The zombie apocalypse is close at hand.
On Halloween, AMC will finally debut the series premiere of “The Walking Dead,” the new hourlong drama based on the Image Comics series from Robert Kirkman. Written and directed by Frank Darabont, “The Walking Dead” tells the story of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), an injured lawman who wakes up from a coma and finds himself trapped in a new nightmare – the world he knew is gone, replaced by a savage wasteland where the dead are walking and every surviving human is a full course meal in the making. Left alone in this broken landscape, Rick is a man with only one goal in mind: tracking down his wife and his son, and ensuring their survival at all costs.
Rick isn’t the only one struggling to survive, of course, as he’s joined by a not-so-merry band of survivors that includes the resourceful Glenn (Steven Yeun), lawyer-turned-sharpshooter Andrea (Laurie Holden) and the mysterious Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus).
At New York Comic-Con, CBR News and a small group of journalists spoke with Yeun, Holden and Reedus about their characters, the experience of shooting “The Walking Dead” in the brutal heat of Atlanta, how much they allow the comic books to inform their performances – or, in the case of Reedus, how the lack of a comic book counterpart affects his journey – and what they would do if bitten by a zombie.
CBR News: What are some of the challenges of working on a show like “The Walking Dead?”
Steven Yeun: You know, I’m fairly new to doing television. I’m so blessed to have all of these seasoned veterans with me. They all said that this is maybe one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do, and after this, it might be a cake walk. It’s physically challenging, mentally, emotionally – you’re on the edge all of the time. The zombies who are there, Greg Nicotero does an amazing job making you think you’re there. The set dress is ridiculous. There are moments when you literally forget that you’re acting.
Norman Reedus: It’s 120 degrees, with the humidity. It’s like fighting for your life every day. And God bless those people [that are playing the zombies]. Not only are they melting, but they’re totally committed with flies buzzing. They went to zombie school.
Laurie Holden: There’s nothing pretty about our show. There’s nothing glam about it. We all look like hell and we’re all sweating. It’s really bleh, you know? But that’s what makes it. There’s no self-consciousness. All of that acting goes out the window and we’re literally fighting for ourselves.
What was it like going to a different director for each episode?
Reedus: It keeps it interesting, I think. Each one has their own vision. I came in late on the show, but these guys had been there. I think the director really went into their world to figure out how to do it, more than the actors going into their world. That’s what it seemed like to me.
Yeun: It was awesome. We as a family, as a cast, we kind of built this world together. What was awesome was that each director was willing to come in with us and show his style to us and help us through, but we kept it pretty consistent. This is our world that we created, and we kind of stayed true to it the whole time.
When you say the word “family,” has the cast bonded pretty tightly for you to refer to it as that?
Yeun: The cast is pretty tight. When you’re in 120 degree weather, your underwear is filled with sweat, you’re running and screaming and trying to protect each other…
Holden: And sobbing your guts out and ripping out your own kidneys in despair, you get tight pretty quickly.
Steven, this show has a huge fan base coming into it. There are characters that people have grown to love, and they get very upset when these characters are ripped away. You just so happen to be one of the characters still kicking around in the books!
Yeun: It’s nice, it’s nice! [Laughs] It is nice, but what I’ve been saying is, comic books are their own medium in terms of having to go about it in a specific way, and TV has to go about it in a specific way, just out of necessity. I was actually a huge fan of this comic book prior to me knowing about the project. What makes me really happy is that as a fan, I’m very happy with whatever deviations we take, and whenever we stick to the canon, it’s pretty awesome.
As someone who went into this as a fan of the book, now that you’re playing Glenn, does it completely recolor the way you look back at the series and when new issues come out?
Yeun: I’ve read up to about issue #65 and then I stopped, because I didn’t want to rein myself into something so specific. I didn’t want to mimic exactly what this comic book was doing. I obviously wanted to maintain true to the character, but I wanted to figure it out [for myself] as well.
Do you worry about seeing yourself dying in the books?
Yeun: We haven’t hit there yet, so I’m good for now. [Laughs] I’m happy with that. I’m happy to have a job. It’s pretty weird; to be honest with you, I don’t know what’s happening right now in terms of all of this. I still haven’t really grasped the project, how big it might be and whatever’s going on with it. It scares me, though, that people have an idea of what my character is supposed to be like. I think it’s pretty close to the heart, but I think I see a lot of subtext that I didn’t see when reading the comic, in that I think Glenn looks at certain individuals as role models and takes little bits and pieces to become his own man. You see that over the course of the comic – you see him coming into his own – but it’s cool to see how he made those choices, what he takes from certain individuals and how that turns him into a growing person.
Norman, you’re playing a character that isn’t in the comic books. Is that a blessing? Is it a curse? How do you view it?
Reedus: I think if I was in the comic book, I would constantly be looking to see my death scene and see when it’s coming. It’s kind of a blessing in that way. As far as not knowing where I’m headed, I kind of don’t mind it, to be honest. I kind of like getting the script and figuring it out on its own. I haven’t had tons of discussions about my character with anybody. I started off kind of winging it, then it became something and it’s still continuing to grow in a totally different way.
Holden: He’s going to become a very loved character.
Reedus: Which might mean they’re going to kill you! [Laughs] “We love him so much!” “Well, you’ll love it when he dies.” [Laughs] My character is so out there. He’s such an interesting, memorable thing. I don’t even want to call him a person; he’s more of a thing. I do feel free, that I can do what I want, as long as I stay within the group. The thing too about working on this, which I probably never had before, is the joyous experience of everyone having each other’s backs on this. They’re actual friends, you know? I can say “should I try this” to another cast member, and I’m kind of fitting in their world and becoming a part of their world. I feel pretty free.
Laurie, you have the opposite situation from Norman in that Andrea is an established character and definitely a fan-favorite. What’s it like trying to fill those shoes?
Holden: Well, it’s tricky. I do feel like I have a real kindred spirit to Andrea. I understand her. I love playing this character. I know, because we all hear it, there’s a little bit of fan speculation because they’re upset that they didn’t hire a 23 year-old to play Andrea. But it wasn’t my decision! [Laughs] Frank made a conscious decision that he wanted to have her a little bit older, but the dynamics between her and Amy and Dale are exactly as they are in the comic books. Laurie Holden is an athlete and Andrea is a warrior, so I think [fans] are going to get past that very quickly. Age is just a number. In terms of all the emotional moments and the journey, it’s the exact same.
Do any of you have a particular episode that you enjoyed shooting the most, or one that was the most memorable?
Holden: I would say four and five for me, but I can’t tell you why.
Reedus: Three for me. I can’t tell you why, either. [Laughs]
Yeun: Two was fun…
Holden: Oh yeah. Two was fun!
Yeun: But I can’t tell you why! [Laughs]
If you guys were bitten by a zombie in real life, what would you do?
Reedus: I’d party like it’s 1999. [Laughs] It depends. How hot was the zombie that bit you?
Holden: Is it a fresh bite? Is it a little baby bite or a big bite? Here’s the deal – we’ve got some people in camp that really know what they’re doing. They could cut off part of my arm. I could be amputated and I could still live. If I could save my life, I’d kind of just keep chopping.
Reedus: I’d go and see Pee-wee’s new show on Broadway, that’s what I would do.
Holden: That’s what he wants to do anyway. [Laughs] You don’t have to get bitten by a zombie to see it!
The 90 minute series premiere of “The Walking Dead” airs at 10/9 p.m. central on AMC this Halloween.