NY Comic Con: The Walking Dead interviews
|INTERVIEWS - TV|
We joined Frank Darabont, Gale Anne Hurd and the creators and cast of The Walking Dead...
From Nicky Ugrin at New York Comic Con 2010
In this innovative format, press were gathered at four different tables in groups of eight or nine, and talent circulated from one table to the next in ten-minute increments. It was like speed dating, only with the fabulous cast, directors and producers of AMC’s new drama, The Walking Dead.
Apocalypse stories have a way of polarizing the characters within – there are opportunities for tremendous good, and tremendous evil when everything is encased in a life-and-death struggle. The Walking Dead, a new drama premiering on AMC this Halloween night, provides a story of the survivors of the zombie apocalypse and the extraordinary lengths they will go in order to survive.
The show premiered portions of its second episode at New York Comic Con; a good fit, as the source material for the show was one of the most successful comic books of the decade, The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. Why would this translate to TV as opposed to a movie format, particularly when the creative team has had so much success in the motion picture field?
Frank Darabont, creator of The Walking Dead for AMC, said, “First of all, zombie movies have been done, and done well. It’s important to try something new. Then, when I first read the comic book, I realized that it would work better as a TV series. There were just too many characters and too much story to cram into a two-hour movie.”
Comic creator Robert Kirkman agrees: “I enjoyed writing for the show, revisiting characters who may not be in the comics anymore, having been killed off.”
"Having Robert Kirkman be a part of the show not only gives us bragging rights, it also gives us some additional credibility with the fan base. Because anything that we did, he signed off on"
Comic book fans are expected to be among the most vehement and judgmental when it comes to interpretations of the source material. Because the show does vary from the comic, is there any expectation of backlash from the more devoted fans? Star Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick Grimes in the series, thinks not: “Frank’s done a beautiful job of crafting, and pushing, and exploring the characters and the environment of the story. You can see in the pilot episode that he’s adhered to the big, iconic images from the comics. And then he’s thrown a couple of curve balls as well.”
Jon Bernthal adds, “We hope they (the fans) are going to be happy. We worked extremely hard and we care a lot that they dig it; and having Robert be a part of the show not only gives us bragging rights, it also gives us some additional credibility with the fan base. Because anything that we did, he signed off on.”
Executive producer Gale Anne Hurd was also interested in producing the show on television rather than as a movie, even though she is best known as the producer of tremendously successful films including the Terminator series. Hurd noted that the comic was originally brought to her attention by a co-worker, and that she immediately wanted to be a part of the production. She targeted AMC because she admired their groundbreaking shows such as Breaking Bad, and Fright Fest. When Hurd first spoke to the production team at AMC, she was surprised to find that they were already fans of the comic. “I said, would you be interested in a show based on The Walking Dead? And they responded, “Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead? They were very excited about it."
“We didn’t receive a single note telling us to hold back on the violence, or pull punches.”
But there remains the predictable concern about producing a horror show for television. "Walking Dead deals with adult, dramatic themes, but it’s also a blood-and-guts gore fest, I mean, it’s zombies!" But both Gale Anne Hurd and Frank Darabont agree that AMC allowed them complete artistic freedom as far as the zombie story and zombie violence goes. “We didn’t receive a single note telling us to hold back on the violence, or pull punches,” said Hurd.
So in a project that everyone seems so excited about, what’s the favorite part? Frank Darabont replied, “All of it! Not to be glib, but for what we set out to do, our expectations have been fully realized. We have really great episodes and I’m really proud of them. There’s something special going on here.”
At another sitting we met up with Walking Dead actors Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes), Jon Bernthal (Shane), and Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori Grimes). Asked whether it was difficult to develop their initial characters away from the other actors - because Walking Dead is kind of a rolling road movie where lone survivors gradually band together - Andrew Lincoln responded:
"Well it was difficult for me!! In the beginning of the story it’s quite busy for me, and quite lonely - basically me and a horse and a radio in the desert for the first few weeks. I certainly feel that when we do get together, you get a real, true sense of the potential of the show. But I don’t think that negates the fact that you’ve got two episodes on the way that are so different. And it’s also very interesting to see the group dynamic without Rick, you know? And what happens without him. Then you can focus on the changes he brings."
"It’s a great addition to the comic book," observed Sarah Wayne Callies, "because it’s one of the things that you don’t see in the comic book; we don’t see the life at camp before Rick arrives. I got a chance to get to know Andy for six weeks before we worked together. And that reunion scene? I was so happy to see you!"
"Well when I was reunited with Jon in the campfire scene," replies Lincoln, "because we had filmed the pre-apocalypse scene before, you (to Jon Bernthal) looked and me and said, 'Man, you look fucked!' And he was right, you know; I’d seen some dark shit in the time in between. All of us had!"
Callies nods. "But you’d lost weight, It was like someone had carved out your cheeks since the pilot."
Andrew Lincoln praises Frank Darabont for pushing and exploring the characters, environment and structure of the story. "He's done some things for the true fans of the show. You can see in the pilot episode that he’s adhered to the big, iconic images from the comics and then he’s thrown a couple of curve balls as well."
"Yeah, we’re going to do some things that aren’t in the comic, and some things that are. And I think for really loyal fans to just sit there and see the comic book on TV...?"
Asked if he checked out the source comic material as research for the show, Lincoln said: "I stopped reading after a while, just because I didn’t want to know what happened. I think the beauty of playing Rick, and what they’ve done with him on the show, is that you discover the story through personal accounts, and I didn’t want to get ahead of the game. I didn’t want to know too much about what happened, because obviously the audience is discovering all of it, particularly in the first two episodes, through Rick’s eyes. And then it turns into this beautiful ensemble."
The show diverges from the comics in a number of ways, and Jon Bernthal pondered whether or not fans of the comics might prove prickly in response to the differences:
"The comic offers this amazing template, but it’s up to us to fill in the blanks. And I think what these comics do is excite your imagination and require readers to sort of fill in all of these places around it. I hope that is what our show is kind of doing; showing some different perspective and some different colors. And yeah, we’re going to do some things that aren’t in the comic, and some things that are. And I think for really loyal fans to just sit there and see the comic book on TV...? We hope that people are excited and surprised and ultimately satisfied."
The Walking Dead premieres on AMC on Sunday 31st October 2010