The cast of Army of the Dead has nothing but praise for their director Zack Snyder. The filmmaker who was previously at the helm of Man of Steel and Dawn of the Dead tapped a diverse roster of actors to play characters equipped with unique skill sets for a mission set in a post-apocalyptic Las Vegas. While Snyder has a reputation for having a very clear vision for every shot of his films, let alone the over-arching stories of them all, there is much more to him on his films' sets. Army of the Dead stars Omari Hardwck, Matthis Schwieghöfer, and Nora Arnezeder spoke with ComicBook.com in exclusive interviews where each of them shared what it was about Snyder which stood out for them.
"He definitely is collaborative. I want start with that one," Hardwick said. Hardwick's first film was Sucker Free City under the direction of Spike Lee, an educational starting point for him under such a renowned director, which taught him lessons which he brought to Snyder's movie. "Now, I bring my career up, what 17 years? And now you have Zack Snyder working with me, at that point 16 years," he explained. "But now that the film is coming out 17 years later, you get Zack Snyder proving the point made by Spike Lee in movie number one, which is, and I asked Spike, 'What is directing? What's the real gift?' And Spike said, 'Well, 90% is who you hire."'I said, '90%?' '90% who you delegate, cast, crew included.' He said it flippantly. Threw it out and kept walking in the streets of San Fran."
While such a point seemed trivial to Hardwick's first director, the actor has since seen the value in surrounding yourself with people you trust. "Well, now you land onto Zack, and Zack feels and smells of the same same aura," Hardwick said. "His essence is that of, 'Hey, I delegated, so I'm not going to spend long hours overly directing people that know what they're doing. And we have some new actors to the set. Then perhaps I'll spend a little bit more time getting them where they need to be gotten. But if somebody knows what they're doing after included, why am I going to spend our day doing that?' So you first and foremost learned that, which makes you go home at night and go, 'Okay, he's got confidence in my bag of gift. So why should I go and be any different than his confidence in me? I remain confident.'"
As time goes on on the set of Army of the Dead, Hardwick and the cast develop a rhythm together thanks to the freedom and trust provided by their director. "You go back to work on, you know, week number four and he's given you that, and now there becomes this opportunity for you to build upon," Hardwick explained. "For example, the relationship that I built with Matthias' Dieter. You get to build upon that and he collaboratively allows you improvisational moments, ad lib, do whatever you may. Find some stuff, don't go so far in from the script, let's stick to the story, but you guys give me what you will. And again, that goes back to delegation. Spike was right. Zack has proven it, and Zack is a guy that I'd forever work with. I'll go to battle with him, literally and figuratively, and again on any job in the future, man. Zack has Omari if he needs me. He knows that. I love him. What an incredible ride."
Dieter actor Schweighöfer has plenty to add, focusing on the human element of Snyder. "His vision and especially his big heart and that he's like... You can touch him. He's there. The whole time, he's there. And he's there for you," Schweighöfer said. "It's crazy, because you can talk to him. He takes his time, and he's going to stand there and wait till you're finished, and then he says, 'No, we will not do like this.' Or he would say, 'That's a great idea. Let's do it. Does that make sense? It's a great idea.' He always says, 'Does that make sense?'"
Schweighöfer, for example, had an idea on the set to ad lib a moment where his character busted out a little dance move. At the time, Snyder told him that he didn't see his character doing something like this. Snyder gave him the freedom to do what he thought was best as an actor and the moment ultimately made the cut of Army of the Dead.
"He grabs his camera, and then he keeps on shooting as a DOP and a director," Schweighöfer said. "And every day was... It's really crazy. Okay, I'll tell you something, because last week, because I'm finishing my movie now. I did the prequel for Army, and I saw a shot Zack did from Army of the Dead when he holds the camera. And it was a seven minute scene, eight minute scene. It was so interesting how every second was planned and the movement and the choreography and the vision. And I thought like, 'Oh my God. He's amazing. He's great.'"
For Arnezeder, who checks into the film as a hardened warrior and leader in the form of Lily, working with Snyder was a surprise as she did not know he was directing Army of the Dead when she got the part after auditioning with videos recorded on an iPhone. "I didn't realize it was Zack Snyder," she said. "So I went through my emails, and I realized it was him directing it. We didn't really talk about the character so much. I had him briefly on the phone while I was in Paris, and he was in Albuquerque prepping."
After working with him on the set of this Netflix film, Arnezeder got to know Snyder's style. "Zack is a director who really trust his actors' instincts," she said. " He gives a lot of freedom to his actors, which was beautiful. I love working that way. I love working when I feel that there's no such thing as mistakes. You know what I mean? So that was a lot of fun. Also, no marks on the floor, handheld camera, freestyle. He followed his actors, and the actors didn't follow the camera. It's a very different dynamic, which is really amazing for an actor."
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Army of the Dead hits Netflix on May 21 and opens in select theaters on May 14.