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Walking Dead: A character study

SINGAPORE — We know it’s not Halloween yet, but Singapore welcomed two of the world’s most accomplished zombie hunters when actors Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus, who play Sheriff Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon, respectively, on the massively popular television show The Walking Dead, popped over to our sun-kissed island for a fan meet to promote the show’s fourth season.

SINGAPORE — We know it’s not Halloween yet, but Singapore welcomed two of the world’s most accomplished zombie hunters when actors Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus, who play Sheriff Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon, respectively, on the massively popular television show The Walking Dead, popped over to our sun-kissed island for a fan meet to promote the show’s fourth season.

But more than just the zombies, both Lincoln and Reedus believe that it’s the drama of the character-driven series that manages to consistently grab people’s attention.

“I read the pilot and didn’t even think zombies. People get very involved with the characters, who at any given moment are ready to explode. The fact that these characters do need each other, it just adds to the physchological study (of each character). This is more drama than horror,” said Reedus.

“Yes, I think drama is it needs to have to sustain. I don’t think you can have longevity in anything unless you are engaged with the characters in the show,” said Lincoln. “That’s the thing that always strikes me when I read the new scripts – that I can’t wait to find out what happens to Daryl or all of these other beloved characters. The series was never sold to me as horror. It just wasn’t; it was a character-driven show, it’s like Lord of the Flies. That’s what it was sold to me as. The fact that we have zombies is a cheeky little bonus.”


Q: So this is your first time in Singapore, what are your thoughts about it?

Norman: It’s beautiful here, and I love the architecture, so many types of buildings I have never seen before. It was great to get out of the touristy parts and see Singapore. We went to Geylang for a seafood dinner and it was a real eye opener.

Andrew: Yes, we got crabs in the red-light district – that’s breaking news, right?


Q: What is the vibe like working on this season compared to the past three?

A: Pretty much the same. It never really changes; the general tone is the same because about 95 per cent of the crew is the same for the past four years. It still has the same excitement, friendship, and sadness when you lose great actors (who get killed off in the show), but we keep struggling on.


Q: What excites you about this season?

A: The fact that I am still alive!

N: This season is one of our strongest by far; the writing is really good and the same goes for the acting and direction.

A: I think the fans are going to be happy with a lot of the other characters that didn’t get the same focus the last two to three years, because now they really get their chance to shine. There is more character development and just as much gore, sweat and tears as before.


Q: So you never know when you might get killed off. How does that feel?

A: Not very nice. It’s not job security is it? It’s the only downer in a truly beautiful and glorious job, the fact that you make these great friends and then you lose these friendships when the characters die. And you don’t just regret that you lost these friendships, but also regret that your character doesn’t have those friends anymore.

N: It’s a lot like real life. Time is precious and what you stand for is precious, and your words are precious. And that element of the show really heightens its intensity. It’s a lot like real life.


Q: Have you had to do anything different to prepare for filming this season?

N: Episode to episode is different, and every story-line is different, and after four years of being on the show you really know your character and know what it takes to get your character to a certain point. But you have a relationship with these people, and that doesn’t change episode to episode.

A: I became a pig farmer this season, and I had to get up close and personal with some piglets. They were adorable until I had to slaughter them. This was actually a very strange beginning for my character, because I have been the leader, the go-to guy, the decision maker… and I began this season having renounced all of that. And it was interesting to begin this season with the character actively deciding to step away and causing friction with a lot of characters.


Q: Andrew, your character, Rick, is sort of taking a backseat this season. How long will he remain so uninvolved?

A: He is not in a good state physically; I think he’s at his lowest point, probably ever since he woke up from his coma. These characters have no protection and are alone. What I identified after reading a few episodes is that people are dying without each other, in every sense of the word. And because of that it is incredibly interesting psychological study for a lot of these characters.


Q: And Norman, where is your character, Daryl, at the start of this season?

N: He is sort of a reluctant leader; he doesn’t view himself as one. Daryl always does what needs to be done: if he’s hungry he finds food; if someone needs medicine for the baby he’s on a mission to get medicine. But he is also always looking out for Rick; when characters on the show are like, “We need Rick”, Daryl is always like, “Rick has earned the right to take his time”, and will have everyone back off and hold their horses. He’s always like this Robin to Rick’s Batman. Yet he’s not the type of person who will want to sit down and talk to you about his feelings.

A: That’s what I like about the relationship between these characters – they’re like alpha men, but they’re not. I’m a cop and he’s a hillbilly, and they’re not used to talking about how they feel. So when you get those moments of true friendship, that’s great and it’s like magic. I love those scenes between our characters; when they get to talk, there’s always something heartfelt said between them in those scenes.


Q: How is it like working with each other?

A: It’s a breeze – it’s the easiest thing, like breathing. That comes from time together, living with these characters, and friendships. I believe that if you have a good relationship with someone off screen, it comes through in front of the lens.

N: We have mutual respect for what we do. For instance, I can be in a scene and ask Andy if I should try something, and he will give me an honest answer and I will try it. Andy is like my BFF, he’s my go-to guy for ideas.


Q: Have you had to work on the camaraderie, or did it come naturally?

A: Well you kind of have to earn your stripes on this show and everyone feels that. We move quickly; it’s like a big juggernaut, this production. You don’t have much time, and these new actors who come on set have to bring their game with them. But it is amazing welcoming all these characters, and we have these great casting directors who keep bringing in these amazing people.


Q: Who keeps the energy up on set?

N: Andy is really good at getting everyone in the zone, it’s one of the many hats he wears on this show.

A: That’s a nice way of saying I’m bossy.

N: But we all understand each other’s needs and space. If someone has an emotional scene, you’ll see that person with his headphones on and wanting his space. And we will give him that, you know?

A: It’s not a competitive show, and that is the benchmark. It’s the fact that we also shoot with a lot of cameras. It helps because it means that we cross shoot each other, so the other actors are in the scene. It actively encourages you to stay in character and be committed and give a good performance every single take. It adds to the energy; it’s as real as we can make it.


Q: There’s talk that this series could last past seven seasons. What do you feel about that?

N: One of the strengths of the show that has been apparent to me the past three-and-a-half years is how we keep reinventing ourselves because of the deaths of certain characters, and how new ones come in. I think that we are in a very exciting place at the moment. The production feels like it is just getting into its stride now, and that’s a very exciting thing to say after four years. I think some of the actors are absolutely bringing it in this season; I am seeing some of the best work out of everyone.


Q: There’s a lot of physicality involved in filming. How exhausting does it get?

A: The only reason I am not working right now is because I am hurting still.

N: I am injured all the time. . I have had stitches and been to the hospital more than once. I get black eyes so often that my makeup lady is always having to cover up a real black eye for me. It’s a very physical show. But that sort of physicality, along with the heat and the bugs down where we shoot the show, it’s a character in itself.

A: I remember we once had to do a sequence scene where we run through the graveyard and looking for someone, and we had like eight cameras shooting and the light was going. And Norman is at the back with his pants falling down because he had knives and a bow weighing him down, and his pants would just never stay up!

N: I had a belt buckle that wouldn’t work, and my knife weighs something like 40 pounds, and I had a crossbow on my back that, when I run, would bang against my spine! And every time I took a couple steps my pants would just fall. In season one we jump off a train and my pants were falling down, and if you look at the show carefully, you’ll see me holding my pants up.


Q: Apart from recovering from your injuries, how do you keep in shape to keep up with the show?

A: A friend of mine came to train with me a little bit just to get up to speed. I had decided that I didn’t want to lose weight and wanted to get a bit physically stronger.

N: I swam, but you know, once you are on the show, you don’t need to work out. And the heat there – it’s like a weight-loss programme on its own.

A: Actually, we have these action figures. And the first time my mum and dad saw it, they were like, that’s not your body. I was totally shamed by the parents.


Q: Did you expect the kind of recognition and popularity that this show brought about?

N: I’ve never really done any television like this before, and to be honest, TV is a whole other animal. You can do a movie and get a tonne of hype and then it just goes away. But television just goes on repeat in your living room, and after four seasons, it feels like a lot of people have seen it.

A: It’s true, it’s accumulative and I’ve noticed it as well season by season; it’s like there’s this thing that builds. Also because of social media, more people are watching it and they keep wanting to talk about it online while watching it. It adds to the whole publicity of the show. I don’t think there’s anything that’s come close to this, at least in my career.


Q: And do you read these fan and viewer comments?

N: I read a lot of it, and people send them to me too. I love it, I really like the relationship that all of us have and that the show has with the public. I love hearing fans’ ideas and seeing their drawings, and their stories about the characters that have nothing to do with the show. I find it fascinating.

A: I recently saw some fan art that was beautiful. I think when someone wants to create something out of their imagination based on this show, it’s a huge compliment.


Q: What kind of fan experiences have you had?

A: Many people come up and say extraordinary things, and that’s like the icing on a cake on a job that I already love. It’s a TV show, and we are just story tellers. But this seems to have caught people’s imaginations across the world, and it’s a beautiful gift in its own.


Q: So do you read your fan mail?

A: I read all and sign all fan mail because I don’t have a Twitter account or whatever those things are. I don’t do any of that. I can’t even open my email - which is a true story. I do get amazing pictures and stories in the mail, and it seems like families, such as fathers and sons, are watching it together because I get a lot of fathers talking about their teenage sons and about how they are able to sit down with them once a week and share in one common thing. And I find that very touching.


Q: In your experience, what are the differences between working on TV and film?

A: It’s just quicker; we feel like we shoot many movies every week. It’s a film shot on a TV schedule.


Q: Give us a tease about what fans can expect from this season.

N: This will be the best half of our season coming up yet.

A: Yes, this is some of the best work that we have ever done. Also, some of the characters that you don’t know so well, you’ll get to know much better this season.


What: Walking Dead Season 4

When: Feb 10, 11.30am (right after its US telecast) and 8.10pm (same day encore)

Where: Fox Movies Premium (StarHub Ch 622)

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