Despite being a movie featuring countless zombies, including an undead tiger, one special effect in Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead stands out for being particularly peculiar. In an interview with Vulture, actress, and comedian Tig Notaro explained how strange it was to completely digitally replace an actor in the upcoming Netflix action film, acting out almost her entire role by herself.
Moviegoers who’ve been paying attention to Snyder’s Army of the Dead may remember that Notaro’s role (a helicopter pilot who joins Dave Bautista’s heist crew) was originally given to comedian Chris D’Elia.
After D’Elia was accused of soliciting porn from underage teenagers (an accusation the actor still denies), the production crew behind Army of the Dead was left with a difficult question: How do they replace an actor when reshoots would be financially difficult and a pandemic makes it unsafe to gather actors back together?
The answer was to bring on Notaro, in what was a pretty unusual role for the 50-year-old, and have her film her scenes entirely against greenscreen and receive weapons training over Zoom calls.
“I did firearm training over Zoom in my office while my children were playing Lego in the next room,” she says. “I hid it from them, not because they’d get hurt but because I didn’t want them to think I had a machine gun.”
Notaro is understandably very different physically from the taller D’Elia, which made framing the reshoots an interesting challenge.
“I had to do this incredibly technical experiment, re-creating every scene, shot for shot,” Snyder says. “My visual-effects supervisor, Marcus Taormina, did the work of taking Chris completely out of the movie so Tig could have freedom [to move] within the scenes.”
The crew effectively recreated entire sets with Notaro’s character using greenscreen and green props. Notaro also had to match the pace and tone of her dialogue to what was originally recorded so other actors looked like they were reacting realistically.
“They’d line up a piece of tape on the ground and say, ‘Okay, you’ve fallen in line with a group of people. You’re walking into a building,’ ” Notaro said. “I’d be like, ‘Is it kind of a mosey? Okay, I’ll mosey.’ Then Zack might say, ‘That’s a little too fast with the moseying,’ and we’d start over again.”
One of the film’s most difficult shots involved Notaro flying a helicopter while Bautista fought a zombie right behind her, a scene he’d shot a year earlier.
“That’s where I’m like, ‘I am not a trained actor,’ ” she says. “I had to be yelling lines, I have a zombie in the back of my helicopter, I have to press the right buttons and flick the right switches. You’re sitting there with all these adults standing ten feet away while you’re alone, acting like you’re crashing. I thought, Oh my God, I feel like an idiot. Can we be done with this?”
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To acknowledge the awkwardness of the whole situation, and to recognize Notaro’s efforts in a difficult situation, Snyder presented Notaro with a fake Oscar award for “Best Out-of-Focus Actor.”
If you can’t wait for Snyder’s Army of the Dead, the good news is that starting on May 14, 250 Cinemark locations will play it a week before its May 21 Netflix launch date. This isn’t the first time Snyder has touched the zombie genre, but he told reporters during a set visit that he’s hoping to deconstruct the action genre in a way similar to his Dawn of the Dead remake.
Joseph Knoop is a writer/producer for IGN.