Warning: The story below reveals one of the best and funniest scenes in Zombieland, in which a very famous actor makes a surprise (and hilarious) prolongued cameo. The guest appearance has been already openly discussed on various sites on the Internet, but tf you haven't seen Zombieland yet and don't know who the actor is, come back and read the post below after you've seen the film. Trust me on this.
Last chance warning!
One of the most memorable sequences in Zombieland comes when the four protagonists (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) are touring the mansions of the now-dead rich and famous in Beverly Hills and decide to crash at the home of the actor Harrelson describes as one of the all-time greats.
The actor turns out to be Bill Murray, who is still very much alive and hiding in his home disguised as a zombie, because he rationalizes zombies leave other zombies alone. For the next few minutes, Zombieland enters meta-comedy territory, with Harrelson proving you really can dance to the Ghostbusters theme after all, Murray donning his Ghostbusters gear for a bit of role-playing fun with his guests, and a moment of apparently improvised honesty in which Murray reveals the one movie he genuinely regrets making.
I asked Zombieland screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick how they managed to land Murray to play himself in the film, and here is what they said:
"When we originally wrote the script a few years ago, it was supposed to be Patrick Swayze. Tragically, he got sick and we shifted gears. We went through 15 different itirations before we got to Bill Murray. At various points, it was going to be Sylvester Stallone, The Rock, Jean Claude Van Damme, Joe Pesci, Mark Hamill and Matthew McConaughey," Reese said. "We had to rewrite the script each time in order to try to attract the actor to the project and make it about them, but for one reason or another it never worked out."
"We were two days away from shooting the scene and we had taken out the scene entirely, because we thought we weren't going to be able to get anyone," Wernick said. "We turned it into a big fight scene between the heroes and zombies inside an empty mansion. But Woody turns out to have been an old friend of Bill Murray from back in the day, so he just picked up his cell phone and called him from the set.
"Murray is the hardest "get" in Hollywood to get," Wernick said. "He doesn't have a manager or agent or anyone. You just call his number and you get an answering machine and you leave a message and he either calls you back or he doesn't. Because it was Woody, he called back. So we tried to e-mail him the script, but we found out he doesn't even have an e-mail address, so we had to e-mail it to a FedEx Kinko's in New York. We joked that all the employees at the Kinko's because Murray's agents, telling him whether or not to movie forward with the script. But he loved it, and it was a dream come true for us. It was really bizarre and cool."
In case you missed it, here's my feature story on the making of Zombieland and the zombedy genre that ran in The Herald a couple of weeks ago.