Michael Cox has an interesting (and long) conversation with the four cast members of HTSAZAR.
Jess Napthine (science specialist Judy O’dea)
Jess: I originally got involved because I heard that Ben was putting together a zombie show. And as a bit of a zombie fan, I wanted to be involved.
Michael: Where does your interest in zombies come from?
Jess: I don’t know, really. I watched Night of the Living Dead a long time ago and just absolutely loved it. And I just found it really interesting. I think it’s the most interesting form of horror movie because there’s something really scary about a human being that’s completely unthinking but still coming to get you, but really really slowly. It’s something really terrifying and just fills you with dread.
Michael: Do you think that’s the best zombie film ever made?
Jess: That is my favourite one, and that’s why my character’s called Judy O’dea, because the actress who plays Barbara is Judith O’dea. I think it was a coincidence, but Ben had already written my name as Judy in the original script, so I decided to be Judy O’dea.
Michael: Do you feel that you’ve actually learned anything about zombies?
Jess: Oh yes, definitely. The audience have thrown questions at us that we never ever would have thought of ourselves. Some completely bizarre ones, and I think the most difficult was when we had a biochemist who was also a massive zombie fan. He threw some really difficult questions at us about the exact spread of the disease and the life of the disease, and we just weren’t prepared for all that at all. But we somehow managed to answer.
Michael: Did those answers become canonical, or did you rewrite answers in case you were ever asked the same question again?
Jess: Anything we weren’t really sure of, we researched through Wikipedia and Facebook, and we’ve had excellent responses from our fans on Facebook who if, on the podcasts, we say something that doesn’t fit with zombie lore and first pick up on it and then write reams and reams to put us right. Which is good, because the research comes to us now.
Michael: Of all the facts about zombies, which one is your favourite?
Jess: I like the fact that what causes a zombie to sort of be lumbering and lurching forward is that the blood pulls in the lowest point. It’s not that it’s just lunging towards you, it’s that it’s been lying on its front and all its blood has settled in its front, so that’s why it’s sort of bent forward. I don’t know why I like that fact, but I do.
Michael: Is there a question about zombies that you’ve been itching to answer?
Jess: I think the best question we got asked was when we were in Edinburgh, there was a kid in the audience who without any prompt whatsoever stood up and said: what if you were a midget in a hole? And I think that pretty much stumped us all, but if we ever got that again, I’m sure we could give an answer.
Michael: Could you come up with an answer to that right now?
Jess: I think a midget in a hole would do pretty well. And that’s it. If he had a big pointy stick, he’d be fine.
David Ash (survival expert Donald Straite)
David: One of the questions we’re always asked when we speak with audiences after a show is: how on Earth did such a diverse group of people come together? It always fascinates people. I had to learn everything from scratch; I knew nothing. So I had to sit in front of numerous zombie films and read numerous zombie books and Wikipedia, of course. But it’s been an amazing 18 months.
Michael: You said that you came into this project cold. Do you now have an interest in zombies?
David: I do have an interest in them now, yes, in the whole culture. What fascinates me is how 1,000 people can end up in a zombie walk around major cities. I just read an article where they got 4,500 people to do a zombie walk around Seattle and won a world record or something. That is so amazing. The only thing that spooks me is that, we did one in Manchester, and people brought their children of 4-5 dressed as zombies and had blood coming out of their mouths. And as a grandfather, I’m thinking ‘Hold on, something’s not quite right about that.’ But zombie fans are zombie fans, and they’re a great bunch of people. We’ve met them all over England now, and they’re such a nice group of people, and I really like them now, I must admit.
Michael: Is there a zombie film you’re fond of?
David: This will annoy Ben a bit, but the film I quite like and enjoy is Shaun of the Dead (mumbles in the background). Oh, never mind. He just said he likes it. I like the humour in it, and it’s good fun. I like the humour of it, without a doubt.
Michael: Do you have a favourite zombie fact?
David: I think the fact that zombies can walk under water, but if there’s a strong current they’ll probably get swept away, and they can walk in a swimming pool but they can’t get out because they can’t climb out. Again, ridiculous but fun to learn about.
Michael: And the hardest question you’ve had so far?
David: They asked for where was a safe place to go in Edinburgh, and a girl shouted out going into a crack house, which we had to improvise but I knew very little about.
Lee Cooper (work-placement intern Tristan Granger)
Lee: My character Tristen is a lovable, simple person who just wants to be involved, and he genuinely just wants a hug. He’s Dr Dale’s nephew, so he’s there because he has to be because Dr Dale is his guardian. He’s not very useful. He goes on tangents.
Michael: Did you have an interest in zombies before becoming attached to the project?
Lee: Yes. Well, Ben got me into it. I did watch zombie films and horror films, but more so now since meeting Ben.
Michael: Do you have a favourite zombie film?
Lee: Dawn of the Dead. I think it’s the whole thing about being trapped in a shopping centre and having to be able to survive in there. The woman giving birth to the zombie baby I thought was quite...funny and scary at the same time.
Michael: And do you have a favourite zombie fact?
Lee: It would have to be that zombies can’t dance. We get asked all the time because of Michael Jackson’s Thriller if they can dance, and no they can’t. So everyone thinks it’s a great idea to become a zombie just so they can dance better.
Michael: What’s the hardest question you’ve been asked?
Lee: I don’t really know. Because of my character, most questions don’t faze him because he just goes ‘I don’t understand’ and brushes it off, unlike the other characters. He can relate it to something else. I kind of answer questions in my simple, film fan way, and the others have to make sense of it.
Michael: Has working on this made you respect the lore of zombies?
Lee: Yeah, I respect the lore of the zombies. You can’t just say ‘My zombies can now fly’. I think it all has its logic around it. Once you get to know the general lore, you can’t really go off it, because proper zombie fans will question you.
Ben Muir (Dr Dale)
Michael: I might as well ask you the same questions I asked the others now. What’s your favourite zombie film?
Ben: Zombieland. I like the interesting ways that are used to dispatch the undead, like using fun fairs. I used to work on Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and way back when I wondered how you could dispatch zombies with the fun fair, and the film answered all those questions, using the theme park rides to kill them.
Michael: Your favourite zombie fact?
Ben: The eyes of a zombie. Why the eyes are white. It’s not because they’re dead, it’s because their eyes stay open when they’re dead, and grit and sand get into them and wear away the front of the eyes because there’s no water in them.
Michael: And the hardest question you’ve ever gotten during the show?
Ben: I can tell you what one of the bizarrest questions was, which was from a woman, and the question was ‘Please, can I have Donald’s phone number’. David had to hide in the dressing room after the show. From zombies to crazy middle-aged women, we can survive anything!