An Interview with the Z Nation Zombies

ZN1

There’s an often forgotten element to any great zombie media that gets left behind in the praise department, the zombies themselves. We forget about them since they’re generally there to either eat a main character or to discover just how many ways there are to kill something that’s already dead, but without a great group of rotting ghouls to terrorize our heroes, zombie flicks can become little more than standard monster of the week films. While I think this problem could be better handled if studios started hiring actual zombies for their projects, I can understand why using humans done up as the undead might be better. I mean, you can only lose so many grips on set before your insurance just does through the roof, no way the rest of the cast wants to watch us eat, and the smell might become something near unbearable if you put a bunch of us together on a soundstage, so I don’t blame anyone for going the safer, less disgusting route. Thankfully, there are a dedicated group of actors that take being a zombie seriously, a group that’s willing to give the undead roles they’re given their full dedication, and the results come across spectacularly. Recently we took a look at the first two seasons of a show where I made mention of the fact that the zombie actors were some of the best I’d seen. That show was Z Nation. I’d link those reviews here, but my sense of shame is a weird thing, I’ll swim across a river naked on nothing but a dare, but linking my own stuff seems weird. Well, a few of those zombie actors were nice enough to sit down and answer a few questions about what it’s like to play a ghoul on the best zombie show on television right now. Please welcome honorary zombies Matt Davidson, Desiree Fuggetta, Mandy Kenworthy, Lucas Rick O’Brien, and Jeromy Jackson.

 

https://undeadreview.com/2016/05/20/z-nation-season-1/

https://undeadreview.com/2016/05/27/z-nation-season-2/

{Who put those links to the initial reviews above? It must have been that editor I don’t have logging into a website only I have access to. Damn them…}

 

Undead Review: Just so we know who is who, can you give us a few examples of which zombies you’ve brought to, um, life?

Matt Davidson: I’ve been Morgue Drawer Z in episode 108, Meth Head Bounty Hunter in episode 202, Abe Lincoln Z #1 in episode 206 and a whole bunch of others!

Desiree Fuggetta: I’m sure my most memorable zombie moment was in Season1 Episode 2, I was the girl in the tire well. Doc removes the wheel, “That’s explains the pull to the left.” Well I am the pull to the left.

Mandy Kenworthy: A few that pop into mind. Season 1, morgue zombie, waitress zombie, huge zombie horde. Second season, Grand Canyon zombie, Warren’s dream in the barn zombie, also played a sick Mennonite, so that’s close to zombie. 🙂

Lucas Rick O’Brien: Some examples- Radiated Z, Zombie-Jam Water Z, Zunami Storm Z, Long Hair Shooting Gallery Z– Stayed tuned for some amazing stuff in S3!

Jeromy Jackson: I have had the most amazing opportunity to be a part of the, “Z Nation”, Seasons 1, 2, and now 3. In Season 1, I played a zombie in 6 episodes. In Season 2, I played a human as a “Zero”, as well as a zombie in 8 Episodes. Season 3 has begun production. I’ve had the opportunity to play as a human military character in Episodes 1-2. Episode 3 as a zombie.

 

UR: How did you get involved with Z Nation?

Matt: My ex-wife saw the ad in the local paper for zombie auditions. This was before season 1 so we had no idea how huge this show would end up being. I was reluctant to try out since I’m not an actor and have no experience beyond just loving zombies. Turns out I’m pretty damn good at being undead!

Desiree: I was involved with a local agency prior to the casting of Znation.

Mandy: I got into it by chance. They were doing auditions. I always wanted to act and gave it my all.

Lucas: My wife, Nicole, talked me into trying out for the auditions, actually. Her boss gave everyone the opportunity for time off if they wanted to try out, so she did and convinced me to do so as well. Ultimately, she never found the time to be a zombie, and it turned out that I loved doing it!

Jeromy: I heard about a Syfy zombie series will be filming in Spokane. I quickly applied online, by joining a talent agency. My audition date was set, and off I went. It has been one of the most positive, fun, and life changing opportunities in my life.

 

UR: How long does it take to get into makeup?

Matt: Makeup takes anywhere from an hour for a simple paint job, and upwards of 3-4 hours minimum for prosthetics and more in-depth applications (such as the Blaster Z’s from episode 203). And that’s just putting it on! With prosthetics you’re guaranteed another hour or so in the makeup chair at the end of the day getting the prosthetics and glue off.

Desiree: On average, I am in the makeup chair about 25 minutes for simple zombie work, but I have been in the makeup chair up to six hours for special roles.

Mandy: It really depends on the makeup. If getting prosthetics then it’s usually starting at 2 hours. My longest was 31/2.

Lucas: Anywhere from 30 minutes for simple application, with around 3 hours being my personal record… Prosthetics can add a considerable amount of time to the process!

Jeromy: Make-up can vary from 30 min – 7+ hours. I was a frozen zombie in the Last episode of Season 2. DJ Qualls, solutes me as he heads out from Northern Light, Arctic. This make-up took Prosthetics and multiples layers to complete. This took over 7 hours.

 

UR: Does the makeup hider your movements at all?

Matt: I don’t think the makeup itself hinders movement unless you’re wearing a particular prosthetic that prevents natural movement. The biggest inconvenience with the makeup would be sticking to everything, and the fact that bees and other insects are attracted to the sweetness of the fake blood!

Desiree: The makeup does not personally hinder my movements. I know the best zombie are fluid and flexible, so I usually just do me as if I was not wearing makeup.

Mandy: No and yes. Depending what you have on. Season 2 ep 15 I was a zombie outside that bar, I had to wear slippers and walk down a hill covered in pine needles and stuff. 😦 Also, the heat can make it challenging.

Lucas: Only when I eat, talk, use the bathroom, or try to turn/move my head too quickly one way or another. The fake blood tends to make my beard stick to clothing and nearby skin, so I get some painful tugging that limits my head’s range of motion.

Jeromy: Makeup can be uncomfortable at times, but, you adapt to very quickly. Sometimes, Prosthetics can limit how far you can turn your head. They are extremely durable though.

 

UR: When you’re all zombied (not sure if that’s a word, but I rather like it), does it make you feel like a zombie? As in, does it make getting into character that much easier?

Matt: Being in makeup DEFINITELY helps me get into character! I really geek out on this stuff and try to imagine what my character was like before becoming undead, and what their motivation could have been before it became simply TO FEED. The makeup helps you solidify these ideas into concrete actions as an actor.

Desiree: Well, when you work the night shift and have to be on set at five in the morning, you are naturally a zombie anyways. The make up just makes me feel sticky. Overall, I am a living zombie so there is not much character to get into.

Mandy: Yes!!! Absolutely!

Lucas: Absolutely!! I feel considerably less self-conscious about appearance, which allows me to relax and just let the inner zombie flow. Even the filthy stiffness of the clothing helps to get your mind in the right place.

Jeromy: I feel like it does help occasionally, because you hear and see other reactions of other zombies. We have a close family bond that keeps us in character. I have worked with these amazing, talented, and fun people through the last 2 seasons, and now the 3rd. I am so proud to call them family. We learn and FEED off of each other.

 

UR: Being that so much is filmed outside, and Washington gets its fair share of rain, is there ever an issue of the weather causing problems for all of you?

Matt: I’ve only worked one day that got rained out that actually shut down filming in the first two seasons. The crew that films Z-Nation is professional as can be and can roll with any weather punches that our crazy Inland Northwest weather can throw at them! Rain isn’t as much of an issue as the heat is. It regularly gets above 100 degrees in the summer up here, and filming in that weather in full makeup and wardrobe can be incredibly physically challenging!

Desiree: I don’t really have a problem with rain, because I am the curly haired girl on set. In turn, I ALWAYS have my umbrella. Usually, in the rain, people huddle with me. Plus we have little tents to camp under!

Mandy: Usually the heat gets us every time. But filming in the spring or fall can make very chilly mornings.

Lucas: Despite our unpredictable weather, I have really only run into one or two days that have caused discomfort. Primarily, that our river scene in S207 was moved from summer to the fall, so the water was pretty cold!

Jeromy: Personally, I have only experienced a few days on set, where rain makes it difficult. I have been soaking wet, cold, and a sticky mess. I feel so bad for Makeup and Wardrobe. They try to keep us under cover as much as possible. Seems to always work out though

 

UR: What is the dynamic on set? In looking at cast photos, you all look as if you get along wonderfully, almost like an undead family.

Matt: The cast and crew of Z-Nation is honestly this big, awesome family! I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s totally true in this case! Especially the extras, we have regular get togethers where we can all catch up and trade stories, and I’m happy to count some of my fellow zombie extras as true and amazing friends. It’s always amazed me that this incredibly disparate group of people can come together and form strong friendships because most of us would simply never have met each other if it weren’t for this show. I am great friends with a number of crew members, as well, and the cast is comprised of some of the most wonderful and gracious actors I’ve ever had the good luck to meet!

Desiree: We all get along wonderfully. I feel like being a zombie on Z Nation brings you together with people you would never meet in your typical life. I would definitely call my fellow zombies a family now.

Mandy: We are a family! But mostly with fellow Zs. You ask any of us, Zfamily for life!

Lucas: There are a number of us who have been doing this since first season (S101 myself), and have run into each other on set a number of times. We now have regular unofficial zombie get-togethers for catching up and camaraderie, which were started, I believe, by Matt Davidson! Us Z-Veterans are a pretty close group, without being too cliquey!

Jeromy: As I stated before, we do have a close bond among us. We have so much fun. We are always different.

 

UR: What is the most difficult thing about playing a zombie?

Matt: I’d say the most difficult part of being a zombie for me is keeping it fresh (so to speak LOL)! Ensuring I use a different walk or impediment to set the zombie that I’m playing today apart from the zombie I played yesterday. The different makeup jobs and wardrobe selections also help with this immensely!

Desiree: The mouth blood tastes like ass.

Mandy: The waiting for a scene.

Lucas: I think the biggest difficulty, really, is just figuring out what kind of zombie you are! It takes time to develop your unique zombie “you”. I’m the “Hangry” type; Lots of rage, snarling, pure chaos. I like my fast Zs better than my slow, but I feel good about any zombie-type requirement. Beyond that, “the waiting is the hardest part”.

Jeromy: I honestly don’t find it too difficult. Sometimes the terrain can be a little tricky. But, you adapt and move forward. There has been a couple hot days, like over 100 degrees, that you feel like you’re melting it’s so hot. I have never been a complainer. I just grin and bear it. I think to myself how fortunate I am to be there.

 

UR: How do you prep for you roles?

Matt: My prep consists of mentally creating a “character” for my role before they died. Were they a good person or a bad guy? Are they a hangry zombie or a lurker? For instance, when I played the Abe Lincoln Z #1, we were told that we had been sitting in this bus for almost 4 years since the apocalypse happened, so I tried to incorporate the fact that we hadn’t moved for that long into my performance. You can see it in the way I move in that scene like everything is stiff and sore! We do get a little of info from the directors, too, and that helps!

Desiree: I prep for my role by getting off work at 4 am and heading directly to set. REAL LIFE ZOMBIE!

Mandy: Usually we don’t know until that day if we get a special costume. Well most of us. I watch a lot of zombie movies and will practice new moves frequently. My kids love it!

Lucas: In season 1 and a little in season 2, I used to shuffle around in front of a full length mirror to get my movements and facial actions down. Now, I mostly just try to get enough sleep the night before (Call times are often EARLY).

Jeromy: I have watched so many zombie movies and TV shows, that the permanently are sealed away in my brain. I have been able to receive some tactical training from family members, movies, and YouTube, as odd as it sounds. I try to sleep well the 2 nights before. Clear mind works wonders.

 

UR: Are most of the zombies local, or do they come from all over?

Matt: Most of our zombies are Spokane, WA area, but we draw from all over Washington State. Z Nation pulls funds from the Washington State Motion Picture Competitiveness Program (Film Incentive Program) and has to meet a minimum quota of Washington residents for everyone from Principal cast all the way down to extras in order to qualify for those tax benefits. I’d say 99.8% of Z-Nation Extras are Washington residents, and quite a few will commute from the Seattle area just to film Z-Nation (that’s about 300 miles for those geographically challenged)!

Desiree: The zombies are mostly based in Spokane, WA.

Mandy: They are from all over Washington.

Lucas: Most are local, and live right here in Spokane. We do have some amazing folks who make their way over from the West side (and one great guy and fan from California)!

Jeromy: I personally live here in Spokane, WA. But, others come from all over Washington State. We even have someone that works for the Governor of Washington State. He drives over from Olympia, WA.

 

UR: Do you ever wander Spokane in full makeup? If so, how do people tend to react?

Matt: I’ve gone through several drive thrus and gone to the grocery store after filming multiple times. People either try their best to ignore you and pretend they’re not standing next to a zombie or get totally into it and ask to take pics and all that fun stuff! I’ve been asked to pose for a lot of pics while still in makeup!

Desiree: I have never wandered around Spokane in makeup. One time, I got off set and I was super tired and I saw my apartment neighbors above me throw a beer car off the balcony into my yard. Maybe I was feeling crabby, but I decided to tell them that throwing beer cans in my yard wasn’t cool. I mildly forget I was still in full make up. Let’s just say, they appeared quite startled.

Mandy: No lol. However I forget sometimes driving home or stopping at the store. Scared this poor old lady so bad! Lol.

Lucas: Usually wrap after dark, so not much opportunity on my part to do that.

Jeromy: I have gone through Drive-thru windows at McDonalds, filled up with gas, and seen reactions from other drivers as I head home. I haven’t seemed to scare anyone that I know of. I’m sure there is a kid somewhere that has seen me. I’m sure he is crying himself to sleep on his huge pilla!

 

UR: Do you ever get a chance to mess with people while in makeup? People who aren’t expecting a zombies to suddenly come at them.

Matt: I MAY HAVE once not told my kids I was on my way home in full makeup and walked in the house unannounced and scared the hell out of them. They thought it was pretty funny after they had calmed down and changed their pants!

Mandy: No lol. I’m too nice

Lucas: I have the pleasure of having students from other countries stay with us for short bursts of time. I have come home from set and tapped on their door in full makeup and have given them a bit of a scare! Also, my dog freakin’ hates it.

Jeromy: I try to stay professional while in Makeup. I do see people occasionally joke around.

 

UR: Have there ever been issues while filming in nature where you run into wild animals? How do you handle the furry critters and their zombie curiosity?

Matt: I’ve never run into any wild critters, but THE BEES… OMG THE BEES… The bees are attracted to the sweet, sticky fake blood we use, so it’s always a fun game to try and avoid them.

Mandy: I personally have not come across any animals!

Lucas: Mainly some minor caution with deer out in Medical Lake (A lot was filmed there, still Spokane county). They are plentiful, and not particularly afraid of anything. They didn’t pose a direct threat, but call times usually involved dawn, and wrap was usually at dusk. They were on the roadways going to and from set.  

Jeromy: I haven’t. Just bees and yellow jackets that are after the sugar blood applied by makeup.

 

UR: What do you do when you aren’t trying to eat the Z Nation survivors?

Matt: I own a commodities marketing firm called Davidson Commodities, Inc. specializing in the wholesale and retail distribution and brand development/management for a large farm co-op in the Pacific Northwest. Pretty big difference between my day job and being a zombie!

Desiree: When I am not a zombie on Z Nation I am usually filming in other shorts films and movies around the Northwest. I am also the manager of a night club, a copywriter and the author of a novel, Alfasapien. Aside my three jobs, I am going to school to study Quantum Physics.

Mandy: I am a full time single mom of four boys and entrepreneur of sorts.

Lucas: I’m a Programmer and Audio Tech for KYRS radio, actor, and a stay at home dad!

 

UR: I haven’t seen a single zombie that I found unconvincing, everyone does a fantastic job, so I have to think that there is a lot of love for what you do. Were you zombie fans before Z Nation?

Matt: I LOVE zombies! I devour anything zombie related. Before the incredible Z-Nation opportunity came up, I was an avid reader of The Walking Dead, I’d watch any movie about zombies (and trust me, there are some TERRIBLE zombie movies put there, but they’re all fun and have a certain charm about them), and just loved everything about the undead. When the opportunity came up to actually PLAY a zombie on an actual TV show, I didn’t really have a choice but to at least TRY and see what happened!

Desiree: Not going to lie, Zombies terrify me. I don’t like scary movies or things at all. Though after working on Z Nation, my dreams about zombies have sky rocketed.

Mandy: Yes! Definitely! I have probably seen every horror movie made!

Lucas: The zombie genre was not one of my original go-to’s before Z Nation. I had seen some The Walking Dead episodes and a few movies, but the emphasis often splits more often in favor of the story’s heroes and the “Man is the true monster” concept, than the zombies themselves. I guess I was just waiting for a show like Z Nation to come along!

Jeromy: I have always been a huge Zombie film lover.

 

UR: I always ask everyone this, what is your favorite zombie movie?

Matt: I don’t think you can go wrong with the one that started it all: Night of the Living Dead! But I’d have say that other than the original, Shaun of the Dead is probably a close second for me! I dig all the Romero remakes, 28 Days Later, etc.

Desiree: My favorite zombie movie is Zombieland or Zombeavers on Netflix. It’s so bad it’s alright. LOL

Mandy: 28 Weeks Later and original Night of the Living Dead.

Lucas: 28 Days Later, without a doubt! I found the fast Z’s in this film a convincing, and terrifying concept.

Jeromy: It’s kind of a toss-up between “Dawn of the Dead”, and “World War Z”. I enjoy the action, terror, and fast moving zombies. More terrifying.

 

UR: How do your families feel about you being zombies?

Matt: My daughters LOVE me being a zombie! It earns them some pretty cool bragging rights among their friends. My 11 year old is even possibly going to be joining me on set as a zombie this year! I get a lot of questions and comments from my daughters and their friends!

Desiree: My parents love me being a zombie way more than I do, and I really love being a zombie! They are huge, huge, huge fans of the show now that I am in it! They are always looking for me in the background, sometimes they put the TV on slow motion just to search for me.

Mandy: They all love it!

Lucas: I get asked to do zombie demos at family functions, so reception has been good so far!

Jeromy: My kids absolutely love it. My parents, not so much. They’re old fashioned. Siblings love it.

 

UR: What is the best thing about being a zombie? And opposite that, what’s the worst thing?

Matt: Best thing is definitely just knowing that we are part of making this incredibly fun and quirky zombie show that thousands of fans worldwide enjoy! It’s so gratifying to hear from fans that they really liked the way I walked as this zombie, or how I acted as that zombie and to know that they really care about what we do. The worst part is that I know someday this whole crazy rollercoaster ride will end, and it makes me sad to think about not getting to work with a lot of these people again.

Desiree: The best thing about the show is developing lifelong friends, as well as getting the opportunity to be on a television set! The worse thing is scraping the make up from under your nails when you get off set.

Mandy: Best is acting it out. Worst is the heat and makeup. Not good mix sometimes.

Lucas: Best thing about being a zombie is getting to growl, snarl and look badass on camera! That is closely followed by the wardrobe and makeup experience. Not many shows put extras through hours of makeup! Worst thing is the waiting. There’s usually a lot of downtime before and in between scenes, so quiet entertainment is key! Thankfully, when we aren’t required to be quiet when filming, chatting with fellow Z’s is a good time!

Jeromy: I absolutely love it. I’ve always wanted to be an actor, this has been life-changing for me. Not really anything I dislike.

 

UR: Lastly, what is your favorite moment from the show? Not so much a moment in the show, but just from your experiences.

Matt: My favorite day of filming was probably the horde scene from episode 108 Zunami. There were 50+ Z’s on set that day, and several of my best friends and it was just a cool scene and all around great day on set where everything worked perfectly and it was glorious! I always like it when there is a pile of zombies filming because it amps everyone up and makes filming more intense.

Mandy: I can’t pick a moment, I love every moment I get! 🙂 Zfamily, I look forward to them.

Lucas: I really enjoyed filming Murphy’s dream sequence in season 2. They had a large platform (think gallows from another episode) that we were supposed to walk off of, with stunt pads on the ground below at the far end. The fall was about 4-5 feet, but it then involved a quick tuck and roll to get clear of the next zombie about to fall. It was a lot of fun!

Jeromy: My favorite moments have been my opportunity to be military characters. I love being a part of the gory, terrifying, and stunts. I’m so thankful to have this oppression to be a part of Z NATION

 

I want to say thank you from the bottom of my unbeating heart to our Z Nation zombies for taking the time to answer my questions. You folk are easily some of the best of the best when it comes to playing ever hungry ghouls, and we all appreciate what you do. You’re more than welcome to the living dead side should you get bored with that whole having a pulse thing (so overrated). I’d also like to thank Matt Davidson who’ve we’ve been talking to here, David Youngquist, author of the insanely good Snareville series, and Kate McMullen who runs the best damn Z Nation page on Facebook for helping to set this interview up and being patient with my fumbling about. Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to go finish up my time machine. A few months is far too long to wait for Season 3.

Until next time, this is your unfriendly neighborhood zombie signing out.

About The Undead Review

When I was alive I was an asshole and after I died remained pretty much the same, if not a little worse. You’d think becoming a member of the walking dead would mellow a person out, no more worrying about awkward small talk with people, no more having to be politically correct, and the entire world is your upright, bipedal buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell to be a zombie, just somewhat irritating at times, especially those times you have to watch a lame movie or read a lame book. Thankfully, when I am forced to watch these films or read those books, I’ve got places like The Undead Review to bitch and moan to my heart’s content. {When he’s not devouring the living or sinking his teeth into a good film The Undead Review (Andy Taylor) spends his time writing his own stories or hunting down the paranormal. Oh, and did we mention his blind dog once saved the world?)
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