Spoiler alert: The following sections reveal story points in the final act - please do not read until you have seen the movie.
SA: You guys are stylistically more like the Coen brothers or Guy Ritchie than the Scary Movie kinds of parodies.
EW: Coen Brothers! Not Ritchie. [llaughs] No, sorry.
SA: But at the same time the sense of humor is much more - I think you said it in the press kit - deadpan. The whole contrast between Shaun's mundane life versus the absolute craziness that hits him. Everyone's completely matter-of-fact response to the whole thing just makes it funnier, and you don't push that.
EW: Absolutely. One of the rules we imposed on ourselves, having watched some other horror comedies, even good ones, is that we didn't want things to become too shrill. The restraint works as a joke on the English reserve, and also, there's the fact that Shaun and Ed are hung over. Their response is quite muted and deadpan. A lot of horror films or horror comedies just descend into screaming and can become really grating to watch. We wanted to do a horror comedy that has no screaming in it at all, so people's reactions stay very restrained. So it kind of works on several different levels.
There's one bit where it kind of reaches a peak, with the David sequence [where he's pulled out of a window by zombies], but otherwise, we definitely wanted to keep it understated. It also works that the characters might well be in catatonic shock. In times of real crisis, people's reactions to it are not to start running around the streets screaming. The reactions are often to go into some sort of strange kind of catatonic shock, actually to become more reserved, not really knowing how to cope or deal with it or channel those emotions. Again, it's something that has some element of truth, in a way, even though, when you watch it, it seems very wry and deadpan.
SA: In terms of David's death, I loved the way that Lucy Davis gets to go out, just complete warrior: "You took my boyfriend!"
SP: We like the idea that she said, a minute before, she actually said, "Opening that door would be a very silly thing to do."
SA: People do stupid things like that all the time in horror movies, but emotionally it works here. At one time you're saying, "That's a stupid thing to do," yet you know exactly why she's doing it. She's completely lost...
EW: In the moment.
SA: In the moment, right. She is so emotionally driven, she's not thinking anymore. It makes a lot of sense, more so than in many of the more serious horror movies.
EW/SP (together): Yeah-yeah-yeah.
EW: There's a nice thing to look out for, on a second viewing. I don't know if you spotted it, but just before David's death, just before he goes out, there's a sign behind him that it says, "Would patrons leaving the premises do it in a quiet and orderly fashion." Which he kind of does, because he doesn't scream. Everybody else screams.
SA: Let's go back and talk about the seriousness with which you treat the deaths of characters. I was really quite moved by the death scenes of both Philip and Barbara. They quieted the whole film down and yet it didn't become maudlin.
SP: We kind of wanted to have serious moments in it. We wanted moments that you can put in among the comedy and craziness and make them work all the more for it because you don't expect it. We loved the idea of Philip, having been portrayed as this monster, suddenly being a very reasonable and sympathetic character who was just trying to be a stepdad to Shaun without really knowing how. And then the minute we discover he wasn't a monster at all, then he suddenly does turn into a monster for real. And with Barbara, we just wanted to throw in a real curve ball and shock everybody, because you do not expect Barbara to get it. You never think for a second she's going to go, and she does. And she goes spectacularly as well. It always divides the audiences. Some people love that scene and some people don't want to like it because it's shooting a mom.
SA: In the classic zombie film, the hero at one point always has to face that. The voice of reason says, "It's no longer a person, we have to kill him," and then the hero has to kill someone they love.
SP: But it's also like he has to blow off, literally, blow away the apron strings to become a man. When it starts off, you think it's a fairly kind of straightforward Oedipal thing where Shaun has to confront - well, not kill his dad, but fight his dad - who is already dead - so that he can have his mum. Because the whole idea is that he's always been jealous of his stepdad. But then, suddenly he has to kill his mum as well. So it's not exactly the straight Oedipus reading of the story of the son. But I love that scene in the film. I think Penelope Wilton is a brilliant actress and when she stands up between Shaun and Liz, out of focus in the background, there's always an intake of breath from the audience. I love the fact that Barbara doesn't immediately want to eat Shaun. She's looking at him and something is telling her that he's familiar to her, and it's not until David says, "Do it!" that she turns and snarls and Shaun shoots her. I'm really proud of that scene.
SA: The coda is inspired. It's what every zombie film neglects to do. What happens after you've survived?
EW: Romero has always hinted that he wants to tackle some of those things, and I think with the fourth film he's going to do. Our inspiration is an interview we read where George Romero said that what happens after Day Of The Dead is that the zombies are treated like the homeless and people step over them in the street. So we wanted to take that idea further, in terms of them being employed in the service industry, and ending up on bad cable channels.
SA: Fodder for reality TV.
EW: Exactly. Them being on trashy talk shows and stuff. So that was really fun to do.
SA: It's not just a scene missing from zombie films in general; it's a scene that's really missing from 28 Days Later. They are rescued and that's the end, but I want to know...
EW: Where do they go?
SA: Exactly. It's been 28 days, and they all die off. What is life like afterwards?
SP: We were always really interested in what a major, almost paranormal event would do to a society, [to] people's view on reality, how it would affect people if that could happen. We used to have a line in the script that one of the characters says, "Look, you know, the dead are coming back to life. If a dinosaur were in the corner now I wouldn't be surprised." And then one of the other characters goes, "Dinosaurs?!" It's that thing where your whole structured view on reality would have been totally changed. But we like the fact that it actually became quite mundane. They were just on TV and there was a charity set up to champion their rights and they became almost like a sub-class. We just assimilated and life went on as normal. The whole point at the end of the film is that things get back to normal, you know.
SA: Now for the burning question: How important is it to stock up on pints and pig snacks? For an invasion?
EW: What do you call them here? Pork rinds? Even pig snacks and hog lumps are kind of made up because they're called pork scratchings in the UK. In the script, we just started nicknaming them, like hog lumps and pig snacks. But yes, it's very important.
SA: Pig snacks is an inspired name and I think I'll use it for the rest of my life.
EW: And hog lumps, too.
SA: That's even more disgusting.
EW: We had specially made up packets. My brother designed the thing. It said on the front, "Hog Lumps," and then, underneath it said, "Hairy Pork Rinds." You know how sometimes you get the ones with the hair on them? That's disgusting.
SA: This film is a huge success in Britain. Do you think Americans can embrace the odyssey of a pub dwelling bloke in a city of flesh-eating zombies?
EW/SP: I hope so.
SP: Despite the cultural differences that exist between the UK and America, the themes are very universal. It's about love and life and redemption and responsibility and zombies. It's something everyone can understand. There's nothing in particular that's going to stump anybody. It's all about the human condition, oddly enough. Ironically, in a film about walking dead people, it's about humans.
Thanks to Jen Koogler for her help transcribing the interview.