Yes, Sarah Wayne Callies is one of the stars of that new TV series about zombies. Just don’t tell her that, OK?
“I think my initial reaction was, ‘That is probably not my thing,’” she says of being first invited to be a part of AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ (premiering Halloween night at 10/9c).
“I probably dismissed it out of hand,” she continues, “until they got to the ‘Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd‘ part of the conversation. That was when it started to feel like a dream team I’ve wanted to work with as long as I’ve been familiar with any of their work.”
An executive producer on ‘Walking Dead’ (and the director of the pilot), Darabont of course has the likes of ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ and ‘The Green Mile’ on his resume. Hurd, another series EP, in turn has ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Aliens’ under her belt.
Factor in the winning source material – Robert Kirkman’s successful graphic novel series – and Callies was sold. That’s no small leap for someone who has never seen a horror film or cracked open a comic book.
‘The Walking Dead’ stars Andrew Lincoln (‘Love Actually’) as Rick Grimes, a sheriff who, after being felled during a shoot-out, wakes from a coma to discover that flesh-eating “walkers” have annihilated his burg. Rick makes tracks for Atlanta, desperate to at the very least find out what became of his wife and young son.
Callies plays Lori Grimes, Rick’s missing missus. Unbeknown to her hubby, she is part of a ragtag group of survivors camped out on the outskirts of Atlanta. One of the two things keeping the marrieds from happily reuniting is a none-too-small community of zombies.
Uh-oh, there’s that Z-word again. “I actually wouldn’t have done the show if it were a zombie series,” Callies declares. “To me, this is a story about a group of people trying not to turn into monsters. It’s a story about how we define our humanity in the absence of culture and society.”
That said, Callies lauds the pervasive zombies as “something to be grateful for and proud of, because they give us something dramatically that is important for this story. They push our characters so far beyond the pale of reasonable experience that they become capable of anything, and that is an interesting thing to play.”
Asked to compare ‘Walking Dead’s Lori to Sara Tancredi, the scrappy doc she played on Fox’s ‘Prison Break‘ for four seasons, Callies pauses to think, then posits that “biggest difference is that Sara was a very intellectual woman, and Lori’s not. No one ever said to Lori, ‘Honey, you’re a smart girl, you’ve got to go to college.’ Instead, Lori always stuck to her intuition and her heart and built a life that’s very traditional but also has a very clear drive to it, which is to protect her family.”
And whereas Sara was forever grappling with complex governmental conspiracies and vexing debates of right versus wrong, “Lori is answering much more fundamental questions – partly because of her character and partly because of her circumstances.”
Will said circumstances find Lori going toe-to-gnarly, rotting toe with one of the walkers that creep the streets? When we spoke to Callies, she had not yet wielded a shovel or shotgun in her character’s defense. (Rick, meanwhile, gets in plenty of licks over the first two tense episodes.) But Lori’s day may come soon enough.
Tucked away in the survivors’ makeshift camp, “Lori has been relatively conventionally protective,” Callies says. But with the persistent walkers intent on walking and stalking, she warns, “It’s just a matter of time until everyone has to start fighting their own battle.”