Universal Studios Hollywood is a place for joy, where guests come from around the world to experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the Fast & Furious — Supercharged ride. Yet on Thursday, a darkness has taken over the park as a line of people wearing black forms just west of the main entrance. No matter how diverse this line looks, a group of four clad in brown stand out. They soon learn the line isn’t for general admission, but rather to audition to play a walker at the new Walking Dead attraction.
For the last few years, The Walking Dead has had a presence at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, but starting this summer, the hit AMC show will have its own permanent attraction featuring popular locations from the show. That includes the hospital, where guests will start just as Rick Grimes did. Along the way there will be plenty of Walking Dead Easter eggs.
Ensuring the attraction feels authentic to fans is executive producer Greg Nicotero, who created the walkers that scare nearly 15 million people every Sunday. Nicotero has joined the team at Universal to find walkers who rival those on his show. With the clock ticking down to the opening this summer, it’s now time to find their very own dead.
The prospective walkers all have their own reasons for being here. Many are actors dying for a chance to get into the business. Others work at the park already, while some have been apart of the previous Walking Dead iterations at Universal. Others are out to put zombie on their business card.
“I just want to be a zombie,” says Rez, one of the men in line. “I mean, come on — ‘What do you do for a living?’ ‘Oh, I’m a zombie.’” His friend Jules, who has walker experience from Halloween Horror Nights, is quick to scold him that the proper term is walker. Some clearly take it more seriously than others.
Playing a walker isn’t a jaunt through the park, though. This is a job that will require extensive makeup sessions each day followed by long hours spent in costume. And no matter your mood, you have to be ready to give visitor’s the scare of their lives.
Mac, who also spent time as a walker, described to EW the hour-and-a-half process he went through with makeup artists that last time around. The most transformative step involved a prosthetic that remained glued to the skin for 12 to 14 hours.
“Your face might take a beating with this role, but it’s worth it,” shares Jules, once again proving his dedication to the craft.
John Murdy, the creative director for the attraction, says getting in character will be much easier for the actors in this era. Gone is the glue work and in its place is a new mask featuring an internal core that enables the mouth to have its own movements. This way, the walkers can actually bite and do everything that a walker does. As for the windows into the walkers’ souless existence, Murdy says the eyes were incorporated into the mask to keep the classic deadeye look. Applying makeup to the hands and neck will make for the finishing touches. All things considered, Murdy now expects the dead-ified process to take about an hour each day.
It’s still too early for Mac and company to worry about that, as they still have to get the part. The casting call indicated that hopefuls should not wear costumes or makeup and instead sport comfortable clothes. Smartly, most of the crowd has followed suit by wearing athletic wear. “We call our performers scare actors because it is a unique subset of acting,” says Murdy. “It’s as much being an athlete as it is being a performer.”
Murdy has seen his fair share of walkers while running the previous Walking Dead attractions. When asked what he’s looking for in prospective walkers, he replies, “We say it’s a new show every 10 seconds, so that adds up really quick. Consistency is one of the biggest things. It’s sharp, quick movements. Whatever the action we direct them to do to scare our guests, we want to see that same action.”
Back outside, the line grows as the people wait their turn and discuss their strategies. Jules and Rez think that modern technology and constant cell phone usage has practically turned us all into the walking dead. “Might as well get paid to play,” quips Jules, laughing.
Meanwhile, James and Mac — both fans of the show — have spent the last few days studying clips, trying to pick up on the patterns and mannerisms of the walkers. For James, that meant not getting much sleep last night, which he jokes might actually help him channel the dead.
Inside, the auditions have now started as 20 to 30 people have been brought into a large open space to finally get their opportunity to prove that they belong. This isn’t a normal audition process for most since besides the casting department, there’s a flock of media members watching and capturing their every movement on camera.
The first test involves setting everyone loose at once to find their inner walker. For some, this means crawling on the floor, and for others it means letting out a growl as they drag a leg as if it were broken. The free-for-all ends and now it’s time to scare a chair that is standing in for a park guest. One by one, the auditioners slowly approach the chair and give their last and hopefully best impersonation of a walker.
The process takes about 10 minutes total, and now they’ll have to wait to hear if they showed that they have what it takes to play one of the dead. Jules, for one, is confident that he’ll get a chance to be a walker again. “I think it’s all in the eyes,” he explains. “Unfortunately, you can’t see my eyes since this is in print, but it’s all in the eyes.”