Sporting the same military buzz cut and toothy smile he wears in King of the Ants, the new crime thriller directed by genre filmmaker Stuart Gordon, actor Chris McKenna takes center-stage in front of The Egyptian Theatre’s well-used screen. During an after-film Q & A, McKenna shares the podium with Gordon, fellow Ants actors Daniel Baldwin and Vernon Wells, and producer Duffy Hecht. It’s Friday the 13th, and the ensemble’s intense movie is premiering worldwide at 2003’s Seattle International Film Festival. When an astonished festival spokesman announces, “You’ve brought half the state of California,” Gordon gives a characteristically witty response. “Yeah,” he agrees, the director’s burly, bespectacled form draped in a dapper, gray sport jacket. “The sickest half.”

Fielding questions, Gordon motions towards an enthused audience member waving his hand in the air. “How many people did Chris McKenna injure during the making of this film,” the viewer asks. Uneasy laughter fills the Capitol Hill Theatre – King of the Ants might only be a movie, but its visceral palette of onscreen pain is accented by grueling scenes of torture that are not for the squeamish. Adding to the film’s intensity was a demanding, compressed shooting schedule and tight budget (Gordon’s wife provided the catering to cast and crew). Compared to the bloated, lavish timetables enjoyed by major studio productions, Ants was filmed in only 24 days for less than one million dollars. “We were told for seven years that the film was unmakeable,” reveals Gordon.

The coupling of a brutal story (by acclaimed British author Charlie Higson) with such pressured, bare-bones conditions has resulted in a streamlined, tight thriller. King of the Ants boasts the efficient, no-nonsense feel of other no-budget classics like “Blood Simple,” “Red Rock West,” and “One False Move.” However, this being a Stuart Gordon production, it also pushes the envelope with creatively malevolent mayhem. Meanwhile, lead man McKenna literally bares all during his punishing performance, leading one Q & A admirer to exclaim, “He’s got a really cute butt!”

McKenna, a relative newcomer to the movies, who appears in nearly every scene of King of the Ants, radiates enthusiasm as he talks of his first starring role.

Get the interview in part two of CHRIS MCKENNA: “ANTS” EXTERMINATOR>>>

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