Years in the works, and made on a dime, “Deadpool” cleared no shortage of hurdles to become an R-rated sensation. Even though they were limited about what other Marvel characters they could use, and had to scale back the action sequences, Tim Miller‘s movie was a resounding success with audiences and fans. In a recent ninety-minute talk on The Q&A Podcast, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick detail the lengthy journey it took to get the movie into production.
During the arduous development process, which started in 2009, they thought that a green light might come after “The Avengers” was a gigantic hit in 2012. They were supposed to hear back after that weekend, and given how well the superhero movie did they assumed they were going to get the go ahead. Instead Fox said no.
“May 2012, ‘Avengers’ came out and we thought, ‘OK, if you’ve ever been primed to say yes to a Marvel property, it’s the day after ‘Avengers’ comes out, cause it made $200 million dollars [on its opening weekend],” Reese explained. “And Monday rolls around and we waited for the good news and instead we got bad news that they had decided our script wasn’t right and they would prefer to introduce him in an ensemble situation instead of a solo film and we were just dead. So we mourned terribly.”
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The writers said that they basically thought the project was over a few times, especially after the ‘Avengers’ news. But a few elements fell into place: support from James Cameron and David Fincher (who were friends with director Tim Miller and would often urge Fox to make the picture), regime change at Fox, and the overwhelmingly positive test footage leak which seemed to seal the deal.
Some point after Cameron and Fincher’s advocacy, Fox told the screenwriters to take another crack at the film, but to draft a PG-13 version of the script. Surprisingly, they both said it wasn’t that different. “Interestingly, it wasn’t as hard as you’d think,” Wernick said. “You take out some of the swear words, you take out some of the sex, the violence is all in how it’s shot so it wasn’t as soul crushing as you’d think. But it lost its teeth a little bit.”
Rheese echoed the sentiment. “If you saw it, you’d be shocked at how similar it was to what you just saw,” he added, noting that every moment had euphemisms for the same R-rated lines of vulgarity, jokes or gags, and they took a “Family Guy” approach wherein all the sex and dirtiness is being alluded to, but you don’t hear the actual words. “But it also felt a little toothless and it felt a little wrong, like a facsimile of the real thing” he elaborated.
Prior to “Deadpool,” the duo landed on the map as the writers of “Zombieland,” which earned attention not just for being a whipsmart take on the genre, but for its casual cameo of Bill Murray, that went over like gangbusters. And they reveal they had more up their sleeve, writing scenes for Matthew McConaughey (who almost said yes), Joe Pesci, Patrick Swayze, Dwayne Johnson, Mark Hamill, and Jean Claude Van Damme, who all said no. “To this day we hear that Van Damme is devastated that he said no, it’s like haunted him for years,” Reese said.
“McConaughey committed for a heartbeat, cause he was friends with Woody Harrelson, but then he read the script and he just didn’t quite get it so we moved on from him,” he added.
Meanwhile, Murray’s reputation for being off the grid until the mood compels him to arrive on set was no different with “Zombieland.” They were two/three days away from shooting it before he signed on. In fact, with the shoot day looming — armed with a backup an alternate scene that they would have shot had no celeb signed on — the writers asked Harrelson, “Who else do you have in your Rolodex?” And he said Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman. And the rest is history (they went out to Bill Murray first who loved the script, but asked them to really beef up the role and give him things to do because the actor loved the overall screenplay).
The movie was a big hit, and a sequel was in demand. However, they had trouble getting it made because the director and cast were all off doing different things, so the writers decided to try and make it as a series for Amazon, and in the pilot, they raided the sequel script for parts. They had kept the same characters and would have recast them all, but Amazon ultimately passed on the series. “We’re never sure why, Reese said, “They talked about their demo and the kind of audiences they were trying to please and how the ‘Zombieland’ crowd was too young for them. I think Amazon prime memberships are more geared towards the head of the household.”
As for the movie sequel, it’s not dead yet. “It’s actually still in development at Sony, they’ve had a couple writers take a crack at it, we’re still exec producers and we’re guiding and helping where we can and I think there’s still very much talk about it, but I think it has to be right,” Reese stressed. “I think all the actors and [original ‘Zombieland’ director] Ruben [Fleischer], all feel like there’s no reason to do it again if we’re not getting it exactly right.”
Check out the full talk with Reese and Wernick right here.