Safecracker Dieter gets own adventure in Snyder's 'Army of the Dead' prequel

Matthias Schweighöfer in a scene from "Army of Thieves," which premieres Friday. Photo courtesy of Netflix
1 of 5 | Matthias Schweighöfer in a scene from "Army of Thieves," which premieres Friday. Photo courtesy of Netflix

NEW YORK, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Ludwig Dieter is getting his own romantic comedy/heist flick.

Producer Zack Snyder said he was so impressed with actor Matthias Schweighöfer's initiative and creativity on the set of the zombie heist movie, Army of the Dead, that he decided to give Schweighöfer's safecracker character a solo adventure -- and let the German actor direct it.


The prequel, Army of Thieves, premieres Friday on Netflix.

"He always showed up early, was super-prepared, listened super carefully to everything I was saying and was really, really a student and then he would give me something that I couldn't imagine, more than what was on the page," Snyder told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

Schweighöfer also understood Dieter better than anyone.

"It really made sense and it has paid off," Snyder said of having Schweighöfer direct himself.

Co-starring Nathalie Emmanuel, Guz Khan, Ruby O. Fee, Stuart Martin, Jonathan Cohen and Peter Simonischek, the film is based on a story from Snyder and screenwriter Shay Hatten.


The caper takes place six years before Army of the Dead, which was released on the streaming service in May. It follows bank teller Dieter as he is hired by a mysterious, beautiful woman and goes to work with her team of scoundrels robbing safes throughout Europe.

"It's fun for me to think about the idea that there is going to be a big group of fans that love heist and romantic comedies that are then going to watch Army of the Dead. People who are like, 'I'll never watch a zombie movie,'" Snyder said, adding he thinks horror-shy viewers will watch Dead after seeing Thieves because they need to know what happens next to their hero Dieter.

The idea to mash up genres in yet another way came when the Justice League, Watchmen and 300 filmmaker was talking with Hatten about where else the Army story could go and what other tropes from genre movies they could subvert.

"We wanted to do it in a way that doesn't break you out of the movie and still lets you have fun in the genre," Snyder said.

Schweighöfer, who has helmed numerous films in Germany, said in a separate video-conference with UPI that he idolized Snyder and was thrilled, though cautious, when Snyder first approached him about starring in and directing Thieves.


He remembered thinking: "We have no script yet and when do we want to do this? Where?"

"I was like: 'Oh, my God. This will not happen and I will be really sad.' But after the next meeting, there was a first draft and the rest was history."

He feels honored to have earned Snyder's trust.

"I always dreamt of this and it is so cool to see: 'Hey, they are my friends now. This is a family.'"

In addition to acting and directing the project, Schweighöfer also had to navigate the tension and uncertainty of COVID-19.

"It was a very special time, to be honest," he said, explaining his top priority was keeping his international cast and crew safe and healthy, so they could return to their loved ones back home.

"There was nothing outside. We only had this tiny bubble of filmmakers, actors, cast and crew," Schweighöfer said, describing his collaborators as "open minded, grounded and interested" people.

"No one of the actors drank any alcohol at the time when we were shooting the film. Everyone was super-healthy and focused on the scenes and acting. It was a great time."

Audiences will likely warm to Dieter because he is a character who longs to be useful and appreciated.


"What I loved about the film is, at the end, it's a very clear story about a guy who wants to be loved," Schweighöfer said. "He wants to have someone. He is alone."

Romantic sparks don't immediately fly when Gwen (Emmanuel) and Dieter first meet.

"What I love about this relationship is they have something in common. They have passion and they understand each other," Schweighöfer noted.

Viewers who recently experienced the isolation and boredom associated with the coronavirus pandemic might also relate to Dieter.

"Everywhere in the world, people are lonely and want to have someone near. They want to be someone. They want to count," Schweighöfer said.

"Reality is crazy, at the moment, so come into this universe. You're invited. Jump in and enjoy a ride of two hours and a few minutes and just be somewhere else," he added.

"Hear this wonderful score of Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro and dream big and laugh. Have a good time. Hopefully, you have some popcorn and crazy drinks with sugar."

Schweighöfer thinks viewers should watch both movies more than once to fully experience the world filled with colorful characters that Snyder created.

"The pacing is amazing," he said of Thieves specifically.


"It's fast and there is so much going on in the film and you think, 'I will watch Army of the Dead again.' And you see the arc of Dieter's character in that film. Then, you think, 'Let's watch Army of Thieves again.' When you watch two or three times, you see the layers."

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