Fans of zombie movies will like Army of the Dead. Fans of heist movies will like Army of the Dead. If the ‘zombie heist’ genre didn’t exist before—and I don’t really think it did!—it definitely does now, following the release of Zack Snyder’s massive scale, super fun Netflix blockbuster (which is already establishing its own interconnected cinematic universe). Part of what makes this hybrid mash-up so fun, though, is how it seems to pull character archetypes from these long-established genres that it pulls from. Whenever a movie in one of these worlds—whether its Snyder’s previous zombie movie Dawn of the Dead or something like Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven—there’s always one of those characters who’s damn cool, pretty aloof and distant, and super funny, while still being an integral member of the movie’s primary team. And in Army of the Dead, that role is filled masterfully by Tig Notaro, as the ever-resourceful and minimal-questions-asked pilot, Marianne Peters.

Notaro shows up fairly early in the movie in a position that essentially grants her plot-based immunity from the surrounding zombies and gunfire—because our heroes have to have a way to escape the madness, right? She plays the role in an impossibly cool manner, spouting one-liners and shooting IDGAF looks from behind her aviator sunglasses all movie long, while seemingly caring very little about entering a zone inhabited mostly by living dead. It’s more important for her character—and, in kind of a meta, fourth wall-breaking way, the viewers’ enjoyment of the movie—to have her character be that sort of winking, fun person.

And if you’d believe it, Notaro wasn’t even originally supposed to be in the movie. She was only cast in the role officially last August—and if you think that sounds like a remarkably fast turnaround for a movie of this size and scale, you’d be right. Notaro joined the movie once filming had already been completed (she watched a cut of the movie before even deciding she wanted to appear in it), and did most of her work directly with Snyder. “I’ve never met Dave Bautista in my life,” she said about the movie’s star, with whom she shares many scenes, during a recent interview with Stephen Colbert. “I’ve never met the man.”

Tig Notaro wasn’t originally supposed to be in Army of the Dead

When the movie was originally shot, the character of Peters was played by stand-up comedian Chris D’Elia. But when D’Elia was accused of sexual misconduct, Snyder acted quickly to remove this problem from his movie. “It was pretty instantaneous,” he said in an interview with Uproxx. As soon as it got brought to me and they were like, ‘This is the thing,’” I was like, ‘Well, that’s problematic. We’re going to have to do something.’”

Snyder continues in the Uproxx interview to talk about how difficult this process was, mainly because when the movie originally filmed—pre Covid-19—using real, available light. Months later, he was forced to recreate these moments in a sterile, green screen studio. “It was an awesome exercise,” he said. “And Tig is awesome.”

As far as the process of actually replacing D’Elia with Notaro, there’s a fantastic Vulture piece that gets into way more detail with both Snyder and Notaro than we’ll get into here. Army of the Dead isn’t the first major movie to pull a maneuver like this, but due to the team nature of Army of the Dead, Snyder’s task was harder; because of the large cast, it would’ve been logistically impossible to bring everyone back for reshoots. That’s where the green screen comes in.

Perhaps the most interesting part of all of it is how Snyder landed on Notaro to take over the role from D’Elia. While both have backgrounds in stand-up, Notaro’s style is drier and more sarcastic, while D’Elia has always been a bit more bro-ey and blatant. When Snyder’s casting director suggested Notaro for the role, he knew it was the right pick all along. “My brain just went, Wait. Tig. Yes. That’s it,” he says in the Vulture piece.

Notaro was confused that Snyder, known for his huge superhero movies like Zack Snyder’s Justice League, wanted her. “I was so baffled,” she said “I felt like there was some sort of misunderstanding.” But she was up for the challenge. And since Snyder showed her a nearly-finished cut of the movie, she also saw the performance that she would be replacing.

“It didn’t seem possible for me to take on what Chris did,” she told Vulture. “We’re such different actors and comedians. I honestly thought, regardless of what’s going on in his personal life, that his performance was excellent. But Zack said, ‘We want you to do exactly what you do.’ And, in turn, that’s all I did.”

And in the end, she did what she did—and nailed it in the process.

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