Interview: Director Jeff Baena and Aubrey Plaza talk Life After Beth
For all the zombie saturation in pop culture and inevitable malaise felt by some (we can throw vampires into the mix as well), there are still some inventive ways to craft a story about the undead.
As it were, Jeff Baena’s Life After Beth has been described by some (well, star Aubrey Plaza, among others involved I’m sure), as a rom-com-zom-dram. Or something like that.
“I think if people are going into it with expectations that it’s just a by-the-book zombie film, they’re in for a surprise,” explained Baena during a roundtable interview in Toronto last month. “Hopefully they are open-minded and willing to experience it as it is. I wasn’t trying to subvert the genre, I wasn’t approaching it as a zombie or genre film; I was approaching it as a relationship film that was dealing with zombie.”
It may sound funny, but Beth is indeed more than anything else a romantic comedy. Zach (Dane DeHaan) grieves over the sudden death of his girlfriend Beth, only to discover that she has returned to life. The only thing is that she isn’t the same girl she was, and she hasn’t yet clued in on the fact that she is dead. Or undead.
“The emotionally trajectory of the movie mirrors going through a break up,” he continued. “I was just attracted to the idea that creates that much cognitive dissonance but at the same time is emotional and funny and heartbreaking and kind of absurd.”
“Most zombie movies are about the kind of larger, higher concept things that happen when zombies attack. This was a very tiny little ten block radius account of that,” explained Plaza who joined Baena for what was at the time their first paired interview in Canada for the film. “I also really liked that you saw someone turn into a zombie. It was a slow burn transformation. For me, it is so appealing as an actor; there are things you can do when you’re not alive.”
Among those things are falling down a lot, knocking over sturdy wooden beach structures, and carrying a stove on one’s back.
“The oven situation is interesting. The prop itself is kind of half of a prop and half of a stove,” said Plaza. “I attempted to lift it the first day and torn my abdominal muscle, but it’s not as bad as it sounds.”
“I think she had an organ burst,” said Baena. That would have been exceptionally troublesome (not just for the pain of course to Plaza), but for the fate of a film that had a script in limbo for nearly a decade and was finally greenlit and given a short time to shoot and a low budget.
“We didn’t have a lot of time and money, wasn’t like this relaxed set, kicking back with friends,” said Baena. “Everyone was professional. We were constantly rushing to make our days and our emphasis was on getting it done. Not that it wasn’t fun, but it was definitely a frantic pace. Having them as friends and [Aubrey] as my girlfriend, we had a shorthand with each other to get things done, so it wasn’t hindrance.” The film also stars John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Cheryl Hines, Paul Reiser, Anna Kendrick, and Matthew Gray Gubler.
“You’re doing independent films, you got to go with the flow, go in there and get it down, and not being a little bitch,” said Plaza, adding “ I’d like to do more of it, I consider myself athletic, and anything physical is fun, but I don’t get to do it enough.”
One thing she had enjoyed was the gradual physical deterioration of becoming a zombie. The pristine and beautiful Beth devolves into a standard zombie (“she’s not unattractive at the end of it,” offered Baena), a process that took a couple hours a day during the later scenes.
“Whenever I look into the mirror, I still see my zombie and that is something that will stick with me until I die.”