(First of two parts)
LOS ANGELES—Recently, we watched Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan) film a pivotal scene for the current season of “The Walking Dead” in a soundstage in the Raleigh Studios Atlanta in Senoia, Georgia.
The intense scene was full of spoilers, of course, so we couldn’t share the details. So, we will just quote Brandee Brooks, the AMC series’ unit publicist, whose description of the scene is allowed to be published: “It’s in a basement/storage room-type thing with a staircase and hallways. It’s not associated with The Hilltop, The Sanctuary or Alexandria. This is just somewhere they happen to be at the same time. And those two characters are Rick and Negan. It’s a buildup to the whole season. ”
We were grateful to Andrew, in full costume and makeup, for speaking to us even as he was doing a big scene that day.
Earlier in the day, we also got to talk to Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) and Melissa McBride (Carol Peletier) in separate interviews. Norman, wearing a cap bannering his other show, “Ride,” and Melissa, in a sweater that complemented her salt and pepper hair, joined us in the studio’s screening room, which is also where the production has its table reads.
The room is also known as the “graveyard” because on both left and right walls are framed photos of cast members who are no longer in the show. “I hate this room,” said Norman, who has several buddies with photos hanging on the walls.
The following are excerpts from our interviews:
After eight seasons, what’s your character’s trajectory in the new season? I know we always say it each year, but we’ve maxed out what we can achieve in eight episodes.
“The Walking Dead” is more than a show about zombies. It’s about human survival and morality. How do you see it? It’s all of those things. The things that keep me into it are the fact that it’s a family drama set in hell. Everybody can identify with love and all the characteristics that pull you through your day.
This season is about a clash of ideologies. There’s bloodshed and loss, but there’s also a great deal of hope for the future. There probably are going to be some of the biggest deaths you’ve ever witnessed this season.
How do you prepare emotionally before a scene? Talking to the press before a scene isn’t my natural favorite thing to do. But I listen to music. I think about the scene ahead. If I’ve got another actor to play with, we talk about the scene.
How does the tone of the second half of this season compare to the first half? There’s a great consistency throughout the whole season. It’s the most kinetic. We cover more ground in quicker time than we’ve ever done. This gentleman here, Darrell Pritchett, has blown up more things in one episode than in a whole season.
Last season was tough for Rick Grimes and his crew, and for the audience, as well. They went through pain and suffering because of the new regime with Negan. But this season has a swagger and verve that remind me of Seasons 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Some of the best moments are when you are face-to-face with Negan. They’re very intense. When we’re kissing each other, yeah (laughs). Jeffrey likes to get extremely close when he acts with me. We have fun. Every story needs a good baddie, and we’ve got a great baddie with Jeffrey. He’s funny, volatile, and he’s lots of things.
Do you like Norman Reedus’ burger? No, I don’t.
After several seasons in the show, how do you keep it fresh? It’s a testament to the writers that they keep coming up with new ways to surprise us while we’re doing it so the episodes come out that way. But this season, there’s a lot of heartbreak and heavy emotional moments.
Do you feel lucky that your character has survived so far? Very lucky. Since I (his character) am not in the comic book (source of the TV series), I didn’t know I would last this long.
But every time I come in here, I remember all these people like they’re family members.
I am curious about where I’m headed and what they have planned for me. I am constantly surprised.
We just did a tour of the studio. We were told that there’s a lot of snakes and bugs out there. Have you encountered snakes while filming? I don’t want to see snakes, ever. I’ve gotten used to the bugs. But I’m not a fan of the mosquitoes. We did a scene the other day and there was a tarantula the size of a Frisbee. I never like to see stuff like that, ever.
Then, I’m worried about the hurricane water and all of that. They’re talking about the mosquitoes that are going to come out of that, so I’m not excited about that one bit.
Do the zombie attacks still feel like a strange experience? When we started this show, zombies were the scariest thing in the world. Now, it’s easier to kill a zombie. The thing with zombies is, you can run, but they don’t run out of breath. They just keep coming.
Greg (Nicotero) makes those zombies in different ways that are new and fresh. But it’s the humans now who are the problem.
Over the years, what’s your relationship with the actors who play the zombies? A lot of times, you will kill the same guy over and over through seasons. You don’t know it because they’re dressed up differently. You’re working out a way to stab somebody in the head and he goes, “I remember when you shot me last year.” I’m like, “That was you?” Because you can’t tell (when they have makeup and costumes on).
They’re hard workers. They are out in 100-degree weather, walking through the spiders and snakes. So, you have to be friendly.
(Conclusion on Sunday)
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