A chat with Anderw Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead

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AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is one of the most anticipated new series of Fall 2010, so when Bullz-Eye was offered the opportunity to sit in on a series of roundtable interviews with members of the cast and creative team, you can imagine that we jumped at the chance. In the midst of a world wracked with a serious zombie infestation, you wouldn’t think that there’d be time for the survivors to deal with something like a love triangle, but Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, and Sarah Wayne Callies can assure you that there most certainly is. We’re not sure you can trust Callies’ word, though. She doesn’t even like scary movies, for God’s sake

Journalist: For you guys, what’s it like…I mean, obviously, with a series, you have a longer time to develop your characters, not just one season, but hopefully a lot more than that. How does that feel for you, and how do you approach that?

Andrew Lincoln: "When I read the pilot (for 'The Walking Dead'), I kind of came with preconceived ideas, and it was exciting, it was thrilling, it was brutal, which I kind of expected with the genre. I didn’t expect it to be so witty, so funny, and, particularly, so moving. And I think that combination of emotions, irrespective of genre, just makes for compelling storytelling and compelling drama."

Andrew Lincoln: Yeah, I mean, I think it was one of the big draws for me, the fact that we get…it’s not like a movie, where you’ve got two hours to fill in all the dots, and this is the action sequence, this is who survived. It’s about what happens afterward, so it is absolutely an exercise in character development. That was definitely one of the big key-ins for me. Also, just to play Rick, to have time to play someone who is so flawed, so human, so honorable, driven by honorable intentions but, actually, over time, gets changed irrevocably. That’s the kind of dream, really. When you see that broken down, you go, “Yeah!” You can’t not say it. But for all of us…I won’t speak for you guys, but all of the characters, Frank and Robert and all the team have drawn them so brilliantly, and they’re so different, and it’s just like nothing I’ve ever read before. And that was one of the great excitements for me.

Jon Bernthal: It’s very exciting, man. It’s very exciting, and…it’s an opportunity, like Andrew said. It’s not a two-hour movie. Each week, each couple of weeks, we get a new script, and we get taken in a completely new direction, and we get opportunities, I think, to redeem ourselves, to totally screw up, to try desperately. And I think in a world where zombies can come at any point, it kind of throws all of the rules out the window. A hero can become a villain, a villain can become a hero. If you screw up in that most important vital time of survival, that’s when the magnifying glass is on you, in terms of where you stand in the group, so it’s an unbelievable opportunity as an actor, because you get to change all the time. So it’s exciting, and to keep going…just more and more great surprises. And let-downs. (Laughs)

Bullz-Eye: How strange is it to be able to play a love triangle in the middle of a zombie show?

Sarah Wayne Callies: You know, I think it’s actually kind of ideal… (Laughs) …which is to say that, I mean, the zombies push us to a place where we’re all so far beyond the pale of who we recognize. I think we’re all discovering we’re capable of things we would never have thought we could have done, and so you can take it farther, because you’re already pushed past the point of being somebody that you recognize. I mean, it’s the great gift of television, that you have hours to attenuate these characters and layer them. He can say something to me that hurts me, and he doesn’t know that he’s hurt me for three episodes, and he can’t work up to an apology for six, and it’s a season later before I ever unload on him. Which is the way that life works, you know? We don’t resolve our issues in two hours. And it really allows things to stew and marinate, particularly when you’ve got relationships that go back as far as these three do.

BE: Andrew, you’ve got a scene with a tank in the first episode, where the expression on your face immediately before you suddenly realize that there’s an option you haven’t considered…it’s ridiculous. What was it like to play that particular moment?

The Walking DeadAL: It was wild. (Laughs) It’s interesting, because people say, “How do you prepare for those kinds of scenes?” And a lot of it is physical, because you just have to ramp it up to get to the point where you think, “Oh, this is where I kill myself.” Because everybody is so good in all of the departments, it made my life, our lives, so much easier, because it just felt real. Our job…I said to Frank (Darabont), “If we’re going to sell this world, what we need to do is make it as raw, as painful, as difficult, as beautiful, as intimate as we possibly can, to make sure that people really buy the fact that there are zombies out there.” We have to work a lot harder, I think. But, then, that’s a great opportunity. It means that you kind of have to…well, as Sarah was saying, the world is so ramped up that it makes our job more exciting. It wasn’t a big dilemma. It’s just been a gas! I go to work, and I get to wear a cowboy hat and jump on a horse and shoot zombies for a living! I mean, come on! (Laughs)

SWC: We’re having fun.

AL: We’re having fun here, but it’s kind of…it’s brutal as well. And I love that about it. It doesn’t feel like the same rules apply to this show than any other show I’ve ever been involved in, which is kind of cool. It’s rare, and it’s a surprise.

SWC: The story, too…I mean, the story’s so extreme that the values that we would apply to this stuff really change. You asked about the love triangle. You take the zombies away, and Lori’s just a bitch who’s cheating on her husband. (Laughs) You know what I mean? You contextualize this, and there are two desperate human beings trying to affirm some semblance of life when everything they know…you know, they’re refugees. Their government has fallen, there’s no power, they’re living in a pre-industrial revolution, they’ve lost everything. That becomes a very different act. So living in a world where our values are a moving target and the ground is shifting beneath your feet…? Very cool.

Journalist: How do you sell this show to the non-genre fans?

AL: “Just watch it.” That’s how we sell it. “Just watch it.” Give it a chance. If you can get to Episode 3…and you will get to Episode 3…when you get there, you’ll get a true sense of the true potential of the show. And the thing that I…when I read the pilot, I kind of came with preconceived ideas, and it was exciting, it was thrilling, it was brutal, which I kind of expected with the genre. I didn’t expect it to be so witty, so funny, and, particularly, so moving. And I think that combination of emotions, irrespective of genre, just makes for compelling storytelling and compelling drama.

SWC: I’m not a genre fan. I’ve never seen a horror movie. They scare me. I’ve never read a comic book. They scare me. (Robert) Kirkman’s wife, too, she doesn’t read his comics… (Laughs) …and she sat down and watched it. And I saw the pilot, and I’m legitimately a fan. I’ve got to watch half of it with my eyes closed, but I think it’s extraordinary.

Journalist: That’s actually my question for all of you guys: are you fans of the zombie genre, or maybe the supernatural genre?

The Walking DeadJB: Not especially. I mean, I dig good stuff, and when it’s done really well, it’s awesome. I don’t know, just to kind of second what they said, but I think that’s really what we’re going for. We’re really trying to make this as human a piece as ever, but don’t get it twisted, though: the genre fans are going to be extremely, extremely happy, because it’s unrelenting, and it’s totally full-on. So, yeah, they’ll dig it.

AL: AMC have been amazing and really brave, I think. When I saw a couple of first cuts, I just couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that they were showing such…

SWC: “Can we air that?”

AL: Yeah! I did! (Laughs) I mean, I laughed out loud! “Are we really showing this?” And Frank just went, “Yep!”

Journalist: Part of the appeal to me is that you have little moments where it seems like all of your characters are trying to hang on to your humanity, because you’re losing it because of the world you’re in.

AL: That’s it.

SWC: It’s a story of a group of people who are trying not to turn into monsters…and failing as often as they succeed. I mean, it’s food for actors, too, right? The first thing I look for in a character when I’m going to play her is her flaws. Don’t have to look for Lori’s. They’re right there. (Laughs) And, so, we get to…this is a journey about redemption and loss and returning, but at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to stay people.

AL: I think that’s right. I think if you’re going to do a story about the undead, surely it’s an opportunity to say what it is to be alive, you know?

Bullz-Eye: I particularly liked the scene…I guess it’s a flashback, technically, to the pre-zombie era…with Rick and Shane in the police car. I think it’s the most human moment of the pilot, setting the scene for you guys and your relationship.

AL: Yeah, that was nice.

SWC: By the way, I did try. I tried to watch a horror movie. I’ve had nightmares ever week since we started shooting this. People always laugh about that. I tried to watch “Zombieland,” thinking, “It’s a comedy,” and I could totally do it.

JB: (Bursts out laughing) “Zombieland.” That’s your horror movie. That’s amazing.

SWC: I made it 17 minutes before I was shaking and afraid, and I had nightmares that night. My husband had to turn it off. So, you know, I love this show, and that’s the extent of my chickenhood. I did get all the way through the “Thriller” video, which I consider to be some kind of… (Starts laughing)

JB: That doesn’t count! I’m sorry, but that does not count.

SWC: But there’s the undead! So they’re dancing. They’re still the undead!

JB: That’s far enough. That’s not the show we’re making.

Journalist: I’ll give you half-credit for that.

SWC: Thank you!

JB: (Shaking head) No way, man. No way.

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