“Anna and the Apocalypse” Star Sarah Swire on Facing Zombies in the Holiday Horror Musical

"I think this is one of those perfect first date films."

There seems to be a war against Christmas this year, and the attackers are zombies. A scrappy, fun LGBTQ-inclusive holiday musical, Anna and the Apocalypse bloodily mashes up High School Musical, La La Land, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and U.K. zom-com Shaun of the Dead.
 

In tightly knit small town Little Haven, Scotland, high school student Anna (Ella Hunt) and BFF John (Malcolm Cumming) find their holiday threatened by the flesh-eating undead, forcing them to band together with schoolmates including progressive, yet socially awkward lesbian journalist, Steph (Sarah Swire) and bad boy Nick (Ben Wiggins)—all while singing and dancing, of course.

The Toronto-based, openly queer Swire also served as choreographer for Anna and the Apocalypse—the genesis of which is an award-winning 2011 short film, Zombie Musical, by the late Ryan McHenry of “Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal” Vine fame before his untimely death from cancer in 2015—and has also choreographed and appeared in videos for the beloved Scottish band Belle and Sebastian.

Swire gave NewNowNext the scoop on making the film and what she considers scarier than a zombie attack.

Would you bring a girl to this movie on a first date?

One hundred percent yeah. I think this is one of those perfect first date films. It has a lot of great characters and amazing cultural points to discuss after over drinks. You can talk about and relate to it. It brings people together for sure.

Someone described Steph as a “woke lesbian.” How would you describe her?

Hilarious. I think “woke” as the rest of my peers. I love Steph and think she’s an important character because she isn’t made fun of or ostracized for being LGBTQ. She’s made fun of for her ambition, and natural anxiety about being a young person with lots of passions that not a lot of people see eye to eye with. What makes this film so remarkable is her queerness is totally normal. It’s not talked about or a defining quality of her personality. She reminds me a lot of myself and my millennial friends, under the thumb of governments that aren’t recognizing minorities and none of the adults are doing anything about it, so it’s about time we did.

How did you get this gig as both actress and choreographer?

I auditioned like everybody else. There’s no glamour story. I lived in Scotland for seven years, and I was working as a choreographer and actor and songwriter, often at the same time. My career had been unfolding like that so far, so I jumped on board.

Unlike Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, the zombies in Anna don’t dance. Were there debates and conversations about whether the zombies should dance?

There were, but we decided to take it out of that realm. An important thing about this film is it’s not a dance musical. It’s a character-driven story, and there are movement elements within that pay direct nods to films that came before. Like the cafeteria “Hollywood Ending” number is like a direct reference to High School Musical. Outside of that, more than anything it’s about making sure every element aids the growth of the characters and your empathy for them. We didn’t want it to be overly kitsch, because at the end of the day this is a story with heart about friendship, family, and perseverance, and those things need to shine through more than the hilarity of the undead doing an electric slide.

How did you prepare for the gig? Did you watch The Walking Dead and zombie movies?

I did do a lot of research prior to the film just to study the movement. On top of doing the dance choreography, I was also in charge of teaching people how to walk like the undead.

You have a lot of zombie going on.

It’s always nice to have your hands full.

I like the scene where they check Instagram and see that Justin Beiber has become a zombie. Is there any celebrity you think would look amazing as a zombie?

Pete Davidson. He’s got like this look, and I dig it. Kate McKinnon absolutely, I love her.

Did anything significant get cut from the film?

There was a very beautiful scene that may end up as an extra for the DVD, between my character and Anna in a bathroom talking about our families. It was the last scene I shot, and a moving moment between us.

What’s more terrifying to you—being stuck in a school full of zombies or at a Trump rally?

Definitely a Trump rally. At least with zombies you know the exact way to take them down or run. A Trump rally is a scary notion. I feel we would have to handle it differently than a zombie apocalypse.

Anna and the Apocalypse hits theaters November 30.

Lawrence is a New York-based travel and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Time Out New York and The New York Post.
@LawrenceFerber