The Dead Don't Die stars call director Jarmusch leader of their band
Despite film getting mixed reviews, actors loved working with director Jim Jarmusch
Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die had its world premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival in May as the opening night film.
A zombie comedy was a curious choice to kick off one of the most prestigious and glamorous film festivals, and perhaps the organisers know better now.
Cannes is famous for its standing ovations at premieres that the audiences love. (It is also famous for films that get booed.)
At this year's edition, Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon A Time In Hollywood received applause for seven minutes. The ovation for Elton John musical biopic Rocketman was also long, as the cameras lingered on a weeping John and star Taron Egerton.
The Dead Don't Die?
Maybe the mixed-to-negative reaction of critics was because the movie - which opens here on July 18 - is neither a full-blown satire criticising the Trump presidency as advertised, nor does it get right down into the horror genre and deliver genuine scares.
Centerville, USA, is experiencing weird stuff. "Polar fracking" is causing unusual daylight hours, strange animal behaviour and fritzing electronic devices. Earth is off its axis and zombies are rising from graves and overrunning the town, biting people in horrific visuals and creating more zombies.
Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloe Sevigny are cops summoned to save the town, with an assist from the samurai sword-wielding mortuary cosmetologist played by Tilda Swinton.
Iggy Pop is a zombie, Selena Gomez is one of a trio of "urban hipsters" (so-called because no one in this one-horse town wears short shorts or talks millennial), and Steve Buscemi is a racist sporting a Keep America White Again hat, the most overt reference to the current political situation in the US.
The day after the premiere, Murray, Swinton and Sevigny - who have all worked with Jarmusch prior and co-starred in his 2005 comedy-drama Broken Flowers - sat down for an interview at a beachside pop-up restaurant on the Croisette called Nikki Beach.
When asked how the project came to her, US actress Sevigny, 44, said: "Jim sent me a handwritten letter talking about a ridiculous zombie picture that he wanted to make and asked if I would be interested. And then this correspondence started back and forth, handwritten, very romantic. And then he sent me the script and that was it. Very straight up."
KUDOS FO DIRECTOR
Scottish actress Swinton, 58, added: "He said, 'Let's make a zombie film', so I was in a long time before there was the script. But if he said to me, 'Let's make a musical', I would be in, and he doubtless will sooner or later."
US actor Murray, 68, wisecracked: "He never told me it was a zombie movie. I saw it yesterday for the first time."
Jarmusch's specific voice as a film-maker has a lot to do with his being a musician too, according to Swinton.
"Like any great musician, he knows what he wants, but he also knows that he needs other musicians to jam with. And so he comes with his equipment and his sheet music and he says, 'Okay, let's rock, and I need you to help me do this'. So he's a great fearless leader of a band."
Murray, of course, makes a joke of the question about Jarmusch's cinematic voice.
"His voice. Well, it's a sort of a quiet voice, it's very sure. But even though he says, 'Oh, I don't know, this is probably not very good', that's a kind of false modesty I find charming," he said.
"It's easy to believe he knows what he's doing because you see what he's done, and the range is so large... He's just nimble, there's no problem on the set that he can't fix."
In The Dead Don't Die, the zombies seek out the things they were fixated on when they were alive, like coffee or Wi-Fi.
Murray, who incidentally portrayed an isolated fictionalised version of himself who regularly disguised himself as a zombie to walk safely around an infected Los Angeles in 2009's Zombieland, has his take on what he would do if that happened.
"I don't really have an addictive personality so there's nothing that I really have to have so much. I just wouldn't hang out with (the zombies), it's like a clique that I wouldn't be involved with."
As for Sevigny, she related to the zombie in the movie who was a fashionista. "I felt a tinge of relatability there, but yes, I do maybe have a vintage clothing addiction. Filling the void sometimes with a mindless kind of thing is pleasurable for me, maybe too much," she said.
The writer is the chair of the board of directors of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a non-profit organisation of entertainment journalists that also organises the annual Golden Globe Awards.