Actress and comedienne Tig Notaro found herself in some of the biggest sci-fi franchises and projects in her career with her recurring role on Star Trek: Discovery and her last-minute addition in Zack Snyder's Army of the Dead. The director and star spoke with Vulture breaking down the process of how Notaro's Marianne Peters was digitally inserted late in production, replacing comedian Chris D'Elia due to June 2020 allegations of predatory behavior.
Army of the Dead follows a team of mercenaries led by Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), who are infiltrating a zombie-ridden Las Vegas to recover vast fortune left behind at a casino vault during the apocalypse. D'Elia was originally cast as the wisecracking pilot named Peters before Notaro ultimately took over the role. It wasn't the first project changed from the #MeToo Movement, where survivors are coming out against their offenders in Hollywood. Director Ridley Scott reshot all of Kevin Spacey's scenes in All the Money in the World, replacing him with Christopher Plummer. Comedian Louis C.K.'s role was also recast in the animated series Gravity Falls.
Snyder recalled the awkward experience casting Notaro. "My brain just went, Wait. Tig. Yes. That's it. [Then] I'm like, 'Do you think she would do this, though?'" he said. "I was so baffled," Notaro said upon finding out, "I felt like there was some sort of misunderstanding." The process would be exhausting, having Notaro shooting all of D'Ella's scenes in front of a green screen before she was digitally inserted. "It didn't seem possible for me to take on what Chris did. We're such different actors and comedians," she said. "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."
When prepping for the role, Notaro recalled the extensive training she had to do. "I did firearm training over Zoom in my office while my children were playing Lego in the next room," she said. "I hid it from them, not because they'd get hurt but because I didn't want them to think I had a machine gun. That lasted probably 20 minutes." Complications did arise given the sizes of the actors, which they couldn't simply copy the actress over D'Ellas as it would look awkward. "I had to do this incredibly technical experiment, re-creating every scene, shot for shot," Snyder said. "My visual-effects supervisor, Marcus Taormina, did the work of taking Chris completely out of the movie so Tig could have freedom [to move] within the scenes."
With the original footage shot in 2019, Snyder and the visual effects team recreated the physical space for Notaro to be in. Her dialogue was dubbed into place with the other actors in the studio at Simi Valley, California. Aside from a half-day shoot with co-star Ana de la Reguera, Notaro's physical interaction with the other characters were either pantomimed or filmed with her assistant Patrick McDonald in a green suit. "They'd line up a piece of tape on the ground and say, 'Okay, you've fallen in line with a group of people. You're walking into a building,'" Notaro recalls. "I'd be like, 'Is it kind of a mosey? Okay, I'll mosey.' Then Zack might say, 'That's a little too fast with the moseying,' and we'd start over again." For more on how Notaro was inserted into a climactic scene while pretending to fly a prop helicopter, how certain scenes required a CG-rendered double, and early online reception of her character once the trailer came out, you can go to Vulture. Army of the Dead is available in select theaters and to stream on May 21st on Netflix.