TBB Talks To…ITV2/Hulu’s Zomboat! Actor Ryan Mcken

Ryan Mcken stars in new zombie apocalypse comedy Zomboat! coming to ITV2.

Synopsis reads We are used to seeing Zombies attack with speedy car getaways and humans holding up in shopping malls and pubs (Shaun of the Dead) trying to fight them off. But never before have we seen our unlikely heroes travel by canal boat; an unlikely vessel indeed!

We caught up with Ryan to find out more about what we can expect from the new series, his character and some insight into his life and acting journey…

Can you tell us a little about who you are and what you do?

I’d say I was from humble beginnings, a passionate and dedicated young man striving to be the best version of myself. I’m from Birmingham and grew up between Handsworth and Great Barr, I have family in both parts and I’d be back and forth between areas a lot, in and around my early teen years.

I’m British-Jamaican-Indian, growing up that was considered a rare combination! My father was born and raised in St Thomas Jamaica and moved to England where he met my mother whose family are Indians from Punjab, who were brought to the Caribbean Island of Jamaica in the early 19th century. My Grandparents migrated to Britain in the 1960s.

I love my heritage, growing up in a household listening to reggae’s finest artists (Beres Hammond, Morgan Heritage, Gregory Isaacs…) while mum was in the kitchen cooking up feasts- anything from Curry Goat and Rice & Peas and Rhoti and Daal- a traditional Jamaican English staple for those that don’t know. Yum! As a youngster, my home was a constant euphony of music and sweet smells. I feel privileged to be a mix of such beautiful cultures.

I would describe myself as a young and upcoming actor with big dreams. Having finished my 3-year degree at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, I moved to London in 2015 and have been making steady appearances in both TV and film as well as starting off at Shakespeare’s Globe and The Wanamaker Playhouse. I feel very grateful to be able to pursue what I love and hopefully spread joy and positivity in the process.

You play ‘Amar‘ in new ITV series Zomboat! Tell us more …

Zomboat! is a 6-part Horror-Comedy for ITV/HULU. A zombie apocalypse is unleashed on the streets of Birmingham city and sisters Jo and Kat with unlikely travel companions Sunny and Amar have to flee for their lives on the most unlikely of vehicles, a beautiful canal boat named Dorothy. As they journey toward safety, friendships develop, alliances form, arguments occur and even a romance or two may blossom. I hope audiences get the same joy out of it as we did whilst filming it.

I play Amar, Sunny’s best mate, Amar is an optimist and very into his health and fitness, as well as his beard oils and spa treatments, he’s the guy on the team who encourages everyone to grab life by the horns and live it to its fullest – despite Zombies trying to eat their faces off at every turn. He wishes he was the action hero, thinking he’s 007 but realistically he’s hopeless at the simplest of activities and lacks any basic survival skills. 

This is my first comedy role and I’ve enjoyed exploring the different style of acting required, it’s much more heightened than I am used too and learning about the pace and rhythms of dialogue delivery to help comedic moments land has been a great lesson. Adam Miller our director was brilliant at helping us find all of our characters comedic centres and each day on set was filled with exploration and collaboration to facilitate that discovery. 

(l-r) Leah Brotherhead, Hamza Jeetooa, Cara Theobold, Ryan McKen, HULU/ITV

How did you get the role?

It started with a self-tape at a mate’s house, using a tripod and an iPhone the standard these days!  Then I was later called in for a recall and 5 or 6 chemistry reads later I was offered the role. After the phone call from my agent telling me I’d gotten the lead along came the first wave of screams and fist punching but then panic quickly followed, mainly because of the word comedy being attached. 

What’s it been like working with the other cast members, no doubt its been a lot of fun?

Being on set was always a safe environment for trial and error working alongside amazing co-stars Hamza Jeetoa, Cara Theobold and Leah Brotherhead was a real joy, we all supported each other during long hours of filming and no day was without laugher & a sing-along. They made my first comedy experience one to remember, watching them gave me confidence and pushed me to bring my A-game to this project.  I owe each of them a lot. They were an inspiration as well as motivation. As were the producers and of course the director.

How different is it for you to play a character in a comedy-horror as opposed to a drama series such as Sky One’s ‘Temple‘ where you play ‘DI Rob Moloney‘?

I’ve always thought comedy to be much harder than drama, there is nowhere to hide if a joke doesn’t land. I have great admiration for artists who’ve built a career from it; it’s a skill that is by no means easy. It was so much fun to film I felt like I was Idris Elba in Luther! Temple was an entirely different genre as well as audience demographic to Zomboat.  I find it really rewarding as an actor to get the chance to be a part of such versatile stories. They demand a different perspective on character, style and delivery and exploring each of these genres has been very enriching. Constantly learning this is what I’ve always wanted my career to be about. I went to drama school so that I could be taught the craft of delving into diverse characters\stories and learn to convey the psychology and choices of a character convincingly on stage\screen. These types of stories where the narrative steers clear of stereotyping don’t come around often enough, unfortunately.

Which genre do you prefer if any?

Playing a character in comedy is different to drama because the flow and intensity are different but I think a key feature in playing another person is the script, what your character says about himself\herself and what other characters say about you gives you an insight into the world and psyche of that person. This detail aids your journey of discovery. That’s usually where the bulk of my work stems from. I don’t think I have a favourite genre at the moment, I try to remain as open as I can and try different things, to challenge myself and to grow as much as I can within the craft. 

You have been through a number of challenges in your life how were you able to overcome them and channel your energy into positivity?

Throughout my life, I’ve faced many ups and downs in pursuit of my goals and dreams, estranged from family, in and out of different care homes/hostels but despite all of that I’d say to anyone to keep going, the road isn’t easy but then it isn’t supposed to be. Every challenge is a test. I know what kept me positive was my belief in myself and my refusal to quit. On the path to becoming a professional actor, I met many people who offered guidance & support and encouragement when I faltered. I would hold onto those moments with gratitude

What advice would you give young people who have been in the position you were in?

I’d say to my younger self to keep striving to be better, to keep focused on your own journey, you do matter, we all have a story and we should be brave enough to tell it, so feel the fear and do it anyway – you’ll be surprised how many you inspire to do the same and that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

What’s next for you?

I’ll be reprising my role of Daanish Kamara in the second instalment of ITV’s murder mystery series Bancroft with Sarah Parish, scheduled to air early 2020.  I am also waiting to hear back on a couple of potentially very exciting projects which I can’t say any more about at this stage – but stay tuned -there is more to come!

Zomboat! premiers Tuesday 8th October at 10pm on ITV2


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