The Walking Dead interview: Seth Gilliam, Alanna Masterson & Ross Marquand

Ahead of The Walking Dead season 7 finale, we chat to the actors behind Gabriel, Tara and Aaron...

In the last of our season seven roundtable interviews for The Walking Dead, we found ourselves sat with another three of the shows’ main protagonists. Ross Marquand, who plays Aaron, the character primarily responsible for bringing Rick’s group to Alexandria and who’s taken multiple beatings this season (and who is also the king of celebrity nano-impressions – if you haven’t had the pleasure, a quick Google should sort you out). Alanna Masterson, with Tara finally having a solo adventure in episode six, after first appearing alongside the mighty Governor in what feels like a lifetime ago. And Seth Gilliam, who portrays Father Gabriel, a character who never seemed likely to last long after his initial cowardice endangered the group on multiple occasions, plus there was the small matter of leaving his congregation to get eaten alive, but who now is getting stronger and stronger and seems more vital to the group than ever before.

As Gilliam sits down at the table he spots an empty beer bottle “Tom… Payne?” he enquires as to the owner, “Norman Reedus, though he did share it with Greg Nicotero” we inform him. “Fucking drunks!” he dryly retorts and, as we discover throughout the interview, continues with a wry sense of humour that feels oddly fitting…

Congratulations firstly to all three of you for a great season so far – arguably the best for all of your characters – Aaron had the boat episode with Rick, Tara had her standalone action episode and Gabriel had the amazing line to Spencer right at the start, when he called him a “tremendous shit”. Have those moments been high points for you in terms of your time on the show to date?

Ross Marquand: I think so, that was my favourite episode. Certainly, this season so far and it was great for me personally, because I think for the first time a lot of the fans who were on the fence about Aaron, they could finally trust him, because Rick seemed to trust him in a big way and that’s always nice, because it’s a funny thing when you go to some conventions, or you’re talking to people on the street and they’re like ‘I don’t know about you, you seem like you’re up to no good.’ And it’s like really? (laughs)

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But I think all three of us have kind of had that journey, you know where people initially – they look at us as dubious characters and they’re not really sure if they can be trusted and as time has gone on, Rick and/or the rest of the group has come to accept them as viable and also good members and good people that can not only contribute to whatever, whether its fighting, or gathering resources, or just being a solid moral foundation. 

Has it been fun to work on this season, because watching it as a viewer it’s been quite heavy, what was the experience of actually filming it?

Alanna Masterson: Yeah it’s been fun.  I mean its day in, day out a pretty rough show to shoot – it’s tiring, you’re away from your family, your home and there are very long hours, longer than I think most television shows. We also don’t get that much time to shoot an episode, it’s eight days where some episodes that are an hour long, you know other shows have fourteen days to shoot one and we have eight, so we definitely cram a lot in there, and there’s things I’m sure as actors we wish we could have more time doing. But overall, it’s quite a roller coaster and you know, it’s the best job I’ve ever had and as challenging it is I’ve been having a lot of fun. Seth doesn’t have fun anyways! (laughs)

Seth Gilliam: (dryly) It pays the bills. (the room laughs)

It’s freaking me out that you’ve got a black shirt on, it makes me want to cut a white strip out of my paper for your collar!

AM: Is that from wardrobe? Is this on purpose?

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SG: No, this is an Yves Saint Lauren shirt, thank you!

RM: Nice plug! Are they paying you to say that?

SG: I was going to wear this at the convention (Walker Stalker Con in London) because it’s kind of similar to Gabriel’s thing. I actually had on some Mets gear earlier, but was told I couldn’t wear anything with logos even though (leans over to voice recorders) Let’s go Mets! Let’s go Mets!

RM: No one cares about the Mets!

SG: What was the question again!? Well, for me, I’m one of those strange people that finds fun in the heavy. You know, the character of Gabriel is on a fantastic character ark and has transitioned from where we first find him, but I found a great deal of fun in playing the inner turmoil and the inability to forgive himself and the questioning, the heavy strong Sturm und Drang emotional stuff, is exciting to me to play.

In a sense more so than kind of heroic actiony moments, which always seem to be better played by stunt people in masks, but I take a great deal of enjoyment in exploring the darker and more troubled side of human nature and being able to then leave it behind on the set and it’s kind of almost a therapeutic cleansing, type of thing. So, you know the more challenging psychologically and  emotionally the scenes and characters are, then the more enjoyment I get out of playing them than the more vanity based aspects of it, where you look good and you’re sexy and you’re hot and everyone loves you which, don’t get me wrong, is cool but… (laughter erupts) you know the other stuff, crying for ten hours in a row, I kind of feel strange that I enjoy it. 

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Alanna, your solo episode was a chance for the character to shine, but the individual episodes always seems to get a divisive reaction from viewers – what do you think those episodes bring to the show?

AM: I really like the individual episodes. I know it can be frustrating for some people that want to see Daryl Dixon and Rick, which I understand because I love them as well, but I think what is great and subconsciously it does, is it plants seeds early on and you develop an affinity for these characters and maybe you’re like ‘I don’t really think like that episode, it was boring – where is the rest of the group?’ and then if, or when it happens when someone dies you feel so much more emotion than you thought possible, because you’ve really developed a relationship with this person whether you liked or not, or whether it was your favourite character or not.

So, I really enjoyed bottle episodes just to really develop each person, or even if an episode has two story lines or whatever, I think they’re wonderful and I think that you need it and if it was just slaughter and killing in every episode and action you’d be like ‘Man, where’s the relief, I just want to learn about these people?’ and there definitely is a sort of split on people liking them and not. The usual consensus is people like them and it’s usually the dingbats that are like ‘Aww where’s people’s heads blowing off?’ You can’t obviously win everyone over, but that’s ok.

SG: You love the word dingbat!

AM: It’s my favourite word, I call call everyone a dingbat and isn’t it a good word? It’s just like “You’re a dingbat!” So yeah, for me episodes six was fun for me to shoot, because I got to introduce a bunch these really cool girls and they were all so wonderful and it was cool. 

Win The Walking Dead prizes with Sky here.

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I imagine it was nice as well, because Tara hasn’t really been in the spotlight like that before?

AM: Yeah, for sure, yeah. It’s definitely been a little bit of… I mean I’m not a comic book character, so automatically people are like ‘She’s not in the comics so, you know, she’s…’ but I’ve been playing, I think, a very nice slow game as they call it and just kind of being there, and being an important part of the group and now it’s Tara’s time to shine with everyone else. I think, she’s irreplaceable within the group and that’s what’s cool to me, for Tara, is that people are relying on her now.

Do you wish that you were written into the comic books and are you quite happy being a separate entity?

AM: No, I actually like that I’m not in the comic book, because then there’s no story line, no one has any idea what could happen, I’m just a wild card! Which I enjoy, you know and Daryl is not in the comic and we are basically the same person, so… [everyone laughs]. We have the same arm structure [laughs] and the same hair and we both like alcohol! No, you know I like being not being in the comic and obviously Scott Gimple doesn’t follow every single death in the comic the same you know, certain people are still alive in the comics that are dead on the show and so I like it just being a wild card.

I’ll have no idea when I die, or how it will be and that’s cool to me because I don’t want to go into it thinking like ‘Oh!’ – like Steven knew he died in episode one hundred with Negan’s bat, that was the only way he wanted to go, he was kind of married to that, which I thought was a great way for him to go as the most beloved character I think, for me personally. It was sad obviously, but it was a cool death. You want a cool death, you definitely don’t want to die by lightning! [laughs]

RM: That’s a pretty cool death. [laughs]

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AM: You guys, what if Scott Gimple kills me by lightening!

RM: It would be awesome, what are you talking about!

AM: I’m emailing him already. Scotttttt!

In scenes where you’re fighting and killing walkers, it looks like great fun, but is it more difficult to do that we might think?

RM: It’s tough for us because they do such a great job with the make up on the show that it’s…

AM: You’re actually scared? 

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RM: Well no, no…

AM: I knew it!

RM: I mean it’s tough to remember sometimes that there’s actually real people under there, so we get carried away (AM ribs him some more) – she’s a professional!

AM: You’re such a girl!

RM: You guys! I’m with them all week?

AM: We’re going to Poland!

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RM: Oh my god…

AM: Because we’re actors, we know it’s not real but he doesn’t!

(I feel obliged to defend Mr Marquand!) But you had water as well in your boat scene didn’t you? And  people pulling at you in the water is not fun!

RM: It’s not fun… well I mean it was great fun, but I think when you’re juggling fake knives and you’re slipping around in water, the last thing you want to do is hurt anybody, but it’s a great challenge, so it’s fun but it is also this challenge to navigate exactly…

AM: Make it look real.

RM: Make it look real but also not hurt anybody, that’s the real challenge on the show more than anything.

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For the last question – what’s your favourite character moment to date?

RM: License plate kill. It’s the most ridiculous way to kill a zombie. That was fun!

AM: I think in my first season, when I told Glenn to go and leave me behind and then he came back and saved me. That was pretty cool. 

SG: It’s putting up the posters about prayer meeting and Rick tearing them down and putting them right back up again, the kind of anti-bullying moment, I think it was one of the biggest moments for Gabriel so far, because Rick was still relatively close by, and it was like ‘No, this is what we’re doing, I’m going ahead with this whether you approve or not. You can’t bully me into not doing it, even though you could probably beat the shit out of me, I’m willing to suffer that beating, because it needs to happen.’ So I thought that was, in its way, was a quiet stand that Gabriel was making. 

Yeah, because he did slowly evolve and transitioned from cowardly to now, where he’s sort of awesome. 

SG: Yeah and you know, it’s one of those moments that kind of highlighted that he was heading in that direction. 

The season finale will air on the 3rd of April.

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The Walking Dead, Mondays at 9pm on FOX.

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