Mark Donovan

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The man behind the mask - We chatted to Mark Donovan

Mark DonovanImmediately striking as a Zombie in Shaun of the Dead, Mark Donovan has been quietly acting his socks off for a while now.  We chatted to him about his career, and as he is a Doctor Who fan we challenged him to come up with an eyepatch story!  Interview by Karon Hollis

KH: How did you get into acting?" 
MD:I think it's more a case of not being able to get out of it! I tried not to  be an actor - honestly, I tried... Instead of going to drama school I spent 4 years training as a primary school teacher, and taking degree level physics, chemistry, biology and IT. After obtaining my B.Ed it happened to be the one year that there were a glut of science teachers and very few job vacancies, so I thought I'd wait a year and kill the time by working backstage in a west end theatre. Twelve months later I'd managed to get my Equity card (you still needed one in those days), and I thought that if I didn't give it a go, I'd spend the rest of my life wondering "what if", so I gave myself yet another year. When that year was over, I was in the UK tour of "Singin' in the Rain" with Paul Nicholas, and things have just lead on from there.
KH: What was your experience like on Black Books and Baddiels Syndrome - any exciting tales?
MD:  Baddiel's Syndrome was my first ever TV job, and the pilot epsiode I was involved in was recorded at BBC Television Centre - a building so iconic during my childhood years. Blue Peter, Swap Shop, the tap dance record attempt round the fountain... so when I was whisked in through the gates in the back of the car they sent for me it was, quite literally, a childhood fantasy come true!
 In the week leading up to the recording, I was reading Tom Baker's autobiography, and had the bizarre experience of reading about the Doctor Who rehearsals in the BBC Rehearsal Rooms at Acton whilst in  the very rooms he was talking about. Probably makes me a very sad individual, but I got a huge buzz out of that.
Similarly, Black Books was recorded at Teddington, and as I'm old enough to remember the heydays of Thames,  that was rather special too. I've been fortunate so far to work mostly on productions that I rather like anyway, so getting to work with Bill Bailey, Dylan Moran, David Baddiel, Morwenna Banks et al has been rather exciting. Just waiting for the call from BBC Wales, now... ;o)

KH: How did Shaun of the Dead compare (Film V. TV)?
MD: Not as different as I would have expected.Obviously the TV stuff was mostly multi camera (whereas Shaun was single camera) so you had to be a bit more aware of the angles involved so as not to mask other actors. In Shaun, this wasn't a problem - but the downside was that each scene had to be reshot from every concievable angle, and each setup takes an age. It's an old cliché, but my abiding memory of both is a lot of sitting around killing time!
Black Books was noteably different in that it was filmed in front of a studio audience, so the laughs were instant. This somehow seems to make the production more organic - you can tailor your performance to the audience reaction - whereas in film you just have to trust in the director.

Mark in half and full make-upKH: How long were you in make up for during Shaun Of The Dead?
MD: It started off as about two and a quarter hours, but came down (as it always does) to about an hour and forty five  by the end. It wasn't too complex - just one large latex piece that covered my whole face bar the left eye,  with a jaggedy hole over my mouth. The teeth sets then sat on top of my own lips, which wer blacked out (a la Planet of the Apes)  . Just before we went in front of the cameras they would add the blood and fit the full eye contact lens, so that I suffered for the minimum amount of time! It was a fascinating experience - I had to go to Shepperton Studios for a head and full body cast (for the scene where we get battered to death), and as I'd never done any prosthetic work before was very eager to see how it all worked. Since then, all I've done is jobs that involve hours in the make up chair, and have had that itch well and truly scratched now, thankyou.. ;o)

KH: Has fame gone to your head now that you are England's most recognisable zombie?
MD: Well, thanks to the make up, I don't think I am! I think that Kev and Nick, the "Zombie Twins" have become the most recognisable zombie faces in the film. They were even in yesterday's Metro illustrating an article on "Are  We Becoming a Nation of Zombies?". They get stopped in the street all the time, apparently. The only time I ever get asked if I'm Mark Donovan is usually by Doctor Who fans - I've done a large number of the Big Finish audio CDs.

KH: Do you like Dire Straits more or less since Shaun of the Dead?
MD: My opinion of them hasn't changed - if you watch the film again, their album missed me by a mile. All these years, and they still couldn't manage a hit!

KH: Do you get recognised in the street after appearing on a magazine cover? And if you do does that worry you?
Mark Donovan Cover Star!KH: As I mentioned above, not really. I used to get Fangoria as a child (which gives you some idea of how I ended up the person I am today!) - so was absolutely blown away to be the main cover image. 
Just before it came out, Edgar Wright (the film's director and fanboy extraordinaire) emailed me to say "brace yourself...!". Actually - I was recognised by one person - the bloke at the till in the Covent Garden shop where I bought a copy. He gave me 95p off.
Even more of a mind flip was the 2000AD comic strip that came out prior to the film's release - a "side step" story that filled in the backstory for my character. To be rendered in comic strip form in the Galaxy's Greatest Comic in an issue alongside Rogue Trooper and Judge Dredd.. well, what can you say? Amazing. 

KH: What's on the horizon for you?
An episode of M.I.T. - Murder Investigation Team on ITV1. I was told it was to air "Late Autumn", but found out the other day that it was bumped out of it's slot when ITV nabbed Parkinson at the eleventh hour. I reckon it should be on either in the run up to Christmas or early in the new year.
After Shaun and the Virgin mobile ad (where I was a cryogenically frozen monster), I was quite looking forward to some "straight" telly, and not spending hours in make up. At the read through, the director came up to me and said "I've got a fantastic vision for how your character should look - just a pair of camouflage shorts, and covered head to toe in tattoos..."
Ah well.
KH: What's been your favourite role so far?
MD:I think it has to be recreating the role of the late great Tor Johnson in "Plan Nine from Outer Space - The Musical", which toured the UK in the mid 90's. An amazing cast - Luke Goss, Peter Straker and Adéle Anderson from "Fascinating Aida" as Vampira.
Not a very successful show, but boy did we have fun.

KH: What's the eyepatch story ? (Mark had promised us an eyepatch story a la Nicholas Courtney when we originally contacted him)

MD: Well, I don't really have one - but I come close. In rehearsals for Shaun at Ealing Studios, we did a lot of trust exercises, where Nicola (Mary Zombie) and I got to throw a lot of fake records at Simon, Edgar and Nick - who weren't allowed to flinch. Not easy. Having got used to the idea that these people could throw these projectiles at us with no risk of pain, we arrived on location in Crouch End. In one of the first takes, Nick  hurled a thick rubber record at full pelt (and at point blank range) right past my head. All he had to do was miss me. Unfortunately the poor bloke hit me full on in the eye that contained the contact lens, and I was knocked for six. Morag, the set nurse, got an ice pack on it straight away, and the only damage at the end of the day was a blood blister.
The following day, I was going to turn up on set with an eyepatch and neck brace to scare the crap out of everyone, but couldn't find anywhere to buy them.
If I had, it would have made a wonderful story.
 Thanks Mark! Mark also has his own website at  

Page Last Updated Thursday, August 04, 2005 at 23:38:56