Was episode nine one of your most challenging episodes yet?
What was critical for me was when Scott pitched the idea of, we’re going to lure everybody into the lake and light it on fire. We’ve seen six seasons of zombies walking around in the woods and blue skies and everything. I wanted to change it up, give us some Night Of The Living Dead! Give me some atmosphere! I wanted the entire episode at night and shooting wise we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit as in the summer time you have more daylight and shorter nights so by agreeing to do it at night I only had nine hours and usually we do a full 12.
There was actually one scene I wanted to put back in: a daytime scene checking in with Maggie on top of that platform because you don’t see her until three quarters of the way through the episode. The other scene we cut out was one with Morgan and Carol but we added it back in. So yes it was challenging just for the sheer volume of walkers and the lake on fire. There were stunt guys covered in gel with masks on walking into a flaming lake!
How did it feel to shoot Carl in the face?
I had to be very specific in regards to how I want to pay tribute to the frame in the comic. I love the sequence when Jessie is killed and she wouldn’t let go of Carl’s arm. It was the same thing as in season 3 when they were leaving Herschel’s house and Beth was holding on to Patricia and she got swarmed and killed. We did the same thing! The moment was all about the shock. We built dentures with blood tubing so instead of using a prosthetic, we had teeth that could bleed. When the zombie comes over and bites on Ron’s head, the blood that oozes down his face was actually coming from teeth of the walker. Well, it was important that his death (Sam) signifies her death (Jessie). As soon as she relented and let Sam stay with her, she’s dead. She kept giving in to him; that was her Achilles heel.
I feel that in the last season my confidence has got more and more and I’m able to spread my wings and pull of episodes like this. I think the finale is the best directing I’ve ever done so I can’t wait for you guys to see that.
You’re great on the effects side of things, but also the quieter character moments. Is effects second nature to you so you can concentrate on this side more?
John Frankenheimer once told me a director’s job is to create an environment where actors can do their best work. That’s my job. If a director comes on set and it’s tense, you have to clear the table and let the actors do what they’re good at. I have a great rapport with my actors because they trust me. I read an interview with Quentin Tarantino and he said that Harvey Keitel and him had exactly the same conversation on Reservoir Dogs. You lay the ground work and the actors will do the best they can do. Andrew Lincoln always does different takes, and you have to give the actors the time to explore that. It’s like tuning an instrument until it plays beautifully.
As time progresses, the walkers are going to become more physically degraded. You like to do in-camera effects; will there have to be a point you have to do more CGI?
We do augment here and there. We did one episode where, I think episode six, where the zombies are coming out of the woods after Daryl. We gave one of them a blue girdle so it looked like the ribcage ended. We are doing some stuff like that. But yeah that is the challenge.
I’ve been a walker in a few episodes and it’s great. The day we shot the Glen/Nicholas thing, the way we designed it was we got a freezer bag and filled it with blood and fake guts. We strapped it to Michael Traynor’s (Nicholas) chest, and I had built two little rings that had nails in them. So I had four stunt guys around me and said “Listen, I’m going to puncture the bag and as soon as you see a little bit of blood, push down on the bag, grab it and rip it open. That was all in camera. It was important for me to be there and choreograph everything.” Steven (Glen) was like, “You’re fucking terrifying!.” I said “Listen, if I pull you in, you gotta fight me and he was like okay!” What’s funny is I said to the director put another camera over there under the dumpster. If Steven can get away, you’ll have a bonus angle. So when we did it he crawled right up to the lens. I like to help on the ground. We did it in one take! If this was the last job I did until I retired, I would be fine with that.
Do you have to de-English Andrew Lincoln?
No! He does it all on his own! When he comes to Georgia his accent is gone until he leaves. I saw him two week ago in Washington DC and he had his accent back. My ten year old daughter was like, “Why is he talking that way???”
The Walking Dead is airing now on Monday evenings on Fox. For more news about the biggest TV shows, pick up the latest issue of SciFiNow.