'Walking Dead': Sarah Wayne Callies talks about Lori's shocking scene
Image credit: Gene Page/AMC[/caption]
It was the most explosive and shocking Walking Dead episode of the season, and if you have not yet seen it for yourself, then cease reading immediately and come back once you have. [SPOILER ALERT: Seriously, stop reading now if you have yet to watch Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.]
In an episode that saw one other character (T-Dog) definitely dead and yet another (Carol) missing and presumed dead by the others, the most jaw-dropping development of all occurred when Lori went into labor only to suffer complications and ask that Maggie cut her belly open to save the baby (while killing her in the process). After helping Maggie pull the baby from his dying mother’s belly, Carl then had to put a bullet in his mom’s brain before she turned into a zombie herself. It was gruesome and harrowing, and yet poignant as well, as Lori said goodbye to one child, while sacrificing herself to bring another one into the world. We spoke to the actress who played Lori, Sarah Wayne Callies, and got the details on that big scene, how she found out she was being killed off, why she prepped by watching Full Metal Jacket, what happened after the cameras stopped rolling, and the ending she secretly wished for Lori and Rick. (Read through all three pages for the entire interview.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me about how you first learned that Lori was going to die?
SARAH WAYNE CALLIES: Well, I was at home and had just gotten off the phone for an interview, and I’d just come back from Thailand. I had gone to work at a refugee camp there for a little bit. I was stumbling through this interview because my head was not at all anywhere near the television show. The last question, she said, “Are you afraid to be killed off the show?” I said, “Absolutely not.” She said, “That’s confident.” I said, “Oh no, I’m confident it will happen, but I’m not worried about it.” You don’t take a job in acting at all expecting 25 years in and a pension. You certainly don’t take a job on a show called The Walking Dead knowing your character gets iced in the book and think, I’m safe. Frank Darabont and I argued about this several times, because he wasn’t sure he ever wanted to get rid of Lori. I fought with him about it. I said, “You have to. Lori’s death does something to Rick that you cannot do any other way. Eventually, you’re going to have to do it.”
We kicked that can down the road, and ultimately it ended up being on someone else’s watch. So I hung up the phone. Put it down. And then the phone rang again. I picked it up, and he goes, “Hey, it’s [showrunner] Glen Mazzara.” And I go, “Hey, what can I do for you?” And he said, “I wish I had the time to say this right, but I’m in the car on the way to the airport because my mother is on her deathbed. And I wanted you to hear it from me — you’re being killed off the show.” Then there was a pause. And he said, “What do you think?” I said, “How’s your mom?” He said, “What?” I said, “How’s your mom?” He started explaining some of the circumstances, and I said, “How are you?” And there was a long pause and he goes, “Did you hear me?” I said “Yeah, I heard you. I’m sure I’ll have a bunch of emotions about it, but it’s a television show, and your mother is dying. So how are you?” And so it was a really interesting, bizarre way of hearing the news. Before we got off the phone, I said, “Listen, Glen, I’m a big girl. I’ve been doing this for a while. This is fine. I loved this show. I poured my heart and soul into this show. I will pour it in until the very last frame. But I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to pitch a fit. You’re doing what’s best for the show. And thank you for calling me on the way to the airport.” That could have gone down real differently. And I wouldn’t have blamed him at all if he had someone else call me.
Image credit: Gene Page/AMC[/caption]
EW: What about when you found out how your character was going to die?
CALLIES: We talked a little bit about how it was going to happen. I didn’t necessarily want to know too much, because Lori doesn’t know she’s going to die, so I figured I’d wait until the script came out. And the script came out, and I thought, “This is a scene about a mother dying.” And I called Glen, and I said, “Don’t come to set. Don’t be here, we’ll handle it. There will be other people who can make sure we do it right. But don’t come to set.” And in the end, he didn’t.
EW: Glen told me how the scene in episode 2 where Maggie is talking to Hershel was based on what he said to his mother when she was dying, and he also told me that what you say to Carl here in episode 4 before dying was him “thinking about my own mom if she could have responded to the conversation in episode 2.” Did he share that with you, that it was that personal?
CALLIES: He did. We worked on those lines together for a couple of weeks and some of those lines are his and some of those lines are mine. Some of the things that I put in there came from things that I heard him say that he hadn’t put into the script. I just thought, it belongs there. Like “You’re the best thing I ever did.” I heard him say that, but it wasn’t in the script and I thought, that’s how parents feel.
EW: And then you had to feel it with your on-screen son, played by Chandler Riggs.
CALLIES: There’s all this resonance because I watched Chandler grow from a child into a young man in the time that we’ve worked together. And so there is the level of the characters being proxies for Glen and his mom, and there’s also a very literal interaction between Sarah and Chandler. It’s a profound relationship you create with children when you work with them. I remember the day Jeff DeMunn was killed off the show. It was emotional for all of us. We were shooting it at night and I turned around halfway through the evening and I just saw Chandler standing in the middle of the field — completely alone, this little boy in the dark, in the cold, and in the mist surrounding him. And I just thought, we’re adults. We know what it’s like to leave a show and to just have your heart break into a million pieces. Chandler hasn’t had that. That night, I went and put my arm around him and he leaned into me and we just stood there with our arms around each other for 5 minutes. And then I looked down at him and I was like, “I’m not gonna tell you it’s not going to hurt again, but we’re lucky. We’re lucky to love the people we work with enough that it hurts.” And then we went and we ate a bunch of cookies. [laughs]. At a certain point I was like, “I feel like a hot chocolate and a pack of Nutter Butters is gonna make this better.” And he said “That’s the first thing you’ve said to me that’s made any sense. Let’s go do that.” But that whole week, Chandler and I really couldn’t look at each other while we were shooting that episode. We just couldn’t really do it.
Image credit: Gene Page/AMC[/caption]
EW: And yet you and Andrew Lincoln don’t really interact in this episode at all.
CALLIES: Andy and I had a chance to say goodbye before because that scene on the bridge at the end of episode 2 is the last time they’re together — it’s the end. It’s the end of their marriage. They just don’t know it yet. And we had to make sure we didn’t play it that way. But it’s the end. I don’t think I could have handled saying goodbye to the two of them on the same day. And I asked Andy to come the day we were shooting that final scene, and I said I want you to be there for Chandler. I want him to know that Andy’s still here and Andy is going to be with me the whole time — that Andy won’t leave him. Because John left him, Jeff left him, and I left him. And those were the people he started with. So Andy was there and he handled it so perfectly, from one actor to another. There was no amount of patronizing or grown up talking to kid thing.
EW: How do you even emotionally prepare yourself for a scene like that where you are dying, giving birth, and giving a pep talk to your son? That’s a lot to process.
CALLIES: I think in a way the preparation for that scene was the two-and-a-half seasons I shot before it. I got that script, I read it once, and it took me a half-hour to recover. I knew how it was going to happen, but you read the words and go “Argh! Well, f—, there’s that.” And then I just figured you can’t plan that. The worst thing you can do is get in your own way and think about it too much. So I learned the lines and I just ran the scene once a day alone in my head. And I watched a lot of stuff. Guy Ferland [the director of the episode] is just one of my favorite directors ever. He and I go back to Prison Break. And he shot the scene where Jon Bernthal dies. Apparently, they bring him in to kill off the leads of the show! [laughs] So Guy and I had been talking for about a month, and I said. “What are the great deaths? What are the deaths that we believe?” So Guy and I both watched Full Metal Jacket. And I was really struck by Arliss Howard in that [as Cowboy]. It’s a really, quick, kind of strange death. So we watched a lot of stuff and read a lot. But Chandler and I really did not rehearse the scene until we just sort of got there. And we all decided we all had so many emotions in our hearts right now, so let’s give ourselves permission to be really raw and be really honest with each other even though it’s going to hurt. That’s probably the best way to get this done.
EW: The last thing Lori says is “Goodnight, love.” Is she saying that to Rick, to Carl, to the unborn baby?
CALLIES: When we shot the first episode of the season, and Lori comes to Rick after the campfire and says, “We got to get the house in order,” he walks off into the night. Just ad-libbing on the day, the last time we shot it, I said “Goodnight, love.” And they had cut before I said it. And Andy turned around and said, “What did you just say to me?” I said, “Goodnight, love.” And he said, “That’s the most heartbreaking thing I think I’ve ever heard you say.” And it wasn’t on camera and we didn’t want to do it again because it wasn’t a line in the script. And then when we were shooting this last scene, so much of her concern is for Rick because she knows Carl is going to be fine. She knows he’ll heal, but she’s terrified of the rabbit hole that losing her is going to send Rick down. And so I think, to me, that moment was for Rick, as in I hope somewhere in your heart you can just heal. I mean, what else is there to say? It’s over. It’s okay. Let it be okay. Don’t kill yourself over this. But then when I watched it, I heard echoes of it to Shane and to the baby. I don’t think it necessarily plays as something that’s just about Rick, although that was certainly what was in my mind.
EW: Tell me about what it was like for you right after you finished filming.
CALLIES: I stayed on set in the room partly to stay in the moment, and partly because by the end of the day I was literally glued to the floor, there was so much blood. I couldn’t get up. At the end of the day, I got up. And I’m half-naked, covered in blood, my hair is this rat’s nest mess. I come out and behind the monitors is my entire cast. Except Laurie, who was somewhere else. But the entire cast. Jon Bernthal had tried to come out for it from L.A., but couldn’t make it. It was amazing. It was really moving. Leaving a show that I care so much about that way, those scenes, the way they’re written, I kind of got to say goodbye on camera. I kind of got to just leave it all on the field, and get it out of my system, and have all those emotions. And you know, I just kind of feel, “Okay, I did it.” If you want to know about how I felt about leaving the show, watch the episode.
Image credit: Gene Page/AMC[/caption]
EW: And your last day was also the last day for IronE Singleton, whose T-Dog also died in this episode, right?
CALLIES: Yeah, and that was one of the strangest things about filming it. Before lunch it was all about trying to support my friend and castmate through his last day. So we came back from lunch and I was like, “Oh, crap. Now it’s me!”
EW: I remember Jon Bernthal telling me after his last day, he came the next day and hid off to the side and just watched you guys work. It must be very hard emotionally: On one hand you can try to prepare yourself for it to happen, but at the same time, saying goodbye to that family must not have been easy.
CALLIES: It’s crazy. John left about 4 in the morning and we were all there on set with him. I wrapped at 8 in the evening, and the big difference was we all went to a bar. When somebody leaves the show, you address the crew. Emotionally, we were wiped out. I stood up and talked to the whole crew and thanked them, and then I was like, “Anybody want to go to The Roadhouse?” There’s this amazing steakhouse just right down the road from where we shoot. And we all just went there and said our goodbyes without having to worry about moving equipment around. And the teamsters ended up driving me home that night, bless their hearts.
EW: Now that you’ve seen the episode, what was it like watching that scene?
I shot the episode in June and there was a lot of emotions and intensity around that. I think I was in mourning for 6 to 8 weeks. And then I looped the scene and went into my car and just lost it. But the human heart is built to heal and so I did, and I kept in touch with everyone and saw everyone at the premiere and it was wonderful to touch base and hear how they’re doing. And then I sat down last night to watch the episode. Right as we were about to start it, I felt like a kid with a big scab on her knee and just going, Ahhh, I got to rip it off! It’s gonna bleed and it’s gonna hurt! But that’s part of the healing process.
EW: What will you miss most about working on this show?
CALLIES: The people. Andy Lincoln is one of the finest actors and finest human beings I’ve ever met. And John Bernthal and Jeff DeMunn. In a way, it makes it easier that so may of my great friends went first. The show was never the same to me without Jeff and John. Maybe that’s just my problem. I have a hard time moving on from big losses like that. Because they were so definitive. We were all in the pilot together. They made me a better actor and made me a better person.
And I’ll also miss Lori. Lori Grimes has a fire and a ferocity to her that I have absolutely loved. When we were shooting this last episode, Andy and I were looking at each other through a fence. We didn’t consider it a scene until we were shooting it and we realized it was going to be the last time that Rick and Lori Grimes are ever together. And we both just lost it. We finished the scene and we walked towards each other, met in the middle of the field and just stood there weeping for a little bit. Everyone was amazing and backed off and gave us our space and nobody rushed us out of it. And while I’ll miss Andy, we talk every week and we’ll work together again somewhere, somehow. We’re done with Rick and Lori, though, and that’s the hardest part. I won’t see Rick Grimes again. And he won’t see his wife again. They never even got to say I’m sorry. That breaks my heart. I wanted a better ending for them. Not a better ending like, I wish the writers had written something better. I wanted them to have a happy ending. But of course, they’re didn’t. It’s The Walking Dead. There are no happy endings.
EW: I mean, Lori seemed pretty damn dead. Then again, you’ve mastered the art of dying on a TV show set in a prison and somehow coming back.
CALLIES: Yeah, if there’s a place where dead doesn’t mean gone, it would be here on The Walking Dead, but I don’t know, that would be a feat — even for me.
To read more from Sarah Wayne Callies on what it was like to say goodbye to The Walking Dead, check out the next issue of Entertainment Weekly. And for more Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.