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Interview: Zack Snyder and Dave Bautista talk about Army of the Dead's zombies

By Tim Augustin - 11 May 2021

Dave Bautista interview

Image: Netflix

Viva Las Vegas. 

Netflix’s blockbuster zombie movie Army of the Dead is helmed by Zack Snyder (Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s Justice League), taking place right after a zombie outbreak has left Las Vegas in ruins and walled off from the rest of the world. Right as this city is about to be nuked off the face of the planet, former zombie war hero Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) gets the heist of the century dropped on his lap... and it’s in Las Vegas. Figures. 

Ward’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to break into the zombie-infested quarantine zone with a ragtag team of experts to retrieve US$200 million sitting in a vault beneath the Las Vegas strip. He’ll have to do this in a measly 32 hours too, before the government and its trigger-happy president drops a nuke on the city. Assembling a bizarre team that includes his estranged daughter, Ward soon realises that they won’t have to deal with the usual braindead zombies - but a smart and faster horde of Alpha zombies too. 

We recently had the opportunity to sit down for a media roundtable with Army of the Dead’s director Zack Snyder and star Dave Bautista. The duo talked about what it was like filming in abandoned casinos, going outside their action-movie comfort zone and dealing with the toxicity that comes with being on Twitter. 

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Having established yourself as an action hero, Scott Ward seems to stray a little from the pattern of your past roles. How do you feel about this progression in your career?

Dave Bautista: I feel like it's the perfect movie at the perfect time. I really think it establishes me as a very solid lead, because there's so many layers to Scott Ward. There aren’t many opportunities where an actor like myself gets to not only play a badass, but somebody who's really looking to redeem themselves. Somebody who just wants to reconnect with his daughter. 

So I feel like I really accomplished a lot in this film. This is the perfect time in my career where I needed this, this type of film and this type of role. I've watched [the movie] numerous times. And every time I watch it, I come away feeling better and better about it. So I really hope people love the film. I'm very proud of it. And I hope this opens doors for people to see me as a well rounded actor.

 

I’ve heard that part of the reason you joined this project was to work with Zack Snyder. Now that filming is long behind you and the movie premiere is coming up, what has that experience been like?

Dave Bautista: It was amazing, and I knew it would be. Where Zack first caught my attention was 300. And then when I watched watchmen, I really started appreciating him as an artist and what he sees visually. That’s what made me want to work with Zack initially. But when I first met him, we had talked about a different project that wasn't Army of the Dead. It was very much an actor's piece, which I had been chasing for years. We discussed that for years and tried to get it made but we just couldn't get it done. So when Army of the Dead first came to my attention, I wasn't actually interested at all, because I thought it was just going to be another action film. I didn't realize who the character was, what the storyline was - didn't know anything about it, other than it was a zombie heist film. 

I was just like, “Nah, I think I'm gonna pass on this one,” until I read the script. I thought, “Man, this is really great.” And then I had a conversation with Zack, about what he wanted to do and how he saw the film visually, and also how he saw the character of Scott Ward and what freedom he was willing to give me in portraying him. I jumped all over it. This is the opportunity that I've been waiting for a long time. You know, I wanted to work with Zack. I’d also get the opportunity to accomplish a lot as an actor, and establish myself as a leading man, which I hope this film will do for me.

Image: Netflix

I feel like Scott and his daughter’s relationship really functions as this movie’s beating heart. Was there a lot of pressure on you to get that right, or was that process easier than, say, slamming zombies into walls?

Dave Bautista: That's always the challenge. For me, the performance part, the emotional part is always a challenge for me. It's also why I love the script and why I fell in love with the character and I pursued the role. Because the action stuff, for me, is predictable. It's easy. You would expect me to do something like that, but you wouldn't expect me to be an emotional guy who's really just trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his daughter. You especially wouldn't expect it in this type of film. This gives it layers, because if it's just constantly keeping you on the edge of your seat it’d just be exhausting. If you have too much drama and too much emotion, then it just becomes depressing. But if you're in the middle, then it's just kind of boring. 

What you need to do is take people on a roller coaster where you have all of those things and throw them into one story. That keeps people engaged and invested. It’s the same way I look at my wrestling career. You take people on a roller coaster during a match, so you want to have peaks and valleys. That’s what this film does. That's what the emotion of Scott Ward brings to the film, because he can be a very loving, very caring father, but he can also be a bad son of a bitch. A zombie killing machine. Opportunities like that, for me as a performer, they just don't come along very often. I also think that's what makes the film so interesting and unpredictable and different.

Image: Netflix

Scott is pretty fearless, and you seem quite fearless in real life as well. You've been quite outspoken when James Gunn got fired from Marvel Studios. You have a bone to pick with ‘MAGATs’ on Twitter. Have you always been this way? Or is this a ‘With great fame comes great responsibility’ type of deal?

Dave Bautista: I didn't look at it so much like that. I never was a very political person. The thing with James was very personal. You know, I felt like my friend was being attacked, and I wasn't okay with it because he was being wrongfully attacked. And so I didn't have an issue standing up for him, because it was just something I would always do. What kind of friend are you, if you're not defending your friends who are under attack? The answer is you're not a friend. So I didn't have any issue with that. But as the years went on, it just got worse. Our political climate got worse. The division and the polarisation of our country got worse. So then I felt like it was a matter of integrity, because if I just stepped aside and didn't say anything, then all that's out there is a one-sided opinion. 

And that one-sided opinion is very aggressive. They're very aggressive. They're very volatile. They're very violent, which is why people shy away from it. So it's not like I wanted to be there. It's not like I enjoyed being there. I wasn’t looking for a fight. It's just I felt like, in order to be able to live with myself, I need to share my opinion, because it's an opposing opinion to this. And if I'm willing to put myself out there, then maybe people will follow suit - people who are not as brave, who normally wouldn't speak out. Maybe they will now because they know they're not alone in the way they feel.

And there are a lot of people who weren't alone in the way they felt. But they were afraid to speak out because they didn't want to be attacked like James Gunn, you know, and that's what it was. It was just an attack. It's really... it's just a horrible place, a horrible climate. I can't even tell you how many threats I got, how many false accusations I got, it was just an embarrassing part of our history. There are a few other embarrassing parts of our history, but this particular past four or five years... I don't know what the hell happened to this country, man. I guess it's not the country I thought I was living in. I just felt like, in order to be able to live with myself, I needed to share my opinion. 

So it's not like I want it. It's not something I wanted or something I sought after. I'm not an activist by any means. I just prefer to keep my political opinion to myself. But I felt like I didn't have a choice because it came down to a point where you had to pick a side. And I picked my side, and I stuck on it, and I fought for it. And it's just who I am as a human being. And I feel like everything I said was fair and validated. I'm always wanting to make that argument. I'm open-minded enough to have my mind changed. But at the same time, if I have an opinion, then I'm going to share it. If you want to try to convince me that I'm wrong, feel free. 

That’s where we should be. We should be able to have a discussion. We either agree to disagree, or we get to a place where we can compromise. And that's not where we were, and it's still not where we're at. But that's where we need to be, because we all need to be able to either agree to disagree or compromise so we can move ahead.

***

We also interviewed Zack Snyder. Check out the next page to learn about how he approached the zombie genre differently 17 years after Dawn of the Dead, and how he managed to make a Sean Spicer cameo happen.

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