Anna and the Apocalypse featured

Interview: ‘Anna and the Apocalypse’ Stars Sarah Swire and Christopher Leveaux on Singing, Dancing and Zombie-Slaying

December 5, 2018Ben MK

The holiday season is upon us, and that can only mean one thing — let the onslaught of Christmas movies begin. But what if you combined the genre with the equally popular, or arguably more so, genres that are the zombie movie and the movie musical?

That's the premise behind Anna and the Apocalypse, a tongue-in-cheek yet surprisingly sincere film that explores just what might happen if a small English town were to be beset by a zombie epidemic just before Christmas break. How would some of the students at the local high school (Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux and Marli Siu) fight back and protect themselves against the hordes of the undead? More importantly, would they have a spring in their step and a song or two in their hearts while doing so?

I sat down with two of the stars of Anna and the Apocalypse, Sarah Swire and Christopher Leveaux, to pick their brains about their roles, their favorite songs from the movie, their other go-to films in the genres, and more.

How did you come to be involved in the project?

Swire: So I met [the director], John [McPhail], a year before at a theatre bar. We were both buying a coffee and then we just randomly started talking to one another. And I was like, "Oh, this man is really lovely." We shook hands, he's like, "I'm John," and I'm like, "I'm Sarah," and he's like, "I hope to see you around." And then a year later, I'm Skype auditioning for this film, and I enter the Skype call and this face pops up on the screen, and I was like, "Oh my God, I know you!" Yeah, so small world.

Leveaux: I just auditioned in the classic way. My agent got me the audition, I did a self-tape. I don't think John was involved at that point. And then, when he was later involved he saw my self tape, and we did some chemistry reads in London. But broadly, I think people were cast over about 7 or 8 months. Ella [Hunt], I think, was probably the first person onboard — or at least, auditioned first. And then they got Malcom [Cumming], who plays John, right towards the end before filming started.

Swire: I had been already cast and hired as a choreographer by that point, and John and I were doing Skype meetings. Yeah, it was down to the wire, and I remember I was working my part-time job and getting an email from him, and he was like, "Do you know this guy?!" And it was a picture of Malcolm, and I was like, "No, I've never worked with him before. But if you trust him and you think that he's right for the part..." And John was like, "I think he's right for the part. He's going to be John. That's John!" Just so funny, yeah.

Do either of you have a musical background? How did you prepare for the musical component of the film?

Swire: Both of us have a degree in musical theatre. [laughs]

Did that make performing the musical numbers any less nerve-racking for you?

Swire: I don't think it ever gets less nerve-racking. I think you just learn to understand how to deal with that level of anxiety and dread, going into it.

Leveaux: And it wasn't traditional musical theatre, in the sense that it's pop music and they wanted it to have that pop feel so that they could then sell the album as a pop album, not just as a musical theatre album.

Swire: [Composers] Tommy [Reilly] and Roddy [Hart] are both very successful, independent rock/pop artists. So them coming into this field of work was them just taking all that know-how and that experience working in that industry and trying to make a really dope pop album.

Do you have a favourite song from the movie?

Leveaux: It changes. Today, it was the last song, which was just a beautiful ballad. But then other days it's the rock songs. It really does have something for every genre and every decade of music.

Swire: I was just so excited to see "What a Time to Be Alive." It's so intense. I guess that's kind of the lucky thing about having people who aren't traditional musical theatre writers writing musical theatre. Cuz they're just gonna write the songs that they wanna hear, and the songs that all their friends wanna listen to, which is our age demographic and all the songs that we grew up listening to and get inspired by.

Leveaux: But there is something about "Hollywood Ending" that is immediately anthemic. The lyrics are easy to learn, the melodies are easy to catch on to. We were performing it at Central Park last week at a musical theatre festival, and the audience knew the song by the end of it and were all just singing and chanting along to it. Even though they'd never heard of Anna and the Apocalypse before. Which I think says something about what that song can do and how it rattles young people.

What's your favorite Christmas movie, zombie movie, and movie musical?

Swire: Ok, my favorite Christmas movie is A Christmas Story. And no one in the UK knows that film, but it's my favorite Christmas film.

Leveaux: I do like Miracle on 34th Street, cuz it's so magical. Anything Christmas, really. I just love that season. [For] a zombie movie — Shaun of the Dead.

Swire: Zombieland!

Leveaux: Zombieland's great as well. And then movie musical — I watched West Side Story last night. It was my first time, it was just so good. But I like La La Land as well.

Swire: I like all of them. [laughs]

Do you prefer the classic musicals or the more contemporary musicals?

Swire: I think it depends. The beauty of the genre of musical theatre is that it is this brilliant usage of the three major performance spheres of movement, music and acting. You can create a story where all three of those components are necessary in telling the narrative and developing an idea of what that universe is, where the story is coming from — but it is very difficult to be able to stitch all those things together.

Do you have any especially memorable moments from making the movie?

Leveaux: It was all predominantly filmed in a school that wasn't being used at that time, so we had the full reign of the school. So that brought us all together. It enabled us to bond, because we were all in the same rooms, we weren't separated in trailers. And that was really the most continuously memorable moment of filming. [Also] "Hollywood Ending," I think, because it's a dream being in a movie musical, as a kid, and jumping on the tables. Like it really is something that I imagined doing when I was younger, because I would watch High School Musical or I'd watch anything like that. So that was, for me, the most exciting thing.

Swire: I think that was incredible, and what it did was set up this unbendable friendship that we all now have. Like I would say you're some of my closest friends in the world, and I depend on you for not only professional advice, but personal help. It's things like that that make this film so incredible to keep coming back to and keep watching, cuz all you just see up on-screen is your five best friends having an incredible time, and all the memories that come with that. I just remembered today, I was thinking about the stuff we did off-set — I think we saw 10 concerts over 28 days. [laughs]

Now that you've done a zombie Christmas musical, what do you want take on next?

Swire: I would love to do a film in one take. [laughs] Just a single-shot film. That'd be lots of fun. With the same cast! All 6 of us doing a different film, with different characters, completely different plot, but it's all done in one take, like a play.

Leveaux: I wanna pretend to be Frank Sinatra, with a big band, in a movie or a sitcom or something like that. I'd like to try my hand at that.

Anna and the Apocalypse is in select theatres December 7th.

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