Keven Meets The Zombies of THE WALKING DEAD: Part 5
Published: October 3, 2010 - 9:41am
EXCLUSIVE: Melissa "Bicycle Girl" Cowan has become undead face for The Walking Dead promotional campaign. She can be seen front and center in the show's official banner as well as in posters and magazines all over the world.
She is the very first zombie to be revealed to the public months ago and, if you're a fan of the comic book series, you'd probably refer to her as 'bicycle girl'. She is the first zombie that our show's lead, Rick Grimes, encounters after he wakes from his coma into a world overrun by the undead.
The Walking Dead chronicles the travels of Rick, a small-town police officer from Cynthiana, Kentucky, his family, and a number of other survivors who have banded together in order to survive after the world is overrun with zombies. The six episode first season of The Walking Dead begins on October 31st, 2010, on AMC.
Keven: You have become the 'face' - if you can call it that - let's say 'symbol' for what is probably the most anticipated project in television for 2010. How's the overall experience been for you?
Melissa: It has been great, an incredible journey, I would be stupid to say otherwise, and honestly you will hear no complaints from me! I had no idea that I would be the “face” of TWD, so it got me from behind, left me speechless, but like I said, it has done nothing but help me, so I am very fortunate and grateful. I had no idea that there would be so much anticipation and hype over bicycle girl, I didn’t know until the pictures started surfacing how BIG this really was. I am thankful for the opportunity and all that has happened as a result of this. This has opened up the doors for me in ways that never crossed my mind, I am honored to have been apart of this and will forever be thankful. So obviously, there is a permanent smile on my face.
Keven: It's very rare that a news article or story about The Walking Dead doesn't feature your face and images from the show. What's it like seeing those images on the official posters and magazines?
Melissa: It’s amazing, to think of all the hard work done by me, the FX team and everyone else is getting the recognition it should, everyone worked their asses off! This isn’t something that just came together over a few hours; it took a lot of planning, trips to LA, sketches, ideas. Granted for me, I just had to audition with Frank, go to LA to get a body cast for the pieces and then wear it all for filming; KNB EFX Group did a brilliant job at creating this master piece, I think it is award winning and what Frank is doing with this show is history in the making!
Personally, for me it has opened up doors and opportunities that I am forever thankful for, it typically takes years for an actor/actress to get this type of recognition, for this to happen rather quickly for me is amazing!! I have only been acting for about a year and a half now, I am on of those feel good stories that people can relate to, started out doing extra work and gradually worked my way up…. Other than this, the next “biggest” thing for me would be being a vampire on The Vampire Diaries, even though you probably would never know that was me in any of the scenes, (I was a tomb vampire and also filmed some scenes in the vampire house, but with the way the show was edited it never showed me enough for me to be recognizable) Actually, before being cast as a vampire I did a lot of extra work for that show and was seen a lot more as a random background person that as a vampire. (laughing)
I have worked on a ton of films, TV shows and other things, which thankfully gave me the experience and confidence I needed to land a role like this. Each day that I go onto the internet and see more and more pictures that I haven’t seen is breathtaking. To see my zombie picture as peoples default pictures and to have the fan base that I have just off of this one character is very humbling, these fans rock!
Keven: What did your husband say when he first saw the images of your FX makeover?
Melissa: He was impressed and I think just said, “WOW, that’s you?” He had already seen pictures from my trip to LA and also from the graphic novel, so he had an idea of what it was going to look like, but after seeing it, he said that it looked a million times better and more believable than he could have ever imagined, which I think pretty much sums it up for me to.
Keven: Did you know ahead of time that you would be the very first zombie revealed to the public?
Melissa: Actually no, I did know that I was the 1st zombie Rick encounters, but had no idea whatsoever that I would be the 1st zombie revealed to the public, that came as a great surprise for me, but hey I like surprises.
Cowan had quit her job managing a staffing agency after five and a half years to stay home with her girls. She started acting to get out of the house and after lot's of work as an extra she's finally getting her big break and promises you'll see much more of her in the future. "I take pride in knowing that all of this didn’t happen because I knew someone or whatever, I can honestly say that I worked my ass off and it’s all starting to be worth it. This has been an amazing journey for me, one of which I promise is not over, I am thrilled to have the opportunities presented to me that have been and can’t wait to be able to share more news with everyone, when the time is right," said Cowan.
Keven: How long did it take for Greg Nicotero and his team to do your makeup? It appears you have probably the most significant work done to you over everyone else revealed thus far - what was it like under all that horrific getup? Was it hard to act under the prosthetics and makeup?
Melissa: All together about 4.5 hours or so, which actually includes a few breaks. What’s even more interesting is that it actually took another 2.5 hours or so to take it all off. Most people think that you could just rip it off and be done with it, but it was a little more complicated than that, there were a lot of pieces, glue etc… In my opinion it was easier sitting there getting it applied to me, but to have it removed, just think what it would feel like to have hundreds of Band-Aids ripped off of your skin, from you arms, neck, stomach back etc…. OUCH!! (laughing) You can check out a time lapse here http://www.amctv.com/originals/The-Walking-Dead/video
As far as my understanding, yes I am the one that had the most significant work done, I was the only zombie they flew out to LA and did the hole molding process with, I am the only zombie to my knowledge that auditioned with Frank personally. The other zombies were casting through Extras Casting Atlanta which is primarily an extras casting company, the other zombies just went through a 30 min to 1.5 processes make up process.
You would think wearing all of that would be hard to act in, but actually the only things that really bothered me or made it more challenging was the heat and also trying not to use my legs, but as I often hear on set “good actors can work in any conditions” which is what successfully did.
Keven: What was it like working with Frank Darabont, he's one of the greatest film-makers of our time - did he give you any advice?
Melissa: When I met Frank it was at my audition, he was a wonderful guy, knows what he wants, how he wants it and when he wants it. I was excited to be apart of that, I could literally see the look in his eyes when we met, he gave me a clear understanding of what he wanted and expected and hired me on the spot!! He has made a lasting impression on me, not only with his whit and charm but with his knowledge and power.
Frank is very hands on as a director; I loved that about working with him. He wasn’t afraid to get on the ground with me and go over the scenes etc, a lot of times directors have assistants or whomever do deal with stuff like that, but like I said Frank knows what he wants and how to articulate that with his words. I really hope that I am fortunate enough to work with him again, he is a legend and I feel lucky to be able to say that I was able to work that closely with him.
Keven: Your image was taken pretty much straight from the comic book - have you met the comic's creator Robert Kirkman or been familiar with his work since working on the show?
Melissa: Yes, I have met Robert a few times, actually there has been a few pictures of us (me as different zombies, not bicycle girl) posted on amctv.com as well as other websites.
Robert is a great guy, very passionate about his work and also very loyal to his readers. To see the look in his eyes while we were filming at different times was great, you could tell that this was amazing to him, as I imagine it would be. So it’s a win win for everybody.
To be honest, I have heard of him and some of his work, but never took the time to become familiar with it; I realize now what I have been missing. I am now proud to say that I am a life long fan, not only of the show but of the graphic novel as well.
Keven: How have the fans' reactions been across all the various conventions that I'm sure you've been going to? Any odd encounters so far or has everyone been at least semi-normal?
Melissa: The fans rock, they kick ass! They are a loyal bunch of people that has embraced me and shown nothing but support. To be able to meet these people and see the look in their eyes when they meet and talk to me is very humbling.
No odd encounters YET, but I am sure one day….(laughing)
Keven: You're scene is with the show's lead, Andrew Lincoln (Rick), what was he like on the set. There's a lot of pressure on him in playing such an iconic character, what was he like behind the scenes?
Melissa: I didn’t meet Andrew until the day we filmed, I actually didn’t get to meet him personally before going into make up, so I think it was very real for him when we filmed. He had no idea what I looked like underneath the entire getup; once he saw “me” he was like wow, who knew such a beautiful girl could be under all of that. (laughing)
But while we were filming, he would always come up and give me words of encouragement, tell me what a great job I was doing, would ask if I was OK with the heat, contacts, if I needed anything to drink etc, even on the other days when I worked, and I wasn’t “bicycle girl” and was other zombies we always chatted... He is a sweet heart, very soft spoken and genuine guy.
I actually would get motivation from him while filming, the day that we filmed bicycle girls scenes, you could tell he was trying to stay in the zone, in which he did a great job.
We would film for a while and then take a break to change camera angles or whatever and he would first approach me and we would chat briefly and then he would walk away from everyone and just remain in character it seemed like. A lot of people find that hard to do, but we could come back from an hour long break and the first take he nails it, he is an incredible actor. I think the fans are going to be very happy with him.
As for other actors and actresses Cowan says she can usually find inspiration from any film or performance that she watches but she feels more drawn to Jennifer Aniston. She says she feels like she can relate to her as the American girl next door. "I also like the actors that have done like myself and started at the bottom and worked their way up, that is always an inspiration because it tells me that I don’t have to be “born” into it or have a long family history in Hollywood," said Cowan.
When asked about her scene in the pilot episode, Cowan said she couldn't reveal the details due to confidentiality reasons but did talk about the day of filming in public with tons of kids around.
Melissa: Funny thing to mention is we filmed bicycle girls scenes near a public pool which was filled with tons of little kids and families… (laughing)…. Try to imagine the crews, PA’s etc trying to keep me covered with umbrellas, towels, blankets etc, because they didn’t want to scare a kid, I couldn’t even imagine what it would have been like if a kid did indeed think I was real or something.
The crew did a great job at hiding me and keeping me covered. It was almost funny to watch and be apart of it because obviously you are going to have people that are wanting to know what’s being filmed, people looking at windows etc, but again the crew did a good job at concealing anything that could have been scary for a young child to witness.
Keven: What's the one thing you'll take away from this experience of a lifetime working on The Walking Dead?
Melissa: Aww man, do I really have to name just one thing? (laughing)
Let’s see…………. Probably the first thing that means the most to me and has made the biggest impact on my life is being chosen to do this, I got to work closely with the best in the business, to be able to know them, watch them, work with them and learn from them is something that people would pay for.
I can honestly say that I learned or realized something from each person on this show, which in the end will help my career and help me to become a better actress. For me to break out of just being an “extra” and actually start to make a name for my self is something that I will forever be grateful for. Frank saw something in me and had faith in me, gave me the opportunity to shine which is exactly what I did. Like I said, this has opened up so many doors for me its breath taking; this is not the last you will see of me!
If you want to see more of Melissa Cowan before The Walking Dead premiers this Halloween, you can check out an upcoming photo shoot and interview with Barely Rotten Girls, catch her at the Spooky Empire Horror Fest Weekend, October 8th – 10th in Orlando FL or at the Rock and Shock Festival, In Worcester, MA on October 15th – 17th.
Melissa: The “immediate fame” has been a dream come true, literally it’s what a lot of people often day dream about and to think it has somehow became a reality for me is a good feeling, I have nothing but respect for it and have learned not to take anything for granted. My husband and kids are very supportive of me and encourage me to get out there as much as I can!
I also would like to thank all of the fans for the support, fan mail, etc… You guys rock! Can’t wait to start meeting you all! I am in the process of getting my website up and running should be completed any day now. It is www.melissadcowan.com Also I have a Facebook fan page as well.
Here's Melissa and Andrew Lincoln at the wrap party after filming: