Jesse Eisenberg plays Zombieland's paranoid shut-in, forced to evacuate his little apartment when the world is over-run with zombies. We got the chance to chat with this unlikely hero and learn about zombie safety — and end-of-the-world etiquette.
You're kind of an unlikely hero, which is kind of a tradition in a lot of zombie and horror films. Did you pull from any past unlikely heroes or personal experiences?
No, maybe the writers did. But no, for me, when I read it, it just seemed like a new character. Maybe they were playing on conventions or something, but no, for me, it just felt like an everyman type guy.
So I'm surprised you're in this big zombie flick. Were you a fan of zombie movies?
No, no I've never really seen them before, I don't really like zombie movies. The zombies are kind of like secondary in this movie — you know, it's really about these four characters. Zombies aren't even in large chunks of this movie, where its like just the comedy of these four characters who are living in this post-apocalyptic world. Which I think is much more entertaining than a chase scene. But I love the movie — I've seen it twice and I never see movies I'm in. I think it's just the greatest movie. I love it.
I loved your character's check list of zombie rules and how in the movie they would appear on the screen did you know they were going to do that? Stick words right next to you?
I didn't know how good it would be just like that. Ruben [the director] had showed me before we shot mock ups of what they were going to do and I thought it was good but not great, like there was this company that made this like extremely detailed creations. Like taking pieces of broken glass and turning it into words and stuff and I thought it was good but it seemed like almost like too creative, almost so you almost couldn't read it and then the stuff in the movie. But when I saw it I was just ecstatic. Wow, it's so perfect and everybody just loves it. Every time the words come up it feels like the audience is on the inside joke of the movie and that's just the most fun you could have when you feel like you're in on the inside joke of the movie and it doesn't feel like it's pandering to you.
Right and you kind of kick a lot of butt with a lot of guns. This is new sensation for you, with all the action and violence, right?
JE: Um yeah, I don't really want to hold guns in movies, or promote violence... but I mean, we're killing zombies not people.
But when you're with Woody and it's the end of the world and you maybe have to put yourself in that frame of mind, that had to be at least be a little fun?
Oh yeah it's an adrenaline rush. The jumping and hurdling things. We're actually doing all of that. It's hard work. I have a scene in the beginning, where I'm running laps around a parking lot. We were running all night. It's exhausting, it's genuinely exhausting, like you end up sprinting miles and then you have to do another take and then you have to act and think about what would be funny here. It was really taxing.
But it'that scene you just described was amazing, so it was totally worth it. You run around in big circle to move the zombies away from your car.
A lot of that was improvised but all those very clever set pieces were very smart. There were a lot of broader concepts like that in the script. The script was incredible, it constantly surprised you with its own self-awareness, its own sense of irony — like you know running around the parking lot from zombies and then I get to the car and I try to put the keys in, but the keys dropped, so instead of picking up the keys I decide to run around again to try to get some distance between me and the zombie. It's just constantly cleverly kind of playing on itself.
You mentioned earlier that it wasn't really zombies that made you want to do this movie, it was the relationship between the four characters. So what is it about the end of the world and what do you think that does to humanity? Why did it bring these characters together?
Right , right, right. Geez I don't know what the other movies do. Like for this one it was very, these four people could bond in a way they otherwise wouldn't have, you know like if there were still other people. You know there's kind of a logic behind these very different people coming together. I guess if the movie didn't take place in a post-apocalyptic world then it would seem unbelievable that these people were joining together because they all would hate each other, probably. Also, what I loved about the movie is, there's only four characters in the movie and it's just really wonderful. Most movies have like thirty characters in them. It just really felt like it was just focusing on this small group of people and we all had rich inner lives and back stories that were interesting, and authentic.
I also enjoyed how the characters thought things out like normal humans. If they are the last people on Earth, why not sleep in a beautiful mansion as opposed to a shack? What would you do if the world ended?
I'd probably go to a studio apartment, because the characters take refuge in this like mansion with a million rooms which is really a dumb thing to do, you know they want to relax and go to the coolest place but there's so many rooms in that house that you would never be able to make sure that it was not infested with zombies. Whereas like the apartment I live in, in New York I'm pretty much aware of every square inch of it, because there's only four square inches of it.
Do you think you'll make any more genre films?
Maybe they'll make a sequel [to Zombieland]. It's great, after I saw the movie, I thought they should make another.
Oh, and what ever happened to The Stanford Prison Experiment film?
I don't think the movie is happening. It was a good script, and my dad teaches about that experiment in school, so he was disappointed too movie isn't happening either. It's a tough movie to make, since there is no real protagonist.