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NOCC: The Walking Dead Speak

Company: Wizard World
Product: New Orleans Comic Con 2013 Coverage

Undoubtedly, the most popular panel at Wizard World New Orleans Comic-Con this year was The Walking Dead, having nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that The Walking Dead is also the most popular show on TV right now, Iím sure. The panel was comprised of Jon Bernthal (Shane), Michael Rooker (Merle) and Norman Reedus (Darryl), although Reedus showed up about 25 minutes late. Marc Lee, the emcee, had a plan for the entire audience to do their best "walker" impressions so that we could shock the panelists when they arrived. Since Reedus was late, it was even more disturbing and effective since we did it right in the middle of the panel. Letís just say that Bernthal had a very WTF look on his face.

Iím not really sure what type of personality Michael Rooker really has, but he acts just like Merle (like a bit of an ass), but an entertaining ass nonetheless. He says he has a tough time getting out of the Merle mindset, so maybe thatís why. One fan asked about Merle's backstory and Rooker said that it will be revealed bit by bit as the story progresses.

Jon and Michael were asked if they ever thought the show would take off like it did and are they ever overwhelmed by its popularity. Rooker simply said, "No," but went on to say that you do the job and never know whatís going to take fire. Heís pleased how well things have gone and commented that Jon has been working non-stop since he died on the show. Jon agreed, while sporting a 70ís porn mustache, and mentioned how much all of the cast and crew believed in the project and wanted it to succeed, making it the best show it could possibly be. They never realized just how big it would become, though. Rooker gave props to the fans for making the show the huge success that it is and Marc Lee especially praised Shane for being a founding member of the show that is fondly remembered, even though his character is now dead.

When Rooker was prodded to reveal some bits about the mid-season finale and whether Darryl would put an arrow in Merleís back, after a joke or two, Merle said no. After Rooker doing an amusing imitation of Reedus, the pair was asked if they had a favorite episode to shoot for the show. Jon said the one where they let them out of the barn, while Merle said the rooftop episodes were his favorite, although he was pretty sarcastic when he discussed the high temps on that roof. Jon said he didnít have any scenes with Rooker, but heard what a badass Rooker was and how he set this incredible precedent for the show.

One fan asked what motivates them as actors to play those characters and Rooker instantly said, "money." He said itís a tough business to do without compensation. He stated that as artists, they are all motivated to create. He suggested that artists should find their medium and create, as thatís what they do as actors. Another fan asked if a zombie extra ever got so carried away that they frightened the actors and they said no, but there were plenty of times where they scared the extras.

Another fan asked how many packs a day one has to smoke to get Michael Rookerís voice. Rooker said he actually never has smoked, aside from the rare stogie, but his husky voice stems from a childhood accident with a clothesline. When he was 11-years-old, he was running, full-force, with a bunch of kids and ran smack-dab into a clothesline at his throat, knocking him flat on his back. He couldnít talk for a while and now, one vocal cord is paralyzed and the other one is bowed. So, no - you canít have his voice.

Bernthal was asked about what it was like when his story arch went from being Rickís best friend to being his worst enemy. Jon revealed that he absolutely loved the arch and he felt it was an honor to play that role and to see and act that transformation. He is very grateful for the role and cared about the character of Shane and the journey he went on.

Jon was asked about the showdown scene with Shane and Rick and he said he felt like, as an actor, you never feel like its quite right. Jon wanted the scene to go differently, with no bullets in the gun. He wanted to force Rick to be worthy of raising his (Shaneís) child. He and Andy pretty much ad-libbed the entire scene and it was a cool process since the show began with the two of them just hanging out. He said they shot the scene all night long in the cold field, but everyone showed up to watch, since they were just like a huge family. Another fan told Jon he plays such a human bad guy and that he plays the "best asshole." Rooker jumped in with "thank you" since I guess he is used to owning that title. Someone asked Jon if heís a little afraid of being typecast as a ass. He mentioned that he plays a real bad guy in Martin Scorceseís new film Wolf of Wall Street, someone who would make Shane look like an altar boy, but then he plays a good guy in another project called Snitch. He feels like as an actor, you have to have real reasons for what you are going after and he believes, in Shane's mind, he absolutely beleived in what he was doing. You could come off as a bad guy, but it's not that simple. Shane did what he had to do to take care of that woman and child and he didn't really intend to be a bad guy.

A fan later asked if they ever hate their characters and the decisions they make and they said no, they actually love their characters. Rooker seemed especially enthusiastic about his character, while Jon said the character Shane was starting to get eaten up with what he was doing, but playing that character was great.

One gamer fan asked about Rookerís role in Call of Duty: Black Ops II and whether he played the role of Harper, which he did, while another asked about his kill ratio in the game. Naturally, Rooker insisted he kills everything around him.

When Reedus finally arrived, the crowd went nuts, of course. A fan asked a question about whether the three actors had read the comics prior to their roles and what were the differences in playing a character that was in the comic or ones freshly created from the show. Jonís perspective was just excitement about getting the role, so he got his hands on the comics and started reading, only to realize his character dies pretty early, which was a bummer. But as Rooker points out, he was so kick-ass that he stayed on for two seasons. Reedus said he never read the comic before, but he felt it was a blessing to be new characters. He naturally read the comic once he got the job, but as a fresh character, there are so many possibilities for the characters. Rooker got the comic and read it, then called his agent because he couldnít find his character anywhere. He was happy to find out his character was created for the show and thought it was pretty cool. Another fan asked about on-set pranks and there was some banter about a BB gun Reedus bought Andy (Andrew Lincoln) for his birthday and how a few folks got shot in the butt.

Another fan asked if any of them had an actual plan for a zombie apocalypse. Reedus says his plan is to hole up in the penthouse of the Four Seasons, while Jon doesnít have a plan at all. Rooker says most major cities are going to go down pretty quick, so he mentioned being out in the countryside because it will be safer. Another fan asked who would win if the three of them were pitted against each other in the zombie fighting pit. They all pretty much said theyíd hide behind each other, with Jon probably being pushed out in front. Heís dead already anyway, right?

When asked which characterís death was the biggest shock, Lori's recent death was mentioned, even though she died in the comics, but T-Dawg was high on the list. Reedus also mentioned Madison (Sophia), because she was just a sweet little girl. Of course, Rooker jumped in saying she was a liability, being a little girl and slower than the rest. Always the charmer, that one. Marc Lee was quick to point out that Merle was a liability on that roof as well and Rooker said there was no way Merle was a liability. He also said heíd be shocked if they got through three or four episodes without someone dying.

When asked if there were any onset romances they could talk about, Rooker joked about a Merle/Darryl romance, whereas Reedus said he is sleeping with everyone he can, as often as possible.

Someone asked of the possibility of Bernthal returning to the show as Shane in flashbacks and he said he'd love the opportunity. Of course, later that night in the mid-season finale, we saw just that, but he mentioned how difficult it is when you are working on one show to cross-over into another. Rooker then jumped in saying maybe they'd all come to his new show. Reedus was asked about the most difficult scene he did in The Walking Dead and he mentioned the rock climbing scene with Merle where Rooker was calling him names while scorpions were walking near his face. It really is hot and they are really in the woods, so some scenes are tough.

As time drew to a close and the last question was asked, the three panelists said they'd answer questions with one-word answers, shotgun style, with Rooker shutting down the Darryl questions in amusing mocked frustration. The best one was when someone asked Reedus if Darryl still has Merle's mummified hand and Reedus deadpanned, "Ebay."

Overall, it was a great panel and The Walking Dead panels at Wizard World New Orleans Comic-Con just keep getting better each year. Thanks to Jon Bernthal, Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus for visiting the Crescent City and we hope to see you at the next show!

-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins

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