In Z for Zachariah, the end of the world is also the beginning. After a nuclear war wipes out civilization, one man and one woman find themselves in a position that feels very Biblical — they very well might be the only survivors left, a post-apocalyptic Adam and Eve … that is, until their twosome becomes a party of three.
Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) plays a scientist who stumbles upon a valley that, because of its specific conditions, was spared the fate of the rest of the world. Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) is a young woman surviving there on her own, and Star Trek’s Chris Pine is the third party who stumbles into their metaphorical Eden.
The film, directed by Craig Zobel (Compliance), opens in theaters and on demand this Friday. Ahead of its release, Zobel and Ejiofor spoke to EW about the movie’s post-apocalyptic love triangle, changes from the book its based on, and if they could survive the end of the world.
Whenever I read a post-apocalyptic book, or see a movie like this one, I always wonder if I’d survive in that kind of world. Did you give any thought to that while making the film?
CRAIG ZOBEL: Yes, certainly. I think that’s what’s attractive about the genre. I don’t know how I’d fare — I’m not built for it, probably — but it’s the escapism of thinking about it that’s fun.
CHIWETEL EJIOFOR: I don’t think I have it in me, surviving a post-apocalyptic event is probably not in my skillset. But the themes of this story and the way that it’s brought about … I could probably figure it out somehow. But there wouldn’t be the paternalistic element that [my character] Loomis brings, because he knows all this stuff.
Fans of the book might be surprised to see a third character was added. Can you talk about the reasons for doing that?
CZ: Nissar Modi, the writer, added the character of Caleb [played by Pine] prior to me reading the screenplay but — and I read the book after I read the screenplay — I had no desire to take out that character. I thought that actually helped more fully illuminate what I thought was fascinating [about the story].
Three people is still a very small cast for a film. Was that challenging?
CE: I was really excited by it. I’d been thinking a lot about that, just over the years, doing a two-hand or three-hand and this sort of being both was very intriguing, because you’re kind of allowed to explore a number of different themes and also to work on the interpersonal, nuanced relationships of people and allow that to create all the dramatic tension. It’s challenging but it’s so satisfying as well.
I thought the sort of nuanced way that this relationship was building [between Loomis and Anne] before the arrival of Caleb was very honest, quite raw, they’re trying to sort of figure each other out — and he’s obviously sort of older and more fearful than she is of finding himself in a bad relationship with the last woman on the planet, which would be horrific as a concept.
Can you talk about how you and Margot formed the relationship between Loomis and Anne, and how that changed when Caleb entered the picture?
CE: I didn’t know Margot before, so when she arrived in New Zealand [where the film was shot] — it was the first time I’d met her, and that was great because it meant we were starting from the same place as these characters, trying to figure out who we were and just try to understand each other. And I think we very quickly started to bond in terms of this story and in terms of people, and as we started to get into a run of the thing, then we could really play some of those scenes that are in the first half with a kind of real abandon … and then Chris turns up as Caleb and disrupts that little kind of bubble that we created with a completely different energy.
CZ: He didn’t come until later in the production, so we had some time where it was just Margot and Chiwetel and it kind of tracked with the film.
One of the other things I found interesting was how even when you take everything out of the world, these issues of religion, science, and race are all still there.
CZ: What I think is fascinating is when it’s just two of you and you may be the last two people, you’re able to move past things pretty fast if there’s disagreement, because we might be the last two people, so I think there’s certainly a capacity to accept things. But then once there’s three people, these older dynamics start coming back.
CE: Everything creeps back slowly. In the case of Loomis, he becomes minoritized, and I think as soon as somebody becomes minoritized — both in race and religion — it’s a loss of a power structure. … I think Caleb would recognize that it somehow gives him a slightly more powerful position that him and Anne, for example, have this shared faith concept and share a race — which is mainly Loomis’ issue, and that becomes an insecurity [for him], naturally — but so then all of these elements sort of goverment, justice, ethical and moral power plays all just sort of flood back into the system.
You can see a clip from Z for Zachariah below.
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