With Oscar-nominated writer-director Frank Darabont gearing up to unveil his new AMC series “The Walking Dead” on Halloween, Hero Complex contributor Gina McIntyre will be talking with some of the show’s key figures about bringing Robert Kirkman’s respected graphic novel to the small screen with a big splash. Following is her chat with actress Sarah Wayne Callies, who plays Lori Grimes, one of the few survivors of a zombie apocalypse that decimates humanity.
G.M.: What was it about the character and the series that drew you to “The Walking Dead”? Are you a zombie fan?
S.W.C.: Nope. I’d never read a comic book, and I’d never seen a zombie movie or a horror movie. That, I think, was the greatest impediment. I was concerned about the psychological toll it would take on somebody who is such a chicken. I have lots of somewhat sleepless nights and strange nightmares. … This doesn’t really feel like a horror series to me. It feels like a story about survival. In some ways, it’s a strange characterization, but this feels like a story about a group of people who are breaking their addiction to society. We end up getting defined by our vehicles and our fashion and whatever it is that we choose to define ourselves with. “I’m a martini girl”; “I’m a beer guy.” I think this is a group of people who are forced to quit all of that cold turkey and have all of that stripped away, and I think the question then becomes who are we and what defines us. What drew me to the project was an exploration of — if this is not too impossibly pretentious — the definition of humanity in the absence of culture.
G.M.: The graphic novel has been praised for its emphasis on character. I would imagine with Frank Darabont running the show and the other writer-directors he’s employed that that emphasis has remained in place.
S.W.C.: Utterly. The zombies are not an afterthought, but the focus on the things I’m involved with is who are these people and what are their faults and what are their successes and what are the ways in which this apocalypse surprises them — which is to say … somebody [doesn’t just] come out from a door and bite you on the arm. I play a woman whose marriage is in a lot of trouble before the disease or whatever it is ends the world as we know it. One of the great surprises is that now at the end of the first season, my marriage is oddly, against all odds, in probably the best shape it’s been in years. I see the man that my husband becomes in these intense circumstances. It’s like going to a funeral. You never know who’s going to be the person who goes to pieces and can’t drive themselves home and who’s the person who galvanizes their spirit and pulls everyone together. You really never know what your own reaction’s going to be until you’re neck deep in it, which is I think why these apocalyptic stories keep surfacing. We’re trying to find the edges of who we are.
G.M.: The genre does have the ability to put characters in the midst of extreme circumstances that other forms of storytelling don’t.
S.W.C.: Let’s be honest, we’re closer to the apocalypse than we think, which is why I think “The Walking Dead” is a proxy. I don’t know a lot of people in L.A. who, having lived in L.A., walk around with a daily awareness [that] today could be the day we have an earthquake and half of us die and the city’s on fire and we have riots and looting and life as we know it changes. Most of us don’t take that on board on a day-to-day basis because you’d go crazy. You can turn on your TV, and it’s a safe way to look at that and then turn it off and put it back in its box. I think that survival stories are interesting for those reasons; they’re at arm’s length. It doesn’t take much in a city [for order to collapse into chaos]; it could be the Stanley Cup, or it could be a zombie apocalypse. I say the Stanley Cup because I was in Denver when the Denver team won it, and they rioted.
G.M.: What kind of arc does Lori have in this first season?
S.W.C.: I think Lori becomes a sort of reluctant matriarch in that she finds herself being the guardian of the tattered remains of our humanity. She’s the one who says, “When people die, you bury them because that’s what it means to be a person. You don’t burn them, you don’t put stakes through their heads, you bury them because people need to mourn, even though there aren’t priests to give last rites and there aren’t people to make gravestones.” She becomes, in a way, the guardian of the vestiges of humanity.
G.M.: What was your experience like filming on location in Atlanta earlier this year?
S.W.C.: What the Atlanta set does, because we’re shooting Atlanta for Atlanta, we’re shooting the summer for the summer, it gives you an immediate physical response to the story. You’re hot and you’re sweaty and you’re dirty and you’re burned. Right there, that’s a whole bunch of acting you don’t have to do. It’s reality.
G.M.: What do you think fans of AMC series like “Breaking Bad” or “Mad Men” will make of “The Walking Dead”?
S.W.C.: My hope is that the “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” fans give us three episodes. One of the things that I think is so phenomenal about what Frank has done is that each of the episodes has a radically different character. The first episode is virtually a one-man show. The second episode is this insane action bonanza. The third episode is this intense family drama. I feel like by the end of the third episode, viewers ought to have a reasonably good sense of what it is we’re doing, but it’s going to take all three to have a sense of “this is the horror aspect of our show, this is the human aspect of our show, these are the ways in which they interact.” Let me put it this way, I don’t watch horror. I don’t watch zombies; there will be parts of this that I watch with my hands over my eyes. I’ve become a fan of this show in a way that I don’t know that I really ever have about anything that I’ve done. I’m so madly in love with these [characters], I’m so fascinated by who they are, I could take every zombie thing out and just watch that other stuff and have a show. My hope is that an audience that would not normally tune in to see a zombie show will give us the benefit of the doubt because it’s Frank Darabont, because it’s [executive producer] Gale Anne Hurd, because it’s AMC, that they’ll engage with it and maybe catch the virus.
– Gina McIntyre
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