Having already endured the bitter cold in Adam Green’s “Frozen,” actress Emma Bell is now forced to contend with the boiling heat of Atlanta, Georgia – not to mention the flesh-eating living dead – as she films “The Walking Dead,” the AMC television adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s long-running survival horror series from Image Comics. Bell stars in the series as Amy, a college student who finds herself trapped in the midst of the zombie apocalypse while on a road trip with her older sister Andrea (Laurie Holden). Both sisters find refuge amongst a small group of survivors outside of Atlanta, immediately finding kinship in Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), an older man equipped with an ever useful RV.
CBR News spoke with Bell last week at Comic-Con International in San Diego alongside a small group of reporters. The actress discussed the differences between Green’s “Frozen” and Frank Darabont’s “The Walking Dead,” her experience reading the comic books, the atmosphere on set, her relationships with her co-stars and what zombie fans can expect from the creatures at the heart of the upcoming horror series.
CBR News: So you know a little bit about horror, having just worked with Adam Green.
Emma Bell: Yes, yes, I do! He’s awesome. “Frozen” could not be more different from “The Walking Dead,” but they’re still sort of in the same genre. Equally scary, but in different ways.
What are some of the biggest differences between them, would you say?
Well, for one, in “Frozen,” I was literally frozen the entire time. Now, I’m sweating my balls off, for lack of a better term. [Laughs] It’s so hot in Atlanta, and muggy. It’s funny – I said to myself when I was on the ski lift, getting hit by the fourth blizzard, that the next time I did anything, I had to be somewhere warm. Regretting that a little bit! [Laughs]
Other than that, of course there are no zombies in “Frozen.” But they’re both character-driven, which is great, and “The Walking Dead” really is character-driven. I mean, the zombies are very much there and they’re very prevalent. I mean, look at this. [Holding up a promotional image of a zombie] How amazing is that? This is the masterwork of [visual effects and makeup artist] Greg Nicotero. It’s fantastic. So they’re there, all these guys, but it’s about a group of people who have to sort of hang onto humanity through all of this and sometimes we lose at that endeavor.
Were you familiar at all with the series before joining the cast?
No. It’s funny, because I booked it and had read the script and thought, “This is amazing. This is so cool. I love this. It’s so well-written!” When I booked it, I was like, great. But I had no idea until I went to New York City – I’m from the east coast – and when I went back home, I was having lunch with my friend and she was like, “What are you working on now?” And I said, “Oh, I just booked this thing for AMC. It’s called ‘The Walking Dead.’ I don’t know.” She like spit out her food, slammed her drink down on the table and was like, “Get out of here. That is my favorite comic book of all time. Do you know how big that comic book is?” And I was like, “No.” Then I went and bought all of them and I read them and was like, “Wow.” As I was reading it, of course it was made into a TV show. It really lends itself to the screen.
You’re playing Amy. Can you talk about her a little bit? She’s a character from the books…
She’s a character from the comic books. She’s not so big in the comic books. My sister [Andrea], who is being played by Laurie Holden, is a bigger character. But in this version, it’s the same premise: we were on a sister road-trip. She was driving me back down to college when this whole apocalypse happened and we kind of got stranded and taken in by Dale, played by the lovely Jeffrey DeMunn. Isn’t he awesome? He’s amazing. I’ve actually nicknamed him Gandalf on set, because he sits there and he’s so strong and calm, even as zombies are running past. He’ll have this anecdote of wisdom and it’s just like, ah, where is your staff? [Laughs]
So, yeah, all of that is still the same. We get to camp and we’re part of the community there and we’re all just trying to survive. We meet Rick – Andy Lincoln is freaking amazing, by the way. Have you seen those pictures? I think everyone is [perfect for their roles]. I really could not imagine – I mean, look at the poster. I can’t imagine anyone else playing any of these characters. On top of that, not only do they all look like their characters, they’re all such good actors. That’s been one of my favorite parts of working on this thing. I’m surrounded by these amazing, amazing actors. Laurie, who plays my sister, has been amazing. She’s been in a lot of Frank’s other [films]. She’s just been great about – this is my first time on a series like this – and she’s been great in helping me be calm. We’re working for Frank Darabont, for goodness sake. And our characters, our emotional connection is very important to our characters, so the fact that we really love each other -Â Laurie and I – we’ve really bonded, we’ve really become like sisters. Trusting and all of that. It’s been wonderful.
This show is filled with grotesque elements, so what’s the mood like on the set when you have to interact with [the zombies]?
It never ceases to scare. Seriously, we’re all still creeped out by these zombies. The people who are playing the zombies are amazing. They’ve all been to the zombie boot camp. They all learned how to walk and make noises and make faces and crawl. They’re so into [being] zombies. They come to the set – and a day on set will be like 12 or 14 hours long – and they’re in these outfits for 14 hours. Can you imagine? And they never break character. Even at lunch! You’ll go past them and be like, “Hey guys!” And they’re actually eating limbs! [Laughs] No, I’ll walk past them and they’ll kind of turn their heads and start getting up really slowly like they’re going to attack me. And I’m like, “Okay, uh, bye…” [Laughs] They’re really great.
But it’s so funny. If anybody came to set when we’re in between takes, it’s kind of surreal and probably kind of funny. You’ll see zombies high fiving and shaking around. People will be bleeding. They’ll yell cut and we’ll be like, “So, what do you want to do Friday night? Should we go get pizza somewhere?” So we all have a good time on set. You can’t not.
For a television series on AMC, the level of violence and gore is really surprising. Looking at what you guys are able to get away with here, is it surprising to you that this is actually going to make it on TV?
There are certain scenes that are like, wow, that’s a lot of blood. But I think it’s needed. It’s not every episode. In fact, a large part of episodes are, like I said before, very character-driven. The zombies are what propel our characters, you know what I mean? They’re very much the catalyst for all of our lives, and most of the scenes are trying to get around that, but when the zombies become physically part of the scene, you want to kill them. There ends up being a lot of limbs and a lot of torn zombie figures, blood splattering everywhere. It almost feels like you’re shooting a different thing at that point. “Right, zombies. Right. Right. That’s what we’re shooting.” Yeah, I think it’s going to push a lot of boundaries with that level. Fans will not be disappointed, believe me. You’re getting zombies!
Speaking of that, are you a fan of the zombie genre?
I am now! [Laughs] Maybe not to the extent that people will want me to be, but yeah, of course. Look, the zombies are slow-moving zombies here. They have the zombies that stagger and have their arms out, and they’re kind of a zombie genre of their own right. They walk very slowly. They walk slowly, but they’ll get’cha. They walk in packs. They surround you. They move really quietly so you don’t know that they’re coming. They’re awesome.
“The Walking Dead” premieres on AMC in October as part of the network’s annual Fearfest program. The series comes from director-writer-producer Frank Darabont and executive producers Gale Anne Hurd and Robert Kirkman.