Don’t get distracted by the zombies.
Life After Beth writer-director Jeff Baenainsists that his new film, starring Aubrey Plaza and Dane DeHaan, is just a relationship film in which the female half of the central couple is an undead flesh-eater.
Baena explained that while the idea came to him after he’d gone through a couple of breakups and was also reading about zombies, he tried to keep the focus on interpersonal connections.
“[The film is] sort of dealing with issues and traumas and situations that you would deal with in a zombie movie, but more on a personal level,” Baena told The Hollywood Reporter after a New York screening of the dark comedy. “I wanted to focus more on the emotional carnage instead of the physical carnage.”
In order to keep the zombie elements from getting too out of hand, Baena says, “I just made sure that whatever was happening was happening in [DeHaan’s character’s] vicinity and if it wasn’t his vicinity, I wouldn’t highlight it because that would be sensational. I’d rather keep it more grounded.”
Plaza, who plays the undead Beth, said she just tried to stick to the script in terms of her character’s zombie transformation.
“A lot of the zombie stuff was in the script and it was sort of my interpretation of his interpretation of what a zombie is and does,” she told THR. “I really just made a lot of different choices and let him mold it into what he wanted.”
Plaza added that Baena’s script was what attracted her to the project, saying, “I felt like it was unlike anything I’d ever read before. I really loved the tone of it. It felt like he almost created a new genre.”
For DeHaan, who plays Beth’s non-zombie boyfriend Zach, the film offered a chance for the actor to do his first comedy, with, he says, “some of my favorite comedians.”
“I knew I would at least leave there having learned a lot and getting to watch those guys work,” DeHaan told THR.
In keeping with Baena’s authentic approach, DeHaan explained that he learned about the importance of truth in comedy.
“One of the main things I walked away from was about finding comedy in the truth because ultimately it’s about being truthful and honoring the material. If you do that, then the comedy will happen,” he said.
Speaking of first times, Baena makes his directorial debut on the film but as DeHaan explained, you wouldn’t know it because of how experienced he was at working on film sets.
“Jeff has been in the business for a very long time, and he’s seen a lot of really great directors work, and he was a pro, and he kept things going and he could be really efficient, which was important for our schedule,” DeHaan said.
In addition to working with David O. Russell as a writer on I Heart Huckabees, Baena also watchedRobert Zemeckis work, as an assistant for the Back to the Future and Forrest Gump helmer.
“I think just being in those environments, you learn how to treat people and how to get things done,” Baena said.
DeHaan’s Amazing Spider-Man director Marc Webb was also on hand for the small screening and reception at Manhattan’s Crosby Street Hotel but declined to talk to THR. For his part, DeHaan said he learned of last week’s Spider-Man release date shifts when he read articles about the news and didn’t know any more than what was reported.