For my next interview I had the
pleasure of talking to newcomer Chris McKenna who is receiving rave
reviews for his debut performance in Stuart gordon's wonderful film King
of the Ants. Having seen the film I know that Chris deserves the praise,
and I was shocked at how modest he is about the whole
Why did you want to become an
I was seven years old and living in Connecticut when a pamphlet was passed
around school to tryout for a local theatre group called Youth Theatre
Ensemble. They were doing a production of Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs, and I loved that movie. It sounded fun to me. I had always been
a ham, singing and dancing since I was even younger than that. So, I asked
my parents if I could try out and they said yes. I got cast, type cast I
believe, as “Dopey”. I’ve been hooked ever since. I started doing
community theatre for the next four years or so, sometimes doing two or
three plays at once. Eventually I got enough good reviews and enough
people telling me that I should really become professional that I listened
to them. My mom started the laborious task of driving me to New York all
the time for auditions and what not. Soon after, I booked a role on “One
Life to Live.” It was a contract role, and I spent three years on that.
I guess the rest is history!
How did you go about getting
Well, it’s kind of an ephemeral thing. It all goes back to community
theatre. I caught the attention of some local reviewers and the local
newspapers. They started doing features on me because I guess I was so
popular. Eventually, I started the auditioning process in New York and I
got the honor of singing the theme song to “Stepfather II.” “The
Stepfather” is one of my favorite movies of all time, so that was a great
honor. That got me going and then the soap opera was my big break. I’ve
been making a living on acting ever since.
You play the lead of Sean
Crawley in Stuart Gordon’s latest film “King of the Ants.” How did you
get the part?
It was one of the scripts that had come across my table. I looked at the
breakdown, which is a little synopsis of what they’re looking for in the
actor to play the role. It was a nothing like me. It was a smaller guy,
not physically imposing, someone you wouldn’t notice walking down the
street. And, I’m 6’3”, about 200 lbs., there’s no way they’re going to
cast me in this and as usual I’m going to be too freakin’ big. It’s a
problem I’ve run into too often. A good friend of mine read the script and
said I had to play the role. She had me read the last scene where Sean
tells Becket that he’s going to kill him. I was so riveted. I went to an
all-night diner, drank coffee all night, and read the script over and over
again. I was completely possessed by the role and obsessed with the
script. I started rehearsing all the time, and started to figure out the
inner workings of Sean, all this before I even officially had an
appointment to meet Stuart. I finally did meet him and the audition went
great. Stuart was such a great guy and was opened to what I had to say.
And, I had a lot to say about the role. I was really enthusiastic when I
got there and he seemed to respond to everything I was doing, so that was
a great relief. Soon after, I met the producers and then I got the call
saying I got it and to get down there right now, they’re waiting for you
at the table read. Everyone who had been cast for weeks was sitting there
waiting to find out who was going to play the lead (laughs) and, in walks
this lumbering Irishman. I got some strange looks, people didn’t know what
to say or even who I was (laughing), but I knew who everyone was in the
room, so that was strange. I guess that’s how it began.
What attracted you to the
Oddly enough, I understood the guy. I really understood where he was
coming from. I could see how if I was put in that position that part of me
would want to do it. Some part of me, however small, would have the desire
and compulsion to try it, to see if he could get away with it, to see if
you were capable. It was that realism that I found so riveting and
identifiable, and the fact that I get to kick a lot of butt and that’s
The film has an excellent
cast. Were you nervous about acting alongside such established actors?
Absolutely, I was terrified. I knew who was involved in it. I got to the
table read and there was Ron Livingston and George Wendt and these were
all people that I knew, and I’m the only guy in the room that I hadn’t
heard of (laughing). It was quite nerve wracking. But as soon as we did
the table read, George went to Stuart and said, ‘you know I think this kid
’s really good.’ Stuart made sure to tell me that because I’m sure he knew
how nervous I was. As soon as we started shooting, I didn’t have time to
be nervous. We had a ridiculous schedule working long hours, very compact,
and people seemed to really be responding to what I was doing and it felt
really good. It all seemed to flow out of me and it turned out to be a lot
less stressful than I thought it would be, not that I didn’t have plenty
of sleepless nights and nightmares playing this role. The cast was
wonderful and so supportive and I had a great time.
Chris shows the drawbacks of
working long hours.
A lot of people thought that
the film is about killer ants, can you tell us what the film is about for
anyone still confused?
I was a little worried about the title myself not wanting to walk around
in an ant suit eating Baldwins (laughing). The film is about a guy, just
like you and me. He’s also a guy with not a whole lot going for him,
fumbling his way through life. And, he’s given a chance to make a big
chunk of dough and to do something, for lack of a better word,
extraordinary and he takes the chance and pays perhaps the ultimate price.
I hope that wasn’t too esoteric for you, but that’s what it means to
What was Stuart like to work
Stuart is a wonderful guy, a great big Santa Claus of a man who does
nothing but smile and laugh through the day. All the stressful things
happened on the set, a generator ran out of gas, we were trying to film a
whole movie in 24 days, there was casting problems passed the start of the
shoot, and all kinds of things that arose, and Stuart was never rattled.
Never once did I ever see him lose his temper and he had plenty of reasons
to. Stuart is a consummate professional and great guy and I’m proud to say
we’re friends now.
Had you been a fan of his work
I honestly had only heard of him through ReAnimator and had seen the box
on the video store shelves. A friend of mine was a huge fan and demanded
that I watched Stuart’s films if I was going to read for one of his
movies. I watched ReAnimator, I watched Dagon and absolutely loved the
movies. I love his style and what he does with them. Frankly, I love his
casting. I was honored to have been chosen by him. By the time I got into
the audition I was a big Stuart Gordon fan. And, I think I will be for all
What was your favorite scene
in the movie?
That’s a tough one. Killing Gatley is an incredible scene. I was really
looking forward to filming it with Ron. I think Ron does an amazing job.
That scene, I thought, was the most realistic portrayal of what a murder
could be like by the hands of someone that inexperienced, nervous, scared
and guilty. I loved the moment of tenderness where he’s so sad and trying
to put him out of his misery, but the guy won’t die and Gatley just keeps
muttering things. I found that scene gut wrenching and real. It reminded
me of that scene in “Saving Private Ryan” with Adam Goldberg and the knife
fight. A scene that had me slithering down in my seat. I was so upset and
nearly in tears and gritting my teeth and wanting to yell at the screen. I
think that was the scene that really did it for me and let me know upon
reading the script, that this movie was different.
What for you was the most
challenging aspect of the project?
I think the most challenging aspect was, first of all, trying to execute
what they call in acting class ‘the character arc.’ To go from this
humdrum nobody to a psychopathic killer and to do it realistically, that
is a very challenging thing in itself and then the fact that you film
things out of order. We were filming Gatley’s murder on day three, filming
the finale on day five, then filming the opening sequence on day twenty.
That’s a tough thing and I had to really trust Stuart to keep me in line
and to keep me in the right place because there is such a journey the
character takes that the tough part was trying to keep that arc and keep
true to the character while, not only being real, but trying to keep my
head straight with a schedule that jumped around.
"I certainly have nothing against conventional horror.".
Are you a fan of the horror
I’m actually a movie buff. I’m a fan of all film, horror included. I
mentioned before that Stepfather is my favorite horror movie of all time.
Terry O’Quinn’s performance in that was absolutely stunning to me. I had
the honor and privilege working with him some years later on a pilot
called, ‘The Contender.’ He played my father and that was a thrill for me.
I’m a tremendous fan of movies like Dog Soldiers, Ginger Snaps. The
smaller, independent or foreign horror films, I think, is where some of
the best horror gets done. I’ve become a much bigger fan of the horror
genre since my work involvement with this film. The Fangoria conventions
have really opened my eyes to some things that I probably wouldn’t have
been exposed to otherwise. I’m a fan and my interest is continuing to
Would you like to do more
conventional horror movies?
I certainly have nothing against conventional horror. I would love to play
the bad guy, that’s for sure. I’ve got these dimples and big goofy smile
and it usually will cast me as a rather nice guy. But, I would really be
excited to play the good guy who turns out to be bad at the end as long as
it was written cleverly. But, the thing with horror and with all film is
that it has to be character driven, at least for me to admire the work. If
it’s written well and the characters are not two dimensional, if there’s
more to it than the cheap jumps, scares, and CGI, then absolutely I would
love to be involved. If it happens to be a horror movie, so be it. I love
an adrenalin rush as much as the next guy.
What will you be working on
I’m adapting a horror novel written by Thomas Tessier. The role in it that
really intrigues me about the story would be a good guy that turns out to
be bad. I’m trying to make my dreams come true in that respect. I’m also
attached to a movie called ‘Art School Confidential’ directed by Terry
Zwigoff, who did Crumb and Ghost World. It’s a very different role from
Sean Crawley. I’m playing a New York cop, kind of a bull headed rookie
jerk of a cop. That’s what you’ll be able to see me in next. Thanks very
much and I hope that everyone that reads this enjoys the film.
"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."