Who knew Woody Harrelson, the star of “Natural Born Killers” and costar in “No Country For Old Men,” had a squeamish side? It’s all true, the 48-year-old native of Midland, Texas, tells Richard Abele in this feature that ran in today’s Los Angeles Times. The links were added by yours truly…. — Geoff Boucher
Were they to exist, zombies would be hard to ignore. Scripts about these flesh-eating creatures are real, though, and it seems they’re easier to push aside. Especially if you’re an actor who does his best to ignore such movies.
“The one genre I don’t watch is horror,” says Woody Harrelson. “I get nightmares. For some reason, it really scares me.”
Just to get the Oscar-nominated actor to read the script to “Zombieland,” the title of which could lead any star to believe humans were secondary, was a chore for his agent. “I was like, ‘Zombies, dude? Really?‘ ” Harrelson says. “Then, finally, I read it and thought it was just phenomenal. [They’re] more of a backdrop that brings all these characters together.”
Opening Friday, the post-apocalyptic “Zombieland” has its share of splatter-rich mayhem and raving paragons of anatomical decay filmed in loving slow-motion. But at its heart, it’s a personality-driven action comedy in which Harrelson’s daring, quick-trigger character, Tallahassee — a tough guy whose sense of loss drives him to daredevil zombie-destroying — reluctantly teams up with a nervous young man known as Columbus (“Adventureland” star Jesse Eisenberg), who staves off fear (and survives) by adhering to his personal set of undead-avoidance rules.
Like Harrelson, Eisenberg — normally drawn to such movies as “The Squid and the Whale,” where emotions, as opposed to cannibalistic renderings, induce squirms — had to be prodded into reading Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s screenplay. He then discovered something more shocking than the de rigueur violence. “I realized this was better than most independent dramas I had at the time,” says Eisenberg, “and had more authentic and well-rounded characters than many movies that focus only on characters. The movie can sustain itself without having to scare people.”
First-time director Ruben Fleischer took pains to assure his cast — which also includes Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin as a pair of survival-shrewd sisters — that crunchy gore, terror, laughs and human beings could commingle effectively.
“Because you invest in the characters, that’s why we’re able to go in all these directions,” says Fleischer, who believes “Zombieland,” which follows its protagonists as they make their way across the country to a West Coast amusement park, is closer in tone and spirit to strangers-on-a-road-trip movies such as “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” and “Midnight Run” than sustained-mood chillers like the original zombie masterpiece, George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” “The buddy-comedy aspect is what excited me about it. It’s the classic odd couple, the brains and the brawn…”
THERE’S MORE, READ THE REST
— Richard Abele
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Photos: Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg, photographed by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times. Harrelson on the set, photographed by David Strick/Hollywood Backlot.