Like Buffy Summers or Veronica Mars before her, iZombie‘s Liv Moore is aiming to become The CW’s next great heroine.
After a freak zombie attack, Liv’s (Rose McIver) seemingly perfect life as a med student on her way to being married takes a turn when she becomes one of the walking dead. Surprisingly, viewers will be able to relate to Liv’s story—no, not the part about her becoming a brain-hungry zombie, but because, at its core, iZombie is a coming of age tale. Seriously, how would you handle such a crazy change just as you’re figuring out your life? EW talks to executive producer Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero to get the scoop on the new show, which is based on the DC Comics print of the same name:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did the idea to adapt the comic first come from?
ROB THOMAS: Susan Rovner, the [EVP] of Warner Bros. development, made us do it. We weren’t looking to do zombies. In fact, it came at a really weird time for me, because I was already doing a couple pilots and finishing up editing the Veronica Mars movie when Warner Bros. first came to me with it. I kept trying to say no, not because I didn’t like the premise or the comic book, but because I was just overwhelmed at the time. Susan kept saying, “This is the next great heroine on The CW. This is the next Buffy. It’s the next Veronica Mars.” They would not let me say no. Eventually, I said, “If I can do it with Diane Ruggiero, then I will do it.” That’s the auspices.
DIANE RUGGIERO: I just do whatever Rob says, so he never has to twist my arm. [Laughs]
THOMAS: Diane is the true lover of the zombie genre. She’s the person who keeps us on the straight and narrow, zombie wise.
How different will the series be from the comics?
RUGGIERO: There’s a lot that we had to throw out the window for production reasons. The reason the comic works so well is that it’s a comic. When you try to translate it into television, a lot of it just wouldn’t work. The inspiration and the heart of it is still there. The journey that this character is having of being a zombie, but still functioning in the world and still trying to reinvent herself as a mid-20s person with this strange thing happening in her life is still there, but a lot of the story that the comic had didn’t work for TV.
THOMAS: There are a couple things. In the comic books, she’s a grave digger and that’s how she gets her brains, but because we wanted to do a case of the week show, it made a lot more sense to have her working in a police morgue, where there’s a murder case to be solved each week. Also, in the comic book, they had a bunch of different kinds of monsters—zombies, mummies, ghosts and were-terriers. True Blood had covered the whole monster spectrum, and Being Human had a ghost, werewolf and vampire living together. We wanted to carve out our pure zombie space since other shows were already doing the multi-monster universe. The big idea we kept from the comic book is that she has to eat brains in order to keep functioning in a semi-human state, and when she eats these brains, she inherits the memories of the dead.
You say you wanted to change it to a coroner’s office to get the case of the week, but is it also just less sexy digging up people from graves?
RUGGIERO: I don’t know, if you saw the comics, she looked pretty sexy digging graves. She had a fantastic little tight grave digger outfit. Michael Allred did make grave digging look pretty sexy, but for our purposes, I think you’re right. [Laughs]
How do you make a show about a zombie eating brains relatable to a human audience?
RUGGIERO: One of the things that we talked about is that in your mid-20s—when you’re out of college and you’ve gone on this path of what you think you’re going to do with your life and who you’re going to be—and you find that nothing is at all what you thought it would be. You sometimes have a pre-life crisis instead of a mid-life crisis. She’s having that very typical mid-20s crisis, except hers is brought on by being a zombie.
THOMAS: She’s the poster child for quarter life crisis. Like so many of her peers, she did everything right. She kept her head down and made good grades. She expected good things to follow and then wakes up one day as a zombie and the career that she thought she was going to have is no longer attainable, the man she thought she was going to spend the rest of her life with she can no longer have. Like so many of her peers, she’s finding herself in her mid-20s a little aimless when you find her in the pilot.
How is Liv dealing with becoming a zombie both physically and emotionally?
THOMAS: As we pick up the pilot, the idea is: Not well. What we wanted to get across in the pilot is that since getting turned into a zombie, she has reacted in a way that is very relatable, which is: “Why even go on? Why even get out of bed in the morning? I’m already dead. I can’t have anything that I wanted in life. All my dreams have been dashed.” The arc in the pilot is to give her some sort of reason to go on, a mission statement. What we found doing the pilot, which was a weird after-effect, is that we had this vivacious, great, charming, sparkly actress in the lead role, and for the first five acts of the pilot, we ask her to shut it all down. “Hey, for five acts, don’t give us any of that charm, and hope that it really lands in the final act,” which Rose is good enough that you see it all in the final act. The nice thing moving forward in the series is we didn’t have to tell her to play that in the series. Sometimes she has to temperate it, like when she eats the brain of a psychopath, but we have fun episodes later where she gets to dial it all the way up as a cheerleader or as a stoner. We have our own mini-Orphan Black here in that Rose gets to play a lot of different character archetypes.
How are those around Liv reacting to her big change?
RUGGIERO: In the pilot, people think she has PTSD because she was involved in this massacre on the lake. What would you call it, Rob? A melee?
THOMAS: The boat massacre? The humdinger? [Laughs]
RUGGIERO: Yes, that’s it. I believe we’re calling it the murderous humdinger. [Laughs] They think that she saw all these people get killed and she almost died, so she’s having PTSD as a result of that. That’s why her friends and family initially think she’s behaving so strangely, but as the series goes on—I don’t think the first place your brain jumps is, “Oh, she must be a zombie.”
THOMAS: All I can do is continue to think of synonyms: A dust-up on the lake.
RUGGIERO: The lake kerfuffle. [Laughs]
As part of the procedural aspect of the series, how do you keep it from becoming too monotonous?
THOMAS: We want it to be just as monotonous as Law & Order. [Laughs] We’re just going to take that level of monotony into syndication. I will say that there was an evolution over the course of the season. Diane and I both did a lot of Veronica Mars episodes, and that’s a true gumshoe, detective show, it was a mystery of the week. We spent a lot of time breaking those mysteries and we wanted to carefully lay out clues that a close observer watching at home might be able to figure out the case along with Veronica. We tried to not have clues happen off-screen. We started on iZombie with similar ambitions and each case would have three red herrings and we would carefully put all of the clues in there and the thing that we discovered with iZombie over the course of the season is that the gold is in the zombie genre and mythology. Over the course of the season, we probably shave off about 20 percent of the beats of the case of the week and gave them to the zombie story of the week. There’s a bit of an evolution as we found the show.
As you mentioned, Liv gains some of the victims’ memories as well as their attributes. Can you tease some of the personalities she’ll be taking on?
RUGGIERO: I so wanted you to say, “Can you tell us about the people that she’ll be eating?”
THOMAS: We see a sensual painter, a psychopath, I mentioned cheerleader and stoner, radio relationship expert.
RUGGIERO: The agoraphobe.
THOMAS: Yeah, agoraphobe hacker. Army sniper. A daredevil, one of those people who jumps out of planes and off of bridges—an extreme sports gal. It’s funny, one of the big discussions that we had with the network at the beginning of the year was, “Does she learn little life lessons from each of these brains that she eats?” It’s tough to do every week, “I learned something important by being a psychopath this week!”
RUGGIERO: “Everything I know about life, I learned from being a zombie!”
THOMAS: An example is Liv never fancied herself as connoisseur of art and not overtly a passionate person, but we give a nod towards that in the painter episode where you feel like some bit of her has changed, but we’re not playing with the idea that she becomes completely absorbed and can’t jump out of a personality that she’s absorbed.
What can you tease about the overarching storyline?
RUGGIERO: I’m not sure how much we can say about that, but David Anders is in the pilot.
THOMAS: We can say that she discovers that she’s not the only zombie. However, she’s the only good zombie she knows. She comes to think that she might be the key to preventing a zombie apocalypse and she, beyond her job at the morgue, needs to dive into the zombie problem.
How are these zombies different from what we’re used to seeing?
THOMAS: They can continue to think and behave as they did before, however they must eat brains. We’ll see an example of what happens when one of our zombies don’t eat brains. They become the quintessential or old school zombie we know, or what in the show we refer to as “Romeros,” the flesh falling off, brainless zombies..
iZombie premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.