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Danny Boyle didn’t exactly subscribe to the Romero school of zombies before helming the 2002 horror hit 28 Days Later. “I was on the fence about zombies, to be honest,” he told Yahoo Entertainment during a recent Director’s Reel interview. “I found them a bit daft. And I used to joke, ‘You can just walk away from them. Why does everyone panic? A quick-tempo walk and you’re free! It’s not a problem.'”
So after screenwriter Alex Garland, an enthusiast of the undead whose novel The Beach Boyle had adapted for the big screen two years earlier, brought the director and producer Andrew Macdonald a project about “running zombies,” Boyle was swayed. The post-apocalyptic creatures were a far cry from the lumbering horde in the Night of the Living Dead films. The 28 Days Later flesh eaters not only were fast, but punishingly strong, too — something that, per Boyle, had a surprising inspiration.
“I’d had a relationship a long, long time ago with a ballet dancer,” he explained. “It was incredible, this body! It was so muscular. It was on a different planet. And I remember thinking, ‘If we could put that into the zombies, that would be really scary.’ The power in the arms, they can pull you. They can literally tear you apart.”
Boyle was also influenced by a London agency he discovered that hired retired athletes and gymnasts for corporate gigs. “They used to employ them to go and tumble and open supermarkets in Korea and places like that. And I got them in for this workshop where they would pretend to assault us at great speed. And it was really shocking. You couldn’t do anything about it. You couldn’t run away. You couldn’t be defensive. They were just a mightier force. So that lead to the idea to get the zombies to not just run, but have the physique of athletes and have this power as they march forward.”
[Editor’s note: A version of this story was originally published in March 2017.]
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