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Ask anyone who the best actor on The Walking Dead is, and they’ll likely mention Andrew Lincoln or Melissa McBride, or someone else who is part of survivor squad. But this is a show mostly filled with zombies, and viewers rarely give ample credit to the actors beneath that makeup. You might not know that the zombie casting process involves actors going through a special zombie school that executive producer and effects mastermind Greg Nicotero cooked up. Now there’s a GPA I could impress people with.
Nicotero explained his process with The Frame, breaking down how he gets the actors perfect for the small screen.
Well, you know, every season we hold auditions for future walkers, and we have affectionately termed it Zombie School. So they will come to Zombie School and they will audition for me. I usually do 20 or 30 people per class and I spend an entire day auditioning people, putting them through some exercises in terms of how fast they walk, what their character is, what their personality is, explain to them that in many instances, their performance can make or break a scene. If you have somebody that’s in a scene that does not look like they’re authentically performing, it could take the audience out of the scene.
He goes on to say that he wants actors that can bring the characterizations of Boris Karloff in the Frankenstein monster’s makeup, but not just someone walking around with their arms held out stiffly in front of them. A lot of the show’s walkers will appear in the background, but showrunner Scott Gimple and the episodes’ directors know when to add heft to particular members of the undead population.
There’s a weird cognitive dissonance involved in feeling pity for a being that knows little else beyond “gotta get my gnaw on,” and Nicotero is always interested in bringing that emotional side of the zombies out through the actor’s performances. (I was particularly bothered by the one zombie that caused all that ruckus in the midseason premiere.)
Nicotero’s focus on keeping zombies realistic through instruction is admirable, as is the show’s dedication to practical effects in a world of CGI. (No, please, no more flashbacks of I Am Legend’s computer-generated baddies!) I wonder how many times a year he does the zombie school, as it seems like a labor-intensive activity, but you gotta love that he wants to be the guy showing people how to shamble and groan properly. Now they just need to open up a zombie makeup school on the side, with other scholarly zombie-related material coming later. Zombie University is just over the blood-soaked horizon, people.
Check out a video of one of the classes in action below.
Who do I have to talk to in order to get this as a public school elective? While I’m writing letters to school boards, don’t forget to tune into the next brutal episode of The Walking Dead on Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET.