On Zombieland’s opening night last Friday, EW.com accompanied the film’s stars, its director and the two screenwriters to four different movie theaters across Los Angeles to check out how the new horror comedy was playing with fans. Zombieland marks director Ruben Fleischer’s debut along with screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s first go at the big screen. The ride-along was also the first time Woody Harrelson checked out his film on opening night and it marked a break-through for Jesse Eisenberg: it’s the first movie he could stand to watch himself in. Check out some of the night’s highlights–and lowlights–below.
8:30 pm Mann Grauman’s Chinese Theater
The cavernous 1,400 seat theater is about halfway full. Eisenberg leans up against the back wall of theater watching his character Columbus explain that one of their crazy plans wasn’t his but belonged to his traveling companion Tallahassee (Harrelson). “I’m just kind of a Sancho Panza character,” says Columbus. The line gets a couple of chuckles. Eisenberg shrugs his shoulders in Fleischer’s direction.
“Well that’s a wash,” says Eisenberg. “There was no one there.”
“Sure there was,” says Gavin Polone, the film’s producer. “That’s probably the biggest theater in Los Angeles. It’s impossible to sell it out. If we do that kind of business all weekend, I’d be very happy.”
En route to Pacific The Grove Stadium 14
Fleischer receives a photo message from his parents in Boone, North Carolina. The 60-somethings are posed with a group of moviegoers dressed as zombies in line for the next showing of their son’s directorial debut.
Text arrives from Fleischer’s friend in DC: “Two thugs with girls in front of me. Says one, ‘That movie was funny as shit. Them rules, those are true.'”
Arrive at The Grove. The 400-seat theater is packed to the rafters. Harrelson and Eisenberg walk in and stand on the side. They check out the diverse crowd. Commence hand slaps and happy dance.
Again, the scene with the Sancho Panza line. A few chuckles erupt from the audience. “It’s always funny to see the one guy laugh at that line,” says Polone. “It was a chuckle,” says Eisenberg. “I was going for a guffaw.”
“I can’t believe we’re letting people know we’re doing this,” says Eisenberg about the theater-hopping outing. “This is the most narcissistic thing an actor could do and we’re going to publicize it.”
Back in the car. En route to Magic Johnson Chenshaw 15 theater.
Checking out the Twitter feed. “Come on,” jokes Eisenberg. “Give me something so I can feel good about myself.”
Adds Reese, “I feel like a contestant on a reality show and American is deciding right now whether or not to vote me off with their texting.”
“They are,” adds Wernick.
Reese receives a text from his mom. “She says there are lines around the block in Phoenix.” “Was it for the movie?” Eisenberg quips. “ I hear people just like to line up in Phoenix.”
“This is the only movie I’d do this for,” says Eisenberg. “I’ve seen it five times and I’m not as self-critical as I usually am. I usually go to film festivals and keep my head down. I can’t watch myself. But Zombieland: It think it’s phenomenal. Except, of course, the scenes we keep walking into tonight when no one laughs. “
Back on Twitter:
“Zombieland is the shit.”
“Will see Zombieland again.”
“Zombieland is tight as f**k.”
“Zombieland is wack.”
“Now is wack good or bad?” asks Reese.
“Wack is good. Wacked is bad,” says Eisenberg. “At least I think so.”
“Twitter has to be the most annoying technology ever created,” he adds.
Arrive at Magic Johnson theater.
“What is this?” says Eisenberg, bending down to pick up a Jennifer’s Body ticket. “Who would see this on our opening night? I’m crushed.”
Harrelson is looking more like a zombie as the night goes on. The actor has flown coast-to-coast in the last 24 hours shilling his wares on Letterman and Kimmel back-to-back. “I tried to sleep at Kimmel before the show but I just couldn’t,” he says.
Harrelson pops back to life when he sees the poster for Tim Burton’s upcoming Alice in Wonderland. “Holy shit, Is that Johnny Depp? I can’t wait to see that,” he says as he saunters into the theater.
Huge disappointment. The group was angling to come down here all night and they are thoroughly defeated. “It’s empty,” groans Harrelson. The two actors exit the theater quickly.
Zombieland fans have clearly been side-tracked by the film playing next door: Lebron James documentary More than a Game. But fans of Harrelson are all over the theater. First he runs into an electrician that worked on Cheers with him for years. Then a group of guys come up to give him props for all previous work. “I love you man. You as funny as a motherf***ker,” says one.
“So go see Zombieland,” yells Polone.
“Ahh, no thanks,” says the fan. “I already got it bootlegged.”
Harrelson breaks off from the group, calling it a night. He’s a bit defeated. “Jesus Chris, was I just imagining how much audiences love this movie?” he says later. “Is this really going to be a disaster? Did I have it all wrong in my head?”
The rest of the guys are anxiously awaiting the famed email from studio distribution chief Jeff Blake who predicts the entire weekend–with impeccable accuracy–by 10 pm Friday night.
“The Cloudy guys got their email at 10:02,” says Eisenberg. “Where’s ours?”
“We’re like pollsters on the night of the election,” says Wernick. “What an awful feeling. I’m totally impatient.”
“This is a bad idea of experiencing our movie,” says Reese. “It could have been great sitting with one crowd. We should’ve been monogamous. Now we’re movie sluts, looking for a score.”
The group finally gets their fix at the famed Vista Theatre in Silver Lake. While the group is sitting with a sold-out crowd that’s going crazy for the Bill Murray cameo scene, word comes from Blake that Zombieland is destined for a first-place $25 million opening. “I’m so frickin’ happy right now,” says screenwriter Reese. “It’s probably the happiest I’ve been in my entire life.”
Photo Credit: Zombieland: Glen Wilson; Red Carpet: Charbonneau/WireImage.com