The Walking Dead: Alexandra Breckenridge on Jessie's big scene
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[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “JSS” episode of The Walking Dead.]
Invasion! A peaceful day in Alexandria turned into murderous mayhem on Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead as the Wolves infiltrated the walled-off community and started slaughtering anyone in sight. But several of the residents fought back. Sure, we expected to see Carol and Morgan showcasing their skills, but there was another denizen who finally released her inner warrior.
Widow Jessie came across an intruder in her kitchen, and after being initially knocked out, she fought back and stabbed the would-be assailant. And then stabbed her again. And then stabbed her again. And again. In fact, for all we know Jessie may still be stabbing the poor woman. We spoke to actress Alexandra Breckenridge to get her take on this pivotal moment. She also takes us behind the scenes of another big scene between Jessie and her son Ron that showed the aftershocks of last season’s Rick-Pete-Reg double murder. Read on for more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the energy like among the cast while filming this episode, because the entire thing is just go, go, go?
ALEXANDRA BRECKENRIDGE: Even just in reading the script before we got to set it was terrifying, because the way that it plays out that people are just in their homes and then start hearing screams scattered around the town. But I loved Melissa’s part because her character is so ballsy. She’s grown so much throughout the show and she comes in with the intention to survive and to kick ass, and she delivers every single time. And I was happy that my character actually got it together, and her fight-or-flight kicked in and she’s desperate to save her family.
Before all the madness breaks loose, you have this emotionally charged scene with your son Ron in the kitchen where he blames you for what happened to his dad. How did you want to approach that scene?
It’s really devastating. She’s trying to connect with her child. She’s trying to have an open conversation. His father died and he’s very upset — rightfully so — and she’s still talking to the man who killed his father. He’s a teenager and he doesn’t understand from an adult perspective of why. Pete comes in and he kills Deanna’s husband, Reg. So, in that moment, tensions are very high and it’s sort of understandable how he gets killed.
But her son doesn’t understand that, and she knows that it’s going to be very hard to get through to him. Because if I was in Ron’s place, I would hate Rick too. I would think he was dangerous. Obviously. He killed my father! But that was very emotional. Austin [Abrams] is such a fantastic actor. I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to work with him that much until this point, which is kind of strange because most of my scenes were with Andy. But he comes into it being there. He’s ever-present, which is such a pleasure as an actor.
What I found interesting about it is that there are a lot of pauses in the conversation, which you don’t see often. It makes the scene a bit awkward, in the way that a conversation like that would be awkward and trying to figure out the right thing to say.
It’s such a hard conversation to have, you know? She is sort of trying to find her words; she’s lost on how to communicate with him. And he’s just so emotionally overwhelmed. They love each other, but they’re kind of divided in this moment on their opinions. As an actor, you do scenes sometimes so many different ways. You don’t actually know what‘s going to end up playing the best, so we actually did that scene a number of different ways. We did it very emotionally heightened where our voices became very raised and we were almost yelling at each other, and then we did it sort of quiet with a lot of pauses and awkward.
What are Jessie’s feelings for Rick at this point? She had that cooling down conversation with him last week. She tells Ron that they’re friends. What are her true feelings now?
She has underlying feelings for him. But given the circumstances, she’s not really paying much attention to that. He sort of woke her up in episode 515 where he confronts her about the abuse and she realizes that she has to now deal with this. And she’s been pushing it under the rug for so long that she didn’t realize that she was a victim. When all of this happens, it’s a jolt for her, and it wakes her up and she realizes she has to stop being a victim and she has to grow a pair, essentially, and fight for her life.
That happens really quickly for her — within a couple of days she has to get over the loss of her husband and all of what that means and become the strongest she’s ever been in her life so that she can fight for her family and protect her children. So she is grateful to Rick for opening her eyes in that way, but she’s not thinking about him romantically now. Her concern is to learn how to use a gun, learn how to defend herself, so that she can become the strongest version of herself possible.
Speaking of being strong and protecting her children, let’s talk about that scene where Jessie is attacked and almost knocked out, gets back up and then just stabs the hell out of this intruder over and over and over again — even well past the point of this woman being dead. Clearly she is releasing some pent-up emotions. What’s going on there?
Oh yeah! All of the emotion that has been built up in her for so many years in this environment and with what’s taken place is being unleashed on this woman in that moment. I think it’s pretty obvious that she just goes crazy. And for her it’s just “I will not let this take me down. I will survive. I will become a fighter.”
Tell me about the actual filming of the scene. What was that like?
It was a lot of fun. The physicality and the stunts we had to do were really fun, and the girl playing opposite me — she was just fantastic and such a pleasure to work with. Sometimes you have those moments when you’re acting when you have a chance to release some of your own inner demon. So, in that moment, I realized I can release some of my own frustrations and that will just make this scene so much more powerful. So there’s a lot of me coming out in that as well.
At what point when you’re still attacking this dead person did they finally tell you to stop and yell cut?
I can’t remember. How many times did I actually stab her? Let’s see. One, two … I don’t know, like 10 times?
It’s a lot!
It is a lot. It was a predetermined number of stabbings. And then she stabbed her in the head. But it was predetermined. It wasn’t like I was just wailing on this girl that was on the ground. It was like, “Okay, you’re going to stab her this many times and then it’s over.”
How much of the fight did you get to do yourself and how much was the stunt team?
Actually, I did almost all of it. I had a stunt double that did the wide shots, but I did all of the tighter stuff where I fell to the ground and was pushed up against the counter. Pretty much everything in that fight sequence I did. So when I fell on the floor, I actually fell on the floor a few times.
Did you fire yourself up by hitting walls or grunting things like Andrew Lincoln does before a take? What was your process?
For this scene specifically, I chose an insecure part of myself that I didn’t want anymore. You know, like that part of yourself that tells you “you’re not good enough” and makes you insecure in your life. And I chose that woman to represent that part of myself, so when I went in to stab her I was trying to kill those demons in myself. It’s always different for me. I choose different things depending on what the scene is. If that reality I can’t connect to enough, I use something that will connect me, like that. So it’s always different. But for this, specifically, that was a very powerful thing that I wanted to kill in myself. I think Jessie and I were both doing the same thing in that scene. We were both killing that side of ourselves.
Watch the video below to see who the cast thinks would die first in a real zombie apocalypse. And for more ‘Walking Dead’ intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.