The Walking Dead's Sarah Wayne Callies and IronE Singleton Talk Death, Moral Dilemmas, and Lots More!
After last Sunday night's mind-blowing episode of "The Walking Dead," we sat in on a conference call with Sarah Wayne Callies and IronE Singleton, who talked about the fate of their characters and lots more. If you somehow haven't seen the episode yet, beware of major spoilers inside!
Sarah, can you talk about how you got to such an intense level of emotion as an actress in Sunday's episode and also about the bond you have with Chandler (Riggs) as your son in the show. How was that to work through?
Sarah Wayne Callies: Lori's death is very unique among the ones we've had on "The Walking Dead" because it's one that she's chosen. The other one that comes close is Jim deciding to leave us by the side of road in Episode 105, although he's already been bitten at that point. So it's an interesting tone because it's not surrounded by quite the same level of crisis and panic, although she's clearly in a situation where things are going to go badly with or without her choice. In a way it's a pain for us to admit that. It has to do with the work we've done for the last two and a half years. I can't imagine doing a scene like that with an actor you didn't have a strong rapport with and a character you didn't know quite as well. But I think there is something about a scene like that…we all sort of felt that the best thing we can do is just be present and support one another and create an environment where anything's okay.
It was pin-drop quiet through that whole scene. We didn't close the set. The whole crew was there and there was a level of concentration and respect and focus from all 80 people who were there. It was remarkable and I think it was probably also significant that the entire cast showed up. I finished the scene and when I came out and there was almost every single member of our cast that had just come to sit and watch and be there. And I think that was important for Chandler, that he was surrounded by the people he would be moving on with.
It was difficult, I'll be honest. Chandler and I really didn't talk at all that week that we were shooting because we couldn't look at each other without losing it. I love that kid. When we lost Jon (Bernthal), Andy (Lincoln) and I were there and we put our arms around Chandler and we said, 'you know you have us.' And I felt like a bit of a jerk having to reassure this young man that I would be there for him and then sort of taking off five episodes later. But he's in very good hands with that cast and crew. And he's a remarkable professional and I know he'll be fine.
Did you have any creative input on either the script or how she died in this episode?
Sarah Wayne Callies: Frank (Darabont) and I talked a lot about the necessity of Lori dying and he fought me on it. He said he thought he had a way around it. We never got a chance to see how that would work out. Glen (Mazzara) and I talked about it a lot, not just what that scene would be like, but how we owned that moment through the first two episodes of the season because originally there was a different timeline and we had longer to build to that moment. And so when it got shortened we talked about what we needed, what pieces had to be in place both for Lori and Carl and for Rick, for his development later in this season. And it is an intimate process because Glen lost his mother shortly before this season. So I was very aware that this was a scene that he had written about a woman saying goodbye to her son, having just said goodbye to his mother and heard many of those words. We batted ideas and lines back and forth for about two weeks and what we shot was a combination of those efforts. There were a couple of things that I said that weren't on the page, but were a product of sitting with Chandler in a room and trying to say goodbye to him. And it's just a great gift of a scene to me as an actor. Not that it's all about me, but I'm an actor. So it's all about me, right?
The great gist of that scene to me was that I got to say everything I wanted to say to him and to the show and to the cast. And people ask me, "Well how does it feel to leave the show?" And I just want to say, "Well, watch the episode. You'll know exactly how I feel because it's all there." There were some very specific things that mattered to me to find with Lori in the third season and redemption was a big part of that. A sense of redemption in her marriage and a sense of redemption with Carl. And while I don't think either of those were achieved completely because that would tie things up in a package that is far too neat for our show. We took steps down that path that I think not only dramatically changes the show, but in a way that I'm grateful for personally because I have such profound affection for Lori.
What did it mean to play that character?
Sarah Wayne Callies: Oh God, the world. I loved Lori; I love Lori. She is one of those characters that will live in my heart for a long, long, long, long time. I learned so much from her and one of the things that I'm most grateful to the show for is early on, when I had my first conversation with Frank, we agreed that we wouldn't do the TV version of this. Lori was not going to be some big-busted beautiful woman in this. We talked about doing the ugliest, dirtiest, most dangerous and sometimes unlikable version of this that we could and then you get the script and you realize you chickened out…and he never did. And I remember going to set the very first day wearing less makeup and my hair looking kind of like a mess and in clothes that were dirty and torn and a size too big. And he looked at me and he went, "Perfect." And, you know, I've never worked on a show where the producers wouldn't go, "Well I mean come on, at least put on some lipstick and comb your hair. And for crying out loud let's give her a better shirt." But none of that, not for a second. And it was so exhilarating to be able to dig deep into the darkness of motherhood and the darkness of marriage because this is very dark enterprise. There's a long list of beauty and the strength in the light. And to work on a production that had the courage even though sometimes kicked up a fuss about it…to have the courage to say we're going to tell this story in a way it's never been told before. It was remarkable. It's the best work I've ever done on camera and that's because the material is so strong and because Andy and Chandler and Jon and Norman (Reedus) and Steven (Yeun) and Lauren (Cohan), all of those amazing people that I've had the chance to act with. It's because they made the same commitment and really chose to do the honest version instead of the appealing version. It's an experience unlike anything I've ever had and I've learned so much from it. And I love Lori so much. Her passion and fire, her lack of vanity, I love that woman and I am going to miss her.
What do you think your exit, and the way Lori parted, mean to the show?
Sarah Wayne Callies: Well I don't know. I haven't really thought about it. I think Carl is a force to be reckoned with, and I think that it's very telling that Lori isn't worried about Carl. She tells him you're going to be fine. Through that entire scene her soul is with Rick. And the most important thing to her is that Rick not see her as a walker and Rick not have to put her down and she just says goodnight to him. And she almost says to Carl, "Take care of your daddy, because your daddy's going to fall apart."
That signals a scene change. For the first two seasons Carl wept in our arms. Always Carl was within an arm's reach. I'm always wrapping my hand over his shoulder and stuff. And he has evolved the character partly to what a remarkable actor Chandler Riggs is. He's evolved into a child solider and all of the deeper unsettling power that brings with it. Though I think in a way, with Lori's death, there's a change in the balance between Carl and Rick and maybe a sense that this boy has feeling in his heart in both a good and a bad way. And his father doesn't anymore.
You had mentioned that you talked to Frank Darabont about Lori's death, so does that mean that you knew from the get-go that this was going to happen at some point?
I knew from the get-go that Lori died in the comic books and so I came to this job assuming that she had an expiration date because there's certain characters, the death of Shane, the death of Lori, that are very difficult things to get around. And I said something to Frank about that at a certain point. He said, "I don't need to kill you." And I said: "With all due respect, sir, yes you do." And he just laughed. He said, "I've never had an actress argue." He said, "I've never had a leading lady argue her way off the show." And I thought in the books, Rick goes nuts because his wife dies. And I think the way he does is pretty cool and I think he does want to do that at some point, though Lori had to be a big girl to make that call. And I can't wait to see those episodes afterwards to see what happens.
It's a very, very touching moment and most mothers would sacrifice for their child, but does she have an idea about how this child is going to exist without her? And is she caring as to whether it's Rick or Shane's baby?
Sarah Wayne Callies: Well I don't know if that's something that anyone's really going to be able to determine. And we've talked about that a lot. And I think really the sort of way to tell in a world where there are no paternity tests, would be if the baby has blue eyes, then the baby is Rick's because both Rick and Carl have blue eyes. But it's a recessive trait. And Shane has brown eyes and Lori has brown eyes. Because with a brown-eyed baby there's no way to know if that would be either Rick or Shane's. But from a genetic standpoint if it's blue eyes it's Rick's. And I think Lori is terrified for the child and from the beginning Lori has seen this pregnancy as a death sentence. Her decision to throw up the Morning After pill that she took last season, was in part a decision to say okay I'd rather die for the baby or I'll die with the baby. But I remember being pregnant and being nervous about all the things that could go wrong and I had the best midwives in the world and a hospital 10 minutes away. So I put myself in Lori's shoes knowing that there's no medical intervention, there's no prenatal care, there's no nutrition of the kind of level that you would want. We don't even know when she got pregnant. She could be she could be eight months or she could be nine months. And knowing how stress affect a pregnancy she could be seven and the baby could be wildly premature.
So she sleeps so many nights lying awake with these questions buzzing around in her mind. Will Rick accept the child? Will the child have a chance? Those are things that she has settled the most in her own mind and with her God and her conscience to know that she's done everything she can. Clearly Hershel and Carol are taking the best care of her that they can. And I think she trusts that they will find a way to keep that baby alive as best they can. And there are obviously huge questions now like how do they feed a newborn. But those are questions that they would've spent a lot of time around a campfire at night discussing in this long dark winter that they just came out of. They would've addressed those questions over and over and over and over and come up with a plan.
The composition of the final scene having Lori, Maggie and Carl there and not having a final scene with Andy Lincoln to share your thoughts and feelings to his character. How was composed? Why those three?
Sarah Wayne Callies: I think just from a visual composition…we first read the script and the danger is this becomes gross and the audience can't watch. So visually the scene was composed in a way in which I thought wasn't "gross they're cutting a lady open and yanking a baby out of her belly." It was about people. In terms of the composition of the characters in that scene, the whole conversation that Lori had with Maggie is trying to get her to step up and be a matriarch. She's asking her to do something that only the strongest people would be able to pull off. Maggie's a young woman. She's Glenn's girlfriend, she's Hershel's daughter. But she hasn't necessarily come into her own as a woman. And Lori basically keeps telling her -- this is the wrong phrase, but we'll use it ironically -- "You got to man up. It's time to put away your fear and your tears and your I can't do this and do what has to be done right now." And if there were anyone else around Maggie wouldn't do it, right? Hershel would do it or Rick would do it or Daryl would do it. I mean quite frankly who better to cut open a living creature than Daryl?
Anyone else is better suited to this than Maggie, but Maggie's the one who's there. And so Lori has to turn her into a matriarch in the space of two minutes in order to save her baby's life. And that's just a remarkable story. And likewise Carl has to become a man in the space of the same two minutes because there's no one else to put Lori down and there's no one else to be the bearer of her final words. You know, Maggie's clearly kind of the verge of hysterics, but also having to focus on this C-section. And so Carl has to take from Lori the last thing that she says and carry those into the future which is an enormous burden. And so I think it's an amazing composition because you take a young woman and a young man and Lori's final act is to turn them into the adults that can do what needs to be done to keep the baby alive.
When it comes to Lori and Rick it's important…or what happens to Rick later in the season that he has to replay that thing between the two of them at the end of Episode 2 over and over in his head and go, "Why didn't I tell her I loved her? Why didn't I say I forgive you? Why didn't I say I'm sorry?" Because that's the part of the show that's honest. We've all lost people thinking I was supposed to have more time. We were supposed to be able to have that conversation when things were better. And Lori and Rick have lived an entire winter knowing the stakes of this world where everyone goes at any moment, but they're still being so mired in self-hatred and grief and loss. They haven't been able to summon it. There's cost to that; there's a cost to keeping silent instead of saying what we've said. And for better or worse Rick is about to bear that cost.
Are they being truthful to the character on the pages as well as what's come before? And how did you in your mind sort that all out knowing that some of the negative public reaction towards Lori when you were just trying to be honest about the character?
Sarah Wayne Callies: To be honest I don't go into any of that stuff. I'm aware it's there because I've been told and I know that. What I read are the people who take the time to write me and so what I read are the fan letters that come to me in the mail. And that's between 20 and 50 letters a week of people saying I love her, I love the work. I believe her, I'm a mom and it's nice to have a woman that I can relate to. Those letters are overwhelmingly positive; I've actually never had anybody write to me and say, "I'll take your autograph because I like the show, but I hate Lori." And those people may be out there, but as far as I'm concerned knowing that there's a reaction among a certain demographic of people who watch a show and take the time to go online and sound off about it…which given the 10 million people who watch the show, I don't know what proportion of that 10 million person viewership goes online and does that.
But for those folks, I don't know if that kind of does it because the last character I played on "Prison Break" was kind of an angel and people loved her and they were very supportive and that felt good. But coming off of that show one of my concerns was not to get stuck playing our lady of sorrows, playing the sort of heartbreaking character that always does the right thing, stands by her man and is very appealing. And I loved Dr. Sara and I loved playing that part. But part of why I wanted to play Lori was because I found her a very different kind of a woman. So hearing that that kind of controversy was going on online, people talking about is she a good mother, is she a good wife, in a way it was gratifying for me because it was evidence that I haven't played the same character back to back. And that I'm growing as an artist and expanding my range. And not pigeonholing myself by doing the same thing over and over.
It's not always the stuff that you and Andy actually say, but these incredible moments of silence that really seem to say a lot more. You've done scenes with Andy where you're not talking, but there's obviously a lot going on between the two of you that's unsaid. What sort of things are going through your mind as far as the way you're playing the character in those moments?
Sarah Wayne Callies: That's interesting. I was always taught that as an actor one of the most effective things you can do is have your brain be chattering away the way everyone's brain chatters away whether you're talking or not. So your work isn't just to learn the lines and say the lines, your work is to figure out what's the chatter in your brain that's going on under the lines. And so if that chatter is there it doesn't matter whether you're speaking or not speaking because your mind is working the way your character's mind would work. Some of my favorite scenes with Andy are the ones where one or the other of us doesn't talk much. One of my favorite scenes was the scene at the end was the second season where he tells me Shane is dead. I don't really say anything that entire scene except at the very beginning. But there's a whole dialogue between us that happens non-verbally. In a way that's my favorite kind of work to do because it can be different every take and you can play with it. You can't really change the minds every take; that would be bad manners. But you can change the response on your face and that whole shift can skew the whole scene. But Andy's such a marvelous actor that you just play together and figure that kind of thing out.
We did this already in the episode--not to look at each other until the very end and that's what you get with Rick and Lori--again there was going to be a longer trajectory for this stuff and when we shortened it we decided that the best way to tell our story, was to tell the story of two people who can't look at each other. And then at the end he put his hand on my shoulder. And then right before she dies we look at each other across the field and you get a sense that if they had the time they would heal and they would make it.
There is a difference between the death scene on the show and the one in the comic book which was a much more random event where they basically kill Lori and the baby literally in one shot. Did you know your character was going to be on borrowed time? Did you have any sort of input in terms of saying could at least my death have more impact on the episode and possibly the future of the series than say the random event that took place in the graphic novel?
Sarah Wayne Callies: When they told me I was going to die they pitched me what they had as an idea for how. And my first question was does the baby make it and then they said, "Yes." For some stupid reason it made all the difference. I was like, "Okay. Well good, as long as the baby makes it." Anyone who has read the comic book is so familiar with the way Lori died, but I think they'd see it coming a mile away. And so it really just makes good sense to change the circumstances. She's one of three characters from the pilot who are still alive and now there's only two, Rick and Carl. And there's kind of the sense I think that maybe we needed to hear her say something, not just die anonymously. I don't know, you'd have to ask the writers that because from the beginning when they called and said you're going to go in Episode 4, they had went on to say you're going to sacrifice yourself for the baby and say goodbye to Carl and Carl's going to have to shoot you in the head. And I thought, "Oh well that'll be fun."
You mentioned Lori's death in the comics. In the comics, Lori does come back to kind of haunt Rick in visions. Would you be open to returning in such a capacity?
Sarah Wayne Callies: I think that kind of a question has to do with does it serve the story. I've always felt that Lori's death was something very important to Rick which drives him crazy. In the comics part of his madness is not quite being able to shake her. If that serves the story that they were going to tell going forward, absolutely. I can't really envision a time where somebody calls me up and goes, "Hey we wrote something for you." And I go, "No." I don't quite see that happening. But at the same time we've taken so many departures that if they feel it would be foolish for Rick to be seeing ghosts, I'm okay with that too.
You mentioned earlier during the conversation that they decided to move up the death of Lori to this episode. Why was that decision made and at what point would it have happened otherwise?
Sarah Wayne Callies: When I spoke to Glen in November of last year he had a different timeline in mind. And I was told in I think March or April that they had shortened it to Episode 4. I don't know why; that's a writer/producer question. And quite frankly it seemed like a whiny question to ask, when somebody calls and says you lost your job. And you're like, "Why?" I don't know, it just seemed like a whiny question. To me the only response was, "Yes sir, send me the scripts. I'll make it as good as I can."
Does having it occur this early in this season mean that we can spend more time seeing and responding to it later on. Do you have a sense of how this step will affect Rick later on in this season?
Sarah Wayne Callies: Lori's death is about Rick, which she knows as she goes. And also about the way in which caring for a newborn changes the group. And so what it means is we've got to find a place to be safe and we've got to do it now. So there's that question. And while we get more or less the same thing, which is that it's not just about how do we survive in the prison? How do we find food for a baby? How do we keep the baby quiet? But there's only one person there. Only one woman there who's ever been a mom and that's Carol and Carol just lost her daughter. So is Carol going to want to help? You know, Hershel's girls are more or less grown. And so I think it makes the situation much more acute, much bigger for the rest of the group.
And the whole, "Oh no we have to pick up Lori because she's pregnant." I think a little bit of that goes a long way because we get it. And so truncating that journey I think makes a better storytelling and getting to the punch-line which is what do we do now. What do we do with a baby? And what does Rick do without his wife? And that's the season.
Can you talk about any of the fun involved with the gore because we've been talking to Greg (Nicotero) a lot. He has a lot of fun in talking about how much fun it is with some of those crazy props and some of the prosthetics.
Sarah Wayne Callies: There wasn't a lot of laughter that day on set when we were shooting. It wasn't a lot of fun. The crew and I are really close and we've been together since the beginning. It was pretty awful. I wouldn't have wanted to disrupt either Lauren or Chandler's work by making light of it in any way. What Chandler had to do is a lot to ask of any actor and he's barely a teenager. So I don't know that there was a time when anyone really laughed about anything. I got sealed to the floor with all the blood. It was so sticky on the concrete, so I couldn't get up and it was really cold, actually, which is odd because I spent the entire show sweating. But the concrete floor for eight hours gets cold and I was shaking kind of uncontrollably towards the end of it. And Guy, our director, bless his heart, just came down and was like, "Lay on the floor with me" and wrapped me in a blanket. And it was a very sort of sweet kind of comfort. And then at the end of the day when it was all done I think there were a few chuckles as they tried to get me up because it took a pallet knife and several bottles of solvent. And whenever somebody leaves, you address the crew and whatever cast has come and I just physically couldn't.
And so they finished shooting the scene between Maggie and Carl after the baby's been born. And the prosthetic belly came off me and blood was everywhere and there were little bits of baby and goop. And I tried to get as cleaned up as I could get and put on street clothes and came out to address crew and we said a lot of things and then basically said, "Let's go to the Roadhouse," which is a great bar down the road from where we shoot, and let's just get this out of our systems.
What's your next role going to be? You've played the good, strong, stand by your man woman. You've played this conflicted woman who basically ended up with your young son having to shoot you in the head. Where do you go from here?
Sarah Wayne Callies: I actually finished my next project already because I finished shooting "The Walking Dead" in middle of June. At the beginning of July, I worked on a movie called Black Sky which is my first experience doing a big budget F/X movie. It's about somebody's life being in jeopardy pretty much every second. It's about a surviving a tornado, about the ways in which people who are strangers can become quite important to one another quite quickly in crisis. And so I completed that just a couple weeks ago with Richard Armitage.
"The Walking Dead" family was one that I really built so consciously and it meant so much to me. But it's a real gift that two weeks after I walked off that set I walked onto another one and really got to sink my teeth into another character, another story so that I could take everything that was learned from "The Walking Dead" and try and put it into practice. And also while I was still grieving for the loss of the show to be sure I had something creative to focus on. And especially I'm just a lucky actor and a lucky person that there was another role to talk to about.
Thank you. Enjoy, IronE. He's marvelous.