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- Axel TWD is responsible for this interview, conducted on March 29, 2013.
TWD Wiki: How did you get interested in horror and zombies in the first place?
My friend Thomas showed me George Romero's Dawn of the Dead when I was 11, and it utterly horrified me. I had never seen such cringe-inducing violence before: the bites, the helicopter gag, and of course the biker who had his stomach torn open and intestines pulled out (sound familiar? hehe). That night, I ran back home wielding a metal pipe, constantly looking over my shoulder... I was hooked.
TWD Wiki: How did you get a role on The Walking Dead?
The film and TV industry in Georgia has been blossoming for the last decade or so thanks to state tax breaks and other factors that make it appealing to shoot here. Extras for most shows and movies are brought in by different casting companies. There are usually mailing lists you can join, but the facebook presence of these companies make getting involved as an extra as easy responding to a public facebook post. The season 1 Walking Dead casting call read something like "We are looking for tall and skinny people to be zombies on a TV show" -- it was basically spelled out. Now there are close to if not MORE than 100,000 inquiries about becoming a zombie extra as of season 3. I'm not sure if we'd even be having this conversation if I hadn't gotten my foot in the door before the show became so well-known.
TWD Wiki: Did you read the graphic novel prior to getting a role in the show? If so, do you have a favorite character?
I didn't read it before, but I got the first 2 trade paperbacks the day I found out about being cast. A few months later I nabbed compendium #1, that massive tome of a 48-issue collection, and read the ENTIRE thing in a single 7-hour sitting... So yeah, I'm definitely into the graphic novel now. Id hate to have to rank favorite characters, so Ill just throw some out there: Axel, Abraham, and Jesus. You'd think I'd be biased as to which format I prefer, and they're clearly different, but I almost feel like I get more raw enjoyment and gratification from the graphic novel. But that's like asking someone to choose favorites between their kids.
The Swamp Walker
TWD Wiki: What is it like to work with the amazing special effects artist Greg Nicotero? Can you tell us about the makeup process?
Greg Nicotero is one of the most awe-inspiring and hard-working people I've ever met in my life, he's practically superhuman while still being completely down to earth. Greg was one of the very first people I met during my first time on set in Season 1, and later had make-up done by him personally. The workload can be insane, so Greg always has an inner circle of Emmy-winning KNBefx artists on set. My experiences with the other KNB dudes have been just as interesting and unforgettable as my time with Greg. I've also had the honor and pleasure to work with Greg in his role as a director not only in the episode featuring Swamp Walker - "Judge, Jury, Executioner," but also in Season 3 - "Say the Word."
Several different publications have posted step-by-step galleries showing the make-up process for Swamp Walker, which was a 3 hour long procedure that we did on 3 different days of filming. As a whole, the make-up process tests both endurance and mind over matter through the various applications, prosthetics, contacts, and mouth pieces that each have their own little irritations for the person wearing them. The ironic thing is that these kinds of discomforts can usually translate into feelings and sensations that genuinely help put the wearer into zombie mode: The clouded, milky contacts blur vision, the prosthetic pieces prevent heat and air exchange on the skin, etc... It provides a very compelling subjective sense that one is, in fact, a rotten, reanimated corpse.
The Swamp Walker attempting to bite Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn)
TWD Wiki: What was it like to film Dale's death scene?
Cold, dark, bleak, heart-wrenching, etc... Which was extremely difficult to reconcile with the sheer adrenaline rush and excitement that came from being featured in such a massive, game-changing episode. When I was cast for the part, I had a discussion with the extras casting coordinator about how there were other qualities beyond my performance and body-type that they had sought for the walker in Dale's scenes. They indicated it was great that I'm a fan of the series, but they felt it important to get someone who wasnt TOO much of a "superfan" -- which made sense once I saw firsthand the delicate heaviness and serious atmosphere was during those particular scenes.
I realized the importance of not interfering with the complex process of this group of performers who were collectively acting out one of the most heartbreaking moments of the series so far. I have to admit though, there were certainly some instances where I was tempted to be like "ERMAGHERD BUT DIS NOT HOW DALE DIEZ IN TEH COMIX WTTFFffff HOW U FEEL BOUT DAT GUYZ?!" but I usually remembered what the extras coordinator had told me. Though I did slip up once: Laurie Holden (Andrea) was shaking and still soaked in tears in between a shot and came up to ask if I had a lighter for her cigarette. She caught me totally off guard, so I fumbled around in my provided wardrobe for what I already knew was a non-existent lighter, then degenerated into a bumbling fan... "uuhh... sorry. I errr... uh... loved you in X-files though!"
TWD Wiki: Did you know how big a role your zombie would play when you were first cast??
As a matter of fact, I did, which has not necessarily been the case any other time. The screen test for Swamp Walker occurred about 2 weeks before we filmed, and I had been told specific details about the scenes with both Carl in the creek and with Dale in the field. I might have been significantly less confident if not totally lost had I just walked into set that day and they were like "Ok now we're going to bury you in the mud and then you're going to brutally eviscerate the only character with unconditional morals" -- Just the 2 week warning was enough to make my brain explode, I have no idea how I would have reacted if they had just catapulted me straight into it without warning.
The Swamp Walker attempting to bite Carl (Chandler Riggs
TWD Wiki: What other walkers besides the infamous swamp walker have you portrayed?
I was initially cast as an extra in season 1, appearing in the "horde" scenes in episode 2 - "Guts." There were about 70-100 zombie extras on those days filming the street scenes with Rick and Glenn as they waddled through the crowd in their gore ponchos. I was called back shortly after for the next episode, only to arrive as 1 of 4 extras called-in for the whole day... It was eerily silent, very surreal, and none of us know what on earth to expect since there were only 4 of us... We soon learned that we were going to be "hero" walkers!
A "hero" is a walker that's featured in some way, usually for standalone scenes involving action and interaction in some kind of meaningful way. These featured zombies are scrutinized and hand picked for both their physique and performance and have significantly more detail in the make-up and prosthetic work, most notably with exterior teeth pieces that capture the look and feel of the walkers in the graphic novel universe.
It's usually only after being called in and put into makeup that a hero walker learns what kind of interesting action or gag they are going to participate in. The hero walkers are usually the ones you see interacting with the show's characters, being killed in various ways, etc. You can see me as a hero walker at the beginning of episode 3, "Tell it to the Frogs" clawing and reaching at a delirious, sunbaked Merle from behind the door that T-Dogg chained up.
Interestingly enough, things seem to come full circle in my moment with Merle, as I was brought back again in season 3 for the episode "Say The Word." I'm one of the netted "specimens" from the walker pits that Merle drags out, holds down, and rips the teeth out of. Later in the episode I appear again, sans teeth and fingernails, in the gladiator arena where yet again, I get kicked around by Mr. Dixon. I used to have it out for him, but if you caught s3e15 "This Sorrowful Life," you'd understand why I completely and entirely forgive Merle.
The Swamp Walker being stabbed in the head by Daryl (Norman Reedus).
TWD Wiki: Do you have any interesting or funny stories to tell that occurred in the process of filming the show?
There are many, but one comes to mind since I was just talking about "Guts." An intersection that ran through the street we were filming on had to be closed, but when we weren't rolling, Atlanta PD controlled traffic flow straight through the set. It never got old watching people slow down, looking shocked and confused at the sight of a post-apocalyptic street littered with trash and flipped cars. At one point, an ice cream truck came rolling in and slowed down, happy synth music blaring through the loudspeaker... About a dozen of us closest to the intersection all IMMEDIATELY went into "group mind" mode and started lurching towards the truck in full character. The driver's eyes bugged nearly out of his head as he sped off. I know this is impossible, but the version of this story in my memory involves the ice cream truck music increasing in tempo in a comical fashion as the guy drove off.
TWD Wiki: What was it like working with Jeffrey DeMunn and the other cast members on the show?
Mr. Demunn, in particular, was most like his character in real life. Fairly quiet but stern when necessary, unconditionally caring, and extremely humble. There arent any exceptions for the rest of the cast, either. Everyone is so enthusiastic, friendly, considerate, and supportive that it makes me want to tear up with bittersweet appreciation for their kind regard. They put themselves through the ringer on a daily basis, whether filming or not, to help create one of the most intense and dramatic shows on TV today, and their commitment absolutely amazes me and sets a standard that I can only hope to aspire to one day.
TWD: Wiki: Are you currently working on any other projects?
Since The Walking Dead, I've done some background extra work here and there on some interesting things around Atlanta, and one of them is the sequel to an extremely popular blockbuster! You might just see me as a blurry splotch running around in the back, but it was very exciting and I'm looking forward to seeing the final product.
This summer, I'm going to receive my degree in Psychology from Georgia State University, with hopes to begin graduate school before I'm 30. I'm 25 now, so in the meantime I hope to continue being involved with the TV/Film industry that continues to grow here in the South.
The Swamp Walker
Additionally, I have been investing time and attention into my side business, "Reality Tunnels," which is a physical media preservation project that has both an online and physical presence. Since the beginning of 2013, I have taken Reality Tunnels along with me to many different types of conventions and expos, sometimes as a compliment to being a zombie guest, sometimes standing on it's own at shows that do not emphasize pop-culture. It's a neat hybrid approach that has added a tremendous amount of novelty and practical experience to what has already been a crazy ride on the convention circuit. More information can be found on the Reality Tunnels page, and an online store/database is in the works to launch in Summer 2013.
TWD Wiki: Thank you again on behalf of the entire wiki! We appreciate it very much.
You are quite welcome, thank you so much for inviting me to collaborate! If anyone has any other questions or interest in my experiences on the show, you can contact me via facebook here: www.facebook.com/TWDSwampWalker or email - TWDSwampWalker@gmail.com
|To read an interview with William Hart, who portrayed the walker that bit Hershel, click here.|
To read an interview with Addy Miller, who portrayed the "Little Girl Walker", click here.