The cast of Jim Jarmusch’s new film, The Dead Don’t Die, is stacked: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloë Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Iggy Pop, Selena Gomez, RZA, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover — the list goes on. It’s an improbable ensemble for an off-kilter genre take. The Dead Don’t Die is set during a zombie apocalypse caused by polar fracking, with the zombies roaming in search of what they valued in life (Wi-Fi, chardonnay, coffee).
Jarmusch’s film is also self-aware in how it employs zombie movie tropes and moviemaking tactics in general. In an interview with Polygon, Driver (between performances of Burn This on Broadway and the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) and Sevigny (who’d just premiered her third short film, White Echo, at Cannes) spoke about the layers to the film, as well as the ending of Game of Thrones, communing with the dead, and GIFs.
[Ed. note: Mild spoilers for The Dead Don’t Die follow.]
Polygon: I’ll start with the end of the film. The idea that it’s kind of metatextual kicks in pretty early with Ronnie saying, “Oh, [‘The Dead Don’t Die’] is the theme song,” and then it really comes full circle.
Adam Driver: I really carped with Chloë earlier, because she said that, and I’m like, “Spoiler! Fucking Chloë!” Because it’s not till the end of the —
Chloë Sevigny: It is in the beginning, because you talk about the theme song! That’s what she’s saying! See?
Driver: OK, well, then I just spoiled ...
Well, I was going to talk about the ending, because your character goes, “I’ve read this script and I know what’s going to happen.” I was wondering if these meta levels were something that you guys kind of discussed at all.
Sevigny: We didn’t discuss it, but for me it was very appealing. I love that. I also love movies about making movies so that had that underlying— you really kind of step back and you’re like, “Oh!” They’re all, or [to Driver] you’re aware of it. It makes you think back over it in a different way.
Driver: Yeah, similar. It wasn’t something that we discussed, but I always find that stuff appealing. With anything, even with theater, sometimes I like it when people take a step back from what it is they were doing and remind you that it’s all artificial, or showing you the mechanics behind it. I’m trying to think of that Scorsese documentary — oh, The Last Waltz — where there’s this shot where they cut to them and they’re both looking at the camera ready to start talking, as if they’re like catching them in conversation, and he kept it in, this kind of moment where you’re seeing the mechanics behind that. It’s only a second, and then you’re immediately transported back in. I like moments like that.
I guess that Mindy was just written as never being aware of that extra layer?
Sevigny: Yes, and he apologized that she’s like the trope of the damsel in distress and the scream queen, and I will say that I kind of bumped up against that a little bit. As much as I want to be in Jim Jarmusch film, I thought, “Oh, can’t there be another level to her?” And then, funny enough, on set, I found that, more and more, as we went along, like I was afraid, he’s like, “She’s not any sort of feminist.” But I think the tenderness that she brings out in Bill, and how real and alive she makes the situation is — I don’t know, I think she comes off as stronger than I anticipated.
Driver: I thought Chloë was really funny because she’s the only one playing what everyone would naturally probably do, and playing it well.
Sevigny: But then I had a great fear that I was just going to look ridiculous if I’m doing something different than everybody else is doing ... ish. Do you know what I mean?
Driver: Yeah. But, on the outside, that’s what made it really funny.
Speaking of meta, there’s what I understand to have been an off-the-cuff moment with a Star Wars keychain.
Driver: Oh, you know more than me.
Sevigny: Yeah, I think it was in the moment. I wasn’t going to correct you on a TV interview, but I felt like —
Driver: Oh, no.
Sevigny: — “I don’t want that happening.”
I read that Jim hasn’t seen any of the Star Wars movies.
Driver: He hasn’t, no, adamantly refuses to.
Sevigny: Not even the first three?
Driver: No, he hasn’t seen them.
Sevigny: Really! Huh. I was Princess Leia for Halloween once. Just to make this about me and Star Wars. “Let’s talk about Chloe.”
Do you remember when?
Sevigny: My brother was a stormtrooper; I was Princess Leia. I think I was 6? I have photos.
So you were a fan of the original trilogy while you were growing up?
Sevigny: I had an older brother, so I had to be. Whatever he was into, I was into. Piranhas. I raced BMX. Gerbils. Whatever he was into, it passed on to me.
Driver: Oh, I thought you meant like gerbil racing.
Sevigny: No, we bred them incidentally, as one does, when one gets more than one. They just multiply. That’s nothing to do with Star Wars.
Have you seen any of the new ones?
Sevigny: Just the classics.
Driver: These are the people I surround myself with. Unsupportive.
I was actually going ask about one other thing that I know that you watch; you’d mentioned that because you were at Cannes, you’d missed the Game of Thrones finale. Have you caught up since then?
Sevigny: I have watched it and I am thinking about signing the petition. [laughs]
Driver: What petition?
Sevigny: There’s been this fan petition and they’ve raised over a million signatures. They want them to reshoot the finale.
Driver: Oh, come on.
Sevigny: But you can’t please anyone, anyway. But I will say, and I think it’s all right to say, that as soon as they got ahead of the books, it just took a turn for the worse. I’d give them an A for effort, but how can you be the mind of —
Driver: Oh, they wrote the series ahead of the books?
Sevigny: Yeah. They got ahead of the books, and then as soon as that happened, the intensity —
Driver: But is it the same guy writing?
Sevigny: No. [The original author is] George R.R. Martin. Yeah.
Driver: Oh. They don’t — well, we don’t have to make this about that.
So you don’t watch it at all?
Driver: I haven’t seen it, no.
Sevigny: And then I was like, “Wow, nobody’s even talking about it. It must not have been that, you know.” Even looking at my phone, there was nothing. I was like, “All right, I guess I didn’t really miss anything anyway.”
Driver: About what?
Sevigny: About the finale! It took me a week till I could watch it. I did run into King Robert. Not King Robert. What was the one? Robb Stark, in Cannes. Richard Madden. Oof! Hot!
Sevigny: I got a photo with him! Oh, that Red Wedding, goddamn.
How would you have ended the series? Who did you want on the Iron Throne?
Sevigny: I thought it’d be no one. Also, that dragon definitely would’ve killed Jon Snow. I mean, come on, you’re going to burn everything else, but the guy that killed your mom, you’re just going to let him walk away? B.S. I call B.S.
On a slightly less metatextual note, I was wondering what you guys came up with as to the relationship between your characters. They clearly have a fondness for each other.
Sevigny: Actually, someone mentioned that the other day in another interview, she was like, “I think that your character liked Bill, because she said, ‘The handsome one,’ and she says, ‘The older one?’” Is that true? I was like, “I dunno, you’re reading into this or somethin’. You’ve got some daddy issues or something, I don’t know.”
Driver: Yeah, I don’t remember that.
Sevigny: We did speak a little bit about our backstory. Didn’t we?
Driver: A little, yeah, I think. Well, I mean, we can say we did.
Sevigny: Yeah, we did. I remember us talking about it. We played what was on the page, for the most part.
Driver: I think we left it open of what the potential — I think it was supposed to, well, maybe not “supposed to,” but the question of, had this zombie apocalypse not happened, would they have gotten together?
Ronnie reacts to the zombie apocalypse very coldly and practically, whereas Mindy, again, does have that much more human reaction. Based on the fact that [Sevigny’s] short film had a very supernatural vibe to it, and just the vibe of these characters, what your own relationship to the supernatural is?
Driver: Oh, you mean in life, like what do I feel about the supernatural? I’ve actually been talking about this a lot. I’m very scared of ghosts. I think there’s totally — in our theatre, I’m doing this play right now at the Hudson Theatre, and it’s the oldest active Broadway house in New York. The couple that owned it had an apartment above the theatre, and we asked if we can go in the apartment, and they were like, “I dunno, every time you go into the apartment, somewhere in the [theatre] floods.” And we went into the apartment as a cast, and soon after that, a pipe broke in my dressing room and started flooding in the ceiling. Keri Russell’s in her dressing room, somehow bubbles came up and no one could figure out how that happened. I totally believe in all those ghosts. You know, when you go apartment hunting in New York City and you walk into a place and you’re like, “No! No to this place,” right away?
Sevigny: Yep. Vibes.
Driver: Yeah, you get bad vibes. But other than that, people are OK, I’m fine with that, but ghosts freak me out.
Sevigny: I feel like I have — I don’t even want it, but I have this Catholic force field up, so they don’t really bother me, but I do believe in them and the supernatural in general. I have a lot of friends that have practices and, one might say, gifts, and I fully believe in their powers. I play Ouija with some of these girls and that’s kind of what my short film is based on, and their relationship to the supernatural and to their powers.
Driver: I’ve never done Ouija. I should try that for experience.
Sevigny: I don’t think men are as open to it as us ladies.
Driver: What is that supposed to mean?
Sevigny: Just in general!
Driver: You think that men are — like, they don’t get it, or because they’re skeptical, nothing works?
Sevigny: Because they’re skeptical. Yeah, they’re not as open.
Driver: Yeah, but here I am, saying that I believe that I believe in ghosts.
Sevigny: Then you should try it! Get a little sewing circle together.
Is there anyone in particular you would try to contact?
Driver: Is the Ouija board is to try to contact somebody, or is it just —
Sevigny: To commune with the dead.
Driver: I thought it was just asking questions.
Sevigny: Well, you’re asking if anyone’s there, and then whoever —
Driver: Oh, there’s instructions, like a set?
Sevigny: Kind of, yeah.
Driver: I don’t know about anything. I don’t know about Game of Thrones ...
Sevigny: There’s thing you’re supposed to do when you open the board, and then you have to close the board, because if you don’t close it, then whoever comes through it is left lingering.
Sevigny: Watch my short, it’ll tell you all about it.
I’ve read that Jim usually communicates through writing letters; is that how both of you initially found out about this film?
Driver: No. Initially for Paterson, yes, because it was already written, I think, but this one, I kind of knew about it after Paterson because he was writing it. We were talking about it, he’s like, “I think it’s going to be this.” As the months went on I’m like, “Oh, OK, it’s this, and we’re trying to do it then.” That’s how, this one, I found out about it.
Sevigny: I had recently moved, so Carter Logan, the producer, had emailed me saying, “Jim wants to send you a letter, what’s the best address?” So then I knew a letter was coming, and I was waiting with bated breath, just like, “Oh God, I hope he asks me to be in a fucking movie.” [laughs] And he did. So I received the letter, and we talked a little bit about it and then he asked if he could send me a script and I wrote him back and, yeah. It was an exchange, a formal exchange. Mutual praise and adoration.
Do you remember the first times, respectively, that you met Jim?
Sevigny: [simultaneously] No.
Driver: Oh. [laughs] We gotta agree on something. You don’t remember the first time you met Jim?
Sevigny: I don’t, because the first time I worked with him was 2000, or maybe it was even 1999, when we made a short film together. I can’t remember where we met.
Driver: I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it’s a very popular restaurant downtown. That’s the first —
Driver: ... Maybe.
Sevigny: I know I’ve had lunch with him there and that’s why I said it.
Driver: Maybe it was. I remember he — well, I don’t want to blow up his spot, but it’s just about a memory, so — he came in and had gold stuff on his lips, and I didn’t know if that was like ... I had never met him before, I didn’t know if it was something. And we talked for a good 15, 20 minutes, and then he went to the bathroom and came back, he’s like, “I had gold stuff on my lips the entire time! It’s these minerals that I had been drinking.” And I’m like, “I didn’t want to say anything.” It seemed like gold lipstick. I didn’t know if it was a thing. But that was the first time. I remember that. Maybe that’s why that sticks out in my mind, but also, no, I’d loved his movies. I was really excited to meet him.
Do you guys still keep in contact with him when you’re not working on something?
Driver: Oh, yeah.
Through letters, I assume?
Driver: Carrier pigeons.
Sevigny: Actually I text.
Driver: Yeah, we text each other a lot.
Does he use emojis?
Driver: Yeah, a lot of emojis.
Sevigny: And GIFs.
Sevigny: Like, Wednesday Addams dancing. You know, things Jim might be into.
The Dead Don’t Die is now playing in theaters.