While it’s great to hear from the main cast and crew of The Walking Dead, I’m just as interested in hearing from those that played walkers on the TV series. Today, we have an interview with Kevin Galbraith, who played a number of walkers on the show, including the infamous Swamp Walker in Season 2. Continue reading to learn more about the make-up process, killing a main character from the show, and making a living with convention appearances:
Thank you for taking the time to talk with Daily Dead. How did you become involved with The Walking Dead? Did you submit a photo during the open casting call or did you live in the area and know other people who were involved?
Kevin Galbraith: It happened through a mixture of what you mentioned. I lived in downtown Atlanta in 2010 and a friend of mine showed me one of the first open calls that were made on an extras casting Facebook page. I was cast in background scenes for Season 1, Episode 2 “Guts” about a month later. Most importantly, though, good timing got my foot in the door, since the show was still very under-the-radar prior to Season 1 airing. If I’m not mistaken, the submissions and inquiries to be zombie extras are in the tens of thousands now!
Prior to taking on this role, did you have previous acting experience?
Kevin Galbraith: The only other film & TV work I had before this was in 2002, as a background extra in the atrocious “Dumb & DumberER” prequel that hopefully not many people will remember. I played a blurry splotch behind Eugene Levy’s head! I was also an anchor for my high school’s morning news show, which sounds pretty trite, but I have no doubt that it helped me be less anxious and self-conscious in front of a camera. The absurd short movies that my friends and I made in various states of caffeination and sleep-deprivation as teenagers really opened me up as well, but talking about those might require a book rather than an interview…
Did you play multiple zombie roles on the show or only the part of the swamp walker? How and why were you picked to be the swamp walker? Will you be appearing in season 3?
Kevin Galbraith: I like to think Greg Nicotero saw me prove my mettle in the various group shots and featured bits that I had done throughout both seasons. (Pictures of these other walkers and when they appear on the show can be seen on my Facebook page.) Swamp Walker is the only part I’ve done that required meeting with the assistant director & director prior to filming (the director in this case being Nicotero himself, which I credit highly for making me feel comfortable and confident in my performance.) I had to screen test the movements and the posturing, which included me, shirtless, playing out the scene where Swamp Walker is right on top of Dale. He was played by the assistant director in this case. It was more unnerving than the actual filming, considering not being in make-up and trying to ferociously bite and claw this higher-up who was total stranger to me. It was awkward to say the least.
As for season 3, it will be just like season 1 and 2 in that that I’ll probably hear about being needed only days in advance, IF needed. I consider myself quite lucky already though. Every time they decide to use me again, I really feel like I should be stepping it up on my end to meet or surpass their continually forming expectations.
We’ve been told that many actors goes through a zombie school to work on their movements. How was the experience? How much time did you spend working on the way the swamp walker acted/moved?
Kevin Galbraith: Not everyone goes through zombie school, actually. I’m sure they would have it go on indefinitely if it was feasible, but as far as I know, they just don’t have the time, resources or manpower to devote to screening every single potential walker. When people are called in based on their photo submissions only, casting will have a certain degree of expectation that the person might not necessarily be that great of a performer, so zombie school is frequently a short crash course, getting quick lessons and pointers from various crew and other walkers. Other people in zombie school have been extremely impressive performers, but don’t have the right facial or physical structure.
Casting zombies seems like an experimental science to me. All their methods for finding people have their strengths and weaknesses, it seems. I love the zombie school concept though… the idea that they’re structuring George Romero’s general “zombie rules” into an (albeit loosely) educational format is something my 16 year old angry-at-running-zombies nerd self could have never dreamed of.
As for preparing for Swamp Walker, there was a lot less preparation than you might imagine. I was lucky to have known the scenes and movements down to precise details for over a week before we filmed. That’s never been the case in any of my other walker roles, where they need you, you show up, you get put in make-up, THEN you find out what kind of crazy shit they have lined up for you. Both ways are fun, but with Swamp Walker there was a lot less anxiety from anticipating the unknown, something quite appreciated considering the pressure I felt to do everything right.
I also had much of my zombie routine down by that point, it was starting to feel natural to me just in time for those scenes. The one thing that I overtly practiced and feel that I could have done better one was sucking my stomach in and holding it. I’m already pretty skinny, and holding my stomach in on top of that is borderline grotesque. It ended up being way harder to hold it in for more than a few seconds before basically forgetting or becoming more preoccupied with trying to eat and/or drown Carl.
I understand that the makeup process took about 3+ hours. (We have photos of your zombie transformation that are included below) Can you tell us a bit about the process to transform you into a featured walker?
Kevin Galbraith: About a week before filming, I had a cast mold of my teeth made by the FX geniuses so they could customize zombie teeth to fit firmly and realistically. As you can tell from one of those pictures, the teeth and the gumlines are actually on the outside of my mouth, covering my upper lip to my nose and almost all the way down to my chin. As a friend of mine so aptly put it: “You look like an old man with a novelty pacifier.” This is still the best way I can describe it to people when asked how that was done.
The Swamp Walker make-up sessions were pretty intense compared to what I had been used to. Most “hero” walkers, or featured walkers, might require about 90-120 minutes with just one of the make-up designers. Since Swamp Walker appeared shirtless and very close up, the sheer amount of time and detail it required increased exponentially. That 3+ hours it took to complete required 3 of Nicotero’s right-hand artists.
How many days did it take to shoot the scenes you were involved in? How long were you stuck in the swamp for?
Kevin Galbraith: Swamp Walker’s scenes were done over the course of 3 shoots. The first two nights were to film all the scenes involving Dale, so that particular sequence is reversed from the final product. It worked out a lot better that way, I think, because it helped me get pumped up about trying to rip Carl’s face off or *accidentally* knocking him into the creek.
However, my time in the swamp muck was nothing compared to Glenn’s (Steven Yeun) time in the harness for the well scenes. Based on what I heard and interviews Steven has done, they had him dangling for hours and hours, even through a break! I was quite comfortable on my little apple box with my legs being hugged by the earth, actually.
Were you aware that you’d be killing Dale before the scene was shot?
Kevin Galbraith: I was. I had learned all the details of the scenes during my screen test the week before. Reading and thinking about it is one thing though, getting out there and being in it was downright mind-altering. When I finished make-up, a van came by to shuttle us to set, and when the door opened, Jeff DeMunn was sitting right there in his full Dale regalia! I decided to hop in and sit right next to him, and introduced myself in a very cheeky “Hello, my friend!” kind of way.
Can you tell us about the filming of that scene? How long did it take to complete and were there any alternate takes on that scene that were not in the completed episode?
Kevin Galbraith: Both night shoots went from the evening until about 4 or 5am, and the scene in the swamp with Carl took about 6-7 hours. During the field scenes, There was a take where the other actors running in from all sides of the field weren’t aware that I had been lying face down in Dale’s spot. Greg wanted to mime the tackle without actually having to do it, so when Daryl’s double comes by and pretends to sweep me out of frame, I just drop down below the grass. On the flip side, *I* wasnt aware that the scene would keep going. Suddenly, there’s pitter patter thumping in the grass coming towards me from all directions, and it’s the rest of the cast doing their parts “OH GOD DALE” “WE NEED TO GET HERSHEL” “stay with me dale, everything’s going to be ok *as Rick mimes empathetically touching Dale’s arm by touching the back of my shoulder*” etc.
When they yelled cut, I looked up at everyone and said “Sup guys?” in the slickest and most nonchalant way possible, and everyone burst into laughter. It lifted my spirits momentarily until I realized what a pain in the ass it must be to have to act yourself into responding to a devastating tragedy only to ruin it by laughing at something.
What kind of interaction did you have with the main cast? Did you spend a lot of time with any of them before or after the filming of your scenes?
Kevin Galbraith: They’re usually very strict about extras approaching the main talent considering there are usually dozens of extras and a very tight shooting schedule. Even on a shoot day for episode 10 that involved one other extra, I barely had enough time to shake Andrew Lincoln’s hand and tell him that I appreciated working with him. The Swamp Walker shoots were a lot more intimate though, if for no other reason than I had the propane-heated tent brought out for me because of being shirtless in 48 degree weather.
It played out like a TV sitcom, the tent flap would fling open and it would be [Chandler, Jeff, Andrew, Laurie, Melissa, Norman, Scott] poking their head in, saying something like “HEY! it’s warm in here!” Before I know it I’m stunned into awkward, surreal silence from being in full make-up shoulder to shoulder with a number of the main stars in their character’s outfits. Norman regaled me with tales of fan girls and I listened to Jeff, Andrew, and Chandler talk about Angry Birds for 20 minutes straight. It was delightfully strange.
Prior to joining the TV series, had you been a fan of the comic book series as well? Were you surprised that you’d be killing Dale so early on in the story, when he dies differently in the comic series?
Kevin Galbraith: I became a fan of the comics the day that I got a reply about being cast, and in the months after I tore through all the released material. I’m caught up now and my interest in other comics has exploded (Thank you, Image Comics!) But yeah, since many fans of the show haven’t delved into the comic book world, I see that they aren’t able to appreciate the sheer divergence from what other people are expecting to happen, especially in regards to Dale’s death.
I always emphasize to people who are reluctant about spoiling the show that while there are significant plotlines that they stick to, it’s a VERY different, almost alternate universe kind of story between the two formats. The show and comic are crafted in such a way that even if a huge spoiler from the comics happens in the TV series, it’s no less of a shock or a surprise that they chose to include and follow it. For example, a main character dying in an identical way to their comic counterpart will result in just as many unexpected consequences and different reactions from different people.
Lately, you’ve been appearing at a number of horror conventions. What has that experience been like and is it something you’ll continue to do?
Kevin Galbraith: I’m a fan first and foremost so being on the other side of the table has been exciting and weird at the same time. I barely realized it when the commitment, booking, correspondence, self-promotion, side business etc became full time. I thought “Wow, that must be what it feels like when a job is something you actually love to do!” If I can keep on keeping on, I believe I can make a respectable living re-applying everything I’m learning and experiencing on the convention circuit, zombies or not. I hope to include vendor tables for my separate bookselling business beside my Walking Dead-related appearances later this Summer, and ideally devoting myself to it more and more in the next 2 years.
Do fans give you a hard time for being the one that kills Dale? Do you blame it all on Carl?
Kevin Galbraith: I have just as many people coming up to me and thanking me as there are people angry at me. I call it “Pro Dale No Dale” and sometimes take tallies of the responses I get from people. One time a 4 year old girl came up to my table pouting and exclaiming “you killed my FAVORITE character!” At that point I thought to myself, great, I killed this girl’s wise and loving grandfather. I can see her in 20 years talking to a therapist vaguely and very unsure about what on Earth it was that traumatized her as a child.
Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us. How can readers contact you? Do you have any upcoming convention appearances?
Kevin Galbraith: As much as I’d love to participate in or even attend SDCC, I have a spot in my heart for Atlanta’s Dragon*Con. I would even wager that some day it will be more well-known if not BIGGER than SDCC. Better watch your backs, West Coast fans… Only kidding! (sort of)
Check out pictures of other walkers that I have portrayed, behind the scenes shots, and fan art at: http://www.facebook.com/TWDSwampWalker
You can also follow me on Twitter @TomaccoAddict