The Walking Dead's Alicia Witt Talks Her Out-of-Body Experience Becoming the Show's Latest Villain
AMC; Justin Baker/WireImage
Warning: The following contains spoilers from tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead. If you haven’t watched yet, consider yourself warned.
RIP Paula. We hardly knew ye.
Weeks after Alicia Witt announced she was joining the cast of The Walking Dead, she finally made her first appearance as Paula, the Savior whose voice was heard on the other end of Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) radio last week, revealing she’d captured Carol (Melissa McBride) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan). While she wasn’t exactly someone to root for, we hardly thought the episode would also mark her final appearance as well.
Clearly, we thought wrong.
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Witt spoke with E! News about her big episode, detailing what it’s like to join a show like The Walking Dead, what she believes Paula’s impact on Carol will be, and exactly what it’s like to have your face eaten off. What follows is our unedited Q&A.
I’m a little disappointed that joining the show didn’t mean sticking around for longer than one episode.
I know. Wasn’t that cruel, the way that AMC made me announce it? They basically told me, verbatim, what I could say. I was like, “Aw, man!”
What’s it like to come aboard a show like this, in its sixth season, that’s so shrouded in secrecy? I can’t imagine what the response was to your tweet.
I’ve been a huge fan of this show since the beginning. I’ve done a lot of shows that, I guess, had a following, but many of them I’d never seen before. This show doesn’t just have a following. I don’t even know how to describe the phenomenon that it is. I think because it speaks so much to a truth that all of us know, which is that there’s something about our world that feels like a house of cards. It feels like life as know it could end at some point in our lifetime, and the zombie apocalypse is just code for that. That’s my best guess as to why the show is what it is.
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But to come into it, aside from all that, just loving the writing and the actors and the story and the world of this show as much as I do. To receive this script, which was after I’d auditioned for it. I had no idea who I was playing or what she was or any of it, and I got a call the night before, saying that I was going to be getting on a plane the next day—and I still didn’t know who I was playing. I didn’t know anything! I got the script and, if you had to do one episode of anything, it doesn’t get any better than Paula. My God. It blew my mind.
Also, to get to work with Melissa, who is my favorite of an incredible cast of actors—she’s just so remarkable in every way—I was just thrilled and I was definitely a little nervous. At the moment I hit the table read, though, I wasn’t nervous anymore because everyone involved in it is—you just sort of forget what it is you’re a part of from a “Holy s–t, I’m on The Walking Dead” perspective. It just becomes more like “Wow, I’m playing this incredibly complex character” and as an actor, it just really turns you on and makes you immerse yourself in it.
After the experience, the two weeks I was making this episode were so crazy fulfilling and so intense for me, that once it was over, I almost forgot that people were actually going to see it and then that was going to be its own thing. I would have been happy with just the experience of it. Honestly, when AMC finally said, “OK, you can announce it and this is what you can say” six weeks ago, it was almost like, “Wait, I really did The Walking Dead?” And then seeing the previews last, which aside from the little bit of ADR I had done, it was my first glimpse of the character. I was like, “Oh my God, that’s me!” But it wasn’t really me. I don’t know, it almost felt like an out of body experience in some way. I don’t know how to explain it.
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Even though she’s only around for one episode, I feel like Paula is going to have a major impact on Carol. She sort of acts as a mirror for Carol, giving her a glimpse of what she could be if she doesn’t start questioning what she’s doing. You said that you enjoyed working with Melissa. What was that like creating that?
That means so much to me that you noticed that because that was definitely what we felt and sort of how it seemed and how Scott [Gimple] had described it. But I think I was so close to it, I wasn’t sure when I watched the episode if that was clear at all. I know that we definitely felt that while we were shooting it. It felt like: Here’s a version of Carol, certainly. Something very eerie. She manifested her loss, her personal losses, in a way that was dark. She put away her humanity. She started killing and she stopped counting and she stopped feeling. And I think she means it when she said those things. I think that was her method of survival. Carol’s learning how to do what needs to be done, but what makes her Carol, and why we love her so much, is because she does still feel. She’s got an enormous heart and she doesn’t want to have to do those horrible things. She feels it very deeply. That what I think, anyway.
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I don’t know how it’s going to impact Carol. I loved, in the episode, the fact that when Carol is still begging Paula to run at the every end, she really doesn’t want to kill her. There’s something there. There’s some sort of affinity and likeness and some kindred-ness about whatever she is that Carol doesn’t want to have to kill. And, I don’t know—to me, I almost felt like Paula doesn’t run because she knows she’s going to end up dead anyway. And maybe she knows she’s going to have to kill Carol herself, if that happened. I don’t know. It was very complicated and kind of amazing to get to play that.
I wanted to ask you what it was like filming Paula’s death. What’s it like having your face eaten off?
It was so weird! I was very excited that I got to go into the main sacred special effects hair and make-up trailer because most days, obviously since it’s the zombie apocalypse on, you don’t have any make-up on. I mean, you go in there and you’re in and out in 15 minutes. And as a girl actor, you’re normally in there for two hours and it’s the most—the socializing is really fun, but getting make-up put on is not fun. But to get to go in and watch these wizards do their work was pretty cool.
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There was actually a neck rig, as well, but it didn’t quite work the way they planned, so all you see if the face eating. But I actually had this whole thing on the neck as well, and the guy, whose name I think was Chris, he’s one of their main zombie stars who does special effects and stuff—he was using his real teeth to chew off the special effects and stuff that I had on my face and my neck. That was probably the weirdest part, the trust of “OK, here’s my face, here’s my neck. I’m gonna trust that you can really see where you’re supposed to be biting right now.” It was weird, but, you know, I felt like, hey, if you have to die after one episode of The Walking Dead, it might as well be a really epic death. I feel that it was.
When Carol and Maggie are leaving, we see Paula after turning and she’s now faceless. What was that process like to become faceless?
You know what sucked? That wasn’t really me. It wasn’t because the way they were shooting it was, while I was in there—because it took two hours out of the day for them to be making all these special effects and rigs that the zombie was going to eat on me, they had to be getting that girl ready as the zombie while I was getting ready because they didn’t have time to get me ready twice because both of them would take two hours in make-up. So, schedule-wise, I was very sorry that that wasn’t really me, but it wasn’t. But at least it was really me that got my face eaten off! That’s where I got to be screaming and yelling. Oh my God, that was so fun.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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