Chances are you've seen Mike Edward's face on television in the past 15 years. And if you've seen his face, you've probably seen his chest, too. A perennial small-screen presence from City Life to Nothing Trivial, Edward is perhaps most recognisable as Shortland Street villain Zac Smith.

Now Edward is putting his TV experience to good use in the new local film, I Survived A Zombie Holocaust, which hits cinemas on Friday, when it will be released simultaneously on DVD and on Video On Demand (VOD).

The low-budget Kiwi horror comedy presents a spin on the crowded zombie genre - it's about a zombie film shoot that is overrun by actual zombies. Edward plays the egotistical lead actor of the film-within-a-film, a would-be action hero whose real-life failings are laid bare when things get hairy.

Having played more than his fair share of "hunks" thanks to his Spartacus-ready physique, Edward relished the opportunity to subvert those kinds of characters in the film.

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"The second I got the script I went: 'Wow. I can play that total cliche [of the action hero], and also the real human under that that's insecure and weird and has some issues'. So I can get to play both. I remember in the audition script, he busts down a door and his shirt comes open. So you just go with it."

Although Edward has long since graduated to roles that no longer require his shirt to burst open, it was a prominent aspect of his early career.

"When I grew up, my heroes were Arnie and Sly and all those action movies of the 80s, the pro wrestling and stuff like that. So, by the time I got into my acting career, suddenly that look was well out of fashion. In my 20s, I was only the himbo. The stupid personal trainer guy who was getting dumped or something. To be honest, it gave me a heap of experience. When I didn't know how to act so well, I was getting cast in these things ... and doing really bad acting and watching and learning."

These days, he's more than okay with how he's perceived. "If you fight it, you're never going to get cast. If people are going to objectify you, you've got to go, 'Okay, I'll do it' and, hopefully, you have enough talent and enough other stuff to make it interesting or different. You can't fight it. Training's always been a part of my life. I was an athlete before I was an actor. I was a long-jump and pole-vault guy. It was never about creating a look. That was who I was from the age of 13."

I Survived A Zombie Holocaust was funded in the Escalator film project and didn't have a lot of money to throw around. "It was always going to be done on the smell of an oily rag. When it's your first film you rely on generosity and people doing it for the love.

"I was thrilled to be on board. It was amazing being down in Dunedin because every day you'd have 50 or so extras turning up to be zombies. For free! They were doing it just to be part of it, which was really cool."

Edward's experience in the horror movie has landed him a role with Sam Raimi on New Zealand-shot TV series Ash vs Evil Dead. "I'm in the pilot which was great. And it was incredible. I was playing the same dude - the guy with the gun and the badge. It was hilarious."

I Survived A Zombie Holocaust opens at Auckland's Academy Cinema on Friday. DVD and VOD available from the usual outlets plus tugg.co.nz on the same day.

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