The Walking Dead Panel at NYCC
So we’re posting our coverage of The Walking Dead at NYCC weeks after the NYCC postmortem. That’s appropriate, right?
The Walking Dead is an immensely popular Image ongoing series created by Robert Kirkman. The panel is for the upcoming AMC TV series. AMC, in case you forgot, has Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Here are the goods:
Eric Moro: IGN Movies Editor in Chief
Robert Kirkman: The Walking Dead Creator
Frank Darabont: Director of series premiere, writer of various episodes, executive producer
Gale Anne Hurd: Producer
Andrew Lincoln: Actor, plays Rick Grimes
Norman Reedus: Actor, plays Daryl Dixon
Sarah Wayne Callies: Actor, plays Lori Grimes
Steven Yeun: Actor, plays Glenn
Jon Bernthal: Actor, plays Shane
Laurie Holden: Actor, plays Andrea
On why AMC was interested in The Walking Dead
Gale Anne Hurd: Zombies. Robert Kirkman. And the opportunity to work with Frank Darabont. And so many great issues of comic books that continue to get better and better. So we’ve got material for, I think we were talking about it, but we’re going for The Simpsons record.
Robert Kirkman: We’re aiming for 20 seasons, that’s what we’re going for.
On why The Walking Dead is on serialized television rather than a film
Frank Darabont: A) The nature of what Robert has done lends itself around to an attenuated long term serialized show. I had it in my mind that it would be great to do a series set in the zombie apocalypse because I’ve been a fan since I saw Night of the Living Dead when I was a kid. And I stumbled over Robert’s material and I said, “Oh my God this is putting in my hands the very thing I’ve been thinking about for seven years.” And honestly I wouldn’t want to do a zombie movie, because it’s been done, and done really well, so why go and repeat the moves of other film makers who have done it, and done it better. But this feels very fresh to me because it’s a different way into the material.
On selling the show to AMC
Hurd: You know what’s great is that when you find the best home for something, you know right away. The very first phone call to the executives at AMC I said, “Okay, I know you’ve got Mad Men, you’ve got Breaking Bad but are you interested at all in doing-”
Hurd: “-maybe The Walking Dead?” And they said, “Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead?” and I just said wow. I actually looked at the phone and thought maybe that was a prank phone call, maybe it had actually reached someone else, but no they were fans. And you have to give them props for Fear Fest. You know if you guys haven’t watched AMC’s Fear Fest programming, it is the best in genre and horror films leading up to Halloween, which is when we premier.
To Kirkman, on whether the show matches his vision
Kirkman: No, it’s working better than I could have ever imagined. The cast and the crew, and just to see the amount of support that AMC has put behind the show. I never expected things to go this well. I really couldn’t, never in a million years could I have dreamed it would have gone to this level, honestly.
Darabont: Not to say something that will sound like I’m kissing everyone’s ass but what he said is very apt, it’s worth repeating. AMC has been so supportive and in order to do the best work you can you need that venue you need the people who are going to let you go out and do the best work because all too often it’s the opposite case.
On fidelity to the comic series
Darabont: We’re going in every spastic direction we can. We’re going to take as many detours as we feel like taking them. Which is something I’ve always, from the earliest conversations, Rob and I sort of agreed that if good ideas come up let’s not ignore them. Let’s fold them up into the fabric of this narrative. My idea is that if we step off the path we can always step back on it, and that’s with the fact that the path Robert has provided us is a very good one, and I continue to follow it. But we’re going to range out, we’re going to step off to the right or to the left as we go along and not constrain ourselves. So there’s going to be a lot surprises for the most devoted fans of the comic book. Which is great because it will keep us surprised and interested in making the show.
Kirkman: I think that clip we just showed is a testament to what this show can be if we do what we wanna do, because none of that is in the comic book. The way he escapes the tank, the way he encounters Glenn. It happens in the comic book but not in that way. And that’s very important to me because I want people to be watching the show and to be just as thrilled as when they were the first time they read the comic book. And I think you’ve done that really well and I think that shows in that clip just how faithful to the material we’re going to be, but also you’re going to be adding stuff to it. I mean I’ll say, you can almost make it cooler so I think it’s really cool.
Darabont: It needs to be woven into the fabric of the trail Robert has blazed before us. It needs to be carefully and organically laid in that fabric. Otherwise it’s just a cool idea that doesn’t fit, and in my line of work you run into all kinds of cool ideas that don’t fit and you discard them.
To Kirkman (who also wrote the fourth episode of the series), on working in a different medium
Kirkman: It’s really fun to go back, because you know, a lot of these characters are dead in the comic books. It was a lot of fun to go back and spend some time with them. And it was also fun to get to work in a new medium. It was very thrilling to me to have to kind of find new ways of telling a story and work in a different way than I’m accustomed to. And I’ll be honest I hope to do it again.
On keeping zombies fresh (so to speak)
Hurd: From the very beginning, we wanted to make sure that our zombies were a tribute to the film that Frank and Robert love so much which is Night of the Living Dead so we didn’t want the super sprinter zombies and at the same time it was really important that we got the makeup right and we did make up tests from the very beginning and in fact we did our camera tests based on what was perfect to showcase the zombies and as it turns out we’re shooting on film, we’re shooting super 16 and it just looks tremendous.
On the favorite zombie films
Kirkman: Me? Hands down my favorite movie is Day of the Dead. That one is the nastiest and I really liked that one.
Darabont: I love hearing you say Day of the Dead because that usually gets dissed and I think it’s criminally underrated and I think it’s awesome.
Kirkman: And major props to Shaun of the Dead also.
Darabont: And Dead Alive by Peter Jackson.
On major storylines that the crew is especially looking forward to
Darabont: I cannot wait to do Michonne, striding out of the wasteland with a Samurai sword, with a couple of armless zombies chained to her. I can’t wait to get there. It’s like a spaghetti western/samurai ultra-cool black chick. It’s like the Pam Grier role. What’s not to like?
Moro: When do you think we can see that?
Darabont: Season seven, so tune in.
Kirkman on his favorite character
Kirkman: I like writing Rick obviously. There are a lot of characters I miss, which is something that’s really exciting about the television show, I really hope that we get to see Axel again. I honestly miss the Governer. I love that the show exits so that we can get back to these people again.
Darabont: That’s another thing I can’t wait for, the Governer. It’s all great stuff. It’s got a prison in it!
Kirkman: Yeah Frank came up to me about this he said he didn’t like the comic very much but it had a prison in it so he felt like he had to do it.
On pushing the envelope
Darabont: Yeah there were times I was shooting things where I thought that we’d “restore” them on the DVD. Standards and Practices sends us the email going, “Oh that looks really good.”
Kirkman: Standards and Practices emails are always great, I’m just like “Really?”
Darabont: I shouldn’t say that because the bosses are here. Standards and Practices is doing a fine job! But yeah if we were doing this as an R rated feature I don’t think there’s anything we’d be doing differently, and certainly didn’t have to compromise on anything. I mean if you look at Breaking Bad you can see, I mean we’re just going to make them look like pussies.
Darabont: I love to work with certain people again and again, and if the role is appropriate they’re the first people I call. Jeff DeMunn didn’t need to audition for (the role of) Dale. Laurie Holden did not need to audition. These are actors that I very much had in mind. But not every cast is a one-size-fits. We had a long and involved process with our casting directors. They put together the Breaking Bad cast, they were recommended by AMC, and they worked out brilliantly. They focused on everything. And in fact they were the ones who suggested Andrew Lincoln for the role of Rick. Which at first glance was like, “What, you mean that really cute British guy from Love Actually?” I want Sam Shepherd and you’re giving me that guy? But he turned out to be brilliant of course.
The cast, on whether it was helpful to read the text prior to working on the show
Lincoln (plays Rick Grimes): In the beginning (of the show), you view the world through Rick’s eyes and in the graphic novel it’s the same kind of thing. So I read up to a point and then I stopped reading because I thought “actually it’s going to be more useful for me to discover it as we film.” So yeah I wanted to read on, I was about a hundred pages in but I thought actually I don’t want to find out anything more about the epidemic so I stopped.
Sarah Wayne Callies (plays Lori Grimes): Yeah you lose a body part.
Kirkman: Shhh shhh shhh!
Callies: I picked up just the very first comics for a feel of it, then I was in the comic book for an hour and bought everything they had. And I’ve come to this, and I’ve managed to keep it from Frank until now, without (previously) ever seeing a zombie movie and (ever reading) a comic book.
Darabont: What are you doing here?
Callis: I’ve asked myself the same question, and what’s been amazing to me is I’ve actually become a legitimate fan of a show that I have to watch through my fingers. But I love it, this comic, I see it as literature, it’s a great piece of literature.
Kirkman: Don’t build it up too much.
Callies: If you liked War and Peace!
Laurie Holden (plays Andrea): Yeah I read the first collection like Andrew because what’s so wonderful about The Walking Dead are the characters are so rich and textured and complicated and we all go on such arcs that I think it’s important not to get too ahead of ourselves. If you read too far in advance, you already have that in your head. But I’m like Sarah. I read it and I couldn’t put it down. I had nightmares. I got to the Governor and I was like, “Oh my god, what the hell is this.” I’m just thrilled, it’s just fantastic epic storytelling.
Steven Yeun (plays Glenn): I was actually a fan of this way before I knew it was going to be made. I remember I got a phone call from my friend Andy and he was like, “Hey man you gotta pick this up.” And this was like 2006, I just graduated college and I was going to the bookstore, reading it, and couldn’t put it down. I read the first two books. I didn’t buy them.
Kirkman: (Stands and glares menacingly at Yeun)
Yeun: I started buying after that. I was poor! I was a poor young actor. So what was awesome coming at this from a fan’s (perspective) was: you wanted as a fan to also be true because you’ve loved in these books.
Norman Reedus (plays Daryl): I read the comics because of the artwork, but I never really got into it because it didn’t have my character. I didn’t realize that each character is on a path, and each character in the comic book could have their own comic book. But it’s interesting to be on set because I’m not in the comic books, if I was in the comic book now, I’d probably just look to see when my character died, you know? But yeah. I’m just really happy to be a part of this, I’ve never done anything like this. I’m sorry I’m late, I just ran down the hallway to get here.
Jon Bernthal (plays Shane): I hadn’t read the comic before. When I got the script, I had never read a script like that in my life, and it absolutely blew me away and after getting the job I checked out the comic book and you know the character ends, and he buys it. I think that uh…
Fan: He’s a douche!
Bernthal: If I can be successful in this, then I hope the next episode I can change your mind a little bit.
Callies: He’s the reason Carl’s (Rick’s son in the comic) alive.
Bernthal: What’s so awesome about the book is that it provides a template for these unbelievable characters and it excites the imagination and it’s our job to fill it in and hopefully that’s what we did. Hopefully we’ll keep you guessing and surprise you week after week.
On the onscreen relationship between Rick and Lori Grimes
Lincoln: Well (Sarah Wayne Callis) said a great thing about a week ago in England: the apocalypse can be the savior of their marriage. The extraordinary incident actually galvanizes. The journey (on which Rick embarks, after waking from a coma, to locate his family in the zombie wasteland) is three weeks. I’ve been alone talking to a horse, I was ready to meet somebody, and it was a very powerful moment. And the satisfying thing that people have touched upon is that this story is so rich with character and we have space. It’s not like a movie. It’s not like we’re stuck to a two hour format where we have to map out, this is the action sequence, and this is the scary bit, we’ve got time to go to so much nuance. That’s been the great thing working with this cast, it’s the strongest ensemble I’ve ever worked with and the camera can just turn to a character that hasn’t spoken in three days and they break your heart.
Callies: Let’s not dig quite so far into that one. Shooting the reunion between Rick and Lori, what I felt was I looked up and see him, and assume he’s a walker. The first emotion that I remember going through my head was horror, because he couldn’t possibly be alive. I’ve been seeing the dead come back, and back, and back, and you know the next twelve emotions are no less intense. I think the apocalypse does save Rick and Lori’s marriage in a way. I think what I see in this man is a level of heroism that, and I’ve known him all my life, but I’ve never seen the strength and the beauty and the passion and the courage and the bravery and within the same breath there are things about him that are gone and dead and chill me to the bone. We have to get to know each other again without time to sit down. And amidst of this we’re desperately trying to keep this boy alive. Not just physically alive but retain enough of his innocence to be a child and to grow up without growing up into someone who’s jaded by the time he’s thirteen. There’s so much to play there it’s just thrilling, but it’s as ugly as it is beautiful.
On the relationship between Dale and Andrea
Holden: The Dale-Andrea relationship is very unique and I think it’s going to unfold very subtly. I am so lucky that Jeff Demunn is playing Dale, he’s just the loveliest man ever. It’s the end of the world, and Andrea goes through a lot, and does a lot, and I think that this man shows her a kindness and a love that she’s never known and he becomes family and he becomes her heart.
Reedus on playing crazy-ass brothers
Reedus: Michael Rooker plays my brother, he’s just an awesome actor, if you’ve ever seen Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. I remember seeing that and thought that he was awesome. My character is basically on the hunt seventeen different ways. He’s a character that can go a lot of different ways. He’s a hardened person. But if the end of the world happens I think there’s something super interesting with angels who act like devils and devils who act like angels. So everyone’s sort of looking at each other from the side of their eyes, like who’s going to stab this person. So the zombies are the enemy, but not the only enemy.
Yeun on the action sequences and passing out (depending on whom you ask)
Yeun: Okay, okay, we knew this was coming guys let preface this with: Atlanta is hot. It’s sooo hot it’s a hundred and thousand degrees okay? I just got there and the first day I come in the go all right just come on in we’re going to shoot some stuff for the second episode. They didn’t tell me what it entailed, yet so I jump in dress into my clothes as the character, the director Michelle, who’s amazing, she said, “All right I want you to run out of this fencing, sprint up the street, jump over these pylons, grab these two twenty pound bags of guns, jump back over, sprint back down the street looking behind you avoiding zombies, and then come back in. And we’ll do that maybe ten times.”
Kirkman: But he only got through what, like one?
Yeun: No! We got through three and a half.
Kirkman: I just want to say Gale leaned over and said, “He didn’t make it through one.”
Yeun: It was three and a half. It was so funny. On the third one they were like, “All right, let’s go.” And I was like, “Could you give me a second, one second?”
Callies: Then he passed out.
Yeun: I didn’t pass out. The lay me down on my back, propped my legs up against a wall, and then they gave me a banana, which is common protocol. Didn’t mean I passed out, it’s just what you do. Then they gave me a twizzler and some water. So that was the first day. And it never happened again. The general consensus was that Atlanta was crazy. And everyone’s welcome to Atlanta was: “Get your ass beat.” Like bad, so yeah…
Kirkman: Can I just say, the story Steven was forced to tell here is kind of legendary on the set, and he’s had to hear it a lot so can we just not ever mention this again? We want him to live it down, and he did a great job after that, so let’s just throw him a bone, and go on as if none of this happened? He TOTALLY passed out, it was hilarious!
Yeun: All right!
Darabont: It was so hot, how hot was it? It’s like the old Johnny Carson joke. How hot was it? It was so hot in Burbank today they were spraying PAM on the sidewalks to keep the old people from sticking. It was so fucking hot in Atlanta. A cool day was a hundred degrees. It went up from there seriously, and the humidity was unbelievable. That everyone was able to work through that shit was remarkable. There were a few times when I was directing, and I’m telling this so that you feel better. There were a few times when I was directing the pilot particularly out on the country road, with the shoot-out and the car flipping, I thought I was going to go over, and I was just standing there. I started getting so overheated I thought, “I have to go over to this bucket of ice water and dip a towel in it and put it on my head, or I’m going to go over.” And it almost happened like three times on the shoot. I wasn’t even running up and down the street.
Yeun: My best memory of you is, my first day on the set I saw you do this three times. Bend over, and just slick all the sweat [off your head]. It was really gross.
On handling the natural aging of Chandler Riggs (who plays Rick Grimes’s young son Carl) throughout a show’s duration
Callies: We don’t feed him.
Darabont: We’re giving him hormone injections. The moment he hits adolescence we’re feeding him to zombies. That will be the death episode for Carl
Kirkman: Actually that actor is 33 years old.
Darabont: (Chandler Riggs) is an amazing actor. He really is. We’re hoping time doesn’t catch up with us I guess. I mean at the end of the day you do ask yourself those questions when you’re asked it you think well, it’s a child. There’s that thing that happens, but we gotta have Carl in the show. You pick the best actor for the part and you know hopefully it won’t bite us in the ass. Or like: “Cut to two years later!” From one season to the next, I don’t know, we haven’t really thought of it. We’ll cross that scary bridge when we get to it.
On the most fun and most challenging aspects of the show
Callies: I mean fun-wise, I’d say the people that we got to work with. I’ve never had an experience like this. Were it otherwise, it would have been a nightmare, because it was hot and you’re in the sun all day it’s not like we’re in an air conditioned courtroom in the apocalypse. You know as soon as the sun goes down it, cools off, but every single day I woke up dying to go to work. I mean these people are just amazing to work with, I’m a better actor for having been in their company and I think that that just makes the whole thing a privilege.
Darabont: It cooled off?
Kirkman on winning the Eisner Award
Kirkman: It was awful! I mean it was kind of amazing. I’d been nominated before and lost and I had to act like it was no big deal, when it was. It’s a shame that Will Eisner isn’t still with us but it’s comic book history, and it’s an extremely flattering thing to be awarded anything. So an Eisner Award is pretty cool. I have to say that statue is like kind of awesome. I’m sure you’ve guys have seen pictures, but that thing is made out of marble and solid steel and it weighs like 400 pounds it’s actually really kind of cool. I was really thrilled with the experience. I’d be happy to do it again.
Darabont on a “formula for creating compelling screenplays.”
Darabont: Oh God, how much time do we have? It’s a life time journey discovering what you do as a writer. I’m still learning and I think formula is probably not quite the right word, because what’s you fall into formula you stop trying to do things in a different or original way. My formula, honestly, I sit in and I write for twelve hours a day. And I keep banging my head against the desk until I feel I’ve worked the material to the point where I’m not embarrassed to have somebody read it. It always sucks the first time, and instead of sending to anybody I rewrite the damn thing, I don’t know how many times. So it’s really a matter of discipline and time, and finding what the limits of your abilities can take you as a writer. With adaptations specifically, I try never to stray too far from the spirit of the intention of what the original author has put down. Cause I figure if I’m adapting something, I hope I’m adapting it because I love it. And if I love it, why the hell would I mangle it and change it into something else completely different? I’ve been accused at times, like with The Green Mile of being too faithful. And it’s like: Okay, fine. I’d rather be faulted there than have handed in a 90 minute horseshit version of The Green Mile.
Fan regarding The Mist
Fan: I thought The Mist was an incredible movie. I never imagined in my life, that CGI could scare the crap out of me.
Darabont: Oh good.
Fan: Nightmares. You’ve done better with CGI than anyone has before.
Darabont: But admit it, but admit it, there’s at least 25% of you in this room who hate that movie right?
Random Person: That ending took balls!
On characters appearing in the series that didn’t appear in the comic: “Does that mean there will be more red shirts?”
Darabont: Yeah except that the difference is our red shirts are going to become major characters.
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