By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Continuing the story that begins here, we chat with the stars of ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE, the Christmas zombie musical that opened in select theaters last Friday, and goes wider this Friday, December 7.
Speaking about ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE (see our review) below are Ella Hunt (Anna), Malcolm Cumming (John), Sarah Swire (Steph, and the film’s choreographer), Ben Wiggins (Nick) and Marli Siu (Lisa).
Sarah, what were the challenges of choreographing the film’s elaborate musical numbers on the movie’s short schedule?
SARAH SWIRE: Well, not having too much time meant that I had to start creating stuff anyone could learn, because I didn’t know what level of dance experience the people involved in the film were going to have. So the components of it that were easy to pick up, easy to stitch together and as a whole look great, individually are very simple gestures. It was important to constantly have ongoing dialogues with everybody involved, saying, “This is your character, what do they do, how do they move, do you feel comfortable doing this? Let’s workshop some ideas.” More than anything, this is not a dance musical; it’s a musical with moments where dance is used to heighten the references that exist within the songs, or give it a little more elevation—something visceral to watch while the action is going on. It’s a character-driven story, and the characters come first and the choreography comes second.
Do you think the choreography would have been different if this was not a zombie film—if it was just a Christmas musical?
SS: Oh yeah, totally. There’s so much more we would have had to take into consideration. There would probably have been a lot more room for big numbers, but that isn’t what this is about. This is about people telling their individual stories, their perspectives, their internal lives and their personal lives amidst the chaos going on around them. The movement assists the narrative and makes it brighter, sharper and shinier.
Marli, your song “It’s That Time of Year” at the Christmas pageant, with all the double entendres, is a highlight. What was it like performing that number?
MARLI SIU: Sarah sent me a little video to give me an idea of what I should be doing, because I had no idea of how you were meant to perform on stage as a singer. So she made up a little choreographed thing, and when Tommy and Roddy and I were recording the music, we’d gone through all the different sexual puns so I knew what I was singing about [laughs]. When we actually got to the day of filming, I was really nervous right before doing it, because I was quite embarrassed about singing about things like that, being on stage and doing this huge number. This was my first film, and I’d been acting with everyone up to that point and this was my first scene by myself…
SS: And you were incredible!
BEN WIGGINS: You embodied that part, because there’s one part where the snow comes down, and there’s a little bit that gets caught on your eyelash, and you just go… [does a little flip] It was really sultry!
MS: That day, some people weren’t called to be on set, but everyone came by to watch! It was so funny.
Ben, I wanted to ask about your “Soldier at War” number, since it involves zombie-killing action as well as choreography.
BW: Again, with Sarah’s wonderful choreography, at the beginning, the sort of, what did we call it?
SS: A “skip-de-dip”!
BW: The “skip-de-dip,” that took a few takes for us to get right, and Sarah was like, “Come on!” But the main fear for me was actually just trying to belt out that ballad, because it’s got influences from Queen, with those enormous falsetto pushes. So the choreography didn’t bother me; I was just so focused on trying to make it sound epic and get that effort up on the screen. I think we all sang live, actually, when we were filming, and then had the recording on top of that, because it’s so much more difficult to just lip-synch and still feel anything. But it was awesome; I loved every single second of that shoot.
Any other memorable stories from the production?
SS: Oh my God, all of them! The MOMO—we did the making of the making-of.
MALCOLM CUMMING: It was an exposé; we really got behind the man behind the camera behind the camera!
ELLA HUNT: One of my favorite memories is, there’s always waiting around when you’re shooting, and waiting around with people dressed as zombies was particularly hilarious. We played a lot of Scrabble and Bananagrams, and I have a picture of Ben and a bunch of zombies and I all playing Bananagrams. Half of us are covered in zombie makeup, the other half are covered in blood; it’s the best picture, it’s the weirdest, weirdest combination of things.