Rose McIver’s Liv isn’t your typical college student. She works in a morgue, she helps solve murder cases and, even stranger, Liv is a zombie who reluctantly consumes brains once a month in order to maintain her intelligence and humanity. On top of it all, evil zombie Blaine (David Anders), is amassing an undead army to take over the city — and only Liv can stop him. This is “iZombie,” a new show debuting March 17 on The CW, based on the Vertigo comic of the same name created by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred.
During the series’ big push at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Executive Producer Rob Thomas spoke with press about his upcoming adaptation. The man behind “Veronica Mars” discussed transferring the “iZombie” concept from the pages of the comic to the small screen, building a new mythology from there, containing the show’s “zombie outbreak” and why McIver is perfectly cast in the role of humanity’s main hope of preventing a zombie apocalypse.
Obviously, “iZombie” is a great comic book property. When you’re looking at adapting something, what are the things that you want to keep and the things you need to change for television?
Rob Thomas: What we kept from the comic was the big idea, the premise, which was that this woman in her 20s is a functioning zombie. She’s not brain dead; she’s just kinda dead. She needed brains to survive, and when she ate brains, she inherited the memories of the brains she ate. That, we kept intact. But because we were going to do 22 [episodes] a year, we wanted there to be a real procedural at the core. By making her work in a morgue — in the comic book she’s robbing a grave — but by putting her in a police morgue, it meant that every brain she was eating was a murder victim. Each week, we could solve a murder case.
Besides the procedural element, can you talk about the mythology that you are building and what viewers can expect on a weekly basis?
As we pick up the show, Liv believes she is maybe the only zombie. She got turned into a zombie at a boat party, where it was utter desolation. Very few people got off alive. You could argue she didn’t even get off alive. It was a way for us to contain the zombie outbreak. Over the course of the pilot, she discovers there is one more [zombie]. That’s the ending reveal of the pilot.
The long arc, the mythology, will involve her trying to stave off a zombie apocalypse. She will be the lynch-pin in that. When we start the show, we sort of have one good zombie and one bad zombie. It’s much easier to be a bad zombie. You can create other zombies at will. The long arc will be trying to survive and stave off a zombie apocalypse.
Can you talk about casting Rose McIver as your lead?
The interesting thing for me was — when we cast “Veronica Mars,” Kristen Bell was literally the first of a hundred actresses that I saw for that. I spent the whole time knowing, “I got it. That first girl I saw. I want her.” This time, Rose was the 100th of a hundred actresses I saw. Literally, we were down to the last day and I was a little panicked because I did not think we had it. It’s looking at her thinking, “She has star quality. She’s magnetic, and people are going to want to watch her. She has charm.” In the pilot episode, we had a lot of that hidden because the arc of the pilot is, she begins feeling she has no reason to get up each day. She hasn’t been solving crimes. She’s merely surviving. She had this great life. She’s marrying a great guy. She was going to be a doctor. She was going to save lives and be someone important. When she gets turned into a zombie, all that is taken away from her. She doesn’t want to give her fiance “zombie,” so she ends that relationship. She needs brains, so she takes a job at the morgue, which she doesn’t really want.
The pilot story is one in which she starts with no reason to go on, barely able to get out of bed, and she ends it discovering she might be able to do some good in the world. We spent two-thirds of the pilot with a very dour character, and I needed someone who had charm that shined through that.
People are expecting more of a horror element with a zombie property. Where is it landing for you right now?
On the CW, we could never out-“Walking Dead” the “Walking Dead.” Being on that network, we could never do the sort of shotgun to the brain stuff that they do, which I enjoy. We’re relying on wit. We want the drama to have stakes, but we want it to have levity. There were a lot of comparisons between “Veronica Mars” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I actually think “iZombie” is closer to what “Buffy” was doing. We’ve referenced “Buffy” and “Warm Bodies” a lot as to where we’re going to land.
Is it a lot about metaphor for you?
No. Thematically, we’ve been very interested in Liv having the worst ever quarter-life crisis. All these 25-year-olds who have gotten out of school and there’s nothing waiting for them? She’s gotten that, with a baseball bat. Everything she thought she had worked for is stripped away from her. She’s having to start over at 25.
“iZombie” premieres March 17 on The CW.
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