Laurie Holden interview: Pyewacket, The Walking Dead

Laurie Holden chats to us about Pyewacket, her work on The Walking Dead, personal demons and more...

Spoilers for The Walking Dead lie ahead

There’s not a year that goes by since the end of The Walking Dead‘s third season that I don’t miss the original characters, who met their untimely and, in many cases, premature deaths in those first three years (yes, even Lori). One of the most unexpected and tragic losses was Andrea, who formed such a core part of the show and was centre stage for many of the show’s best episodes

In her portrayal of Andrea, Laurie Holden brought an intensity to the role that set the precedent, alongside her original cast members, for anyone else that joined in the years that followed and helped to make The Walking Dead the global success it is today. It was pleasure, therefore, to get some time to speak to her over the phone about that and her newest film, Pyewacket, that focuses on a troubled mother/daughter relationship that takes a dark turn when teen angst throws the occult into the mix, so without further ado…

What was it that most appealed to you about the script for Pyewacket when you first read it?

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I thought it was a great story. I loved the character and the ideas and the themes of the piece particularly resonated with me. The whole concept of “be careful what you wish for, someone might be listening” – I found that to be rather fascinating.

Teenage years are always something to fear, especially with so little fear of mortality – mine were especially angst riddled, did the script have any resonance with your teenage years at all?

Not in the sense that I didn’t have those given circumstances in my own family life, but I mean every mother and daughter go to war, or at least most do at some point. I have had my moments with my own mother – I just really loved both of these characters in the story, because there’s no good guy and no bad guy; they’re both good people, they’re just grieving and they’re not able to connect and they’re misunderstanding each other. What I like is that you kind of root for both of them and it’s not a black or white situation, it falls into a world of grey.

I thought it was great that you’ve described it as a supernatural, dark fairy tale, because I think whenever you deal with anything that has a supernatural element, people are so keen to ‘pigeon-hole’, they like to say, ‘this is horror, this is action, this is comedy etc’. How do you find that labelling as an actor?

It’s funny when people are like “Oh, you’ve done a lot of horror” and it’s like, well I mean, I have also done a lot of science-fiction, I’ve also done romantic comedy, I have done so many different things – I don’t even really think of this as being a horror, I think of this more as a psychological thriller that has an occult element to it, a think piece, it’s a dark fairy tale of a mother and a daughter who are struggling to connect after they’ve lost the person that they love most – it’s our dark Lady Bird.

People do like to categorise film genres quite broadly.

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I think it’s because people want to know what they’re seeing. I feel like this film – and it’s very different – but I feel like it has a Get Out feel to it, in the sense that a lot of people said that Get Out was a horror film, but I didn’t really take it as a horror film, it’s like it’s that ‘other’ it has fallen in that other category of ‘Well, it has some horror to it, but it’s kind of more than that.’

Exactly and I think that’s the film’s strength – it doesn’t go the way people might expect and use any of those conventional tropes, like cheap jump-scares. For me, it was less about monsters and more about isolation.

Yes, yes – isolation and grief.

Since a lot of the film centres on just you and your on screen daughter, is it easier to maintain a high level of tension and drama when there’s just the two of you reacting to each other?

I think that Nicole (Muñoz) and I were very lucky because we bonded instantly and it was a very organic connection and we had a rhythm with each other that came very naturally, where it felt almost like breathing and in many ways, I think that because we felt so comfortable with each other – I mean she felt like my daughter, I really grew very fond of her – that we felt like we were in a very safe bubble, where we could be our most creative. You know that expression ‘You’re only as good as the person you’re with’ like if you played a game of tennis, you’re only as good as the person that you’re with and I felt like she was really on her game and I felt like we were able to really fly and tell Adam’s (MacDonald) narrative.

Did you do any sort of research prior to the film, because it’s interesting that it touches on the Witchfinder General period in history and the insanity of the witch hunts?

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No, I didn’t need to, that was more Nicole’s research because she needed to be a character that was into the occult and black metal and she had to be familiar with the spells, so that was more up her alley. My character just needed to understand loss and needed to connect with my daughter, who I loved and that was my primary focus and really fleshing out this character, who was an extremely kind-hearted woman who loved her daughter madly, but was just incapacitated with grief and all of the viciousness and the savagery of my character really was the alcoholism so, for me, it was more of studying and understanding that sort of behaviour and trying to make it as authentic as possible.

So more about personal demons, than actual demons. There’s a scene when the teenage kids are sitting around and they’re discussing if they think their parents are any different to them and I find that notion fascinating, because a lot of the time I still think – I’m technically in my forties and I have a child and a mortgage and all these elements that, by definition make me an adult, but the concept of adulthood for me, seems almost like a lie.

I think it does for many of us, I mean I have the same friends – well my best friend I’ve known since birth, because our dads were best friends –most of my friends I’ve known since I was twelve/thirteen and I’ve been the bridesmaid in eight weddings! [laughs] You know I’ve really grown up with these girls and we live all over the world, but when we get together, we’re 15 again; nothing’s changed! And I think that we all feel like that, especially when we connect with the people that we have grown up with, it’s like we pick up where we left off and it’s almost like it’s a charade – it’s like ‘Oh god, I’m in my forties! Hopefully they don’t find out I’m really a kid!’

Yeah it always goes around my head, you think you’d always have to pretend to be grown up all the time, it’s weird! You mentioned the psychological thriller aspects of the film, is the psychology of human relationships something that interests you as an actor?

Oh my god, one hundred percent. I think that’s the reason why The Walking Dead resonated with people all over the world, was not because it was a zombie show, but because it was study of the human condition and I think that people all over the world that speak different languages and have different religions; everyone can identify with struggle, with loss with grief – just these basic human emotions and the need to connect and that’s what I loved about our film, is that it’s a mother and a daughter that are trying desperately to connect, but they don’t know how.

I have to say where you mentioned The Walking Dead, that I thought your work on that show was really exceptional and I was a firm fan of Andrea as a character, so obviously I was devastated when her time ended.

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Oh thank you!

Despite years of writing about The Walking Dead, it’s season three that remains my favourite – I think in part it’s never been beaten as so many of the original characters were killed off in it; you, Sarah Wayne Callies, Micheal Rooker, IronE Singleton…

That means a lot to me, thank you so much for that. I gave that my all! There were no bricks (?) left on the ground, I mean my heart and soul… I gave it all.

And talking about human relationships – I think one of the all-time terrifying monsters in film and TV was The Governor. How was the intensity of that, particularly the scenes between you and David Morrissey, to go out on?

Well, I wasn’t particularly thrilled that he killed me! [laughs] You know, I loved working with Morrissey he was such a dream, it was so effortless. I have been very lucky because I have worked with some great people and when your scene partner is in the moment and organic and all about the work it’s just the best of the best and we worked really well together.

The episode Prey (season three, episode fourteen) which was the ‘cat and mouse’ episode between the two of you, that ended so strongly – it’s an absolute…

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That was a phenomenal episode.

It really was, and I keep coming back to it – I was asked to write a contribution towards scary episodes that truly terrified us, or terrifying TV characters and it keeps coming back into loop – what memories do you have from filming that episode?

This might sound strange, but what I love about film is that it’s a visual media and you can just look at someone’s face, you can look at their behaviour and it tells a story and what I loved about Prey was that there was very little dialogue, but the dynamic and intensity, the story of him pursuing this woman and determined to kill her and her perseverance to survive – it was just so vivid.

I think that’s what made the end so tragic.

And again very little dialogue – you could have turned off the sound entirely and you would have gotten the entire story.

Yeah and it’s difficult because the ending was so impactful for me – when you think ‘finally, she’s escaped!’ and then the last shot is a real ‘Oh no… oh no, no!’ moment.

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I know… actually that’s one moment that really makes me weep, is when Andrea finally gets to the prison and her face lights up like a Christmas tree because she’s finally reunited with her friends and then he comes up behind her…

I always think that if you’re an actor and you’re separated from your colleagues, that you’ve been with since the beginning, then it doesn’t take a lot, I imagine, to feel devastated when you don’t get to reunite with them in both reality and fiction.

Yeah, particularly in The Walking Dead, I’m a pretty intense actress, but Andy Lincoln and I – we had a very similar way of working and Jon Bernthal and that is that we kind of, without sounding like some strange actor, but we kind of lived it. I didn’t listen to music, or watch television for three years when I was on that show, I mean I really isolated and really lived the character. So for me there was no ‘Oh I’m worried about playing the scene’ or ‘Oh God I have to cry tomorrow!,how am I going do that?’ those were thoughts that never entered my head – it was so raw and real for me and I was so connected in terms of the story that it was literally like breathing.

I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to talk to lots of the original cast and whenever any of you talk about the beginning of The Walking Dead, there’s this shared bond – a really strong bond and a lot of seems to have stemmed from the fact that you were starting the show, no one really knew how successful it would be, but there was this shared understanding that you were all going to give everything to it.

We built it! We showed up and we had no idea what this was going to be. We knew it was AMC and Gale Anne Hurd and Frank Darabont and this really prolific Robert Kirkman novella, but we really didn’t know. It wasn’t glamourous circumstances, we were all just… it was like indie filmmaking and we were just very committed actors, working with the best crew in the history of all time and everybody showed up and really bought their A-game and it was inspiring. I think that there was a time, half way during season one, where we knew because what we were doing was so authentic and real and so visceral, that we thought we might have some lightening in a bottle there, but again we didn’t know… but then it aired!

Looking back to your time on The Walking Dead, who did you miss the most that was killed off before you were?

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Oh that’s easy – Jeff DeMunn, who played Dale. People always say “Who’s your favourite character? Who do you miss the most?” or “Who do you hang out with?” and it always feels like Sophie’s Choice! [laughter] I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings! But Dale and Andrea, were Dale and Andrea and Jeff DeMunn is just a stand-up guy and a phenomenal actor and I just felt lost when he left the show and in many ways, I felt like the character – and the human – but the character of Dale was such a beacon of hope and believed in such humanity, that I felt like when he and the character passed away from the show, that it was Andrea’s responsibility to carry that forward and it was pretty much until the end of my time on the show, until the last breath, I was trying to honour Dale.

That’s a lovely way of looking at it.

Dale healed Andrea’s heart, he reminded her of who she was it. She was a human rights lawyer prior to the apocalypse, she lost her way because she was grieving and he brought her back to herself and she owed him her life… I get teary talking about, but to me it’s still so beautiful really.

And I think that’s why it will always resonate and why those first three seasons, for me, will remain some of the greatest – and certainly my favourite – television of all time.

That means the world to me, it really, really does, thank you!

And thank you so much for your time as well, I really appreciate it!

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We’ll talk on the next project!

What’s next for you?

I have a cool film coming out with Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn called Dragged Across Concrete.

Oh yes, that looks immense and the director (S. Craig Zahler) is one of a kind!

He’s one of a kind and it’s probably the best script I ever read, so I think it’s going to be quite special!

I’m looking forward to that a lot! Laurie Holden, thank you very much!

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Pyewacket is available now.