Actor Mark Benton on Anna and the Apocalypse
- Eddie Harrison
- 19 November 2018
British musical zom-com that's also a Christmas movie – what's not to be excited about?
'It's unknown territory, but that's what drew me to it,' says Mark Benton about Anna and the Apocalypse. 'It's a British Christmas zombie musical, and that's a really, really weird genre mash-up, there's never been one quite like it before.'
For Benton, familiar from TV drama Waterloo Road, playing the father of Anna (Ella Hunt), a teenager caught up in a zombie apocalypse, offered a real change of direction. Not just singing ('three songs, a fourth was cut for expediency') and dancing ('not as much as the younger ones in the cast'), but playing a more serious character than usual.
'I'd studied drama at RADA, but I've quite often ended up playing parts as comic relief. But I'm the person who Anna's trying to fight her way back to through the zombies, and although there's laughs, there's some darker moments and some of the bits with my character are pretty serious.'
Anna and the Apocalypse reunited Benton with director John McPhail, who also worked on Waterloo Road; McPhail took over when the original writer Ryan McHenry, who had originally developed the idea as a short called Zombie Musical died of cancer at only 27.
'This film really was made in Ryan's memory, and I was really touched by the spirit behind the film,' says Benton. 'There's a fun pop-corn movie in here, certainly, but I think the story is actually quite a moving one, and one that might lead people to share a few tears.'
To capture the feel of an 'end of days' scenario, Anna and the Apocalypse set up their shoot in the grounds of a secondary school in Port Glasgow; hardly La La Land, but for Benton, an ideal environment to take his first steps into the world of movie musicals.
'I know Scotland, my mum was Scottish so I grew up in places like Saltcoats and Stevenson, but sunny Greenock in January and February…let's just say it's tough, but it worked for the film,' says Benton. 'We'd recorded most of the songs in advance, but I got to do some of the singing live; the songs by Roddy Hart and Tommy Reilly are fantastic, really catchy and commercial. I'm not really a pop fan, but they were great songs to sing and I think they'll appeal to all ages.'
Benton is modest about his own musical abilities, but admits there's an area of his skillset that he's keen to develop; having taken his dance moves as far as he can as a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing, he's like to try his hand as a DJ.
'I did play a DJ set once, with Vic Reeves, but I'd love to have another crack at it,' says Benton. 'I play a really random set, things like Todd Rundgren, Rage Against the Machine, Joe Cocker…maybe this musical will give me a chance to launch myself as a disc jockey!'
Anna and the Apocalypse is released in UK Fri 30 Nov.