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"Fear the Walking Dead's" Dickens Warns Zombie Drama Is Not For Faint of Heart

Battling walkers in L.A. wasn't on Kim Dickens' to-do list, but when the in-demand actress got the call to join "Fear the Walking Dead," she followed her gut instincts and prepared herself for the coming zombie apocalypse.

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After acclaimed stints in dramatic series like "Deadwood" and "Treme," as well as last year's acclaimed, modern crime noir "Gone Girl," Dickens has been at the top of casting lists around Hollywood. But it was a leading role in the much-anticipated prequel/spinoff of AMC's "The Walking Dead" that topped her list of the acting challenges that she wanted to take on.

As Dickens told CBR News, she hadn't previously imagined herself fighting to survive in a zombie-plagued urban landscape but the opportunity proved too intriguing to pass up -- even if it tested her physically, emotionally and especially where she's squeamish.

CBR News: You've done some exceptional television work over the years, including stints on HBO's "Treme" as well as "Sons of Anarchy" and "House of Cards." What drew you to this particular show?

Kim Dickens: Well, it was sort of like, I finished "Treme" and I'd finished "Gone Girl." It was a big decision in my life: like, where do I want to live next character-wise, story-wise? It's, like, I sort of took my time. And this thing came to me and they said, "Do you want to audition?" And I said, "I don't think I'm right for this genre. I don't think I fit into that. I have not done that genre."

And then I read it and I met with them and I was like, "Wow -- this is an amazing character! And this is really fun!" And it seemed like something totally different for me that I'd never done, and it's been nothing but fun. This has been a challenge and physical and it's kind of amazing. So I'm glad I made the decision. I just sort of have to follow my gut. My gut instinct was like, "I don't know, I think this is it."

What was it about your character that made you want to live in that role, possibly for years?

Well, I just like the high stakes of it all. I like the fact that the characters are going to be always on their toes and evolving and changing and questioning who they are in each moment. And it just seemed like a lot of really amazing stuff to get to play and explore.

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Have you come to appreciate the genre?

It's super fun! I appreciate all the actors that perform on "The Walking Dead" because it's a workout. It's grueling, and it's really rewarding because it does challenge you that way. But Cliff [Curtis] and I were both saying, "I have never been more tired in my life" at the end of the season. But it's really fun. I really love it, and I'm always proud of the characters I do.

I just feel like I've been fortunate, and I say no to things if they're just the wife or just the girlfriend. It's not going to propel a story and not be fully dimensional, so I feel fortunate in that here, again, is another well-rounded human being that I get to play.

What's fun about doing all that action?

It's just challenging. It challenges you in a different way. It requires you to be very physically adept, and to choreograph things and work as a team in a different way. And you push yourself.

Was there anything specific that was challenging or difficult?

Well, I don't really want to give away anything, but yeah, there's stuff. Stuff I do that I don't do every day [Laughs].

While shooting a show with gory elements like zombies, do you ever find yourself creeped out -- or do you go the other way, and find it hilarious?

Well, I think laughing is a defense mechanism. You're, like, "Oh, ho, ho -- that's intense." But no, I'm a little squeamish. I don't like horror things so much. As a youngster, I saw "Jaws" and "The Exorcist" and "Halloween," and that was enough. I'm done. Now, you learn your lesson. But the amazing thing is just in the work is in the special effects and everything. It is just astounding to see in person. And the performances of the people that are the zombies and stuff -- those are very skilled background players and stunt people. And the work is amazing, and it's breathtaking. And like I said, Cliff and I both get a little squeamish, so it's not for the faint of heart.

When you considered signing on to star in a prequel to such a big show, did you have any trepidation?

You know, I didn't think about it enough. Had I thought about it a lot more, I would have been like, "Oh, shit. What am I doing?" What's amazing is that it already does have this incredible fan base that is so loyal and passionate. And I don't think we expect ourselves to just get the instant fan base or anything. We might get some. We might get some people that aren't fans of the original. Who knows?

But I appreciate their excitement about the show and I didn't worry about it at all. We were just there working really hard and putting our hearts into it. Then, as it gets closer to presenting it, I do feel a little pressure, like, [gasps]. "I hope they like it!"

Of all the great material you've worked on, was "Gone Girl" an even bigger game changer?

Yeah, "Gone Girl" is one of those things that came along, and I thought "Are you kidding me? I get to do this?" I never would have imagined that I would -- the competition level is just so extreme. There's so many wonderful actresses that usually get to do those kind of roles. And for some reason, [director David] Fincher looked my way, and I felt a real strong connection to the part and to the Gillian [Flynn] script and novel. So that was a mindblower when I got that phone call. And working on it was one of the great joys I've had. He's an incredible, incredible director and teacher.

"Fear the Walking Dead" premieres August 23 on AMC.

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