By far, one of the most popular panels in all of New York Comic Con was the one for AMC’s hit show ‘The Walking Dead’. It was so popular, in fact that not even I could get in. However, before they graced the stage, I was fortunate enough to participate in a few roundtable interviews with the cast.
First, season 3 newcomers Danai Gurira and David Morrissey sat down at my table to chat with us. When asked about just how different or similar their characters in the television show are as compared to the comic book versions in terms of how extreme they get, they said:
DM: “That’s one of those questions where you’ll just have to wait and see. But we are different from the comic books. Looking at what happens to the Governor in the comic books: In a 16 part series, you’d hit a creative ceiling. It has to have complexity and it has to have different levels and we both feel that about the characters. We want to bring new things to them. If we’re going to be playing them for this length of time, we’re going to have to have empathy with them and we’re going to have to understand them. And even if they’re doing things that other people may think are terrible, reprehensible, playing those characters you have to come at it from a different point and that’s how one builds character in anything we do.
The main thing about it is when you’re writing comic books, the visual aspect of horror and the terrible acts has to be immediate. Psychologically on a TV screen you can do things just as bad, if not worse. It might be delivered in a different way, but it’s no less reprehensible.”
DG: “We forget that real war zones in the world today, though they’re far from here, there’s some psychotic acts that happen in war zones, so to me, a lot of the things that I read in the comic book, yeah, it is a comic book, but to me it doesn’t seem like something so crazy in terms of some of the things that Mr. Kirkman has put on the page, so it allows for a lot to play with. How does that person become that person? It can’t just be one thing. I know that the dictators that I grew up around in my part of the world, in their minds what they’re doing makes perfect sense.”
DM: “That’s important for us as actors. We always ask the question, ‘How did I become this person?’ All our work, in a way, is about us before the show starts. That’s what gives us depth.”
Then, they addressed whether or not they felt any sort of pressure for playing two of the most popular characters in the ‘Walking Dead’ universe:
DM: “I don’t find any more pressure than with any job that I do. Any job I do I go into it with pressure on my shoulders since there’s a lot of responsibility. I don’t feel that it’s any different because of this book or this fan base. I haven’t approached this job in any other way than I would any other job. We have great responsibility for any work that we do.”
DG: “Ditto. Every job feels like there’s a certain level of responsibility and specificity to that role. It may not be the comic realm, but there’s something specific about that realm that it’s done as excellently as you can do it. It is interesting stepping into a world where the character exists on the page and being it’s existence in the flesh. That’s what’s new.”
DM: “The real difference for me is the sense of ownership. That people feel that they own the character. And that’s going to be interesting when the series goes out. For me, I have to own this character. A lot of people have ideas about him. He’s a very loved character, but as the actor, you have to go, ‘This is mine. This is how I’m playing it. This is the TV series. It isn’t the comic.’ That’s what’ll be interesting for me, what happens in the coming months and weeks.”
The next group to make their way around to the table was series creator Robert Kirkman and Michael Rooker, who plays the returning character of Merle Dixon. Both men were very playful and there were a lot of laughs during this discussion.
When the idea of Merle returning to the group was brought up, the conversation went like this:
MR: “Who says Merle wants to even be back into the group? You’re saying that. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. Merle is Merle and survived by taking care of his own ass. Obviously no one else is doing it for him. They actually left me on the rooftop, cuffed with no food, no water. The guy’s a survivor. He’ll do whatever he needs to to survive. I have no idea my brother is alive probably because you move on. You heal, you wonder, you maybe look around, but you know you don’t know. When you see me and I’m back and I haven’t bled out, it’s going to be interesting. I think you’re going to like the changes that have occurred.”
Reporter: “So maybe Merle achieved some sort of inner peace?”
MR: “What makes you say that? Inner peace?”
RK: “Wait hold up. Don’t make him angry.”
MR: “Listen, buddy. How dare you say Merle is all about love and peace?!”
Of course, Mr. Rooker was just playing around, and that right there was a good example of why this was one of the more fun discussions.
Later, Kirkman discussed things that surprised him during the process of creating the show after coming off of the comic:
RK: ‘Glen Mazzara and I are in the writers room with six other talented individuals who are working to craft stories for the show and I think that each and every one of them has surprised me in a big way. There’s always new elements being thrown into the show that are really crazy and stuff that I could have never thought of on my own. Things that really excited me. And I think that there is a tremendous amount of cool, shocking things in the third season that I think diehard fans of the comic series are not going to see coming in any way and are absolutely going to love. This is a really cool series of television. I think you’re really going to be blown away.”
Before wrapping things up, both men talked about whether or not there was a plan to bring Merle back all along or if it evolved out of the fan reaction to the character:
RK: “I think there was always kind of a plan for the character of Merle coming back. We didn’t to just leave him the way we left him and just never see him again, but I think that once Rooker came in and made the role his own, it became much more of an imperative. It became something that we really wanted to do as soon as it made sense for the story and I think the role sort of expanded quite a bit once we saw how Rooker was doing it. I’m going to act like you’re not sitting here right now…”
MR: “I wanna know the answer too.”
RK: “Once we saw how he portrayed that character, we fell in love with him just like the audience fell in love with him. We were just able to do that a little bit in advance before the episode aired, so then it grew into a much bigger thing, which we’ll be seeing in the third season.”
MR: “As the actor, I came on the show thinking maybe one or two. I had an inkling after the monologue on the roof and there are hints throughout after that. We kept bringing the whole idea of Merle back. You know, his bike, his stash of meds. Actually, Merle saved T-Dog with his clap medicine. I mean it’s very important stuff. It was interesting how the idea of Daryl’s brother kept folding in. I’m a fan of the show. I watch it religiously. I watch it with my family and I see these little things and I’m like, ‘Very nice. Very cool the way the writers are doing that.’ I really dug it.
RK: “So you’re saying that the entire group was doomed if it weren’t for Merle?”
MR: “Hell yeah! My poor brother would not have a means of transportation. He’d be walking. T-Dog, poor guy. The meds that were stashed in my bike, they saved a lot of people actually. I think they owe Merle a little gratitude.”
RK: “They bake him a cake in season three. Spoiler alert.”
MR: ‘Merle, you’re back! Have a cake! And then there’s a little explosion.’
When Kirkman and Rooker moved on, producer Gale Anne Hurd and Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl Dixon, joined us. The first thing that they did when they sat down was spoil ‘Walking Dead’ #100 for me because I haven’t read it yet. (I’m waiting for the trade to come out!). After some attempts at a cover up, we dove right into the questions. First, when asked how far in advanced they have planned for the show, Gale said that they only have until the end of this season. They have shot up to episode 13 already and only have six more to go until they wrap for the season. Then, they talked about the comparisons between Daryl and Michonne because Norman’s character had seemingly taken some characteristics from the comic version of Danai Gurira’s character.
NR: “We’re both very different actually. We can both kick your ass, but she’s much sexier than I am. We’re very different people. I mean, she’s very fluid with her sword. I’m very fluid with my crossbow. In those respects, we’re similar, but as far as characters go. The first time I see her on camera, I go, ‘Psh. Nice outfit. A sword? What’s this about?’ She and I have personally become really close friends. I love her. But the same way that Carol and Daryl have similarities, but they’re not the same person. They’re both damaged people and there’s something in us that’s the same. We have a lot of badasses on the show. Steven’s a machine. Lauren’s a machine. In season three, everyone can make it through the night.”
GAH: “Even Carl.”
NR: “Oh my god, Carl’s awesome.”
GAH: “No more ‘Get in the house, Carl’. We’ve retired that line.”
NR: “Carl burns down the house. He’s awesome. I’ve seen him. This kid’s gonna be a force. He’s great.”
GAH: “Daryl has had the opportunity over three seasons to trust a bit and to see his place in a group. I don’t think Michonne’s ever gonna feel that way. I think that to her, she’s an outsider and we may perhaps come to find out why. Maybe not. You know, I couldn’t imagine you having two pet zombies on chains.”
NR: “I wouldn’t put up with it. I don’t need it.”
Afterwards, they discussed the idea of things happening organically in the show as opposed to doing things in response to a fan reaction, in this case to Daryl and his elevated role as the seasons went on:
GAH: “It’s got to be organic, not only to the scripts that were written, but also to what Norman brings to the character of Daryl. In the show, before the writers’ room starts breaking the episodes for the season, the actors come in and they start talking about their characters. They start talking about what their experiences were for the season and the surprising things that they found and we incorporate those. It’s really much more organic than that because if you were to say, ‘Okay we’re going to do a focus group to figure out where people want us to go and where they want the characters to go,’ that’s really not organic. That’s taking something outside the show and imposing it on it. We certainly respect and love the fact that people embrace the characters so much, but it’s got to be organic to how Norman has created the character.
Look at Hershel. The original idea was that Hershel was gonna die in the end of the second season. We knew that Scott Wilson was a fantastic actor, but what he brought to the role was so layered, and then we realized that if Dale is gone, Hershel really steps in as the voice of morality. He’s someone Rick listens to and that Rick respects who isn’t trying to be the alpha male.”
NR: “His character has every other character’s best interest at heart. He’s totally honest and open. Everyone else has secrets. Plus, fans saying whatever about your character. I get lots of ‘When’s Daryl gonna hook up?’ and ‘When’s he gonna make out with Carol? When’s he gonna bang?’ How I’d like to play it is Daryl has no game at all. If he’s gonna kiss someone, he’s not gonna be able to make the move. He’s gonna be awkward. That to me is interesting. But to throw somebody up a tree and rip her shirt off, that’s not Daryl at all. I want to do the opposite. I want to premature ejaculate. I want to cry in the corner and I want to turn bright red when it’s done. And then I want to deny it all, you know what I’m saying?”
GAH: “That’s the type of complex actors that we have and there’s never going to be something incredibly simple and obvious, I hope.”
Finally, to close out these interviews, Andrew Lincoln and Chandler Riggs sat down with us for some conversation before heading off to the IGN Theater to talk in front of a packed house.
The first thing asked was why Carl won’t stay in the house, to which Riggs responded, “Writers, that’s why.” That kid’s a quick one.
When asked if there were any bits of story from the source material that they wished were added to the show, Chandler responded with this:
CR: “I’m kinda spoiled on the show. I’ve got everything that I’ve wanted. With the changes from season one to season three, you can definitely see it because it helps me as an actor because I get to play two different characters. It helps me a lot going from this crying kid in the background of season one to this sidekick. It’s been a really fun experience for me. I’m getting to learn more from these amazing actors that I have in the show.”
Then, on whether or not some things are still surreal and scary for them on set sometimes, Andrew shared a story from the first episode:
AL: “The end of episode one [‘Seed’]. I couldn’t sleep for three hours because of what I had to do at the end of episode one. I was so wired.”
In case anyone hasn’t seen the first episode of season three yet, I won’t elaborate on what Rick had to do, but Andrew had a whole lot to share about those last moments in the episode. In fact, he had a lot to share with us throughout the interview. He was very well-spoken and you could tell just how well he understood his character and his passion for the show.
It was truly a great experience talking to all of these amazing actors on one of my favorite shows on the air right now. It definitely made up for the fact that I couldn’t attend their panel.
Be sure to watch ‘The Walking Dead’ every Sunday at 9:00pm and then check back here on ScienceFiction.com for a recap!