The New Zealand-born actress — who recently appeared in a recurring role on Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” and as Tinker Bell in “Once Upon a Time’s” Neverland story arc — landed the lead role in The CWs adaptation of the Chris Roberson and Michael Allred Vertigo comic, as conceived by “Veronica Mars” creator Rob Thomas, in the eleventh hour, but she’s thrown herself headfirst into the part.
Since becoming a card-carrying member of the undead, McIver’s taken a crash course in Zombie 101, learned to make her charmingly pale natural complexion work in her favor, and even cultivated a taste for brains — or at least what passes for them on the set.
CBR News: How closely did you look at the comic book source material to prep for the role, and what did you take out of it?
Rose McIver: I was sent the comics, and I read all those. I really enjoyed them. I think they had built such an interesting character, and I think that Rob [Thomas] and Diane [Ruggiero] have done a great job in bringing her to life, making her accessible with longevity like a show can, and kind of emphasizing the important parts of her, the parts that I felt would make a good show. I definitely looked to the material a lot, but I’m really lucky that I’ve got great scripts to work with as well.
Were you prepared for the physicality the role required? When you temporarily learn new skills by eating the right person’s brains, for example?
Luckily, I come from a dance background and have always been quite athletic, so I was excited at any of the stunt elements that we worked with. There’s a great guy — Ernest, E.J. — who’s our stunt coordinator, and he comes to me sort of in the prep for each episode and says, “Great. Next episode, you need to do, like, a round-off. Can you do that?” Or, “You’re going to need to fight hand-to-hand, martial arts.” So we will work on the weekend or at the end of a long day and just try to do as much prep as we can to get those stunts together.
What’s the hardest thing they’ve asked you to do so far?
Yesterday — I had to do a cartwheel in high heels yesterday! I’ve always been able to cartwheel, but when they put me in these, like, seven-inch boots, I suddenly realized my center of balance was a little different. So that was actually pretty challenging in the cold, yeah.
Why would you have to cartwheel?
Well, yeah, exactly. “What brain did I eat this time?” is sort of the question!
Brains — what are they using on set, and what does it taste like?
It’s a gelatin, coconut thing. We tried with soy protein. We’ve tried a few different options, but it depends on how they’re served as well, because I cook them in different ways each episode. There’s one episode where it looks like a shrimp salad, and that’s little bits of brain. Or there’s, like, cerebellum Sashimi one time. There’s all sorts, but mainly gelatin.
Do you feel like this big role has come along at the right time for you? Would you have been ready for this three, four, five years ago?
It feels to me — I mean, it’s been the most amazing year. It did feel very serendipitous, the way this whole project came together. It’s like, I got cast — they’d been looking and looking and looking, and I’d been working on other projects. It had been sort of star-crossed. And then, at the last minute, I came in, and we made it all turn around. I had a one day turnover from a project that happened just before, so it kind of just felt like everything lined up right at the last moment, and that this was the right thing for me to do right now. I feel like I’ve just come off of a lot of drama, and it was exciting to do something with a little comedy. Being in a television series made sense now, where maybe in the past I’d been drawn to film, or short commitment projects. Right now, I was ready for this.
How much of an aficionado have you been of the zombie genre? Have you watched many films and shows prior to this gig?
I really haven’t. [I’ve seen] one or two films, so I had a baptism by fire going into this. I started watching “Night of the Living Dead,” and “28 Days Later,” and all of the different incarnations of zombies. It’s been really fascinating. I mean, Diane is our zombie queen. She’s the person who knows everything about zombie lore and the different ways that it’s come about. I trust her implicitly.
What did you like best?
I really liked “28 Days Later!” I think it was, to me, just such an interesting, human way of looking at something like that.
When a zombie looks at a guy who’s rotting in the street, and here you are looking very human and beautiful, does the zombie recognize, “Ooh, that guy looks like shit?”
Yeah, definitely. I think at one point, I describe another zombie as looking like a melted candle. In the third episode, actually, I look at Marcy, and I say she looks like a melted candle and I don’t want to look like that. There’s an understanding, as a zombie, that if you decay, you look bad. We’re not attracted to other zombies who look like that.
So the show’s zombies realize that some are more attractive than others?
Yes. Yes, actually. We have goes at each other about it. Blaine, David Anders’ character, definitely teases me about not putting on the spray tan and not buying into the whole kind of look that he does. But I think for Liv, it is a thing about ownership and making sure that she dresses the way she dresses, no matter what. She looks the way she looks, and that’s her identity that’s wrapped up in that.
Do the zombies socialize with one another?
Yes, very much so! Initially, Liv doesn’t have other zombie friends or have any relationships with any other zombies, so she doesn’t. She socializes with her family and friends with her big secret being kept and not being able to really connect with them. But very early on, I think an episode after what you guys have been given, she actually meets a gentleman-caller zombie. So they’re able to — I can’t tell you yet. You’re going to have to watch.
What were your first thoughts when you saw yourself in the mirror in the makeup?
I loved how much it looked like the comic. I thought it was really nice, because we do have a departure in a lot of ways from that source material, and so it was really nice that it leaves that for the fans for the comic book — that it would hopefully resonate with them, the look. So I like that. I really like the very pale skin. I think that’s something we don’t see a lot. We see so many tan people and fake-tan people on television. So it’s quite refreshing to see. I used to be quite self-conscious about having very pale skin anyway — people say, “the English rose,” or whatever — so it’s quite nice. I took a bit of ownership over the fact that I could be pale and not have a lot of pigment and be proud.
How did that come about? Did you collaborate on your look?
Well, I had been working on a film at the same time as we were in preproduction. So actually, what happened is, on the weekends I was doing makeup tests. I would be shooting on the week doing something else, and on the weekends — we did extensive hair and makeup and costume tests to really create that look, because so much rides on Liv being attractive enough and relevant and accessible enough and human enough, but also being a zombie. We didn’t want her to be entirely incognito. We wanted people to raise their eyebrows when they see her. It was a fine line, but I think we found something that I’m really happy with. I was thrilled.
Are you ever more rough, looks-wise, depending on what you eat?
Yeah, very much.
Is that a big part of the story?
It is. Depending on the brains that I eat, the behavior, the mannerisms, the tendencies, all sorts of things change depending on the brain that I eat. I think that, to me, is one of the most appealing devices of the show. There’s just room to go anywhere. We’re fighting for a musical episode!