Hanging with the Walking Dead
For those that don’t know, THE WALKING DEAD is the highly anticipated series, based on the comic book of the same name written by Robert Kirkman and published by Image Comics. THE WALKING DEAD tells the story of the weeks and months that follow a pandemic zombie apocalypse. County Sheriff Rick Grimes travels with his family and a small group of survivors, constantly in search of a safe and secure home. But the constant pressure of fighting off death on a daily basis takes a heavy toll, sending many to the lowest depths of human cruelty. As Rick struggles to keep his family alive, he will discover that the overwhelming fear of the survivors can be far more dangerous than the mindless walkers roaming the earth.
At the 2010 SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON I had a chance to speak with Director Frank Darabont (THE GREEN MILE, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, THE MIST) and Key Special Makeup Effects Supervisor Greg Nicotero (KILL BILL: 1&2, SIN CITY, TRANSFORMERS, HOSTEL), along with series stars Laurie Holden (THE X-FILES, THE SHIELD, FANTASTIC FOUR, THE MAJESTIC) and Emma Bell (FROZEN, HATCHET 2, GRACIE). I’ve actually been sitting on this interview since July as I thought it would make more sense to include it closer to the series premiere and, at last, that day is finally here!
Pop Bitez: So, how closely are you following the plot line of the graphic novel with the series?
Laurie Holden: Well, of course there are some slight deviations from the original material, you don’t want to see exactly what’s in the graphic novels because it’s like, been there, done that and, you know, just because a character dies in the comic doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll die in the series and, if they do, it might not be until season two or three.
Emma Bell: This entire first season, all six episodes only cover like, three or four days. We’ve actually been comparing it to the series 24 because with each episode A LOT of things happen but not a lot of time passes.
Laurie: As an example, my character Andrea – in the comic book- is in her cute little sweater, hanging out with her sister and she’s just like “oh, look, I can shoot a gun” and it’s all happy and light but then she eventually becomes like this warrior. Only we’re not to the warrior part just yet, so there’s been an opportunity to really explore the love of the sisters and show Andrea’s softer side. She’s got a lot of toughness to her, she’s a strong entity but I really appreciate how we’ve been able to take our time and, you know, make her a fully developed person. Trust me, she’s not a happy camper, she has a sense of humor and a vulnerability but she’s still tough. The biggest difference from the comic, I guess, is that you’re not going to see me in fatigues, with the pony tail, you know, strapping on the gun, in the first six episodes because we have to have a place to go with her.
Frank Darabont: In a loose sense, fundamentally, you know, I’m always going to be chasing what Kirkman’s done, but we’re definitely taking detours along the way, stopping to smell the roses as it were, but basically we’re sticking close to what he’s done because it’s terrific stuff. The beauty of doing any serialized television is that, what you can’t do in a feature, is really spend that incremental time getting to know characters and the character driven stuff works so well in television. If you look at THE WIRE, if you look at THE SHIELD, if you look at BREAKING BAD, which is currently my favorite thing, you get to know these people over a period of years, versus trying to tell a story in two hours or less.
Greg Nicotero: And the more you care about these people, the more horrific it is when something bad happens to them. Like Robert Shaw getting eaten at the end of JAWS, it’s like a character you’re invested in and you’ve spent all this time with, on a show like this you get to know them, so the horror is all the more real because you know them more deeply than you would if you’d just met them in the span of 90 minutes.
Emma: And because we all, like, sort of live and work together in this “camp,” there’s so much bonding going on that when we do shoot those really big action sequences, where we’re all being attacked, you know, it’s pretty surreal to look around and watch everyone crying and freaked out and holding the people who’ve been bitten and you’re like, “Oh my God, these are my people, this is my family,” so it’s sort of great when we do those sequences because you realize we must being doing something right in the other scenes that we feel this connected to each other.
Laurie: I’m really enjoying the character development. We’ve got some really super actors on this series and whenever they write us some great scenes, where we really get to interact with each other, and we get to see that little bit of humanity when someone opens up their heart, you know, those are the moments I really look for.
PB: How familiar were you with the graphic novel before you started?
Greg: When the graphic novel first came out I remember I was shooting in Austin, I don’t remember what show it was, with Robert Rodriguez, and I went to Austin Comics and it was there, and I remember buying two issues and I went back and I went, “Dude, Look! A comic book about zombies!” and we were so excited, because he and I always talk about zombie stuff, so I read all of them, I got pretty deep into it.
Emma: I didn’t actually know it but we all got the comic books when we started and I actually became a pretty big fan. They’re really well written and totally lend themselves to a T.V. show. As I was reading them I remember thinking this is so perfect for the screen.
PB: Now this is a pretty bloody show, right?
Emma: I think I still had fake blood on me when I was riding on the plane this morning. I mean, when there are zombies around you’ve gotta kill them. (Laughs) So, yeah, there’s ton’s of blood. We couldn’t really show that in the previews but it’s there, if you want that, you’ll get it.
PB: Have you had any problems with the censors as far as all the gore and violence is concerned?
Frank: That hasn’t really been an issue, I can’t say “fuck” (he laughs) and that’s pretty much it, that’s actually the only barrier I’ve hit. The truth is we’re making our decisions in terms of how we want to shoot something based upon how it feels best, sometimes there’s the “less is more” approach and sometimes there’s the “more is more” approach. With a zombie thing, you NEED a “more is more” sometimes and we’re just not running up against those constraints. There’s no Standards and Practices doomsayer saying “Oh no, you can’t show blood!”
Greg: There’s actually one guy at AMC who, every time he sees the dailies of a gag or something we did, he emails me and says “Oh my God, I just saw this today!” (Laughing) I mean, the people at AMC are so excited about the series and that really makes our lives easier because, you know, even when I did LAND OF THE DEAD, I remember George [Romero] was nervous about the rating and so he actually came up with this really great idea. He said, “we’ll shoot a bunch of zombies in front of green screen, you know, walking left and walking right so that, for the theatrical version, if there’s an objection to the rating, we can just add a zombie pass, strategically at a specific point, that distracts just a slight bit from the gag,” and then, for the DVD those zombie passes were all taken away. George was always really conscience of that because they practically strung him up in the 70′s for all of that. DAWN OF THE DEAD was actually released unrated, so, we’ve come a long way.