Embracing The End With A Song: A Few Minutes with Sarah Swire and Chris Levaux from ‘Anna and the Apocalypse’

Posted in Interviews, Movies, VOD/iTunes/DigitalDownload by - February 12, 2019
Embracing The End With A Song: A Few Minutes with Sarah Swire and Chris Levaux from ‘Anna and the Apocalypse’

It’s actually kind of fitting that we’re in the midst of a snowpocalypse because there’s a perfect form of entertainment that can keep you right in doors.

In Anna and the Apocalypse  we see a zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven and at Christmas no less – forcing Anna (Ella Hunt) and her friends to fight, slash and sing their way to survival, facing the undead in a desperate race to reach their loved ones. But they soon discover that no one is safe in this new world, and with civilization falling apart around them, the only people they can truly rely on are each other.

A genuine cult hit in the making; Anna and the Apocalypse hits all major VOD platforms today and it is an absolute genre mashing delight for anyone who wants to get their zombie on or just hear some quality Christmas themed tunes as there’s a winter wonderland right outside our windows here in Toronto (and across a good chunk of the country)

In advance of this release I had the pleasure of sitting down with actor/choreographer Sarah Swire and actor Chris Leveaux about the making of the film, their experiences on set and hopes for this plucky little piece of cinema.

Dave Voigt: Obviously congratulations on the film, it is such a hoot but walk be through that initial moment when you kind of realized that you’re in a ‘Zombie Apocalypse Christmas Musical’ because I can imagine that isn’t something you really see on the call sheet every day?

Sarah Swire: (Laughs) No doubt, but I mean really it is something that you just have to throw yourself into and see it where it takes you.  Our director John McPhail along with the writers and producers we had on the shoot are all huge fans of everything you just mentioned and it really felt like we were in the hands of some real savants and next level thinkers when it came to executing this story.  They just knew that every element that we were mashing up really needed to be honored fully in order for this all to work.  We were very lucky to be a part of that team.

Chris Leveaux: (To Sarah) And it was incumbent on you to think about all that because you were the choreographer as well but ultimately it’s not something that I really had to have on my mind all that much.  I just had to think about my lines and the order in which to say them (Both Laugh).  Plus throughout my childhood I can’t really say that I was all that well versed with horror as a genre and it was only when I saw the completed film did I really understand all the in-jokes that John (McPhail) had nods to all the way through and I was floored at how well it all worked together.

I think that the choreography is something that really stood out for me because other then the number in the cafeteria, there aren’t these big movie musical swells in the film and a lot of it plays out with a real amount of restraint over all.  Was important for you to make sure that the movement of the film still really played out inside the genre and didn’t get overly campy at any given moment?

SS: It was DEEPLY important to me.  We had all talked about it before but me, John and our producers we’re really coming at all this with the mindset of character perspective and making sure we were very aware of what it felt like every character needed to do.  We wanted the movement to be completely in tune with the characters so that they felt like they could grow where they needed to as the story progressed.  This obviously isn’t a traditional dance film or movie musical by any stretch  and we wanted to make sure that everything that was done from a movement perspective was to bring the audience in and make the characters that much more interesting and have everything pop out as best we could.  It really was an ongoing running dialogue between the actors, John and Sarah Deane our cinematographer about seeing what works best and I am really grateful that we did it the way that we did because it should have never gone the musical spectacle route this really is a film about these kids and their hearts and their passions, rather than fancy footwork.

CL: Plus I remember that there were some very early discussions about if the zombies should dance or not?  That was taken out pretty quickly thankfully (Laughs).  I suppose it is all really leaning more towards a more realistic kind of musical style rather then something bombastic and over the top.

You’re right it all had to be character driven because while there certain are some big and fun moments you can’t lose the grim nature of the moment that is true to the genre.  I’m curious because there’s such a big mix and blend of ideas, was their anyone specific moment when you are all on set and fleshing out ideas where you knew you “had it” and this was going to work?

SS: Honestly, I think that everyday felt like that because we as a cast really got along like a house on fire.  On set or off set we were all constantly spending time with one another and the producers really did some magic by making sure that we all met before hand as well because it really helped every day especially as we were all bouncing things off one another and that was a great feeling.  It was an adventure everyday because we were never quite sure what exactly we were going to be stepping into.  Obviously we knew the shot setups and everything like that (Laughs) and all the technical fundamentals but all the stuff that we were really able to just conjure up on a day to day basis about the characters was just amazing.

CL: And you never REALLY know do you?…

And that’s just it, you can say you do but it isn’t always the truth…

That’s really where John came in as the director because he really was guiding everything in a very specific way and keeping it all in line the way it needed to be.  It really wasn’t until towards the end of shooting when we’d see some rushes and I could see that “WOW, ok this is what we’ve done and I really see it now”.  You’ve turned us, these rag-tag looking teenagers into this fully fledged cinematic movie and it’s extraordinary.

It’s really a film that straddles so many genres so carefully well, is it harder for you both to really craft a character when there are so many different ideas floating around?

SS: You know I think that really falls back on the creative team and for us what John always pushed for with us was to just be honest with one another.  Be honest on set, and know what your character wants and what I really think just might be the pivot and the balance for all of this is that even though there’s all these genres spiraling around them because these characters are so honest and so real that it just feels naturally a part of that universe and it takes the onus off of us to be overly self-aware about the genres themselves but making sure that our characters are as natural and as grounded in reality that we can possibly make them.  Not overly archetypal, just real young people in this crazy situation.

The film really does have such a natural tone to it, which is part of its magic as there are no overtly showy moments in the film, especially in any of the numbers.  Was there ever any hesitance on set because while everything you all do in the film is obviously in everyone’s wheel house, it also kind of isn’t at the same time.  How did that all really come together?

SS: Just love and support man… (Laughs)  It really came down to having a real sense of just going for it on any given day, Chris and I had solo moments, Ella was just killing it with her numbers some days as well and it really went for all of us just having a real firm sense of what we had to bring to the table to make sure it all worked.

Any fun stories from set, because I can easily imagine you’d all be in the middle of a big number, somebody would flub up then it’s all back to one…

SS: Oh man…

CL: You know we really didn’t have time for outtakes! (Laughs)

SS: We really didn’t!

CL: We had 28 days to shoot it all and it really was quite literally a case of “CUT” then run back to starting point.

SS: We had plenty of fun off set as well.  Myself and Chris and Malcolm (Cumming) who plays John, and Conor Reilly who is Tommy Reilly’s brother (who did the music) is an amazing videographer and was shooting the onset, sort of making of footage so we decided to make a “Making of the Making of Anna and the Apocalypse”  and we just followed him around…(Laughs)

I look forward to seeing that on the Blu-Ray!

CL: Oh I hope it doesn’t get there (Laughs)

SS: It was pretty fucking awful (Laughs)

CL: Maybe if we get Malcolm drunk…he’s pretty proud of it! (Laughs)

SS: Oh well we’re all proud of it, we even went as far as Inverness to shoot some things (Laughs).  It was a nice side project.

At the end of the day, Anna and the Apocalypse really feels and plays like a cult film even before it’s reached that status and I’m curious from both your perspectives what do you hope the audience pulls from a movie like this, that as we’ve said before, you just don’t see every day?

SS: Just for them to have fun with it, and I’m stoked for the music which I hope does really well because we need some new Christmas songs outside of the traditional realm you know?  We need some stuff full of heart but also some with a little salaciousness to and maybe catch a bit of a Rocky Horror vibe with it all.

So do you look forward to that invite in 10 years or so when it gets screened and people are dressing up and singing along?

SS: OH GOD, I totally hope that happens!  That’s my biggest dream.

CL: To be a small part of a legacy like that would be huge because we’ve both done musical theatre before and we’ve really lionized these different soundtracks and we hope this will fit that canon and give people some joy when they watch it either during the holidays or when ever and thus we keep the cycle continuing…

Well I’d say the ball is rolling and the cycle is undoubtedly continuing and thanks so much for the time today.

SS: Thanks so much, this was great.

Anna and the Apocalypse is available via most digital platforms now.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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