She's armed and ready to take on the undead.

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How an Actress Found the Humanity in the Chaos of Anna and the Apocalypse

Ella Hunt was attracted to this genre mashup of Christmas comedy, high-school musical, and zombie thriller for a different reason than you might think.

With one starring role in Anna and the Apocalypse, Ella Hunt can check off several boxes on any actor’s resume, from Christmas comedy to high-school musical to zombie thriller.

But it was the way the characters remain grounded amid such mayhem that most attracted the actress to the title role in the British genre mashup.

“She was a different kind of teenage girl role than other parts I was being sent. There was so much room to be so many more things. I just wanted to be her,” Hunt said during a recent stop in Dallas. “I needed this movie in my life. The minute I stepped on to the set, I inherited this family of best friends. I felt like I grew with Anna, and was very grateful to have had the experience.”

In the film, Anna is a precocious teenager whose private-school classmates seem pretty ordinary, as does her slightly rebellious attitude toward her single father (Mark Benton) and cruel headmaster (Paul Kaye). What’s not ordinary is the zombies terrorizing her town, causing the students to fight for their lives, in Anna’s case using a giant candy cane as her weapon of choice.

Anna and the Apocalypse is an expansion of a 2011 short film by young Scottish filmmaker Ryan McHenry, who died of cancer in 2015, at age 27. Hunt credits director John McPhail for capturing the spirit of the source material in the feature.

“They wanted the film to be rooted in reality — an honest portrayal of how a group of teenagers would react to a zombie apocalypse,” Hunt said. “They wanted to make it more than a parody or a spoof. It has this heart.”

Hunt said her first leading part has opened up various other opportunities. Early next year, she will star opposite Hailee Steinfeld in “Dickinson,” a series for Apple about poet Emily Dickinson. And she’s been reading for several film projects.

The catalyst was playing Anna, a character with who Hunt, 20, found an unlikely connection. Growing up in England, she moved schools frequently, was bullied, and had difficulty fitting in with her classmates.

“She’s a very aspirational, clever young woman who’s very bored with her life and wants to get out and explore,” Hunt said. “She has this burning thing inside her. I felt very much like that at 18. I wanted to make things and see the world.”

These days, Hunt laughs about her apprehension during her first day of fight choreography, when she was clumsy and uncertain whether she could handle the physical rigors of the role.

“Throughout the course of the shoot, my confidence grew and I really got into it,” said Hunt, who shared one more similarity with Anna. “By the end, she’s a total badass.”

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