We here at Absolute Music Chat have been privileged to interview several cast members from The Walking Dead. In this article we have selected excerpts from these actors’ interviews about their experience working on this iconic show.
Interviewers: Paula Courtney and Davina Baynes
(Excerpt from interview with Steven Ogg by Paula Courtney originally published August 11, 2016)
”PC: You recently made quite an impact on the final episode of season 6 of the highly acclaimed TV show The Walking Dead as the Saviors leader Negan’s, right hand man, were you a fan of the show before your audition?
SO: I had watched some of the first season, but stopped watching for some reason. When I landed the gig I immediately called my son who is a HUGE fan of the show and asked him questions about the world and what was happening. My Walking Dead-ucation came from him and also Andrew Lincoln in the makeup trailer during our very first meeting. He generously spent over an hour with me as we discussed the show and the world I was entering. I continue to learn new things and find different levels to this world that the brilliant writers and creators have developed.
PC: What was it about the role that attracted you to audition for the part?
SO: Well, like most of these huge shows – same experience with WESTWORLD, the actor is given “secret sides” which contain no real names and is often completely made up. So no context, script, or history to the character. You make a strong choice, do your best at the audition and then the cards fall where they may.
PC: You are close to Xander Berkeley who plays Gregory on the show (it was Xander who kindly introduced me to Steven) had you worked with him or any of the other cast members before? When you join an established cast, do the regulars take the newbie’s under their wing, or are you just expected to get on with it?
SO: Xander. Sweet, sweet Xander! An amazing, inspiring talent but an even more inspiring man! One of the biggest blessings of having the opportunity to work on THE WALKING DEAD has been meeting such amazing people such as Xander, Austin Amelio, Andrew Lincoln, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Steven Yeun, Norman Reedus, Sonequa Martin-Green, Ross Marquand…..shit! I realized I could just go down the list! It really includes each and every one of them from the cast; even those I have recently met that are no longer on the show! Everyone from the get go have been inspiring in their commitment, work ethic, generosity and spirit! Doing these Walker Stalker conventions have been such fun because meeting fans aside, it’s the opportunity to spend more time with these wonderful people! Ended up in a deep conversation in Boston, a few of us from the show in the parking lot, and went down such a beautiful worm hole until 2am! They are just good people. Andrew Lincoln sets the bar for the entire show and is truly inspiring to be around. Sorry – a lot of gushing, but it’s true.”
(Excerpt from interview with Jesse C. Boyd by Davina Baynes originally published 9 March, 2019)
”DB: You mentioned The Walking Dead where you played a wolf. What was it like working on that show and getting killed by Andrew Lincoln?
JCB: It was such an interesting experience because, first of all, everything is so top secret you have no idea what’s going on. I had read for so many roles for that show already but when I got that role it was just a straight offer. My agent called, ‘They’ve got this part. I don’t know his name. Do you want it? It’s on The Walking Dead.’ And I was like, ‘Well who the fuck is he? What’s going on?’ And they said, ‘I don’t know.’ I was like, ‘Yes…. I guess…’ I got there and I remember it was so secretive that when finally Scott Gimple sat me down and he was like, ‘So what do you know?’ I was like, ‘Ah…I think the Wardrobe told me they’re in this town…’ And he was like, ‘Oh she did, did she? I’m going to have a talk with her!’ I was like, ‘Oh God no, I don’t want to get Wardrobe in trouble!’ You don’t have a script, you don’t have anything. He told me a little bit about the character and then we filmed the finale episode. I didn’t know anything else but I assumed ‘he’ was coming back because of the way it ended; and then I came back and did a couple more episodes. That is just a well-oiled machine, it’s a lot of people. By the time I started doing season 6 season 5 had already aired, so I knew it was such a great opportunity. I ended up working with Morgan’s character [Lennie James] mostly – who’s a great, great guy – and then, eventually, I got killed by Andrew. I was like, ‘Oh no!’ I will say, you never saw my body, I just got shot, so I could still be walking around somewhere. Call me back Walking Dead!”
(Excerpt from interview with Thomas Francis Murphy by Davina Baynes originally published November 23, 2018)
“DB: Moving on to The Walking Dead, where you played Brion, did you have a backstory for him?
TFM: We were given some outlines. Scott Gimple gave us some of the broader strokes and certainly I had a backstory.
DB: What did you have in your head as his motivation?
TFM: That he was the sort of guy that makes the calculation that everything’s changed, and also somebody that (like the Civil War) this may provide him an opportunity to shine. However, he has a high regard for people who he thinks has a handle on the problem, whatever that is at the moment – that was Jadis, in his mind. She saw, for whatever reason, his value and he valued her seeing that, and that was sort of their relationship, it was about loyalty and fidelity.
DB: And your costumes: what was your costume like to wear and what did it feel like, as a character, to wear it?
TFM: I immediately liked it because I felt like I was trying to get into an East Berlin bar! (Laughs) The joke was: ‘We’re the Heapsters man, the Heapsters!’ It had that kind of vibe to it. It was fun to wear. For me it was a simple thing, it wasn’t as complex Sabrina’s [Gennarino] interweaving outfit.
DB: And not as hot presumably.
TFM: Well I could take mine off – just throw that serape off. Now that you mention it, regrettably, although I like to think that I still have the hair of a 25-year-old guy, I don’t, and the sun would bake down onto your scalp! Just a reminder that this sort of thing never happened before. (Both laugh)
DB: Generally, not just in The Walking Dead, how far does costume help you with a character?
TFM: Oh tremendously, tremendously. Particularly coming from theatre, you know: you don’t know who you are until you put on the costume. Jack Nicholson had such a great line to some new actor, ‘Just play the costume kid, you’ll be fine!’ And it can be that much.
DB: I know a lot of actors start from the footwear upwards.
TFM: First of all, what I like to do is, I don’t like to spend masses of money, but I like shoes and so I’m very particular, when I audition, what shoes I’m wearing. But, as somebody said to me once, ‘Tom, when was the last time you saw somebody’s shoes on camera?’ and laughed. Unless the shoes were the point, you know. But nonetheless shoes make the man, you do build from the shoes up. I agree with that sentiment, in fashion and film as well. (Laughs)
DB: Sabrina was saying how long it took her to put her boots on because of the telephone wire, were yours the same?
TFM: No, they were, like these kind of tennis-shoe-bootie things, which I always thought were pretty dumb. Now that you mention it, I wasn’t thrilled with my footwear but the serape, the whole way the belt was rigged, the very simple dagger, all that was good.
DB: Pretty cool. When you turn into a walker you had to be made up and had to do that strange walk that they do: how long did the makeup take?
TFM: I think about an hour-and-a-half/two hours, maybe two visits. An hour and then bugger off and come back and do a bit more
DB: What about the walk, because it’s a very distinctive, shuffling walk: did you get taught that?
TFM: Yeah, yeah. We’re taught that, and I was not a very good student. The walker wrangler taught me and apparently, he didn’t like my mojo! (Both laugh) He was just like, ‘It’s not Frankenstein!’ or something like that. Sabrina on the other hand, he was over the moon as soon as he saw her zombie walk.
DB: What was it like working with the cast and crew working on The Walking Dead because you were on it for a substantial period of time?
TFM: It was just a great set to be on, all the way across, no question about that. Andy [Lincoln] is just an absolute pleasure to work with and I mean, by the time I got there, he had been showing up to do that for what, six years? He gives it his full attention, his full energy either side of the camera.
DB: On a personal and professional level what have you taken away with you from working on the show?
TFM: Hmm. I guess the thing that astonished me the most… I’d never been involved with anything that had that level of fan response. I mean, I had no idea how big the show was when I was walking into it, not really, and how closely viewers paid attention to every little aspect of the show. So, they were often reading more into what was going on, as fans, than I as an actor was bringing to it. So that, in itself, was interesting. It was interesting to go to London and interact with people that had that level of sustained interest in this environment – not that I was creating but that I was participating in that was collectively created by the writers and producers.
DB: All that mythology where they have followed it through.
TFM: Exactly! To be honest with you my great fear was that I would be called upon to answer questions about The Walking Dead by people that knew vastly more about it than I did, and they would catch me, you know. (Both laugh)
DB: Because there’s always the assumption that you know everything that’s happening in the story because you happen to be in it, but usually you are limited to what is actually just happening to you.
TFM: Right, I mean do you know what’s going on with your neighbours right now?”
Link to full interview:
(Excerpt from interview with Sabrina Gennarino by Davina Baynes originally published November 9, 2018)
“DB: How was it, working on The Walking Dead with Pollyanna McIntosh particularly but also with Andrew Lincoln, Seth [Gilliam]?
SG: I’ve gotten to work with just about everybody in the show over two seasons. There’s no way to describe that! There really, really isn’t. For the rest of my life that is going to be a highlight of my career. I said to Scott [Gimple] when he made the call, ‘Thanks for making me part of history.’ Because the show is part of history now. We’ve got stuff in the Smithsonian. This is a monster thing and I’m a part of that.
Pollyanna is one of my best friends now. I just did her film which I just can’t wait for everybody to see. She’s a director. She is a badass. She is a powerful human being and I am so blessed to have her in my life! She wrote, directed and starred in Darlin’ which is a sequel to The Woman (it’s a trilogy) and I just stood there in awe the whole time. She’s a force of nature.
The learning curve is off the charts with that show [The Walking Dead].
DB: What about the costume? How hot was it?
DB: Having talked to Kerry Cahill who’s also got a really hot costume as well…
SG: My costume, everybody kept saying, ‘You’re gonna love it in November, I promise.’ Brutal but well worth it. I probably had on a good six layers – the final one being the sweater parka – heavy pants, my boots – one boot was one size too big, the other boot was one-and-a-half sizes too big, so trying to walk, and run in those… and we were always running from something or somebody! A tremendous amount of layers, and heat. I could always get my tunic off but it took three of us to get it on to get it over my sticky buns (and ice packs all through). It was like an actual thermal hoodie under that, a tank top under that, a sport bra under that. Second season I went, ‘So guys, I have some ideas on my costume. Any way to sew the hood to a long-sleeved T-shirt and sew the cuffs to it? That way my arms are protected also from the sweat of the tunic and screw the bra, you don’t see it, or my tank top and that will reduce three layers.’ And they were game. My boots, those took a good ten minutes to strap up and lace on (because it’s telephone wire) and a good ten minutes to get them off. So slow but so worth it: those costumes! I want that tunic so badly.
DB: I guess they keep everyone well-hydrated because they don’t want people passing out on set do they.
SG: Oh my God, our set medic, Tasha, is on it. She’s the bomb! I don’t know how she’s in 22 places at once, but she is. The whole crew is the best crew I’ve ever worked with. For me, in our group, we’re very lucky because we have our trucker tankers and under our heap too – which is a real set by the way, it is that big! The trucker tankers they would put in portable air conditioning and put us all in there so we could keep on jumping in and cooling off as best we could. Because it’s about 100 degrees you know, in the summer.
DB: Hairstyle on The Walking Dead, the wonky bun plaits…
SG: Andy [Lincoln] called them ‘Chinese sticky buns’.
DB: Chinese sticky buns which are never aligned properly.
SG: Scott was very specific: he wanted them uneven, because it’s more artistic, I think (I’m not totally sure). For all of us he was very specific, he does everything, right down to where the dirt smudges are to be. He was very detailed.
We’re this very weird group. We’re dirty but also… I’m not even sure that we ever really put our finger on it… We’re this minimalist group, living in a trash heap full of stuff, but we’re also artists and we have our own language. Myself, Tom and Pollyanna each have our own view on why we speak that way, that works for us as individuals.
DB: There’s a bit more blue on your scarf whereas most of the other people are in very similar colours, and I think that helps you stand out on-screen.
SG: Yes. We had to have something, right, because it’s the three of us. In The Walking Dead, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s usually a leader and then a right and a left. In this sea of minimalistic blacks we needed something: Pollyanna’s got her hair, mine is my scarf and the tunic, Tom’s is his long crop duster coat – so we all have our individual pieces to make sure that we do stand out from the sea of black; and again, that’s all Scott.
DB: When you became a walker, what sort of makeup did they put on you and how long did that take? And did you have some special training for doing the weird walk that they do?
SG: Yeah, the makeup was two or three hours to do all that – it’s so many layers. It’s not just your face but also your neck, your back, your hands and all the way up to mid-arm (just in case your sleeve goes up). And then yes, working with stunt on… because it’s stuff you don’t think about… it’s stuff like, of course they wouldn’t step in the same space twice and so you really have to amble. That was about a half-hour training for proper walker ‘walkage’.
DB: Is Greg Nicotero normally on set to help with all the blood gags and the rest of the special effects?
SG: Yes he did my second episode and I just love him so very much, his whole team, Jake Garber, they are a load of geniuses. There’s no messing up with that crew. Our group are the most epic walkers. I mean we weaponized. That’s the first time that a walker’s been weaponized, with Wilson, and then we did it again with our pole head.
DB: I bet it was fun wearing that costume. Not.
SG: 14 hours! I tell you what, when he walked out though, it was like the seas parted. We’re all standing around getting ready and he comes walking out and everybody’s like Jesus was walking down the middle of the aisle: people just watching him do this. It was amazing! Jaws dropped. And it’s impressive close up which isn’t always the case; you have to make it so it reads right on film. We shoot film on The Walking Dead, a lot of people don’t know that. People have no idea of the weeks of work that go into something like that.”
(Excerpt of interview with Kerry Cahill by Davina Baynes originally published July 22, 2018)
”DB: You’re not a nurse in The Walking Dead. (Both laugh)
KC: She’s so stoic. I remember the first season, 7, somebody was like, ‘She doesn’t talk much.’ And I was like: ‘firstly there’s a ton of storylines to follow in this world and we’re not in a place where there’s time for hers; secondly, I think the king talks enough for all of us and in a beautiful way with beautiful language and he gets more upset by the fact that he’s surrounded by these really stoic, quiet guards; and somebody has to balance Jerry, somebody has to have that unfun job of not being smiley and fun.’
DB: How did you land the role of Dianne?
KC: I auditioned probably 7 or 8 times and I actually auditioned for Gavin’s role (they were considering a woman for the role) but when I got the call, two days later, I was told I didn’t get that role but I got a different one. I didn’t know the name of my role until the first call from one of the production offices because they keep it all so locked tight. Really it’s because Scott [Gimple] keeps a stable of actors in his head and that’s why I tell people, ‘Always do your best because you never know where that audition is going to get you.’ I think he knew I would be a good fit because he had seen me enough and then whatever I did for that audition must have been exactly what he needed.
DB: What has it been like working on the show itself? Who have you worked most closely with?
KC: I used to work most closely with Khary [Payton], Cooper [Andrews], Lennie [James] – and I don’t think anyone tells a story like Lennie, when we’re hanging out waiting for some things to be done. Now I’ve gotten to know Lauren Cohen better, Alanna [Masterson], Tom [Payne] which has been kind of fun.
DB: You wear a costume that has quite a lot of body armour on it. How much of that is designed with the wonderful, cool Georgian weather in mind?
KC: It isn’t designed for the weather, at all! I am lucky because I live in New Orleans, I have gotten already used to the heat, so I have less of a jump to make. It does not breathe well and so it’s just a matter of drinking water and accepting it. The way I handle is that I’m like, ‘I’m going to be really gross and sweaty and it’s going to be really hot,’ because the more you fight it… you’re not going to win. Like all those parking lot scenes we did – the asphalt’s hot, the sun’s hot, it’s terrible. The only thing I wish that I could change, and I can’t, is that I could wear sunglasses sometimes, because it is so bright. I always warn people who want to get into acting or modelling – you will be uncomfortable, you will have to make it look like you’re cold when it’s hot and hot when you’re cold and you’re just going to have to get used to it. Part of the problem is that it is so humid so the shade doesn’t do much.
DB: The fight scenes, and you’ve got your bow and arrows: how does that work out practically?
KC: The bow is hard because obviously I cannot shoot it for real because everything is so tight with camera that it could hurt somebody, so the visual effects team and I have developed a system of how I do it and let go, so that they can fill in. They also have a bow that’s really weak that I will shoot sometimes. The hero bow that I use (for people who know archery) the pull is very, very weak, maybe 15 lbs, so to do something where you would want to hunt with it or beyond 10 yards, to have any effect, you’d want to have it way higher than that. It would be easier if I just had to shoot it but I have to do this thing where I don’t really shoot it sometimes, because they’re doing the close-up and there’s a person in front of me that I don’t want to [hit]. It makes me really happy that I studied corporeal mime, which sounds so weird but it’s about how to use your body to make it look like something’s heavy when it’s not. Then doing it for real because there’s a focus your eyes have and a technique. The first time they showed my shooting the bow on screen I actually waited because if you do something wrong – but particularly in archery – people will tell you! (Laughs) And no one said anything about it and I was like, ‘Yes!’ I work really hard when I go shoot at archery ranges.
DB: It’s interesting, in that, because you know how to do it really, it makes it far more realistic when you are pretending to do it. Who looks after the bow and arrow?
KC: There’s a props team and they are amazing, I mean they create a lot of different things and then I have my own, which I look after. I have an archery instructor – he’s the sort of person who used to shoot quarters out of the air – and every time we meet up I learn more about archery. There’s something about the history of archery that I find fascinating and I’ve started to learn a lot more about it: just in terms of the different styles, how people shoot, how people train. I was doing something the other day and I kept my bow with me for the scene and somebody was like, ‘Do you really need it?’ There’s something about archers keeping their bow with them all the time. When you think of a bow it’s a living, breathing piece of wood so it’s important to – particularly in this world of survival – store it properly and unstring it etc.
DB: One of our very well-known actors, Robert Hardy (who is dead now), was a world authority on the long bow, so it’s worth finding his book.
KC: I shoot a recurve but I want to get a long bow as well. My dad, when we would watch Henry V, would talk about the history of how important the yeomen were to the English middle class and the rise of that and how that’s how the British took over and won a lot of battles.
DB: Have you got any particular stand out memories from The Walking Dead?
KC: So many… not necessarily while we’re filming because there’s a ton of different moments I can choose but it’s things like this:
The first walker that I ever kill is the girl where I say, ‘My sister would love that dress’. A year later I’m in a grocery store, walking, and this really cute little boy says, ‘Hello!’ I say ‘Hello’ back. I’m picking up my apple and talking and his mom looks at me and says, ‘Oh my God! Hi!’ It’s his mum and I’m like, ‘Oh hello’ and she’s says, ‘Oh, you don’t remember me. You killed me!’ – in the middle of the produce section. Of course I don’t recognise her because she was in complete, extreme walker garb when I killed her, and she’s beautiful – a mum with two sons – and that was a funny moment. I got to have a conversation with one of my “kills” by the apples in a grocery store. I love moments like that.”
(Excerpt from interview with Ann Mahoney by Paula Courtney originally published August 27, 2016)
“PC: You were cast as Olivia in The Walking Dead; I’m always interested to know the whole process from sending in your tape to the minute you walk on set to do your scene. I know it’s often the case that you don’t know the part your reading for when doing an audition, were you familiar with her character beforehand?
AM: I got an email from my agent asking me to tape a role for The Walking Dead. The character would be recurring, but they wouldn’t tell us the real character’s name, and the script I used for the audition was not from The Walking Dead at all. So, I taped the scene, it was actually rather funny – so I tried to be sure the humor was balanced with a certain amount of post-apocalyptic angst (LOL!) – and I sent it in.
A few weeks later, I was at the symphony with my Mom, and I got a call from my agent – odd at 9pm. I checked the voicemail at intermission, and found out that they wanted to hire me! That was a Friday. I drove to Atlanta for the first time that Sunday, and went to my costume fitting, where I found out my character’s name, and then to a meeting with Greg Nicotero and Scott Gimple. That was also when I met John Sanders, the prop guy for TWD, he took my personal glasses – which Gimple loved – and they became OLIVIA’S glasses! They got me a new pair, and then I settled in for the night – rabidly attacking my character homework, and researching comic book Olivia.
So that was it – then I went to my first day on set. There were lots of fans lining the street where we enter Alexandria – with cameras! I was so shocked. The cast was warm, inviting, inclusive, and embraced me immediately. It was like coming home.
PC: Were you a fan of The Walking Dead already?
AM: I was a comic book fan, but didn’t watch the show until I got the audition. Then I binged!
PC: Has Olivia wholly embraced the association with Rick and his gang now or does she still have some hesitant moments about what they are trying to achieve?
AM: I think after the big scene where all the Alexandrians and Rick’s people fight the zombie horde inside the walls of Alexandria, I think that seals the deal for Olivia. She sees a man willing to give everything, after losing his love, to help save that community.
PC: I’ve interviewed a few cast members of the series and they all say the same thing that it’s a really tight group, that everyone wants each other to do well in their scenes and all are very welcoming, do you agree with that?
PC: Who do you hang around with between takes and who is the one person you have befriended that you can text at 1 a.m. if you need to?
AM: Austin Nichols and I crack each other up on a regular basis. Melissa McBride is a dear friend for life.”
Link to full interview: http://www.absolutemusicchat.com/music-qa-sessions/ann-mahoney-twd-badmoms-qa/
(Excerpt from interview with Jordan Woods-Robinson by Paula Courtney originally published April 8, 2016)
“PC: Okay let’s talk about your acting career. You play the part of Eric on The Walking Dead, can you tell me how you came to get that part?
JWR: As an actor in the southeast, which is anywhere from Florida up to Tennessee, there’s a whole range of states that are all considered local hire. That just means if a show like The Walking Dead is filming in Atlanta, then anyone from Tennessee down to Florida is welcome to audition for it. I had been doing the Blue Man Group for nine years, and I’d been fortunate to do a number of other television and film projects in the southeast. I got an audition for the role that turned out to be [Ross Marquand’s character] Aaron. When the producer asked me to audition, my wife and I were on vacation at the time. We filmed it in her grandparents kitchen and sent it off. As soon as we got back from vacation my agent called and said you’re in the running but I need you to send a better quality video tape. I didn’t get the part of Aaron, but they said they would like me to audition for this new character and that’s what turned out to be the role of Eric. I had to travel up to Atlanta the next day, so it was a huge whirlwind getting everything organized to get up there.
When I arrived, Ross was one of the last people I met on set. I met Norman Reedus (Daryl), then Chandler Riggs (Carl) and then a number of other people. Everyone was very welcoming and supportive. I didn’t meet Ross until that night. We only had a few hours of talking and getting to know each other before we had to go on set the next day for the reunion scene in the warehouse. The one where Eric and Aaron find each other again. We basically focused on just getting to know each other. We talked a little bit about the story, about our life together, and the experiences that we’ve gone through. We didn’t run any lines, or get into character. We just got to know each other as people. We figured the writing was so strong and the characters were so strong, that Ross and I should get to know each other and care about each other as friends. We were thinking that once we got onto set it would all just take care of itself, and I think it did. I think it was a beautiful scene, the writer and the director and all of the design that went into putting all that together were just wonderful. I get lots of feedback from people just saying, that scene sticks out to them even a year later.”
Edited by Davina Baynes
These interviews have been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.