anything to me.

army of the dead   tig notaro as peters  in army of the dead cr scott garfieldnetflix © 2021

CLAY ENOS/NETFLIX

ESQ: Tig Notaro’s performance as a grizzled helicopter pilot is one of the highlights of the movie. Can you tell me a little bit about how she was brought in after the movies was shot to replace Chris D’Elia?

Snyder: We knew we were in a place where we were like, we have to make a move with the situation with Chris. We just felt like it was unfair to everyone else involved in the movie to weigh it down with that. We wanted to honor everyone’s work. And I thought that replacing him the best way to do it.

I wanted to get Christopher Plummer because I thought that would have been hilarious. And, everyone thought I was joking. But these are the conversations we’re having. And then literally, we started talking about Tig just as a comedian, and also just as an amazing personality that we all kind of wanted to be around. I was like, “If I could hang out with someone, it would be Tig. Is that a bad reason to cast someone?” And everyone thought I was joking again.

But then the cool thing was, when we all decided that that was a good idea, we sent the movie over to Tig. It’s kind of a cool situation. I’ve said it before, but it’s a rare thing for an actor to see the movie they’re going to be in, fully completed. And so she was like, “This is a cool movie. I want to be in this movie.”

She did her ad-libs here and there, which made it her own character. She got that she was safe with us, and it was going to be cool. And it wasn’t going to look crazy. Because that was the other thing—it was a technical achievement. It wasn’t just about green screening her in. We had to do it right. We shot this movie in a very hand-held and organic way, but adding in Tig was one of the most technical things I’ve ever done.

ESQ: I have to ask you an aside question, since you mentioned hand-held camera work. You directed that old 1994 Morrissey video for “Tomorrow”, right?

Snyder: I sure did.

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ESQ: It’s one of the great one-take videos.

Zack Snyder: I appreciate that. And there is a cut version of that video too. By the way, when I made that video I remember, I think it was Vanity Fair wrote an article about a Brian De Palma movie, where there was a big super long one-take. And they were saying that the Morrissey video I did was cooler than that. And I remember at the time thinking that that was so cool that I was referenced in relationship to this director’s movie who I really admired because I was literally two years out of film school when I shot that video.

ESQ: Did you get along with Morrissey? Did you keep in touch with him?

Snyder: I had a great experience. I loved working with him. He had decided that I was going to shoot all of his videos from then on. But then he ghosted me after that. I don’t know what happened.

ESQ: Oh no. Morrissey ghosting the director of his best video seems like a very Morrissey thing to do.

Snyder: Sadly. That was it. It was a sad thing. Because I would have loved to have been Morrissey’s creative visualist. I remember I wrote a treatment for him for another song on that album. It was going to be all Giant. You know the movie Giant with James Dean? It was a take on it, and he was going to play the James Dean role.

army of the dead l to r dave bautista as scott ward, omari hardwick as vanderohe, tig notaro as peters, samantha win as chambers, colin jones as damon, matthias schweighÖfer as dieter, raÙl castillo as mickey guzman, ana de la reguera as cruz in army of the dead cr clay enosnetflix © 2021

CLAY ENOS/NETFLIX

ESQ: It was Morrissey’s loss. Getting back to Army. Now, this is a wonderful universe to play with, and I understand there’s a prequel as well as an anime series. Can you tell me a little bit about both?

Snyder: So Matthias is directing the prequel. And what happened was, basically I was just watching the dailies, and he was cracking me up. Just his take on Dieter was just too much. And Shay and I, I had this idea, “What if it’s like The Italian Job, but we find out why Dieter is obsessed with safes and what his thing is?” And so the story was about him basically getting recruited to join this team of international thieves that are planning to heist these four safes that are all named after Wagner’s Ring cycle.

Anyway, and so the movie is this romantic comedy about him falling in love with the leader of the gang, and then kind of using him, his obsession and his genius of safe cracking to basically crack the cycle, which is all four of these famous safes. But they can’t find the Götterdämmerung. Turns out that it’s in Vegas, and that’s where we pick him up. And there’s betrayal, but then also it’s a real love story too in the end. I didn’t shoot it. I just produced it. But Matthias did a great job directing it, and starring in it, and just a really fun little extension of the universe.

And then the animated series is exploring the origins of the zombie plague. And we go back all the way to find out the why of it. And it’s Christian Slater, and Joe Manganiello, and Tig Notaro, the entire cast. Everybody’s in it. I think we’ll be finishing up in March of next year.

ESQ: You seem to have a lot of zombie on your plate for the next few months. Are there other projects that you’re working on, or hoping to work on?

Snyder: Yeah. I wrote a huge giant thing that I’m hoping that Netflix might want to do. It’s another giant universe thing that I’ve kind of come up with.

army of the dead   l r matthias schweighöfer as dieter, zack snyder directorproducerwriter, cr clay enosnetflix ©2020

Clay Enos/NETFLIX

ESQ: Are you at liberty to say anything more?

Snyder: Not yet. Not yet. But very soon. And then we were hoping to go do a little teeny movie that I wanted to do. It shoots in South America, but the Covid numbers are pretty crazy down there right now. So we’re holding off until maybe after the summer. It has elements of The Searchers, have you seen that film? Basically it’s this war photographer, and this military advisor. They go on a journey into the countryside of South America, looking for the kidnapped nephew and niece of the contractor. And during their journey, they learn a lot about each other, and about themselves. It’s a really super simple small movie. I was going to do it literally with a handful of people, and we were just going to go shoot it for real on location in Bolivia. I have two guys that I’m looking at right now that I’m just trying to figure out availability. And the script is done. And I have the cameras, so I can go shoot anytime someone says yes.

ESQ: Have you said goodbye to the Justice League and the DC world? Is that chapter closed for you? Or does that still kind of remain open?

Snyder: Well I mean, they said goodbye to me. And I don’t want to… I love those characters. I love that universe. But you just have to read that Ann Sarnoff article the day after the movie came out, where they pretty much said, “You got what you wanted everyone. Now quit asking.” So yeah, like I said, not my call. I love those characters. I invested a great deal of my life in those characters. I would never say never to doing another DC movie, but we’re talking about the reality.

ESQ: Last question about Army. Vanderohe, Omari Hardwick’s character, he’s going to be the new king zombie if there is a sequel, right?

Snyder: If there was ever a desire for another Army movie, I’m knocking on wood. I would be happy to do it. Shay and I know exactly what happens after this. And yes, Omari would be the new Zeus—and a very scary Zeus.

Kevin Sintumuang is Esquire’s Lifestyle and Culture Director. 

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