One of the unexpected surprises to emerge from last January’s Sundance Film Festival was “Little Monsters,” a zomie comedy from Abe Forsythe. Lupita Nyong’o stars as Miss Caroline, a kindergarten teacher conscripted to keeping her class safe when zombies take over the farm where she has taken her class on a field trip. They find themselves trapped with Josh Gad as Teddy McGiggles, the host of a kids’ show who actually hates children.
And then there is Alexander England as Dave, the uncle of one of Miss Caroline’s kindergartners, who has accompanied the class on the trip in an effort to get close to the teacher. Dave is a slacker who has recently split up with his long-time girlfriend because he simply refused to grow up.
The other day, I had the opportunity to talk with Alexander England about his work with director Abe Forsythe, performing alongside Lupita Nyong’o and Josh Gad, and his favorite day on set. Please enjoy our conversation.
Karen Peterson/Awards Circuit: When you first met with Abe [Forsythe] to talk about doing “Little Monsters,” what was the conversation like?
Alexander England: Abe and I met as actors in 2012. We both worked on a show together. So I met Abe as an actor, and then years later we worked on a thing together with Abe in the role as director. But we became good friends. We’re good mates. We then made a film called “Down Under” in 2015, which was a very dark comedy and now this film.
So when Abe started talking to me about this one, I was obviously excited just for the prospect of working with him again. He’s such a funny guy, but so open to exploring different ideas and scenes and just having fun on set, that I knew it would be a great experience to be part of. Then when I read the script, I was laughing at the jokes on the page. That’s always a good sign. And I just knew how ridiculous it was going to get with all those different elements, with the kids and with the zombies and with the animals and with everything in it. I just felt like I had to be involved. So we discussed it over a beer and things all unfolded from there.
KP: Abe [Forsythe] has said that “Little Monsters” is intended as sort of an ode to his son’s kindergarten teacher and those unsung heroes. For your character, Dave, you play the opposite of that.
AE: Yeah, yeah.
KP: Can you talk a little bit about getting to know Dave?
AE: [laughs] Dave. I came to understand Dave as somebody who had always shirked responsibility and as such hadn’t really grown up. By avoiding responsibility in his life, he’d been able to remain fairly selfish and in a position to blame other people for things not working out in his life. Obviously, it’s then a journey for the character to learn to take on responsibility and then rise to different challenges and start to build a bit of an identity. I really feel like Dave didn’t have a sense of who he is and he’s trying to be this rock and roll guy, but that wasn’t really him either. He’s a bad musician who’s more interested in the aesthetic of it and the idea of it than actually being a musician. So my jumping in point was he’s a guy who doesn’t really know who he is and just avoids responsibility at every opportunity, who now will learn alongside the children by watching Lupita’s character, Miss Caroline. By watching her example and seeing her really rise to these occasions. And end the film as essentially a different version of himself.
KP: It’s great when you can have such a fun comedy where you can still get that kind of character growth.
AE: Yeah, and where you can have such fun. I mean, I just had the most amazing time being as silly and ridiculous and ugly as possible, particularly at the start. Comedy is a little heightened. We were always determined to house it in reality and in truth, but it does leave space for a little heightened physicality and facial expressions and yeah. It was just a huge amount of fun.
KP: And how much fun did you have working with Lupita Nyong’o and Josh Gad?
AE: Once we jumped into the film, suddenly Lupita—who was the ultimate sort of Hail Mary, like if we could have anybody in the world, who would it be? Suddenly Lupita was involved, which was so exciting. And she just came into this film ready to work, so excited about the story, so excited about all the elements of the film. It’s such an exciting and encouraging place that she was coming from, and working opposite her was just a dream. She’d done all the research. She’s an incredible actress. Like my character, I really was just looking at her going, “Wow, there’s so much to learn.” The awe of just watching Lupita doing her thing.
And then Josh, of course, has a real background in improvisation and happens to be a dark and twisted person. He was just improvising scenes and throwing out the most amazing new content, based closely around what Abe had written. But he was having such fun with it as an actor that it was such a great set to work on with both of those guys.
KP: I can’t wait for someone to dub Josh’s lines from “Little Monsters” over Olaf from “Frozen!” I know that’s coming.
AE: [laughs] It is coming! And Josh riffed quite openly that this is the end of his Disney career. He was setting all that on fire with the character of Teddy McGiggles.
KP: Have you done a lot of improv before this?
AE: No, not statedly. I think this is one of those great situations where everybody has a similar sense of humor. And you can all kind of riff on an idea and take it to extremes. An example would be the fight scene halfway through the film between Josh and I, where that was just Abe and Josh and myself meeting up on the weekend to discuss the blocking of that fight and just pushing it to the nth degree, just further and further and further, and really amusing ourselves. And now the audience gets to watch some of that madness onscreen. But yeah, it was a very safe environment to try things out because the emotional beats were all so beautifully mapped out, we could play a bit with the humor.
KP: How many takes were ruined by everyone just cracking up?
AE: There were a few! We were pretty good. Part of a comedy is you don’t want to be the one breaking character. So that was a different discipline in and of itself, trying to keep a straight face opposite Josh Gad.
KP: Could you share a favorite moment from the set?
AE: There was a day where the kids, you know, there’s a montage where the kids are going around this petting zoo and seeing all the different animals and stuff. And it was so much fun because we actually had to do that. We actually went around this place and were meeting all the different animals and the kids actually saw Lupita as Miss Caroline. So they’d constantly be hanging off her, asking questions. It was like being part of a school excursion! I really felt like one of the kids, getting excited to meet koalas and echidnas and kangaroos. It was just a really nice day and really cemented the heart of the film, which was about the wonder of the children. We had a really beautiful day amongst the rest of the shoot, which was very tightly scheduled and managed, in terms of maximizing the kids’ time in terms of making sure they weren’t seeing things they couldn’t see or hearing things they couldn’t hear. It was just a load of fun to be one of the kids.
Awards Circuit would like to thank Alexander England for speaking with us.
“Little Monsters” is now streaming on Hulu in the US and Netflix in the UK.