The cinematic experience isn’t what it used to be. The movie world is dominated by remakes and retreads and sparse originality, not to mention a whole range of various spoilers and leaks that come courtesy of the internet, both of which result in one thing; lack of surprise. The internet sees all, and people are never willing to hold back when it comes to a spoiler. People used to go to the cinema to experience a movie for its basest thrill, to see it before or with friends, to share the experience in their small social circle. But now? Viewers do so to blog and share online, to be the first to say they’ve seen a particular movie, and where some are forgiving and careful with ruining the experience for the masses, others have no such finesse.
Moviegoers love to be shocked and scared, to laugh and experience a ‘holy s***’ moment, but the aforementioned change in culture has more or less taken away this joy — to some extent, anyway. Therefore, when something happens in a movie that no-one saw coming, it’s a true moment of happiness. Surprise in cinema isn’t dead by a long shot, it’s still there in small doses, but in this modern culture nothing is more grin-inducing than a genuine surprise, and one of the few that remains in cinema is the well-placed cameo.
Long since hailed as one of the major moments in any film to feature one, the cameo is always a delight to behold. Stan Lee has practically turned it into an art form with his multiple Marvel movie appearances, Neil Patrick Harris saw a surge in his career after portraying his heinous Harold and Kumar alter-ego, and some say the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters was saved by the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances of the original ghost-busting crew. Bill Murray featured in the latter, appearing as supernatural debunker Martin Heiss, but this wasn’t his first, or most popular, cameo by any means. Murray also featured in 2009’s Zombieland, playing himself in what is hailed as one of the greatest cameos in cinema history, and this week the writers of the movie explained how they secured Murray for the role.
Zombieland writers Rhet Reese and Paul Wernick appeared on AMC’s Geeking Out. During the interview, host Kevin Smith asked them just how they secured the services of one of comedy’s finest actors, Bill Murray. They responded, revealing how Murray came to appear in the movie.
“We were two days away from shooting the scene. We had written an alternate scene with no celebrity, where they just fought a bunch of zombies in this mansion. Paul, to his great credit, doesn’t like to take no for an answer, walked up to Woody Harrelson on the set and said Woody, anyone else, do you have any other ideas? He said two guys. He said Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray, and we were like yes, and yes. But Dustin Hoffman couldn’t do it, but Bill Murray said send me the script. He doesn’t have an email address interestingly, no agent, no manager, it was Woody Harrelson that called him, his buddy.”
So Murray’s appearance was a mixture of luck and good fortune. It’s funny how these things work out. Even though Murray wasn’t necessarily the first choice for the cameo that has since won hearts of millions, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else making the part as memorable as he did. The actor was happy to make fun of himself, providing a hilarious self-deprecating performance and a heart-twinging death scene in just a few minutes of screen time. His role was small but vital, one that will live long in the memory of any cinema fan who witnessed it. It’s hard to imagine the role was also mooted for Joe Pesci at one point, as revealed by Murray himself in an interview with HitFix.
“If I were in it, I would say they wanted Joe Pesci for the part and Woody called me up. I just thought playing yourself as a zombie was irresistible. And I thought Pesci was a fool. Pesci would be a spectacular zombie. Just imagine that guy with super-human zombie powers. He’s already like that. In a way I thought, ‘He missed the boat on this one.'”
Zombieland was one of the horror-comedy highlights of 2009. For a film about the undead, a decades-long cultural phenomenon that was turning slightly, ahem, rotten due to overexposure in multiple films and video games, Zombieland had moments of true heart and warmth, not to mention some unique zombie killing, which provided an exciting and unique spin on the popular premise. Only a year later, the world was introduced to The Walking Dead on AMC, which has since become a cultural phenomenon. Zombies are once again all the rage, and never more popular, but it’s hard to ignore Zombieland and its timing, and the influential impact it had on the genre.
So the cameo is alive and well. Some films may have tainted the whole premise somewhat — Zoolander is one such example, a film that has become iconic for featuring multiple celebrities in minor roles — but in a world where people strive to see or glimpse a cameo, whether during a movie or the increasingly popular mid-credit/end-credit sequences that now provide filmmakers with a teaser trailer right in the running time, the cameo doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. Which is probably a good thing considering people still like to be surprised. Murray’s appearance genuinely had people jumping for joy, and it probably won’t be the last moment to do so.
If you haven’t seen Bill Murray’s cameo, you can watch it below.
Alternatively, Zombieland is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.
[Image via Columbia Pictures]