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Before Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick were the toast of Hollywood thanks to their successful script for Deadpool, they had actually written several successful films. One of these was the hilarious Zombieland. The movie’s most famous scene includes a cameo by Bill Murray, who is living life pretending to be a zombie in order to avoid becoming a real one. It turns out that in the original script, that sequence played out very differently.
The two writers were guests on the Q & A Podcast and discussed the evolution of the scene. Numerous drafts were written with different actors in mind, but each turned the men down. Even Bill Murray was hesitant at first to take the part. It turns out, Murray didn’t see much for him to do in Zombieland. This is because the sequence was going to lean very heavy on action, and less so on comedy.
It was a big action scene. It was all this stuff at the house, all the jokes about his career. But when he finally did show up, he just attacked the crap out of them. And he was the most devastatingly difficult zombie to destroy of all time.
To be sure, there’s still a pretty funny joke in the idea that Bill Murray, or any other celebrity, is somehow the most vicious, violent zombie that the team has come up against, but it wasn’t really enough for Murray. However, the actor was willing to talk to the writers about the script, and they were able to make the changes that the actor wanted, which transformed the scene into what we know and love today. The writers confess that it’s possible that the more action-oriented script may have been the reason that nobody else seemed to be interested. However, none of them ever explained what their problem with the original screenplay was, so the writers couldn’t make the changes that they needed to. Luckily, the necessary rewrites were done, and we got a very memorable scene as a result.
Bill Murray wasn’t actually the writers' first choice. The scene had originally been written with Patrick Swayze in mind, complete with Dirty Dancing and Ghost references. Unfortunately, the actor became unable to work due to cancer prior to the beginning of filming, and they were never even able to offer him the part.
Do you prefer the scene as it was done, or would you have preferred Bill Murray, king of the rage zombies?