Walking Dead Week: Alanna Masterson on Playing Tara | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Walking Dead Week: Alanna Masterson on Playing Tara

No Time for Laughter

Oct 08, 2014 Alanna Masterson Bookmark and Share

This week is Walking Dead Week on Under the Radar’s website. Season five of the wildly popular and critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic zombie drama starts this Sunday, October 12, at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Central) on AMC. In anticipation of the show’s return, for this special theme week of coverage we have interviewed around 10 members of the show’s current cast and will be posting one to two Walking Dead interviews every day this week.

When Alanna Masterson joined the cast of The Walking Dead, she was so obscure no one had made a Wikipedia entry for her yet. Coming from a family of actorsher brother Christopher was Francis on Malcolm in the Middle, and her brother Danny was Stephen Hyde on That ‘70s Showit was only a matter of time until she would make her own mark in the family business. Not surprisingly, Masterson seems to share her siblings’ gift for comedic timing, even if her portrayal of Tara Chambler doesn’t provide her with many opportunities for humor.

Talk to her for five minutes, though, and you can see why Masterson was an obvious choice to play the big-talking, wholly tragic character. The only surviving member of the Governor’s ill-fated prison invasion army, Tara finds herself with no family or reason to live beyond making amends to the people she once tried to kill. And while Masterson doesn’t seem like the kind of person who naturally would gravitate toward such a broken character, don’t let her joking demeanor fool you: she appears to understand that it’s a thin line between comedy and tragedy. Here, leaning more toward the comedy side, Masterson reflects on her character’s evolution, her expectations when joining the show, and how she deals with misaddressed fan mail.

Matt Fink (Under the Radar): So are you in Georgia today?

Alanna Masterson: Hmm…maybe.

Okay. So, I know you can’t talk too much about what’s going on in season five, even if you’re in Georgia right now. So… what was it like being there from the very start of this season? Was it a different experience for you?

Yeah. I guess the camaraderie is a little different, because you’re all in it together from the beginning, which is really nice. We’re all together, so it’s fun to work with everyone at the same time, where a lot of last season we were split up. It’s fun to show up for work, and there are 14 people getting ready, and we shoot the shit. It’s awesome.

You got dropped into the middle of some intense stuff with those Governor episodes in season four. Those standalone episodes were pretty unique in the history of the show.

Yeah. It was interesting. I read the sides, which are the audition papers that you have, and I got to work two days later [after being hired]. I literally flew out the next day. Then I had scene after scene after scene, and I had no idea that this was literally a standalone episode with me, my sister, the Governor, and my niece. It was crazy. I had no idea that was how it was going to be. Then I had two more episodes without ever meeting anyone until [episode] eight. Even in eight, I didn’t get to work with anyone, because I was on the other side of the fence [at the prison]. But I’m happy I got those standalone episodes, because there are so many of us [on the show]. It was nice to have a lot to do.

What were your first impressions of the Tara character?

Well, she’s ever-evolving. I love that she was the first gay character on AMC, because a lot of people watch the show, and there are a lot of open-minded people and close-minded people. I think it’s good that we address everything that is real in the world and not exclude certain things. I love it, because that’s how it would be in this world. And I slowly but surely add to her and build her and make her more dynamic. She was going through the loss of her family in season four, and now she has a new family to protect.

Do you think you pull a lot of yourself in her?

Yeah, sure. You know, acting magic.

Tara is not in the comics, so there’s not a real blueprint for her character.

There was a book about the Governor, and there was a character named Tara, but she’s definitely her own beast [in the show]. I know the sister, Lily, she was very close to [the comic book version], because in the book she kills the Governor, and they do have a relationship, and she has a daughter. I knew that was closely based on the comics. But I never thought I’d make it past the prison. And then [Walking Dead showrunner] Scott [Gimple] called me, and he was like, “Well, I’ll see in you in two weeks.” I was so happy to come in with Steven [Yeun] who plays Glenn, because he’s such a beloved character. To help him, that won me some brownie points.

Last season, how long would you say it took you to feel like a part of the cast?

I would say it was the first day. Everyone accepts you here with open armsit’s really nice. And when we get new cast members, we accept them with open arms. It’s a nice circle. No one here has any ego, so that makes the job easier, because everyone is doing the same thing, down from the PAs to the actors to the directors to the producer. Everyone is out here suffering the same Georgia heat. No one has time to be an asshole.

Did you have any expectations for what it was going to be like before you joined the cast?

The show was my favorite show, so before you join you never know if people are going to be nice. I guess I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t have any friends. It’s like changing a school in the middle of a school year, which I did a thousand times. That first day is like, “Oh no! Is anyone going to talk to me?” But I’m super loud, so you can’t really ignore me, and I force everyone to be my friend by bribing them with chocolate.

Since this was your favorite show, you must have been amped when you were auditioning.

To be honest, I wasn’t very amped. This is a game of luck. Once you get to a certain point, talent doesn’t really have anything to do with it anymore, because it’s down to “Oh, the sister is blonde” or “The dad is a brunette.” It’s all down to the final auditions, and it’s three other girls, and everyone is so talented that it’s [being in] the right time and the right place. So I wasn’t too nervous about it, because I have been doing this for a very long time, and I know [luck] has a lot to do with it. Nevertheless, when I booked it, I was screaming and doing cartwheels.

When you booked it, did you know the future of your character or did you think you could be on the show for only a couple episodes?

That’s the weird thing about Scott Gimplehe doesn’t tell you shit. You literally have no idea, which makes it kind of fun, too. I remember thinking, “I wish I had all the scripts for the whole season, so I could see what happens,” but it’s like being a fan, and you’re excited to get the script and see what occurs. And then we’ll call each other, like, “Oh, my God! Did you see what happens there?” Everyone is screaming and yelling and it’s funny. It’s cool; I like how he does it.

Since you were a big fan of the show ahead of time, was there a sense of awe when you’re walking in there and seeing all of these characters?

Yeah…sure. It was cool to see all of them. I’ve been working for a long time, so I had the expectation that everyone was going to be cool, and those expectations were met. They’ve been fucking awesome.

How long after your character started to have a more substantial role did you start to get feedback from the fans?

Pretty quickly. They’re great. The fans are really awesome, and I’d say 99% of them are positive. Then there’s the occasional Internet troll, but I’ll just make a really funny joke and they stop bombarding me in Twitter and telling me all of the mean things they want to say. I’ll just say something super funny, and they go quiet.

Have you been surprised by the intensity of the fans?

Yes. Definitely. They’re crazy, but they’re so loyal. I’m so thankful for them, because it means the next project I go on to will hopefully have a fan base.

Since you’ve been both a fan of the show and an actor on the show, do you have an insight into why the show connects so deeply with viewers?

I just think it’s an escape. I’ve had shitty days, and for a whole hour I can sit down and be lost in a different world. It takes your mind off of everything. That’s not to say that people connect with it because they’ve had a bad day, but it’s an hour of not thinking about the things in your life, whether they be good or bad. At least that’s why I love it.

It seems like the show connects on a deeper emotional level than most shows.

Yeah, I totally agree. My opinion is that people get lost in a different world. My oldest brother, he was on a TV show for a long time, and people would come up to him and say, “You make me laugh for 30 minutes every single Sunday. Thank you.” That’s the best compliment you can get. If a fan comes up to me and says “Thanks for making me feel a certain way” or “I feel so happy when I watch the show” or “I’m angry when I watch it.” That’s the biggest reason I do itto move or affect people in a certain way.

Going into this show, I guess you have to have the expectation that your character is going to die at some point. Is that something you worry about?

Nope. I assume I’m dying every episode.

When you get a script do you go to see if you made it?

Definitely. I flip to the back. I’m always like, “Am I alive?”

Would you say you’re prepared to be gone at any minute?

Yes, definitely. Coming on to the show, that’s what it is. When you come to work, you come to work expecting it.

When that time comes, do you think it will be devastating?

No. It will be so sad, because this is my family now, and that’s what’s sad about it. I’ll miss my family and everyone here. But the great thing about this show is that it has skyrocketed into its own atmosphere. So I’m prepared for it and excited for whatever the rest of my life will be. If I do leave this show… well, I hope I don’t. Or maybe I already left, and you don’t know. Maybe you’re interviewing me, and I’m already dead.

It must be hard to do all of these interviews but not be allowed to say much of anything.

I pretty much just answer the same questions. I just say really funny stuff, like, “Oh, my God. Halle Berry is on our show!”

Does anyone fall for it?

No. Never. You want to hear something funny? I got sent fan mail, and someone sent me a picture of a dude from Game of Thrones. And I’m like, “Um… do you realize you sent me a picture of an actor from Game of Thrones?” Maybe they did. Maybe that’s the whole thing. Maybe I should sign it and send it back and pretend I’m King Joffrey.

Maybe they got their envelopes mixed up.

But it has my name on it, which is really weird. Because they send them to the production office, it has my name. Very strange.

Is it hard to keep up with the fan mail?

Yeah, but I try to do it every day, because if it makes someone’s day, then I’m all for it. I do like to write funny or stupid stuff, like “Don’t eat yellow snow.”





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