BRUCE R. MILLER
The “Zombie” films are like time capsules for stars Milo Manheim and Meg Donnelly.
“When we started, we were kids,” Donnelly says. “And it’s interesting how we’ve grown so much with our characters…and how the characters have grown with us.”
When Seabrook High opened, Zed from Manheim was trying to fit in. Seabrook was very traditional; Zed was a zombie football star who became popular even though Seabrook students were wary of outsiders. Donnelly’s Addison, however, warmed to Zed and agreed to join him at a Zombietown party. Flash forward and, in “Zombies 3”, they are a couple who can’t bear to think of college life without each other.
“There’s a very strong underlying theme of acceptance throughout the franchise,” Manheim says. “My character taught me that the way to be truly happy is to beat your own drum and do what you feel like doing. Follow your passion.”
In the second episode, the werewolves were the aliens. Now, in “Zombies 3”, they are aliens.
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“In this one, there’s this idea that you have to have conflict to learn and grow,” Manheim says. “Right now, given the state of the world, we are quite divided. We could use a bit of ‘Zombies 3’ to remind us of that.
Fans who look closely will see that there is a color code in the “Zombie” films: the zombies adopt green; werewolves, purple; blue aliens. Pink is a key color for Seabrook High. “We use this to show how different everyone was before,” says Donnelly. “When they get together, it’s so beautiful.”
Zed spends much of the film worrying about getting into Mountain College, where he could be a key player on the football team. When obvious doors seem closed, he must lean into the idea of being “exceptional”. Which means?
“What makes him exceptional is his love for people,” says Manheim. “He wants everyone to feel accepted and at home. I feel like he’s a pioneer. He stands up for what he believes in.”
So what would be the major of a brain-starved zombie?
“Psychology, because of how much he loves brains,” Manheim laughs.
And Addison? “She’s definitely going to cheerleading,” Donnelly says. “But it’s probably psychology for her too.”
Both teenagers when the first “Zombies” came out, Manheim and Donnelly got to see the entertainment industry from the same perspective. She was a star on “American Housewife”; he played the role of her boyfriend.
“When I look at the Zed in the first movie, the person portraying him is a completely different person than I am today,” Manheim says. “When I look back, I realize we’ve been through so much together. Sounds like this crazy bonding experiment.
After the release of the first film, Manheim participated in “Dancing with the Stars” and finished in second place.
In “Zombies 3”, the students of Seabrook compete for a trophy that looks suspiciously like the “DWTS” award. A coincidence? “Maybe they did it on purpose,” Manheim says.
Now that the film franchise is coming to an end, the two are ready to pursue new ventures.
A college edition could still come, “but ‘Zombies 3’ does a really good job of encapsulating everything we discussed in the first two movies,” Manheim says. “But I have no idea. It’s a new chapter.
And Mountain College? Is this really the coolest school in the zombie/alien/werewolf world?
“I just visited it,” Manheim teases. “It’s awesome.”
“Zombies 3” premieres on Disney+ on July 15.