Zombies have, over the last several years, been spun off into all sorts of big screen scenarios and situations. In director Joe Dante’s “Burying the Ex,” however, Max (Anton Yelchin) discovers that if there’s anything worse than a zombie, it might just be your ex-girlfriend as a zombie — in his case, the still-clingy Evelyn (Ashley Greene). For ShockYa, Brent Simon had a chance to visit the independent production’s Los Angeles set in December, as it was winding down principal photography, to observe a day’s shooting and chat with some of the cast and crew. His conversation with erstwhile “Twilight” costar Greene, about the peculiar delights and challenges of playing a scorned female zombie, is excerpted below:

ShockYa: Joe Dante is the type of filmmaker — maybe because of his background with Roger Corman, but it also seems like it’s just part of his DNA — who I feel like I can always see the bigger-budget version of his movies, whether it’s “Gremlins” or “Matinee” or whatever, that spent more money but had a lot less personality and idiosyncratic appeal. How much of a factor was his involvement in attracting you to this film?

Ashley Greene: It definitely brought a lot of confidence to the film, I think, because the horror genre in general is a touchy and scary thing, no pun intended, because it can be very scary — or if it’s supposed to be funny as well it can be funny — or it can just be completely blown out of proportion and a total joke. Having seen Joe’s work, you know he can hit that mark, that he’s well-versed in (bringing a balance to elements), and is really knowledgeable when it comes to film. He knows what he’s doing. And so for me that was one of the huge factors in signing onto this film — along with Anton, because I think you need a talented actor to work off of, who gets things. And I think, like you said, Joe has this simplicity about him that I feel like we’ve lost — he doesn’t need a huge budget and explosions. He knows how to make things funny and how to make things work, and he lets you go back to the building blocks of the character, and allows the actors to really get involved in their characters even though you have this outrageous scenario. It’s been really fun to work with him.

ShockYa: A good portion of the film really charts a sincere love story between Max and Evelyn, I take it — tell me about the level of her obsession.

AG: Evelyn starts out as human, and is very… {pauses} over-bearing, over-protective and kind of a pain in the ass, honestly. She and Max are in this relationship, and she makes that fatal error I think of being so worried about losing Max that she suffocates him and causes him to back away, which causes her to push even harder. It all comes from a place of vulnerability, but you… start to see that they’re not that really compatible. She can’t see that — she just doesn’t want to lose him. So he finally gets the courage to break up with her and she ends up getting hit by a car, meets her fate and comes back as a zombie. And when she comes back as a zombie she’s still Evelyn, but times 10 — she’s lost a bit of her rationality, and any filter, really. So it’s very fun to play — she turns into almost this bi-polar character once she’s a zombie. She has this overwhelming need to have this Stepford Wife-type perfect relationship with Max. It’s an amplification of who she was before, and she becomes so blind to the reality of things with Max that she doesn’t even she that she’s deteriorating. Yes, she knows that she’s dead, but she doesn’t quite [get that] she smells horrible and is horrific to look at. My hope is that the audience will in some way or form sympathize with her a bit, because she’s such a lost soul. But it’s a bit funny, too.

ShockYa: You’re sporting a knee brace there over your pajamas. Have you been knocked around a bit and injured?

AG: It’s more of a precaution. We did a bit of stunt work, but tomorrow and Friday are all fight sequences, so I don’t want to [not be ready]. I used to cheer and dance and all that, so it always tweaks a bit if I don’t pay attention to it, and that would terrible to have that happen on the last two days of the film. I’ve ignored it before, but then had like a week-and-a-half where I literally couldn’t walk on it.

ShockYa: The stuff in the apartment is mostly being shot sequentially, right? Does that help a lot when production is able to shoot things in order?

AG: Yeah, I think it’s very helpful. When you’re filming things can get crazy and sleep hours get short and it’s hard to keep yourself on track. No matter how much prep work you do, when you’re in the room with the crew and the director and writer and your fellow actors, things just happen — and sometimes they’re phenomenal things that happen, and if you’ve already shot something else then you kind of have to live up to that scene you’ve already shot. So it’s a lot more fun to be able to shoot [in order]. It generally never happens — it’s very bizarre, but it’s been pretty cool. I think there’s something comforting about knowing where you’re going to be every day, and what the set looks like. Sometimes you literally don’t know what the set is going to look like until the day you shoot, so it’s nice to have that mental image when you’re prepping your scenes for the next day.

ShockYa: I talked some with (screenwriter Alan Trezza) about how Evelyn’s emotional deterioration tracks with a physical deterioration as well. She’s literally falling apart, the worse things get with Max. Obviously you’re in some rather terrifying make-up here, but what is Evelyn’s self-awareness of that whole process?

AG: I think she thinks it’s great being dead. I think part of it is that she did kind of limit what she could do when she was a human, and put so many rules and barriers in place. When she’s dead and comes back… she does all those things that she never allowed herself to do when she was alive. She thinks that it’s great, she almost has body dysmorphia or something — she thinks (that because) she doesn’t have to sleep and she doesn’t have to eat she’s going to have a great figure. And she can do all these yoga moves that she couldn’t before. So a lot of the comedy [in the film comes from] that. She’s very nonchalant about the whole thing.

ShockYa: Physically, what’s the day-to-day make-up process for you like — and in particular these contact lenses, which are striking but seem like they could be painful to have to wear for extended periods of time?

AG: The make-up process takes about two-and-a-half hours, but it’s not as bad as you would think. The blood is the worst — we have this whole thing, and the special effects guy had to pour it down my shirt for a scene and I started freaking out a little bit, and gagging.

ShockYa: Was it the smell, or the temperature?

AG: It was the feeling. I have this weird thing where I can’t even have damp hair on my body, it’s just a weird quirk about me. I hate it. So when he did that I started getting a bit weird about it. And he was like, “Really? After everything we’ve done to you every day, it’s this (that bothers you)?” But the contacts are a bit challenging, because it’s two pairs of contacts in each eye. So I have to be heavily hydrated, because every half-hour I need a break… Your eyes kind of clip on them a little bit, because they’re denser than what your eyes are used to. But they create this really cool effect so it’s completely worth it. Not these ones, but with the ones from yesterday you have a cloud film contact and put red contacts over it, but it gives me a headache because me eyes are tired and compensating. So it can be rough but I think all things considered, given the process it takes to create this character, I’m doing okay. If it was like every other zombie film that I’d seen then I think I wouldn’t probably be as tolerant of the whole thing, no matter how much I tried, but it’s so interesting, the make-up that Gary (Tunnicliffe) does. He’s very detail-oriented, and it looks so cool. I keep looking at myself in the mirror because there’s so much going on. (laughs) I’m really happy with it.

ShockYa: I remember when Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake came out, there was this whole debate about fast zombies versus slow zombies, and zombie films more broadly — the rules of them, and what behaviors zombies exhibit. As Evelyn, you’re a zombie, but just going on about your life. Is the manifestation of zombiedom in “Burying the Ex” mainly just about strength and —

AG: — then also deterioration? (laughs) I think … generally what you see with zombies is that you’re bitten, and immediately see the effects of that, of being turned into this mindless drone. With this film (laughs) — it’s funny because I feel like I just did this with vampires and now I’m doing it with zombies — she’s the cutest zombie you’ve probably ever seen, if you can say that. She’s wearing cute little pajamas. The thing you see the most is her physical deterioration. Toward the end I think you do see a bit of a mental deterioration and a loss of rationalization, but you don’t see that drooling, dead-eyed zombie that we’re used to seeing in most zombie films.

ShockYa: So she obviously retains all her higher functions, right?

AG: I think she’s almost more terrifying because she’s a scorned woman zombie. (laughs) She comes back wanting revenge, and acts off of things that [women] actually react off of — jealousy, anger, hurt and fear, vulnerability and loss. She still has all of those personality traits, which almost makes her creepier, because you don’t really know what you’re going to get with her. You just don’t want to piss her off, because you do know that when that happens there are negative effects. She can’t control her temper, really.

ShockYa: I’ve had the chance to see “CBGB” and some of the other indie films you’ve done over the last couple years. Is there an excitement in branching out now, and really mixing it up in terms of differently sized shows, and also genres?

AG: Yes, because I was in this Groundhog’s Day of “Twilight,” really, and every year for five years I was the same character. We did get to have fun with her — different directors came in and had different notes, so it remained fun. I enjoyed it, and it was great for all of our fans in the world, but both they and more particularly everyone in the industry here — that’s all they ever really knew or saw of me, so it’s been fun to get to take on different characters who are generally nothing like the ones I’ve done before. “CBGB” was one — it was this piece of history that has impacted people and been part of their lives, and it’s always fun to tell a story like that, and show people sides of [a story] that they haven’t seen before. Growing up, I remember seeing certain movies and being really affected by them and not even understanding why at first. And I remember thinking, “I want to do that to people.” It’s such a beautiful thing when you get it right. And so I’m kind of interested in playing characters… and seeing if they can impact other people the way certain movies and characters did me. Honestly, that’s how it was with Alice Cullen and “Twilight” as well — she was the character that I gravitated toward most. I just loved her and I didn’t know quite why. I also think accents are very fun. Part of the fun of acting is that element of dress-up — even with something like this {gesturing at pajamas and zombie make-up}, it really puts you into character in a way that other roles may not be able to. Just walking around, it’s very fun to see the reactions people have when they’re not used to seeing you like this.

ShockYa: Those strong feelings as a kid you mentioned — was there a particular type or style of filmmaking or films that you most reacted to?

AG: I reacted to films that were mostly true stories, and films about overcoming hardship — about not being given opportunity, and having to overcome obstacles. For whatever reason… I remember with “Pursuit of Happyness” sobbing in the middle of the theater, sitting in between my mom and dad and trying to cover [it up]. And “North Country,” stuff like that. It’s nice for them to be able, as accurately as possible, to strongly effect people through telling someone else’s life story, these bad but beautiful stories.

ShockYa: You can be thrilled by fantastic sci-fi or action films and caught up in the spectacle, but I feel like there will always be a market for those [types of movies] because people like feelings that have a place of purchase, if that makes sense.

AG: That’s true. Also, it’s probably part of growing up and getting older… but even in this, for instance, a film about a zombie girlfriend who just won’t quit, there are moments where I feel so bad for Evelyn, and wish she could step back and see what she’s doing. Even with stuff like this, I feel like you can find things that make any character real in some way. … No villain thinks they’re the villain. They think that they’re right, because whatever’s been done to them is wrong, and they’re reacting to that.

NOTE: For some of ShockYa’s previous coverage of the visit to the set of “Burying the Ex,” click here: http://www.shockya.com/news/2014/01/23/exclusive-shockya-visits-the-set-of-burying-the-ex/

Written by: Brent Simon


By Brent Simon

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International, Newsweek Japan, Magill's Cinema Annual, and many other outlets. He cannot abide a world without U2 and tacos.

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