Jesse Eisenberg and Director Ruben Fleischer Talk Zombieland: Double Tap [Exclusive]

It’s been a full decade since we first took a ride with Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita and Little Rock in Zombieland. Now, after all those years, the gang is finally coming back in Zombieland: Double Tap. The long-awaited sequel is bringing back the entire core creative team from the first movie, which includes director Ruben Fleischer, as well as the main cast, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrellson and Abigail Breslin.

Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who have since penned both Deadpool movies are also back. I was lucky enough to attend a screening of the sequel ahead of its release and, as a fan of the original, feel this is very much the movie fans have been waiting a long time to see. I was also fortunate enough to speak with both Ruben Fleischer and Jesse Eisenberg all about their return to these zombie-latent shenanigans ten years later. So, without further adieu, here’s our chat.

It’s awesome to talk to you guys for the premiere last night. Jesse, I don’t expect you to remember this I talked to you for The Art of Self-Defense earlier this year.

Related: Zombieland: Double Tap First Reactions Flood In: Was It Worth the 10 Year Wait?

Jesse Eisenberg: Yeah, no. I recognized you immediately. We didn’t really do that many [interviews].

You were filming Zombieland Double Tap at the time. I got to ask you about it, and you used the word personal, like you really wanted this to be personal. And Ruben, since you’re here, I kind of wanted to ask you about that. Was that kind of a touchstone for you as well? Coming back for the sequel, just wanting to make it personal for both fans and as a filmmaker?

Ruben Fleischer: Personal meaning… I guess you used the word. What did you mean?

Jesse Eisenberg: I mean that it doesn’t feel like generic. It feels specific.

Ruben Fleischer: Oh, yeah! I think like we all such a passion and nostalgia for the first film. I think it changed, certainly my life, both from a career standpoint, it allowed me to do other movies, It was my first ever film. But I met my wife through the movie. It had a lot of personal significance.

Jesse Eisenberg: That’s not what I was referring to [laughs]. We just wanted to make this movie so that Ruben could feel like he met his wife again.

Ruben Fleischer: Jesse and Emma [Stone], no one knew who they were at that time. They were both coming from much smaller roles in smaller movies, and I think it kind of changed course their careers in every way. And so I think there was a real nostalgia for the experience we had making it, which was on the first one, which was incredible, and I would say this one was probably even better. It was really fun. It was like a 10-year reunion. It honestly felt like that because we’re in the same place we shot almost the exact to the day. Like started filming at the same time, came out at the exact same time. So it really was a return to something that we all have a lot of love for and I think that made it really special.

Jesse Eisenberg: My hope was that it shows in the movie, that it’s not just something that we enjoy doing and then it doesn’t work. And that’s reflected in the movie. The goal with this kind of movie is the feelings that the characters have for each other and for their own roles is reflected in the movie in some way. That there’s an emotional quality underlying what is a kind of splashy comedy.

I mean, yes, it’s a horror movie, it’s got zombies, but it is primarily a comedy. And this, after seeing it last night… full disclosure, I was a little worried because a lot of times comedy sequels, they have kind of a bad reputation. I feel like you guys avoided it entirely, all of the trappings of the comedy sequel. How did you guys sort of take an active role in like avoiding those trappings?

Ruben Fleischer: For me it was, I feel like a lot of times of sequels, they’re just basically repetitions. And so, in a real way that 10 years benefited us because we had a plot line based on the fact that passage of time had happened and Abigail wasn’t a little girl anymore, and she wants to spread her wings. So I think that the distance between the two was actually a benefit. For example, we get asked a lot like what happened to the Twinkies? “We want to see more Twinkies!” That’s an example of, we did that. So we wanted to figure out another drive for Tallahassee. In this movie, it’s his desire to get the Zombie Kill of the Year award. But it was just actively wanting to avoid just repeating what we already done. I mean, there’s some really fun callbacks. There’s the rules. They’re still there. There’s things from the first one that we brought forward. But in terms of story, I think it’s all pretty original.

Jesse Eisenberg: And I think also got a little bit of luck in that the actress who plays Madison (Zoey Deutch) is so funny and the character is really funny on the page. And she took it to another level. And so I think that was a little bit of luck too.

Ruben Fleischer: It was a breath of fresh air, yeah.

Jesse Eisenberg: Yeah, it’s something fresh that’s integrated into the plot because she’s like a good kind of part of this love triangle thing. She’s a great element there and a good contrast to Emma’s character. And that’s a little bit of luck, too, because that’s probably the biggest new element, right?

Ruben Fleischer: Yeah, and she’s great.

Zoey is amazing in this. I had seen her in other stuff, but this was just so different.

Jesse Eisenberg: Wacky. And yes, she had the stage if she wanted to take it, and she did.

Yeah, people loved her. I guess this is a little more specifically for you, Ruben, but you were coming off of Venom and then you went right into this. You did two big movies in a row. How wild was that?

Ruben Fleischer: It was exhausting. I can say that. Venom, we worked all the way up until the release. It was one of the latest things you could possibly push the schedule to. We actually finished it two weeks before it had to go everywhere throughout the world. And then we were doing press and everything up until its actual release. And then I went away for a week with my family, and I came back and started prep immediately on Zombieland. Then three weeks later I was in Atlanta again because they shot for seven months in Atlanta on Venom. And then I was in Atlanta for another five months on Zombieland with many of the members of the same crew, actually. We shot starting at the beginning of February was it? Or the end of January, just of this year. So it was a marathon. I would claim I’m still working on the movie now. I think on Saturday will be my first day off in two and a half years of not working on a movie. The first time in two and a half years that I’m not working on a movie.

That is wild.

Jesse Eisenberg: The younger you hearing you say that would punch you [laughs].

Ruben Fleischer: No! I’m grateful for it. I also hadn’t made a movie for five years. My first time out of the gate, I made three movies in four years, and they were all very back to back to back. I was prepping one while I was in post on the other. Then I took five years off without doing any movies. And so I was really excited to get back. I’m really happy that it worked out the way it did, because I learned so much on Venom and I was able to apply that to Zombieland. This was just a dream to get to make this movie with these people again.

I’m guessing that’s probably why you’re not doing Venom 2, right?

Ruben Fleischer: They start shooting in two weeks. We just finished our movie maybe two weeks ago. They’ve been prepping it all summer. For them to hit the release date, it was an impossibility.

Another movie I saw recently was Knives Out at Fantastic Fest fantastic and Knives Out to me felt like a ton of people who were coming off of these big, high-pressure jobs and going into something and just having a ton fun. I got a very similar vibe from this. Would that be somewhat accurate?

Jesse Eisenberg: Yeah. The difference with this is that we were all very much aware of it for about seven years because we were kind of reading scripts of the course of those years and thinking about it a lot. We also were cautious because we knew that people love the first one so much. We wanted to make sure it was good. I think part of it is because we were in the first we felt little pressure ourselves. It wasn’t like we were just seeding total control. We were kind of protective over our characters, in a way. So we were kind of cautiously enjoying it.

Ruben Fleischer: Yeah, I haven’t seen that movie, so I can’t comment. But I can say that for all of us this was a really fun experience, and I think we had such a good time on the first one we were all really excited to try and recreate that on the second one.

Outside of financial stuff, which is so beyond anybody’s control, how would you guys creatively define success for this movie?

Ruben Fleischer: I think we did it. I think our goal was to make a movie that we felt like stood neck and neck with the first one and based on most of the reactions I’ve heard is that it does. So I would say it’s a success, in that, I know I could say I’m very proud of it. I feel like it’s a great continuation of the legacy of the first movie.

Jesse Eisenberg: Yeah, I feel the same way. I mean, I definitely thought that if we did this any earlier than when we did this, I don’t think it would have been successful creatively, because I don’t think we were ready, and that the story was ready, and that the comedy was ready. That the characters were correct. So once we were there and it felt like it was going well, I felt we had passed the mark for what we wanted to achieve.

Zombieland Double Tap is in theaters this weekend from Sony Pictures.