[Interview] ‘ARMY OF THE DEAD’ filmmaker Zack Snyder and star Dave Bautista Craft A Different Kind of Zombie Movie

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

Filmmaker Zack Snyder is certainly familiar with the ins and outs of creating a perfect zombie film. His remake, DAWN OF THE DEAD, played around with genre tropes in fantastically entertaining and thrilling ways. Years, and many spandex-clad superhero films, later, he plunges us back into the world of the undead with ARMY OF THE DEAD. And this action-horror is fueled with lots of brains – and heart!

In the film, military hero turned short order cook Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) has been recruited by Japanese billionaire businessman Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) to boost $200 million from his casino’s safe located in the walled off, dangerous zombie territory of Las Vegas before the government can nuke it into oblivion. In order to do so, Scott amasses a tight knit crew full of colorful personalities to assist in the heist. Not only must they evade the zombies, who have constructed a hierarchy in their new utopia, Scott is forced to sort out some personal problems involving his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell).  

At the film’s recent virtual press conference, Snyder credited his children for ushering in the heart element into this film’s story.

“As a human being, I have evolved from when I made DAWN. The relationship that I have with my children, and being a dad, I feel like really became a lot more important to me than maybe it was 15 years ago. It’s funny how sort of the emotional part of the movie really is the centerpiece. Even though you can say, “Yes, it’s a zombie-heist movie,” it’s also a character movie in a lot of ways.”

They also wanted to make sure that the tone walks a line between serious and fun. He added,

“The movie is self-aware, but it doesn’t break the [fourth wall], to the point where the stakes don’t matter.”

Bautista initially thought the picture wasn’t going to be a departure from what he’s done in the past and wasn’t interested in repeating any past performances.

“I’ve gotten to do films where I had a lot of action. But I’ve never gotten to do a film where I got to really show off my range as an actor. When this first came to my attention, I wasn’t all that interested in it, because it was described to me as a zombie-heist film. I thought it was just an action film. It wasn’t what I was looking for. I set out to prove myself as an actor.”

Once he read the script, however, his mindset changed.

“It was completely different than what I thought it was gonna be. It afforded me the opportunity to really kind of show off all different sides of me from being that badass action guy to being a father who’s just trying to redeem himself with his daughter.  I really just wanted an opportunity to just show off a little bit of acting range so I wasn’t just an action guy. It’s was a redemption story for me.”

While the stunts came easily to the brawling affable actor, it was the interpersonal relationship dynamics that provided the biggest challenge.

“My struggle was always performance. That’s still my challenge. Physically, I am an athlete first. That’s where I found my calling and why I was successful in professional wrestling. I’ve always been comfortable with physical things, physical performance.”

He also had no ego when it came time to call in his stunt double.

“Anything that would become a struggle, I am not embarrassed to admit, I’d say, “Rob,” Rob’s my stunt guy. If it’s something that’s just way over my head, I just call for my stunt double, and he’s perfectly capable of taking care of it.”

Bautista genuinely valued working with Snyder.

“Zack made sure that we all had our moments to shine. I definitely feel like I had my moments. I think the backbone  of the film is the relationship with Scott and Kate.  But I don’t feel like my story is overshadowed by everybody else’s.  Everybody had a moment to shine. Everybody’s characters are so strong and portrayed so vividly. It made for a full, complete story where nobody really stood out. The chemistry was so great.”

ARMY OF THE DEAD is now playing in select theaters. It will be streaming on Netflix on May 21.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.