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Interview With A Walking Dead Walker

Interview With A Walker

One of the largest “roles” on The Walking Dead is that of the zombie, the walker, the undead. Hundreds of extras are used every Season to make The Walking Dead what it is. Many times they are just off in the background, a menacing presence; other times they are right up in your face in all their grotesque glory. So, I got the idea to do a series of “Walker” Interviews in hopes of bringing more appreciation and recognition to these awesome hard-working actors. After all, there would be no Walking Dead without the walking dead.

 By Jennifer Carter

 


The lovely Sonya Thompson

Photo by Richard Mellinger

My very first Walker Interview was with the lovely Sonya Thompson. She is an amazing and versatile talent who has been acting and entertaining since she was 5 years old. She’s also an award-winning singer, a model, and was even a professional clown for a while! She’s an extremely hard-working and dedicated single mother who has put certain aspects of her career on hold for her daughter’s sake. Her daughter is following in her mother’s footsteps and is also an actor and a model. In fact the mother and daughter team have appeared in 7 TV Shows and films together. Her daughter was one of the walkers that got shot at the barn by Daryl in Season 2! How cool is that? So, as you can imagine with all that she’s done and does, she is a very busy woman. But she gets it all done somehow and is always looking for more. And despite her full plate she graciously took some time out of her schedule to sit down and chat with us…

 

 

ZOMBIE RISING MAGAZINE (ZRM): Hi Sonya! Pleased to meet you! Can start off by telling us about the unique perspective you have as a “walker” ON the show and OFF the show?

Sonya Thompson (ST): Nice to meet you! Being a walker is indeed an important part of the show, and what makes the show what it is. From an acting perspective, it was a fun role, in the sense that I was able to take what make-up they put on me and make that character come to life. But, in the sense of it being fun to work on the show, it was long hard days in the Georgia heat that were grueling. But overall, the experience was wonderful! The Walking Dead is one of the best shows on TV, and I am so honored to have been a part of it.

ZRM: Yeah, I’ve heard about the grueling conditions. You guys must have it harder than anyone else on the set, right? Don’t you have to go in earlier than all the rest of the cast? Actually, maybe you could describe for us a typical day on the set, in general…

ST: A typical day on set: the main walkers, or as they called us Hero Walkers, would report to the set around 4 am to get ready. First we would sign in, and then go to wardrobe. The next step was to sit in the make-up chair for an hour and a half to two hours. Eye contacts would be put in our eyes by a trained professional. We wore long sleeves, so that, too, made it hard to work in the heat. I was thankful on the cooler days, but the last two nights of season two, the temps were 27 degrees. And the long sleeve clothes were not enough.

ZRM: 27 degrees? It’s so hard for me to even imagine Georgia that cold. What was your hottest day? And how did you guys keep from getting over-heated with all that stuff on your bodies?

ST: Ga has gotten down in the teens in the winter! And, the hottest day was around 100 degrees with a 105 degree heat index. They kept us in the shade in between takes, and sometimes would bring us Popsicles. We got plenty of water.

ZRM: Yeah, I’ve heard of the amazing way everyone is treated on-set, and that it is truly like a family. But I also know it’s A LOT of work. I just can’t imagine working in that kind of heat. I applaud you, all of you! And, I really had no idea about the low temps; it’s funny how the weather can be so polar there.

ST: Yes, AMC took excellent care of us, and it is like a huge family.

ZRM: You’ve worked on other projects, have you ever seen anything like that anywhere else?  I’ve heard so many of the actors say that it’s like nothing else. But, I’m curious about the walker perspective. I’ve heard that the walker and non-walker cast typically stay separate. Does this allow for you guys to become close at all with any of the non-walker cast, or do you guys basically just live in separate worlds?

ST: Yes, Zombieland was one of the best movies that I ever worked on. And, I have worked with some of the others on other movies, so we always say hello. It is easier to keep everyone in groups, so when it’s time to go to set, they know where everyone is. Films do that on most sets, not just TWD.

Sonya

ZRM: That makes sense. And I’d think it’d be really nice to be working on another movie or show and see one of your old “pals”. So, what was it like to work with Bill Murray and Woody Harrelson?

ST: The scene that I was a part of only had me, another zombie and a janitor. It was the best zombie role that I have ever portrayed and I enjoyed every minute of it. I did not get to meet Bill or Woody. Woody was in the trailer behind me getting his make-up while I was getting mine done. I did run into Abigail [Breslin] though, as I was coming from set, while I was still in full make-up, and I petted her dog and talked to her. Then I realized I was in full make-up and that the dog could have bit me and she will never remember meeting me. [Laughs] And, it is always neat seeing folks that I have worked with before. I love all my acting and modeling associates.

ZRM: [Laughs] Abigail is amazing! That’s so funny. So you preferred Zombieland to TWD? And, since you’ve described a typical day on set of TWD for us, can you give us a glimpse of a typical day on Zombieland? Similarities? Differences?

ST: I would rather do film, any day, than TV. As far as Zombieland, I worked 6 hours and was done with everything. Had a trailer with a star on the door, that was pretty cool. I also was a part of the Zombieland training video that we did so that all the zombie actors knew how to move. That was a neat thing to do. A normal day was: checking in, wardrobe, make-up for two hours, and contacts in the eyes by a professional that had put contacts in the eyes of Tom Cruise before. That was really cool to know that my eyes and Tom’s eyes had been in contact via 6 degrees of separation. [Laughs] Things that I liked about both: The eye contacts were smaller on Zombieland. The zombies on TWD are slower moving. The days on set of Zombieland were shorter. Food was really good on the set of Zombieland, and no, they did not serve us Twinkies. Things that I disliked about both: It took me a couple of days to get all the blood out of my ears and the make-up off my teeth from being a zombie on Zombieland. The contacts on TWD were bigger. The days were longer and hotter on TWD.

ZRM: So, why do you prefer film to TV?

ST: I prefer film over TV because you go in, do your thing and it’s done in less than three months. I get bored easily, and sometimes the budget is bigger on film. I like “Day Player” roles. I go in for the day, do my scenes and I am done. [Laughs] Although, I did enjoy being a ghost on the FOX TV show Past Lives, but I only worked on two episodes on that one, whereas on TWD I worked many.

ZRM: Well yeah, definitely the budget! [Laughs] …for sure. And the ‘go in, do your stuff, get out’ thing makes sense. You’ve mentioned some of your other roles, how many movies and shows have you been a part of by now? You said Past Lives was a lot of fun; do you have any other favorites? And would you say you are done with TWD at this point?

ST: Gosh, with everything that I have been a part of including indies, commercials and modeling gigs, etc, I would have to say 60 plus. Some of those were only back ground acting roles. That is what I did to build my resume and to make connections in the business again. I had to put my acting and modeling on hold while I raised my daughter. I got back into it when she was a senior in high school. I no longer do background work, focusing on my script that I have written. I have been expanding myself in the entertainment business. I love acting and modeling, but want to know every aspect of the business. Well, I haven’t done background acting in over three years. I’m focusing mainly on speaking roles now. That was what I was trying to build myself back up to years ago.

ZRM: Cool. You mentioned working up to speaking roles. And all the zombie-acting you’ve done is largely physical acting, what’s it like to do speaking roles? How do you prepare for the different styles of acting?

ST: I love speaking roles. It’s kind of the same process; I research my role, read the script and define my character. I have a role in the movie ‘Hell Night’ that started filming in Kentucky in January. I have read the script completely, so I can get a better understanding of what is needed of my role. I do that with every film, except for with ‘Prosper’. The script scared me so bad that I skimmed over to my three pages and didn’t finish it. I have no idea how the darn thing ends. [Laughs]

ZRM: [Laughs] Wow! Well, I guess you’ll never know! [Laughs] Just to jump back to The Walking Dead real quick, when you’re watching as a fan, and you a see Walker scene, what’s that like for you?

ST: With some of the effects that Greg Nicotero and his gang have added to the mix, my reaction is just, “whoa, that was cool!” There have been so many walkers this year, and the scenes have been moving so quickly, that I am having a harder time picking out my friends. [Laughs]

ZRM: [Laughs] Yeah, he definitely has been mixing it up and trying to keep things fresh which is awesome. You’ve worked with some really amazing cast and crew over the years and Greg Nicotero is one the very greats. What was it like to work with him? As far as the Cast goes, do you have any favorites from TWD?  Either that you worked with on-screen or even one that you didn’t specifically “work with”?

ST: Greg is one of the most down to earth guys that you

could meet. I completely adore him. And, IronE Singleton is my favorite.

ZRM: I have the utmost respect for Greg’s work. I’m really looking forward to the day that I get to meet him. And IronE was one of my faves as well. How about your fellow walkers? Have you made any lasting relationships with them? You and Larry Mainland are close, right? How about any of the non-walker cast?

ST: I am friends with several cast members, and was friends with some before I worked on TWD. Larry is like my brother. I consider a lot of the Walkers family, and I am very thankful that I have become friends with them.

ZRM: That is a beautiful thing Sonya! So what made you want to get into acting in the first place? Have you always loved it?

ST: I have been entertaining since I was a child. My first play that I was in was when I was 5 years old. I have always had a love for making people smile. I am a singer and dancer as well, and my dream was to sing and dance on Broadway. I still haven’t gotten to do that, but I have sung on-stage. I was in honors chorus, and also received excellent and superior medals for my singing performances. I sang in the church choir as well. I was in a gospel music group that toured the South East and I enjoyed every minute of it. I did modeling in high school, and a little bit in my twenties. I modeled for Walmart a couple of times. I was a professional clown in the 90’s, mainly charity work at churches, schools and nursing homes. I was a single parent, and that is why I had to put my acting and modeling on hold; only doing a little bit here and there.

ZRM: WOW! I am awed by the variety of your career. I always love to see people who branch out and do many different things. As they say, variety is the spice of life. You’ve told us about your past, what are your plans for the future?

Sonya's Episodes

 

ST: I am starting on two movies that are filming in the beginning of this year. I wrote a script, and I am tweaking it right now, so hopefully it will be filming this year as well. I have been asked to be line producer on a film that is filming in the spring. I am revising my book, “I am Zombie, Hear me Roar”. I’m hoping that a few other films that I am in will be premiering this year. Prosper is premiering in the Spring in Atlanta. I have some other things in the works that I can’t talk about right now. Oh and I am in the web-series “Lumber Baron of Jasper County” for the third season, I was also in season two as Sam. There is a calendar coming out that I am in too.

ZRM: Wow! Busy woman! [Laughs] Is your book an auto-biography?

ST: It is more like a guide. I talk about how I didn’t know that zombies were my forte. I have a section dedicated to the most asked questions from fans. And then there’s another section that contains my zombie training work booklet. I teach zombie workshops here and there. I’m still revising it, but it will be done soon.

ZRM: Oh that is SO cool! I can’t wait to see all of your films and the book sounds really fascinating. Thank you SO much Sonya, it been an honor and a pleasure.

For more on Sonya:

http://www.professionalzombie.com/

https://www.facebook.com/sthompson70

 

This interview was originally in January’s issue of Zombie Rising Magazine. Tell us how you liked it or just say hi by leaving us a comment below!

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