Rose McIver on iZombie, Her Odds of Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse, and Once Upon a Time

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Photo: Luc Richard

With so much amazing TV on now, a CW show called iZombie might not be at the top of your to-do list. But it’s worth your time. Although it presents a pretty absurd premise to buy into — Liv (Rose McIver) is an ex–medical resident turned zombie who uses visions she gets from eating the brains of cadavers to help solve their murders — each episode is good for a laugh and a gut-punch of pure pathos. After becoming a zombie, Liv breaks things off with her fiancé Major (Robert Buckley) because she’s afraid she’ll turn him into a zombie, her career goals fall away, and she’s left unsure about her future. Vulture caught up with McIver to talk about her character’s relationships, the emotional power of the show, what’s coming, and how she’d survive a zombie apocalypse.

The show is so emotionally resonant, and one of my favorite parts is Liv’s relationship with her friend Peyton (Aly Michalka).
Do we learn any more about their backstory, or can you tease any of what’s to come for them?
Yeah, they were in a sorority together, and they’ve been very close. I think Liv and Peyton were actually probably quite similar before Liv was turned into a zombie. She’s a very type-A personality: high-achieving, good sense of humor, but knows what she wants to do with her life. I think that it’s been incredibly confusing for Peyton that Liv has just lost all of those gifts and seems to be so mopey and disinterested. I think sometimes I even feel like that’s happened with friends of mine. Sure, they haven’t been turned into zombies. But, you know, you can feel that dynamic shift when you think you all want the same thing and you’re all heading in the same direction — especially at the end of high school, I feel like — and then you hit the real world and things affect you in different ways. Some of your friends peak at different times, and people feel left behind or forgotten about. There is some of that shift between not being the same person as your best friend anymore, and Peyton learning to accept and love the new Liv, and encouraging her to embrace who she’s becoming rather than to try to stay the same person.

On the other end of that, Major has had to accept Liv or not accept Liv’s change. In the second episode, Major mentioned that Liv hated jazz, but he let her get away with it because she was pretty. I was wondering if you think that before the accident they weren’t necessarily the most ideal couple.
No, I actually think they were. Sure, they had hiccups the same way any relationship does. I think that Liv … might have been a little bit more particular, and potentially a little more narrow-minded, but I think she was a good person. [She] and Major had a very trusting and supportive relationship. If somehow they’re able to overcome this giant zombie thing that has intercepted their relationship, they would be stronger. Any kind of trials and tribulations, if you’re able to get over them in a relationship, they do tend to bond you and make it more real. So, you know, maybe it was a little young, their relationship, but it was very committed and loving. And I think he is just devastated because he has no closure or understanding why it is that she’s just had to check out, you know.

There’s also this duality of her becoming the worst parts of these humans that she eats, but also struggling to keep her own humanity. How do you think that this whole experience for Liv has changed her definition of what it is to be human?
Well, she says at the end of the second episode that maybe there are going to be parts of her that come to life even though she’s no longer living. I think that’s true … We don’t have zombies, we don’t have this scenario, but what we do have is people who’ve gone through these traumatic situations. When you overcome a profound loss or there’s some catalyst in your life that shifts everything, if you’re able to take it in stride and heal, it can make for much more three-dimensional and empathetic people. And what’s the word, dammit, I wish I knew it off the top of my head, but there’s that Japanese art form where the cracks are filled with gold and they become more precious. Say a piece of pottery is broken and it’s fixed, and they use gold in the adhesive and in the sealant. It becomes more precious than it was before it was broken in the first place. That I associate with Liv kind of coming of age and [the] shift in her ability to be an even more special and complex individual now that she’s gone through this harrowing ordeal.

I find myself being knocked over by moments a lot. Do you cry when you read the scripts? Do you find yourself really emotionally being engaged with it?
Yeah, very, very much so. It’s so funny, because it’s such a funny script. It’s silly and it’s ridiculous, and there are zombies working in a morgue! But at the same time, yeah, I think it’s really resonant. It has stuff that’s very thematic about moving on from clinging to ideas of what you were going to do with your life, and shifting in your thinking, and being more open to what life presents you. I think that’s something that I have definitely felt in my early 20s. I went through that a lot. These ideas of how things are all going to pan out just don’t happen that way. So sometimes when I’m reading things that are particularly along those lines, in regards to her relationships and ideas of work, it can be really quite profound. Especially in some of the later stuff in the season, I think that there are going to be some very, very moving parts for the audience.

So the cure is obviously pretty far in the future for the show, but how important do you think the idea of hope is as a driving force in the show?
I mean, I think that it’s all Liv has! There could not be a worse situation that you’re thrown into. This whole experience, again, becomes a positive, because it teaches her that your attitude and how you cope with what life gives you is what drives your daily life and your interactions with people. Being given a terrible piece of information shouldn’t ruin the interactions you have with the people around you or mean that you can’t become something, even if it’s not the idea of what you thought you were going to be. That hope and that glimmer of potential in your life, I think that once you lose that spark, that’s when you hang up your boots, there’s no point. So very much for the show, I think that hope is what keeps Liv going. And a hope that the relationships with her family and friends and ex-fiancé that have been severed or damaged by this change, that she will be able to overcome those and connect with them in a new way.

In terms of the procedural aspect, one of my favorite relationships on the show is Liv’s relationship with Clive (Malcolm Goodwin). She always changes, but he seems to always accept her. How do you think he challenges her, and how do you think he views her?
I think that it’s interesting because they have such a huge secret that is untold between them — they could not be from more different environments and backgrounds, and yet they have this really nice rapport and this really significant connection and respect for each other. It’s a really good lesson for people in not expecting where your most profound connections are gonna come from. You know sometimes when you’ve worked in part-time jobs … [for example] I worked at a children’s playground, and everybody [was] hurled together from different walks of life and different ways of thinking. I just think it’s a great test for you to overcome preconceived ideas and judgments and thoughts about how you can relate to other people, when sometimes in a work environment, you’re forced to bond with somebody whom you potentially wouldn’t have come across in your day-to-day life otherwise. Liv and Clive are such a great example of that. They end up becoming so close despite this mammoth secret that is between them that is constantly at risk of being exposed and exploited. Clive almost discovering her secret becomes a really great comedic structure for the show. In the episodes coming up, there are some really nice near-misses.

I read in another interview that you mentioned there was a romance on the show. Is there any chance that that romance could be with Clive?
Oh, you wish! You sound like you’re trying to 'ship us. It’s not. It is with somebody whom you haven’t met yet. But it’s definitely an interesting challenge for Liv, because obviously she still has very strong feelings for Major and an unresolved end to that relationship. So it can be a dangerous game, dipping into something else when she’s not necessarily sure she’s ready.

One thing that is sort of in the background of the show is this great and looming threat of Blaine getting more zombies, and Liv is, you know, trying to survive day-to-day, but how much do you think she thinks about the apocalypse, if it all?
It gets progressively more and more threatening for Liv, not only the reality that her secret will be out and her family will know, but also the risk for Seattle and for the world that there could be this zombie outbreak. [It] is definitely something that becomes more pressing as Blaine begins to spread the love more and more.

In your time watching zombie movies, have you ever thought about how you would survive a zombie apocalypse?
I actually just think I would be the worst ever. I would panic. You know how on airplanes where it says, like, “Put on your mask before attending to children”? I just couldn’t do that. I’m not good at that stuff. I’d be the one who lingers to try to get somebody who is stuck in a tree and a zombie gets me. I’d be a disaster! So, fingers crossed that we don’t have to deal with this in the real world.

Is there anything else you want to tease about the episode tonight?
Well, episode three was quite an emotional one, and quite a charged and dramatic episode. While the dramatic story lines very much continue, there are a lot of laughs in the next episode. I have some really nice stuff with both Ravi (Rahul Kohli) and Clive that I think people will really enjoy. You mustn’t think it’s all going to be doom and gloom.

I loved you on Once Upon a Time. Regina and Robin Hood aren’t together anymore, so do you think that you’re going to need to come back and fix that?
I would love to! I mean, we’ve talked to the creators. Interestingly, the creators of Once Upon a Time are really good friends with Rob Thomas, who created iZombie. They all went to college together. Actually, the names Eddy and Adam, of the Once Upon a Time creators, were in the Veronica Mars pilot (there are characters Adam and Eddy). There’s this old, long-standing friendship. So we’ve tried to talk about it and see if we can make that work. Scheduling can always be quite difficult, but it is a world that I would love to return to. I had a lot of fun on it, and a lot of my really dear friends are on that show. So hopefully Tink makes a reappearance!