By now, Walking Dead fans have had a chance to grieve the two character deaths from Sunday night’s shocking episode — and if not, stop here before we spoil it any further. In a departure from how Lori Grimes’s death is portrayed in the comics, the show killed her off following a troublesome childbirth in which she lost a lot of blood and had to be shot by her son Carl so she wouldn’t turn. Luckily for us, the actress who plays Lori, Sarah Wayne Callies, is very much alive and in good spirits, although she’s not quite ready to let go of zombies in her life just yet. Callies chatted with Vulture today about her input on the scene, learning to hunt, and what she borrowed from The Sopranos for the dearly departed.
During our power outage last week, I was strangely reminded of The Walking Dead — without the walkers, of course.
That’s understandable! [Laughs.] It’s really interesting that there is so much apocalyptic storytelling in the Zeitgeist, and it jumps the line from being art to being life with everything going on in New York. It’s hilarious, ironic, and terrifying all at the same time. My best friend and my sister-in-law are both pregnant right now, and my best friend sent me an e-mail as soon as she got power back: “I feel like you, pregnant at the end of the world.” I’ll tell ya, yesterday I did about three and a half hours of interviews, and it’s a strange time to be doing press. Everyone asked amazing questions, but in the back of my head, I was like, Am I wrong, or aren’t we electing a president tomorrow? And isn’t another storm coming on the East Coast? I’m glad that you cared that I died, but some very real things are happening. People often ask me what I attribute to the success of the show, and I’m starting to think schadenfreude is a very valid answer to that: I don’t know how I’m going to secure my retirement, but at least zombies aren’t trying to kill me.
If they were, could you defend yourself? You’re handy with a gun, right?
I don’t prowl the streets looking for fights. [Laughs.] Learning to shoot firearms to me is a little like driving stick — it seems like a decent skill to have. And I knew how to shoot before the show: I came in with 60 hours of handgun training, from playing cops and things like that. I’ve always shot semiautomatics and Glocks, and I have a great time with Andy [Lincoln] and his [.357 Magnum Colt] Python. I’m learning to hunt with rifles, because if you think about it, hunting gets you the healthiest meat — organic, free-range food. It’s a totally yuppie spin on what I thought was kind of a redneck occupation. If you hunt boar, you could fill up your freezer for the winter, which to me is a really practical way to feed your family considering the price of meat and a totally different thing than Daryl Dixon hunting six squirrels every day.
Let’s talk about your deadly childbirth scene. What kind of input did you have with that?
Early on, when Lori first got pregnant, before the second season, they took us into the writers’ room to get our input, and I talked about my own pregnancy and delivery, because I had my daughter at home with a midwife. It’s an interesting terror in American culture, the idea of having a midwife. I watched Ricki Lake’s documentary, The Business of Being Born, and that led me to call a midwife, and not an ob-gyn, when I found out I had conceived. My delivery was not easy — they call it labor, not a vacation! — but I was incredibly grateful that I did it that way. So Frank [Darabont] and Glen [Mazzara] and I talked about natural childbirth. We were interested in the absence of medicine. Hospitals are great places, and you can learn from them, but you don’t necessarily need to go in anytime you get the sniffles. And maybe you shouldn’t treat pregnancy as a disease. It’s part of that post–World War II, fifties mentality that everything packaged is better. For crying out loud, women were told just a few decades ago that the best thing you could give a baby was formula!
Lori’s baby — if they don’t kill Judith off in the show the way they do in the comics — is going to need some, stat.
They’re going to have to come up with a way to feed and raise that baby. It presents a huge range of problems for the survivors to solve, and it heightens everything. Babies need sunlight, so you can’t keep it locked in a prison the whole time. When Glen first told me Lori was dying, and I hung up the phone, because it was a very short conversation, I realized, Oh no! I didn’t ask about the baby! I needed to ask, “Does the baby make it?” It really mattered to me to know that the baby survived. She leaves these people with the greatest symbol of hope and renewal, and infuses them with a sense of purpose.
That’s Lori’s gift to the survivors. What about your gift?
The death dinners. I started those in the first season, when we first lost a bunch of people. I had read somewhere that it was what James Gandolfini did on The Sopranos every time a wise guy was wacked on the show, so I started throwing death dinners for everyone. Right before the first episode this season, Steven [Yeun] said, “I don’t think you should throw one for yourself. When you die, I’ll do it.” So he started to plan one for me and IronE [Singleton, who played T-Dog], and he kept coming up to me, “So, how do you do it? What do you do?” Which was adorable. So I said, “You lie and say it’s a birthday party.” We used to do it at this old Southern cookhouse, and we’d get five entrées and everyone would share, but as the show started to get more popular, we had to find a restaurant with a private room where we knew the owner, with two or three servers who wouldn’t tweet it out. I just heard from someone yesterday that they were throwing a death dinner for someone, so it’s cool that the tradition has survived.
What’s next for you?
I just delivered a last draft of my screenplay, [an adaptation of Elena’s Serenade] and right before I called, I was making notes on a lecture I’m doing at the University of Hawaii on Chekhov and zombies — it’s a match made in heaven, right? They’re doing a production of Uncle Vanya and Zombies, and they’re doing a lecture series around it.
Is this like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?
For some people, it’s just a creative exercise — just add zombies! But I’m rereading all of Chekhov, and I’m wondering, Is there a value in using pop culture and contemporary tropes to garner an audience for classical literature? So when they asked me, I thought, Hell, it sounds like something I’ve never done before. Why not?