This past weekend saw the Spooky Empire Ultimate Horror Weekend convention visit Orlando, Florida and one of the conventions main draws this time around was a celebrity filled room of past and present Walking Dead actors for the public to meet, greet and interact with.
Fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead could have chosen to have gotten an autograph or taken a picture with over ten different actors such as Michael Rooker (Merle Dixon), Melissa McBride (Carol), Chandler Riggs (Carl), Laurie Holden (Andrea), Lew Temple (Axel), Vincent Ward (Oscar), Kyla Kennedy (Mika), Madison Lintz (Sophia), Kylie Szymanski (Penny) and Meyrick Murphy (Meghan).
I was able to ask a few questions of several of the shows actors while also having the opportunity to sit in on Michael Rooker’s panel and afterwards I came away with some very fun Walking Dead and celebrity related facts that I did not know before. The actors themselves were all very nice, warm, approachable and really a pleasure to have met, which made the long lines for Michael Rooker, Melissa McBride and Laurie Holden well worth the wait.
Having never met any of these actors before, the fan in me was not only excited, but also happy to have experienced their very cheerful dispositions as well as seeing how especially nice they were to my seven year old son who came along with his Sci Fi Pulse reporting Dad as Starlord, the galaxy’s most terrifying pint sized outlaw.
First off, Starlord and I sat in on Michael Rooker’s panel which was simply a blast as the actor is easily a fan favorite, is quite entertaining and knows how to handle a room full of rabid fans. What was fun about listening to the moderated discussion was hearing Rooker’s take on Frank Darabont’s departure or “booting off” as the star put it from the AMC hit series, which took everyone along with Darabont by surprise as he put it. But the actor was also keen on pointing out the amazing job Darabont did on the Walking Dead, which was met by a roar of approval and applause from the gathered fans.
Rooker also let it be known that Merle’s four and a half minute monolog when his character was stuck on the Atlanta, Georgia rooftop was written entirely by Darabont. Rooker likewise indicated that it was Darabont who was instrumental in ensuring that the character of Merle Dixon would not only survive, but eventually come back to become a much loved and regular character later on in the show.
“When he saw the work that was going on” referring to Darabont seeing Rooker bring Merle to life, “and decided ‘Oh no no no . . .’ this cat is too bizare and crazy and out there to not be on the Walking Dead. So he wrote that monologue in such a way that it was almost impossible not to bring Merle Dixon back. And if anything could have happened that would have made all of the bean counters happy, Merle Dixon would have never come back, but because of the fans . . .” at which time the actor seems to pause as if for effect before continuing, “because of you guys, Merle Dixon came back!” And with that the crowd responds with a loud cheer and applause as a fan and cosplayer lifts up his outstretched Walking Dead ‘Merle’ prosthetic arm/knife blade from the audience along with the thunderous response.
Rooker went on to also speak about the close bonds shared between himself and the cast as well as general praises for the Walking Dead production, which he was keen on pointing to as a very large family from the actors on down to the crew and production staff. The actor was also very entertaining when speaking on the story behind his getting the part of Yandu in James Dunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
It seems that there had been quite a few scheduling conflicts, which prevented Rooker from accepting a larger role in the Guardians of the Galaxy, but the actor attributes the death of Merle Dixon on the television show with working out just right so as to be able to accommodate the actor taking on the part of Yandu, which Rooker said he quite enjoyed playing.
Next I took stroll into the large room in the convention which was dedicated solely to the Walking Dead actors and my son and I waited a short while on a long line to see Laurie Holden who played Andrea in the first three seasons of the hit zombie apocalypse AMC drama. The actress was simply an absolute pleasure to meet and made a point of giving my son a minute or two of chatting time, which he absolutely loved which is more or less evident by the blurry photo (shazbat) the actress graciously allowed me to take.
Even though there were very stringent convention rules on photos taken of the actors within the Walking Dead signing room as now a days, photos and signatures are very different things in the convention world, but none the less, Ms. Holden seemed to take a liking to Starlord and had no problem with it. But the truth is that an actress like Laurie Holden who played a major character in such a hit series such as the Walking Dead can easily charge $50.00 for a separate professional photo to be taken elsewhere and at a separate time from being able to get an autographed picture. In the case of Ms. Holden, a signature is $40, or more depending on the actor (Michael Rooker alone was $50.00). So this speaks a mouthful when Holden indicated I could take a photo of my son with her at his table.
The actress was very sweet and down to earth, not to mention even more attractive in person than on the show and while I had considered what if anything I wanted to ask her about the Walking Dead, I was very impressed with a recent news article about Holden joining in efforts to help fight human sex trafficking in Columbia. So rather than ask her anything about her time playing Andrea on the show, I decided instead to thank her for a job well done on her efforts to help others stuck in the violent grip of human trafficking. Not surprising, Holden seemed quite grateful for my “Well done, good job and keep up the good work” comment I gave her while she was talking to my son and signing an autograph for him.
“Thanks so much, I appreciate that.” said the actress seeming very gracious as she went on to tell me that she had been doing this work since 2008, which I found quite impressive and very telling about the actress personally as a human being. She then went on to say that she was beginning to do the very same important work fighting human trafficking right here in the United States.
“There are a lot of kids who need saving here in the U.S. from sex trafficking as well.” And I must say that the sincerity with which the actress expressed this to me was very heartfelt and left quite an impression on me. So once again I want to say well done Ms. Holden and keep up the good work!
I then made my way over to Lew Temple who played the last zombie apocalypse surviving inmate Axel, along with his fellow surviving inmate and actor Vincent Ward who played Oscar. Both actors were amazingly nice, funny and seemed genuinely eager to meet and greet the many fans of the Walking Dead who lined up to meet them for autographs, photos and laughs.
When I asked Ward what it was about playing a part for seven episodes on the Walking Dead that stuck out most in his mind, the actor immediately said, “The fans. They are easily the most amazing thing about the whole Walking Dead experience and they have really made being on the Walking Dead very special for me.” What was really most memorable for me with respect to the tall actor was not only his genuine good natured spirit, but his aid in helping me get my video camera to work as he called one of his celebrity handlers and companion over twice to come to my aid. Likewise the continued ribbing he and his friend gave me with respect to helping me through my camera difficulties, as well as advising me not to accidentally delete the interview are fun memories of the event.
Lew Temple was likewise quite magnanimous and a very accommodating personality who seemed equally appreciative of the fans who stopped by to meet him and give back just as much love to them as they eagerly gave to him. When speaking with Lew, what stood out for me about his thoughts on the Walking Dead, was a very dear and heartfelt appreciation for his time on a show.
“The sense of family was just in everything that we did from the actors to the producers and on down to the crew. It was an amazing experience every day that I was on the set.” As Melissa McBride was very close by I also asked the actor on his characters trials and tribulations in seeking the affections of Carol and he indicated that originally, “The plan was for them to get together and for my character to survive, but it didn’t ultimately work out that way.” as we both then continued to joke about the way in which his character met his untimely death during the attack on the prison by the Governor. Lew Temple and Vincent Ward were indeed a real pleasure to have met and were also equally very cool with my intergalactic son and sidekick.
Of the Walking Dead cast in attendance at that weekends Spooky Empire convention, Melissa McBride was the last celebrity that I had the privilege of meeting, specifically because I left her very long line as the only surviving and current cast member in attendance on Sunday, for last. But the wait was definitely worthwhile as the actress was very friendly and quite pleasant although I will say that of all of the actors, she was perhaps the most guarded with respect to giving answers to any questions pertaining to the Walking Dead, as I can only imagine her confidentiality clause is not only still in effect, but a very strong influence on everything she might possibly say about her very strong and popular character on the show.
For me as a fan of both Robert Kirkman’s comic universe, as well as the AMC television show there is a marked difference in the character of Carol between the show and the comic. For one thing, Carol is long dead in the comic series and was also somewhat crazy and a bit touched in the head, whereas Melissa McBride’s Carol on the television show is in essence nothing like her comic book counterpart. So I asked Ms. McBride if she had read the comic series to which she gave the very short answer, “To some extent.” at which time I immediately got the sense that she was already on guard for what I might be asking next, albeit in a very nice and unassuming way.
I went on to point out how very different both versions of her on screen alter ego and the comic version of Carol are to which she again gave a condensed response of “Very much so.” I then went on to ask if she personally as an actress had anything to do with this difference in the very same character and it was at this point that the actress seemed to lower her guard as I was clearly not fishing for some unknown morsel of Walking Dead information and future spoiler I might have tried to trick out of her.
McBride then looked at me and with a relaxed face she opened up in a much more comfortable manner saying, “Well, they were going to kill Carol off in season three.” To which I was generally surprised as I did not know this and responding enthusiastically to what was both a fan and sci fi reporter, a very fun surprise and insight into the actress, her character and the hit show.
“Really” I replied, “and what happened? Did you try to keep Carol alive?” To which the actress shook her head affirmatively before continuing, “I argued with the writers and producers that there was so much more that the character could do on the show.” To which I indicated was a good thing for the rest of the cast as Carol saved everyone from certain death in the season five premiere, to which the actress agreed and smiled good heatedly as we shook hands before she turned her attention away from the nosy Sci Fi reporter and onto the much cuter mini-Starlord by my side.
She then was gracious enough to chat with and listen to my son ask her to sign a photo for his brother’s football coach and his wife as they are huge fans of both the show and Ms. McBride’s character ‘Carol’. Then with a big smile and a pat on Starlord’s head, Ms. McBride said that she thought that was very sweet and then took the time to think about what to write and gave us a Walking Dead photo of Carol behind bars which read,
“To Coach Eddie and Super Mom Marrina, Stay Alive & Stay Strong”
I must say that when a celebrity takes the time to make something just a little more special for their fans, I am always quite impressed and Melissa McBride is definitely on my nice celebrity list. Ms. McBride along with all of The Walking Dead cast in attendance at the Orlando Florida Spooky Empire Convention were absolutely amazing and a pleasure to meet and talk to!
Written by: Tye Bourdony
Tye Bourdony is a Sci Fi cartoonist and creator of ‘The Lighter Side of Sci-Fi’, as well as a science fiction reporter and the U.S. based content editor for Sci Fi Pulse. Tye is a graduate of the Barry University School of Law, SUNY Purchase and H.S. of Music & Art, and he currently works in Florida’s 9th Circuit as the Staff Family Mediator. Tye also serves on the Board of the Legal Aid Society of Osceola County and also has a regular self-published column in Sci Fi Magazine and you can visit Tye on Facebook as well as at www.thelightersideofscifi.com. You can also send him your thoughts and story/article ideas to [email protected].