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Arts and Entertainment

TV Junkie: Interview with Sarah Wayne Callies from 'The Walking Dead'

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Sarah Wayne Callies stars as Lori (above in the plaid shirt) in AMC's "The Walking Dead"


Sarah Wayne Callies stars as Lori (above in the plaid shirt) in AMC's "The Walking Dead"
Last Sunday AMC's "The Walking Dead" opened to both critical and popular acclaim and scored as AMC's most-viewed premiere in the history of the network. If you read our interview last week with Jon Bernthal, who plays Shane, you got some great insight into the show about the survivors of a zombie infestation. We learned that this show is less about death-by-zombie and more about personal relationships, compassion, and the desperate need to hold onto ethics and morality even no matter what the environment presents us with.

This week we present an interview with Sarah Wayne Callies, who plays Lori, the wife of Sheriff's Deputy Rick Grimes, and mother to Carl. What we saw in the pilot [watch it here for free] was that Lori and Carl have fled the Grimes' house and are living in a camp of survivors along with Rick's partner from the Sheriff's department, Shane, with whom Lori has begun a relationship with. Other than several film and TV guest appearances, most people will be familiar with Sarah Wayne Callie from her spectacular performance as Dr. Sara Tancredi in the four seasons of Fox's "Prison Break". Read below to get Callies take on what is so different between the characters of Sara and Lori and why she loves working on "The Walking Dead" more than any other project she's been associated with.

The second episode of AMC's "The Walking Dead" airs tonight at 10pm See the preview at the end of this post.

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LAist: Congratulations on being part of this fantastically-received show.

Sarah Wayne Callies: Thanks! It's beyond words. I've never loved a project the way I love this and to have it so well-received on top of it is like candy on Christmas.

LAist: You have a lot of fans of your role as Dr. Sara Tancredi on "Prison Break" but Lori and Sara are very different characters.

Sarah Wayne Callies: I love both characters but you're not kidding, they are completely different people.

LAist: What do you do to create the feeling of dread that seems to accompany every scene?

Sarah Wayne Callies: I think of a lot of it involves wrapping your head around the enormity of the situation: your government has fallen, your family is probably all dead, your possessions are gone forever, everyone is in the same social standing. There are no "powerful", you are all powerless. I think these people are so beaten down, they're just waiting for the next catacalysmic crisis to knock them sideways. I have the great fortune to have not experienced anything like this firsthand, but I've worked with a couple refugee organizations and I think this feeling is something that is emotionally accessible to most of us - I think refugee stories break our hearts, we can relate to that because I think we can have an idea of what it would feel like if all these things were gone.

And then there's a certain level of preparation that [series creator] Frank Darabont takes care of for us by writing such tremendous scripts and nailing the situation so perfectly with such specificity. There's a scene where I'm cutting my son's hair and there's a sense that there's always work to be done and now we're taking over work we've never done. I've probably never cut my son's hair in my life, I probably always took him to SuperCuts or something. But now the everyday work of just being alive is something that we undertake ourselves because there's no one else to do it - all the cooking, the cleaning, the basics of taking care of yourself. There is no going to a restaurant, there's no "I feel like Thai tonight". They're a group of people living in more or less medieval times, and I don't mean the restaurant chain [laughs]. Just the physical work of this is very much in our minds. The simple act of laying a fire to cook dinner at 3 in the afternoon because preparing food for 20 people will take 3 or 4 hours and it has to be cleaned up before it gets dark because there will not be any light. These little details are part of what we're making.

LAist: You're a mom, do you make a connection between that part of your real life and Lori?

Sarah Wayne Callies: I don't think I could have avoided it. I have a pretty visceral response to trying to keep this kid alive. I think most parents would understand that we've all had irrational fears about our own children. Whether we feel they are sleeping too far away from us in the house because we can't hear them as well as we'd like or they're going to preschool and some other kid has a cold, these are irrational fears on a small scale.

Then you amplify those fears to be perfectly rational because your son could be eaten by the overwhelming number of dead that outnumber the living. You lay on top of that the desire to still give this kid a childhood, trying to make sure that he doesn't grow up too fast, so that if and when you are rescued - because in the camp I still think that there's the hope that the National Guard is still out there or that scientists have found a cure or that somewhere in China they've beaten this thing back and someone will rescue them. I think Lori is still very much holding onto a hope that someone will get them out of this and that she can still provide Carl with a childhood and that next year, when things are better, and they're living in a settlement somewhere safe behind walls, he can still play baseball with his friends.

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From a character perspective there's a great simplicity to Lori. One of the first questions actors ask is what do I want, what propels me through the story, and with Lori it's so simple: keep my son alive. There's a really great clarity to that. Whereas with Sara from "Prison Break" there was so much going on with her, everything from protecting her sobriety to protecting her independence to navigating a relationship with a father - there were so many layers to it. With Lori, there's just one simple, clear drive, and anything that gets away from that is off the table and anything that supports it is in.

LAist: In the pilot we get to see a couple glimpses of what life was like before the apocalypse - what things were like for Rick. Do we get any similar insight into what Lori's experience was building up to that day?

Sarah Wayne Callies: I I think we learn a little bit more but, really, the story is told from Rick's perspective. I think it may be a long time before we get Lori's side of things. Frank has written a relationship between these characters, especially before everything goes to hell, where they just weren't working, and they were really tearing each other apart. What I thought was interesting was that Rick said to Shane in the beginning, that Lori said "sometimes I wonder if you even care about us at all" and that really tore Rick up. From my perspective, I wonder if that's something that she even meant. She could have been cooking eggs and he said something that upset her and she said under her breath. "sometimes I wonder if you even care about us at all" - maybe she didn't mean it to be a sword that would cut him in half, she just said it as an aside.

I don't think she had any idea about how much it hurt him. And that's where their marriage is, they're hurting each other without even knowing it. Part of what fascinates me is Lori's perspective on what's wrong with their marriage, how to make it better. If you've seen the pilot then you know that they have more to contend with when they find each other than they did before he was shot. And it's not like there's time to go into counseling. It's not like they have time to sit down and figure out what's going on with their marriage, they have other fish to fry.

LAist: It's not like there is a counseling tent in the camp or that Gabriel Byrne will stagger in from the wilderness.

Sarah Wayne Callies: [Laughs] That would be great!

LAist: In the fist six episodes, was there something you had really looked forward to doing after seeing the scripts.

Sarah Wayne Callies: You know, episode 3 really fired me up because we really get a chance to interact with one another. To me, the show lands in 3, we get a sense of the depth and the breadth of these human relations. Episode 1 is Rick alone, trying to not be alone and episode 2 is a frenzy of trying to survive. But in episode 3, that is the first moment that anyone has to catch their breath. I loved 3, I loved all of them, and I'm enormously proud to be a part of this project. 3 gave us a chance to explore some of my favorite parts of the story - a Camelot-like triangle that starts to form between Rick, Lori, and Shane. These people really don't want to hurt each other, they actually love each other very much and can't seem to stop hurting each other despite it.

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The second episode of AMC's "The Walking Dead" airs tonight at 10pm.