Sabrina Gennarino is an actress best known for her role as Tamiel on the international hit show The Walking Dead. She can also be seen in the new TV show The Purge as Madelyn, leader of the Matron Saints, and in Claws. I recently had the enormous pleasure of having a fun, in-depth conversation with Sabrina about her life and career: from her early years in Rochester, NY, all the way through to current roles. We touched on early roles in The Sopranos, Guiding Light, working with Tom Cruise, her screenwriting and films, vegan skin-care and much more.
‘Girl’s gotta eat.’
DB: You were born in Rochester, New York State. Funnily enough we have a Rochester not far from us, in Kent [UK].
SG: I know! I actually just got back from London, it was my first time there and I did London Film and Comic Con. It was my first time abroad and I just loved it. I didn’t have time – I flew in on an overnight Wednesday, landed Thursday late afternoon, did 12 hours Friday, 12 hours Saturday, 12 hours Sunday and was back out Monday afternoon.
DB: What was it like growing up there?
SG: I think it is a fantastic city: there’s so much to do, there’s so much culture – and it sounds weird to say that, for a town in New York – it’s artistic and it’s also very business, there’s festivals all summer long but it’s fucking cold! There’s nothing but snow seven months out of the year, I’d say. It’s cold! The joke there is, ‘You’re not born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you’re born with a silver shovel in your mouth,’ but loved it. All my family are still there pretty much, the majority of my family and [it’s] a beautiful place.
DB: What did you do in your free time as a kid?
SG: I guess normal kid stuff, you just played. Back then you played in the street and you’d ride your bikes until your full name was called, you know, like when it was time to come in. You’d get the warning calls, ‘Sabrina!’ ‘Sabrina Ann!’ ‘Sabrina Ann Gennarino!’ ‘Okay, I’d better go.’
DB: So you’ve got Italian heritage.
SG: Yes French-Canadian and Italian actually.
DB: The French-Canadian is on your mum’s side?
SG: Yes it is.
DB: Do you speak any Italian?
SG: I do not. I speak a little French and I used to speak a lot of Spanish – all through school I took Spanish and it’s amazing how quickly it goes. I’d love to learn Italian though, that would be great and more French, I really want to do that.
DB: Have you got brothers and sisters?
SG: I do. I have three brothers and my sister (long story short she is my cousin) she just came to live with us when I was a kid. All of us cousins were raised by everybody: it’s an Italian-Catholic kind of situation where your aunts are your mother when your mother’s not there. All of the cousins are raised like siblings.
DB: Your parents, are they still around?
SG: Well my dad passed in 2006 September 30th but my mum and my dad… My step-father is my father as well, I’m very lucky on the ‘step’ front, my step-mother is like a mother to me. I’m very, very lucky.
DB: What sort of jobs did they do?
SG: My parents own a stone and marble company so they do homes and they build buildings: granite counter tops and cabinetry and floors, marble, granite – all the stones – slate. It’s amazing! My step-mum works for a school.
DB: When did you first get into acting?
SG: Apparently, as a child, I would write, direct and star in the Christmas plays in my grandmother’s basement. So really from a very early age it was pretty clear what I wanted to do, but then felt that an education would be a better route, even though it’s really what I wanted to do. I took Industrial Arts when I was 11 or 12 and had business cards made, it was: ‘Sabrina Gennarino Model Actress’! But again, an education, so I was Pre-Med for quite some time and then switched my major around. I thought I wanted to be a doctor and I thought I wanted to be a microbiologist, because I love epidemiology and all that. So I was doing that and while doing that I came across midwifery, but to do that you have to take nursing, so I switched my major over to nursing from pre-Med stuff.
And then I did a play that my friends were like, ‘You have to do this! You’ll love it!’ But I just kept resisting and resisting because it’s a tough life and, as much as it was everything that I always wanted to do and be. And then confidence. Fear. Absolute fear of not being good, not doing a good job and ‘sucking’ and putting yourself out there – [it] is a really scary thing, you know.
I started taking acting classes in Manhattan. I moved to Manhattan at a very young age. I won’t get into that but too young. Left home and moved to go to school and just be in Manhattan. I was taking acting classes for like ever with my coach, who I still love and adore, and he’s like, ‘You need to get out there.’ And I was like, ‘No, no I’m going to study a little longer. I’m fine!’ And then friends pushed me into this play and that was it, it was over.
DB: What’s the name of your coach that you’re still friends with?
SG: He’s retired now but I love him so much, Eric Loeb. He’s my inspiration and everything!
DB: So it was really just the fear of jumping in the deep end, and not knowing whether you would sink or swim, that put you off?
DB: I know you said about pre-Med and then changed to Midwifery: how far did you actually get with that?
SG: Well two years in. I changed my major two or three times. So this is what happened: I was doing a General Pre-Med, then switched to Nursing because I wanted to be a midwife, during my nursing courses I discovered microbiology and from microbiology I was [attracted to] epidemiology and I switched back to Pre-Med for epidemiology and then did the play.
DB: Did you do much theatre once you finally jumped into it?
SG: I didn’t. I’m not a theatre person. It bores the hell out of me. After that third weekend, I’m like, ‘My God! We’re doing this again?’ I have so much admiration for Broadway stars and theatre stars who do the same thing! I did not become an actor to do the same role, the same lines, for years – I can’t do it. I like the diversity. My parents used to joke that it was also written in the stars because: ‘one week you’d want to be an astronaut, the next week you’d want to be a doctor, the week after that it was a fireman, the week after that a lawyer.’ So, as an actor, I get to experience all those things in my time-space, in my mind. And I love that! I love other shoes! And seeing if my shoes fit into theirs. My parents were the ones pushing me to an education and I joke with them all the time, ‘If you had just let me be who I was, I’d be Cameron Diaz and you’d have a house in Malibu!’
I am who I am because of the things that I’ve done so I wouldn’t change a thing. I like my intelligence and I think those experiences, from an intellectual and emotional space, really feed the work that you’re doing because an empty head without the experience… not so good in the acting, nothing to draw from. I wouldn’t change a thing, about any part of my life. It’s all made you into who you are today and I like me. I’ve worked really hard on me, you know, to be the best person I can be. And all of that experience helps (good and bad) to have moulded me into who I am.
DB: You’ve done quite a lot of films and you’ve written some as well. The first movie that you wrote was The Hippocritic Oath, I think.
SG: Yes! That was the first piece I wrote. I wasn’t much of a writer, I just knew I had to figure out this piece, and we were just starting our production company – my husband is my partner in love and life and business. I originally started as an actor with a loan out company and we decided to actually make something because we have a lot of stories to tell. We did The Hippocritic Oath that was a short – learned a lot. We have some great friends over at Fox and we premiered it on the Fox lot. It is a very powerful story and recently, we’re like, ‘We should be releasing this now, as a short film, because of what it is given the current climate here in the States,’ but it was everybody’s first time so it was out of focus in so many places and we’d really have to sharpen it up, but we thought about it, actually getting it into the festival scene. We made it 10 years ago.
DB: There was another movie that you made, again with your husband, called AFTER. Can you tell me a little bit about that because you wrote and acted in that one as well, I believe?
SG: Yeah, wrote, produced, acted in that. Got an amazing, amazing cast, an incredible crew: Kathleen Quinlan, Oscar nominee, John Doman from The Wire, The Affair such a beautiful, beautiful man, Pablo Schreiber Orange is the New Black and American Gods, Diane Neal of Law and Order, Mandy Gonzales who stars in Hamilton on Broadway (she’s a monster Broadway star).
The film started, oddly, as a healing piece for me, I’m a 9/11 survivor, and it was my take on: if the planes had gone through the building they would have crashed into mine and I would have been dead, I was home sleeping at the time. I just thought, ‘How would my family respond to this?’ And my mum would have been, ‘Everything’s fine. Everything’s fine.’ And my dad would do whatever he could to make sure she was okay and my brothers would rally around that and just make sure my mum was okay. We wanted also to tell the piece, because there really aren’t any stories about the families of these people – it’s all about the event, all about the politics of it – nobody’s talking about the repercussions for the families and what these people are living with it day in and day out. They’re still identifying people, from DNA, still going through remains and it’s horrible. So that’s what the film is based on, a story like that, where everybody’s pretending that she’s not dead, including the mother and she comes to discover, finally, through events that transpire that it hits her. I wanted originally to end it (I’m all tragic) with her killing herself because she couldn’t live with the reality but everybody was like, ‘That’s so dark. That’s so dark.’ I was like, ‘Well it’s a dark time.’ I feel that it would have served the piece if we did that, but I also wanted it to be too many things. That’s the problem with our film, I think, we wanted too many things from it. I also wanted there to be hope: never forget but we can move on and take your dip but you can come back from anything. So we decided to have Kathleen’s character live and start a slow healing and so, at the end of the film, there’s hope. Max and Andy have a baby, so life continues and moves on.
You’re not really sure what’s happen at the beginning and I like that. I like movies that allow me to think. Not that there’s not something wonderful about a little popcorn here and there, I love the big budgets, l love the Marvels – I want to be in that Marvel or DC universe, you’ve no idea how badly I want to do that! But I like to think for a minute and dramatic pieces. I don’t want it all gifted, there’s no interest for me in that, I like to be a little confused and lost. So I made a film that I would want to see.
DB: Three Billboards was a bit like that I think, because you get dropped in and you don’t know the back-stories at all.
SG: Yes! I loved it! You discover and that was one of my favourite films of the year, one of my favourites of all time. I loved that film. One of the parts is played by Amanda [Warren], Amanda and I worked together in The Purge, she plays Denise in that film. Those are the films that I love in terms of my drama. I prefer the drop in, to be a little lost and in this day and age where they call it the ‘Instagram 5 seconds’ – you’ve got to get these little videos in, within 5 seconds because of the attention span – it’s really nice to have to have to pay attention.
We had some interesting critical stuff on that, and it’s fine, but some of them were so frustrating. We actually had few screenings and the entire audience, every time we screened film, would come up and be, ‘Oh my God!’ and everybody’s crying. They related it to so many things: to the small business aspect of a business family; a couple of people were like, ‘My sister had just died in a car crash and my mum was just like this.’ So I feel fantastic about the film. I’m a little pissed off at the morons, some of the young’uns, ‘Why didn’t they just FaceTime?’ It was 2002 and there were barely even cell phones at the time! I’m very proud of the film and learned a lot there too.
DB: How did it feel to be directed by your husband? Is it different from being directed by other directors?
SG: No. Oddly enough, we’ll battle all day in our personal lives but when it comes to business we are a fantastic team. Without a doubt. He is a brilliant director and he knows exactly what he wants. He’s a guy I would hire and that’s saying something. He’s my husband and I’ve got to live day in and day out with this guy (and we all know we all feel the way we do about our loved ones) but I would hire him in a heartbeat. He’s efficient, knows exactly what he wants, very clear, very kind, conscious, awake. He’s a brilliant director – I’m so grateful for that.
DB: Also on that movie, Jeff Beal, did the music. How did you get him because he’s an Emmy winning composer.
SG: Our editor is Bill Steinkamp – he’s a 3-time Oscar nominee. Jeff Beal read it and loved it; he’s doing all our films and he’s a genius. He read the script and was like, ‘Oh my God! I have to do this!’ That was the way with all the talent. Pieter had a conversation with him and with Bill Steinkamp (walked up to his door basically) and we love him so much.
DB: You were in a Jack Reacher movie with a certain Mr Tom Cruise. How was that as an experience?
SG: Yeah a guy by the name of Tom Cruise. You know, it’s impossible to describe that. One: my scenes got cut. We had some beautiful work and I was working with Tom directly. He couldn’t have been kinder, more genuine. He stood there with me, toe-to-toe, when it was my turn he did not stick his stunt double in there, or look away, he was with me. That’s rare with top stars like that. And Ed Zwick [director] that was a bucket list come true thing, for sure. Wow!
DB: What was Ed Zwick like as a director?
SG: Again clear, kind, focussed, open, just amazing! I’ve been very lucky in that department: there’s only been one director that I kind of clashed with, in my career, and one audition with a director where I was like, ‘I’m going to pass on this role! I can tell.’ And, sure enough, the film was garbage.
DB: TV, your first role, I think, was on Spin City.
SG: It was. That was my first SAG [Screen Actors Guild] waiver, ever. I actually went in as an extra because I was just learning. I ended up really bonding with the Assistant Director on the show (who we’re still friends with today) and he was like, ‘I’m going to bump you up because somebody didn’t show.’ So I got lines and I got my first SAG waiver. It was really cool!
DB: It shows that it’s really worth going on as an extra or a stand in.
SG: It is, especially if you’re new and you don’t know anything, go and do that. Go learn! For us in Manhattan it was the soaps: just go and you learn so much, because they shoot an episode a day people! People can trash on soap opera actors all they want, they’re probably the hardest working people in the business. They are doing an episode a day whereas TV shows are an episode every ten.
DB: You were on Guiding Light weren’t you?
SG: I was, yeah! I started doing extra work on that as well and about three months later I got a recurring role, as a cop running the jail cell for a couple of weeks. That was my first recurring, and I didn’t even know what ‘recurring’ was at the time, I was that new. I meet a lot of new actors and they ask me things all the time. First of all it’s difficult because we’re taking about 20 years ago now, I don’t know what the process for people would be today. Do you get to an acting class and then start doing of the casting things where you meet casting directors and see if they like your work? It’s all a building process. My coach told me, ‘People don’t realise this but it does happen where it’s literally an overnight success.’ My daughter is one of them (she’s 10) but if you make it under 10 years in this business, you’re a genius. I talk about Scarlett Johansson, that kid has been doing commercials since she was 4 years old and she hits it with Lost in Translation, but she’s already been at it 12 years! And then you’ve got ones who are born into the business like Kate Hudson or Drew Barrymore but they still have to perform to stay. That is one of the things I love about our industry: yes, nepotism will get you in the door – and what industry doesn’t – but you still have to be good at your job. So his advice was: ‘If you make it under 10 years you’re a genius, so relax and enjoy the ride.’ You’re always on a journey to something so you may as well learn to enjoy the journey. A lesson for life.
DB: Seize the day! You were also on The Sopranos.
SG: Oh my God, yes! Brilliant! That was my first real job so I went in, auditioned and got the job – that, in itself, was amazing. It was my first audition and I’d heard that you had to audition many times for The Sopranos before they hire you. There are so many funny stories but I got to work with Joey Pans [Joe Pantoliano] who I love and adore, Henry Bronchtein directed me (I’ll never forget how beautiful he was). The table read… James [Gandolfini] is right sitting across from me, Edie Falco next to him, Dominic Chianese next to him, and sitting next to me is Junior, and over here is Drea de Matteo who I ended up doing a film with later. It was mind-blowing: I couldn’t believe I was sitting in that room! (Laughs) We’re doing the table read and you sign confidentiality agreements, you have to turn the script in at the end of the day and when I got my sides there were no page numbers so I had no idea where I am in this episode. We’re going through the table read, going through the table read and we’re at page 45, 46 and I’m just like, ‘Oh my God! They wrote out my part, I’ve heard about stuff like this, nobody told me and I’m sitting in this room and everybody is going to be like ‘What the fuck is she doing here?’ It was literally like the last two minutes of the episode that I was in! (Both laugh) James came up, and his big mitts, and just shakes my hand and says, ‘Welcome to the family.’ He was so beautiful, so lovely and amazing. He was The Man!
DB: What an experience for a young actress though.
SG: Yes! Yes!
DB: Each time you tuck away more experience, especially working with people of that calibre.
SG: And I have been so lucky with that! I really have!
DB: You said you worked on a film with Drea: what was the film?
SG: Free Ride. It was wonderful. My friend Shana [Betz] directed it – she’s a brilliant director – I worked with Anna Paquin and Drea. My stuff with Anna, she wonderful and lovely and amazing.
DB: I watched you in the weird and wonderful show Claws.
SG: Yeah! Isn’t it! It’s so fucked up! Breaking Bad for chicks is the best way I can describe it. The clothes! It’s so fun going for fittings on that show. It’s like, the tackier the better and then you can just have fun with it. My second episode, it was so funny, we were having such a good time because I’m trying to get my shit together but I’m still who I am. (Laughs) You still had to be tacky but you’re a trier. We had a really, really good time on that one.
DB: You have got scenes directly with Carrie Preston, Morgan Lily and Jason Antin.
SG: Morgan and I love each other and it turns out that my daughter and her are repped by the same manager, so that was really cool – that we found out in our second episode, second season. My character was introduced at the end of the first season [Marnie’s awful mother selling her to some perverted Elvis] so I don’t know what is going to happen for season 3 – I’m not dead. I would love to be back because I love the show and everybody on it is so amazing. I’m going to keep watching it either way. Carrie’s a genius and Jason’s a genius! She so fun and, again, she’s like a female Tom Cruise with that, she’s just right in there.
DB: She always seems to be full of so much energy!
SG: She is! She’s so talented – so is Jason – she’s just… Oh God, I am so blessed with the people I get to work with. I really am.
DB: I loved her when she was in True Blood.
SG: Yes, that’s right! It’s all so incestuous. We all joke that there’s really only about 300 of us working and we all just change our names and hair colour!
DB: In The Purge you play Madelyn, leader of The Matron Saints group. I was already watching the show before the opportunity to interview you came up. Had you watched any of the original movies beforehand?
SG: I think I had watched the first one a while before – and the concept is crazy and cool and I love the horror genre, so they’re on my Netflix list but I don’t get to watch a lot of things, due to time. The show is great. It’s great to explore that world.
DB: How are you able to empathise with Madelyn’s character? Did you find that quite easy?
SG: I actually did. I’d either be Madelyn or go to Canada, for Purge Night. I’ll either be throwing down and making sure you don’t come anywhere near me or my family or attacking women or off to the vacation house in Canada.
DB: I think Canada would seem very appealing, as it often does.
SG: More and more every day!
DB: Have you got a backstory in your mind for Madelyn?
SG: Yes. But I don’t know that I’ll share that yet: it’ll depend on whether I come back next season.
DB: Have they created a backstory for her or is that something you had in your head already?
SG: In my head already. It’s a little different with The Walking Dead, Talking to Scott [Gimple] he has a monster backstory for Tamiel and we talked for hours about her – I hope they do flashbacks or something because Tamiel’s backstory is tremendous. I did like how they did what happened between Tamiel and Jadis, Simon shoots Brion, so Pollyanna [McIntosh] and I have our own sort of theories as far as our relationship goes and in that one moment it was clear, to us anyway, as to who we are to each other. I’ll hope that, because Scott’s mind is so brilliant, from that standpoint that it would be seen. To see what he created for Tamiel, it’s wonderful.
DB: How was your experience of working on The Purge?
SG: Brilliant! I am so grateful. The first director, Clark Johnson, that I worked with, I just love him so much, he was on my bucket list of TV directors to work with. The audition was wonderful. Tom Kelly was one of the best showrunners that I have ever worked with: he is open and kind and passionate and driven (very similar to Eliot [Lawrence] on Claws). And I know that it’s probably the ‘new’ thing for sure (new shows) but man that level of passion and care, is a rarity! We had some conversations about the Matron Saints and what they mean to the series and to the universe, so we were right on the same page and that conversation even brought in a little more in-depth for me, which was really cool to have that as well. Night shoots! I love night shoots! There’s something so sexy and powerful of the night.
DB: What sort of time would you start on them?
SG: I guess at six. On the first episode I think we were on from six to around three in the morning (but some are around 4, 5, 6 in the morning). They are a blur. But in the heart of New Orleans, shooting night scenes, just sexy and passion and power! It was fantastic! With weapons, on Purge Night, come on!
DB: And the lighting, the fires and the explosions, it’s all so much ‘more’ in the darkness.
SG: It is! The cinematography is amazing! The gaffer, they’re all on the same page – it’s really cool. Beautiful shots! And same thing with The Walking Dead, with this, they’re shooting little movies every 10 days. Production value is off the charts. I truly hope it continues.
DB: And the cast? You were working with Amanda [Warren].
SG: She’s just lovely. And then, for my girls, it’s the bond and that’s a lot. Again I have been very blessed with the people I have worked with, you know. We were just an immediate group. We still text and talk to each other all the time and are in each other’s lives now, from this.
Then what we’re doing: we sort of knew the impact, but we just didn’t realise politically, right now, with everything that just went down! We’ve got all of this political climate coinciding all of a sudden with The Matron Saints and what they’re about and it’s almost like The Matron Saints are a revolution within a revolution. With The Purge to have this opportunity to stand up as a woman and as a group of women and saying ‘No!’ Not only that but, ‘You’re going to pay for it!’
DB: Putting ‘the mark of Cain’ on them.
SG: ‘I can do whatever I want tonight so for the rest of your life people are going to know who you are and what you have done.’ Think about how insidious that is. Most people on Purge Night would do the murder, robberies, but we’re going to let them live but everybody’s going to know what you are and what you’ve done. It’s a scarlet letter.
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.
DB: Talking of make up, have you still got your own skin care line? Crap Free Skincare: vegan, organic, cruelty free, paraben free.
SG: I certainly do and I’m killing it actually, it’s very exciting. As a vegan it’s always difficult finding things and also as a person who, even though I smoke, I’m actually really conscious about what I’m putting in my body (even my cigarettes are organic, chemical free). It’s hard to find these things in a decent price range. Sure they’re out there but it’s $200 for 1 ounce of cream! It didn’t start that way for me. I’m crazy and every year I make, for friends, stuff for Christmas: one year it was quilts, another year wreaths. About three years ago I thought I would make my friends body scrubs. I started in the research for that in February and started trying different things out – and the whole time trying things out on myself so I don’t kill my friends! People were saying that my skin looked so good and asked what I was using. So I figured out this whole line to give to my friends only, handed it over at Christmas, and by the end of January they’re calling me saying that people are saying their skin never looked so good so could I make them some. So I do. Then it continued but the ingredients are expensive and I can’t just keep making things for people. But it is important to me to price it so that most everybody can afford it and that it lasts a long time. So I’ve worked another year on that. I’m growing it more year on year. It is all handcrafted, I know every ingredient that goes in and I am the micromanager.
DB: For anybody who’s considering going into acting as a career: what sort of advice could you give them?
SG: Well I’m not going to be the one to say ‘don’t’. I love my job! I love what I’d do! One: you have to have a passion for it, don’t go into thinking you are going to be rich and famous, because you may or you may not. The only reason that I say that you have to have a passion for it is because, when the times are tough, you have to be passionate about it to keep going. If you don’t love it, don’t start. You have to be okay with: missing dinner parties, not going to that wedding, shooting in the Himalayas during Christmas and not being with your family – things like that. I guess in terms of actual advice, find the method (if you will) that works for you: that may be nobody’s method but your own, trust yourself and trust your instincts. Confidence is the biggest thing that I struggled with, in the beginning, so finding your confidence helps you keep your head open to the creative space. The best thing I would say is: get some training and then find casting workshops where you get to meet casting directors. I love those: you get insight from casting directors, scenes with casting directors, you go to know what each individual casting director likes because they know their shows – when you get that insight that’s huge. It’s relationships. Don’t go into everything thinking, ‘This person’s going to get me a job in that.’ Work on the relationship and if you like that person; if you don’t like that person, don’t develop that relationship even if they’re the number 1 casting director in the world, if you don’t get along, let it go. At the end of the day, if you’re the one who is right for the role, whether they like you or not, guess what, you’re getting the job! Guess what else? They want it to be you so bad. When you walk in that room the casting director wants nothing more than their day to be over. They are with you, they are not against you. They’re not the enemy.
DB: What are your hobbies and passions outside of ‘work’?
SG: My daughter, animals. I’m an avid crafter, I love making shit – I’m an artist in that sense as well. I’m a reader. I’m starting to work out, especially as I want the Marvel Universe, so I need to be in shape. That’s my next goal: the Marvel and DC Universe. It’s not about the money, believe it or not, I love the creativity of those two spaces. I also meditate half-an-hour every day – that’s my peaceful space.
DB: Are you musical?
SG: No. When I’m drunk, absolutely. I can sing anything, when I’m drunk. I play a little piano but music is not my driving force. I have a housekeeper but I clean my house as well: it’s my stress relief. I like television on in the background, I like talking, and sometimes music on, and I love music. I love it! My daughter’s a big music junky. My husband loves jazz (coming out of New Orleans: it’s a big music town). I can sing. I’d love to do a Greatest Showman.
DB: That leads nicely into our next section on music. Can you remember the first single or album you ever bought?
SG: Probably Hotel California, The Eagles. I grew up on Rickie Lee Jones, Lynyrd Skynrd: my dad and my mum, that was their music. So the very first album that I bought, as a grownup, was (in honour of my dad) Hotel California. I saw my first and only Grateful Dead show, right before Jerry [Garcia] died – I was living in Jersey at the time.
DB: Is there a song, or songs, that take you back to a particular time in your life?
SG: Again, “Hotel California” because, as a kid, that was the first song that I knew all the words to. Anything Rickie Lee Jones is my mother and Boz Scaggs, Christopher Cross. It’s not really about songs it’s more about groups, I suppose. Different artists. Madonna: anything Madonna was my first discovery of freedom.
DB: Is there a specific song that, if you hear it, that you have to blast out really loudly?
SG: Too many to name! People ask my the questions: what’s your favourite book, your favourite movie, your favourite song? I’m like, why would I ever want a favourite of one thing? I don’t have a favourite food – l like everything. That makes no sense to me. I’m anywhere from (no joke) The B-52’s to Eminem, to Katy Perry. I love Miley Cyrus: I love what that woman is standing for right now at a young age. I have huge tastes.
DB: It’s probably easier to say what you don’t like than what you like.
SG: Yes! More than three reggae songs in a row, I cannot do. Love reggae but after the third one I’m like, ‘And… Okay.’ Same with zydeco. I will rock it out at the Crawfish Festival (even though I don’t eat them) for the first two and then it’s the same, ‘Okay… moving on.’
DB: Do you go to listen to live music a lot?
SG: No, no time. With this one [daughter], we just found out that Taylor Swift was in New Orleans and a few of her friends were going, and I was like, ‘How do these people find out these things?’ So I guess that’s something I’ll have to start doing. With certain things I always have to weigh the effort, you know, when you’re exhausted and you just want to lay on the couch, which you never get to do. It’s only ten minutes to get there and then to park but it’s going to be 4 hours trying to leave, with all the traffic. Part of what bothers me about it is I always have so much to do! I wouldn’t mind if I was sitting in traffic with a driver because I could get back to emails, learn some lines, get phone calls done, but when you’re driving…
DB: Do you dance?
SG: I do. I love it. When I’m drunk. Who cares!
DB: Have you got any guilty musical pleasures?
SG: I don’t care. I love Katy Perry, Taylor Swift. I love rap. Eminem is my favourite artist of all time! I have guilty TV, you know, like Desperate Housewives. Super-cheesy TV but never Reality – I don’t like Reality TV shows. I love the baking and craft shows. We are big Great British Bake Off fans here, you know, Paul and Mary, we just love them so much.
DB: What does music mean to you?
SG: When you’re writing scenes you hear a song. Or you hear a song and you see a scene play out: a moment in time; a moment in a life. It’s universal. We can all communicate with music and math.
Final three questions that we try to ask everybody:
DB: What’s your favourite word?
SG: Motherfucker. Seriously. I don’t know why. I’m very vulgar, for sure, in my language however I will not, cannot, do the middle finger to somebody – that feels ‘dirty’. (Laughs) It takes everything I have, if I have a character, if I’ve got to dip into the character to throw the middle finger. It gives me the skeeves. But vulgarity in language is colourful and it’s honest. I like it. I like it when people are free enough to be able to use vulgarity in everyday language. I think it’s very freeing. So that’s my love of swear words.
DB: If you could create a perfect day, how would you describe it?
SG: Can’t do that. They are all perfect.
DB: What could you not possibly live without?
SG: My daughter. I could live in a car. I could live under a bridge. As long as I have her, I’m good. And my husband, mostly. My husband and my daughter. We’ve been in the verge of broke so many times: you put all your money in a movie and then the state fucks with your tax credit and you’re on hold for two years, and you’re wondering how you’re paying rent. I would live anywhere, do anything, as long as I have them.
You can find Sabrina @
(New crafty blog)
[Update: Sabrina is in the movie Darlin’ which is written and directed by her The Walking Dead castmate, Pollyanna McIntosh. This will premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin on March 9th 2019]
This interview has 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.