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Melissa McBride on Becoming a Stronger Carol on ‘The Walking Dead’

Few actors have been able to enjoy the kind of character evolution Melissa McBride has experienced in six seasons on “The Walking Dead.” She started as a timid, abused housewife, desperately in need of protection from her fellow zombie apocalypse survivors. These days she’s one of the strongest — physically and emotionally — characters on the show. A fan favorite who understands the harshest aspects of what it means to survive. In “The Same Boat,” Carol is taken prisoner by a rival group, and we begin to see cracks in her hardened exterior.

MELISSA MCBRIDE: “For that episode the script came pretty much as usual for the schedule we have, a week and half before we start. I thought it was just such a great script, it fascinated me.

“I was fascinated with the predicament they were in and Carol’s reaction. The hyperventilating — the question of where does [her] true reaction begin and where does the ruse start? It was a challenge to figure out how to play it.

“There were some things I thought I had figured out and then as we were doing the scenes some of that changed. That was very exciting to find, and very revealing to me about Carol. If I have all my ducks in a row in my mind when I get surprised like that it’s always exciting just to let it play out and see what happens.

“Something interesting happened, I don’t even know how to put into words — it was more an experiential thing — as Paula, Alicia Witt’s character, was pacing back and forth and talking about her life prior to the apocalypse. Just zoning in on her and listening, bouncing her life off of Carol’s life. It started to feel like a weird little melding of the two. I felt lightweight. It was kind of strange, it’s the first time anything like that has happened to me. It was a really cool connection, I enjoyed working with her so much, but that connection between those two characters was something interesting on a physiological level.

“What was great for the whole episode was we shot the whole thing chronologically as it appears in the script. That’s a luxury you don’t often have in television. To get into that ride and keep it there.”
Melissa McBride

“There was no rehearsal time, but I can’t imagine doing that with a whole lot of rehearsal, I liked the way it happened. What was great for the whole episode was we shot the whole thing chronologically as it appears in the script. That’s a luxury you don’t often have in television. To get into that ride and keep it there.

“It was all shot at our studio. It gave us the opportunity to really toss and turn these scenes, like turning every stone — play it this way, play it that way, go a little farther, play it straight, play it very emotional — it was a lot of fun to scope all these aspects out and see what really felt good.

“[Carol] has evolved to where she is because of all the experiences the writers have given her. I’ve grown with her. I don’t think specifically, ‘this happened to her and then this happened to her’ [in the past] — just like we approach our own day, I know where I am. There are some key things that I keep really close, one of those is [Carol’s daughter] Sophia, the memory of her, the children. There are very specific trigger points that I bring along that are never far.

“That’s what I like about the writing, everything is there. That’s indicative of good writing for an actor, you don’t have to scramble to know what the character is thinking or talking about, it’s just there, under the surface those little reminders. I remember saying that line out loud, ‘My faith got me through the death of my daughter.’ I was thinking, ‘No, that’s when you lost it.’ What that means to her, to know that she fell away, and feeling like she needs it now. All of this is playing into where does the ruse end and where does the truth, panic, anxiety and guilt begin?

“I’m grateful that people find her inspiring or they relate to her from season one and see how much she’s changed and become stronger. I look at her, I don’t feel badass when I’m playing her. I don’t feel like she feels like a badass. These are all just heat of the moment decisions. She’s not a puffer, she’s not puffing out. She’s just like, ‘Oh god what I am gonna do? I got an idea, I’ll do this.’ She’s just Carol to me, I just love it. I root for her, I adore her because of that.”

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