Cockneys vs Zombies: Michelle Ryan Interview
"Are you SURE you need to see my Travelcard?"
There’s an unwritten journalistic law that says you can’t mention Michelle Ryan without sticking the words “former EastEnder” in the same sentence – and we don’t have the moral courage required to break it. But she’s also no stranger to SFX territory: having starred in the short-lived update of The Bionic Woman, and been a one-time-only companion of David Tennant’s Doctor in a Doctor Who special, Michelle’s been an SFX cover star twice!
She’s never been in a horror movie before, though, so Cockneys vs Zombies represents a first for the Ryan CV. In this British horror-comedy, scripted by Doctor Who and Torchwood writer James Moran, Ryan plays Katie, who’s helping her cousins carry out a bank robbery when the zombie apocalypse kicks off, and gets a nasty surprise when they emerge to make their getaway to find the streets crawling with the living dead. We caught up with Michelle on location, back in April 2011.
SFX: So is this the kind of film that you would normally watch?
Michelle Ryan: Well, zombie movies have not really been hugely on my radar. Then I was shown Shaun Of The Dead and I was like, “Ohhhh okay, there’s a really strong genre there.” Then just before we started shooting this, I watched [1974 film] The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue, and I realised how scary the zombies are. Because I was thinking zombies are not something that really scares me, but then I watched that movie and they move so fast, they’re intent on killing, and they’re just scary!
That’s quite an obscure movie! How did you come to watch that?
Oh, I love obscure movies. I think I probably read about it in a magazine, and I love those old-school movies. And I think this film has a sense of that old-school mentality. It’s the Cockneys’ version of how they defeat the zombies – it’s very raw and it’s that family unit muddling through. They shouldn’t defeat them, but they do!
So what appealed to you about this particular script?
When I met the director Matthias [Hoene] he was just brilliant. We spoke for an hour about movies and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do this.” We spoke about everything from the kind of seventies genre to crazy horror films, to the way things would be shot. The title brings up certain ideas, and the producer was like, “Every cliché you’re thinking about… it’s not gonna be that.” And I was like, “Oh, good”, because I was thinking along the lines that it would be something different.
There was that period after the success of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels where everyone seemed to be doing a British gangster film – it’s not like those films, then?
No, it’s very different from that, because there’s a female character who is so ballsy, whereas that wasn’t included in those kinds of films. And it’s also about a much younger group who aren’t competent in their positions. Most of them are just flying by the seat of their pants, whereas Katie is the confident arrow amongst it all. Mainly, it’s about family and uniting. Then it’s got the much older actors too: there’s Alan Ford, who’s playing the granddad, who is head of the family, and Honor Blackman, who’s his girlfriend – so I think it’s quite different. That’s the other thing that drew me to it. I was like, “Oh, this is different.” Okay, it’s a “vs” kind of title, but it’s not anything that I’ve seen in recent years.
We know your character is a bank robber: what else can you tell us about her?
She’s pretty fearless and incredibly feisty, and isn’t interested in any flirting, or anything other than just doing the job. It’s like: “Boys, not interested!” – that’s her stance. At first she’s quite frustrated by being called in to help her cousins, Terry and Andy, to do this bank job. She feels like they’re incompetent – the team they’ve got together, it’s laughable. I mean, she’s crazy but she’s still aware that there are boundaries, whereas Mental Mickey has none. And with Davey Tuppence she’s like, “He’s just a liability. Nice enough guy, but I can’t believe you would let him organise the robbery!” So she’s a little pissed off from the start with everyone, really! Katie’s fearless and a little crazy, but she’s still thinking, “I don’t want to go to prison, we can’t get caught with guns… this needs to be done properly”. She’s come from quite a tough crowd who she’s run with, and now she’s going back to her roots, and it’s frustrating for her when things aren’t done properly. And once the zombies go crazy and take over everywhere, the whole thing is to meet up with her granddad at the OAPs’ home. He’s sort of the head of the family. Katie is pretty competent, but she’s looking to him for answers.
Click on “Next” (below right) to read the second half of the interview.