The Walking Dead newcomers speak! (Plus: exclusive photos of Magna, Yumiko, Luke, Connie, and Kelly)
They’re herrrrrrrrre! After Rick Grimes’ dramatic send-off on Sunday’s The Walking Dead, we were introduced to a new group of survivors. They are not new to comic book fans, however, making their graphic novel appearance in dramatic fashion after a time-jump. And although the TV show started off this season by skipping ahead about 18 months (and also featured a series of time-bending visions last season), we met our newest group after a six-year jump as they were saved by — GASP! — a 10-year-old Judith. (More on that from showrunner Angela Kang here.)
But who exactly are these five strangers? Kang already gave us some intel of the fearsome fivesome, but now, for the first time, we get to hear from the cast members themselves. Meet Magna! Yumiko! Luke! Connie! And Kelly! And get introductions to the actors playing them. Read through all five pages to meet each of the new cast-members and get exclusive photos on all their characters.
A tough as nails survivor who has been living on the road, Magna’s weapon of choice is the knife. Played by Nadia Hilker (The 100).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, what was the audition process like for you to land this part?
NADIA HILKER: I met with casting once and received the phone call the week after. Landing a role on one of the biggest shows in television feels like winning the lottery! But nevertheless I had to kiss a couple of frogs in order to meet my princess Magna.
Tell me about Magna in your words. Who is this woman and how does she fit into this new group we are meeting?
I would want Magna to like me and probably try to impress her with no success. She’s an unpredictable animal — dangerous but also caring. No one should ever feel too comfortable around her, nor believe they figured her out. She loves her people and would, without a doubt, do anything for her group. Yumiko brings more a motherly type of energy to the group and Magna more fatherly.
Did you familiarize yourself with the comic book version of Magna after you landed the role or did you want to keep your portrayal separate?
I did read a bit about Magna in the comics but didn’t necessarily try to portray what I could grasp in the comics or online. I didn’t wanna limit myself before talking to the writers and Angela Kang and getting a sense of her myself, and to this day I am asking myself in character who I am exactly, but even Nadia does that on a weekly basis… at least. So I am growing into her more and more every day and with each script.
What were you first few days like on set like as you acclimated to this new experience with new people?
The first days on the show were pretty incredible. And they STILL are. Cast, crew, team, production made it very easy for us. They welcomed us like family members. It took me a minute to get used to the heat, but at the same time, it helped with diving into the world of the show. It is not all glamour. All the hard work brings everyone even closer together. I will probably never complain on a film set ever again.
How would Nadia Hilker do in a real zombie apocalypse?
I’ve been asking myself how I would react if I were living in a world like the one on TWD. It really depends. I think being surrounded by loved ones makes it easier, but also way more scary because of the constant fear of losing them. I really don’t know. I only know I can’t stand being unhappy so I would eventually find reasons to live for and hope for the best. (Continues on next page.)
One of the weary, yet capable, warriors in a group of survivors, Yumiko is fearless and kind, and skilled at the bow. Played by Eleanor Matsuura (Into the Badlands, Wonder Woman)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the audition process like?
ELEANOR MATSUURA: I made a tape. It was a scene that had nothing to do with the show and I even read in a different accent. A few days later Angela wanted to meet me but I live in London, so we set up a Skype meeting and we talked for a long time. She walked me through everything she envisioned for Yumiko. She told me about season 9 and Rick’s departure and how our characters enter the world of The Walking Dead. By the time we finished talking, I was so excited by the idea of becoming part of this story, I knew it would be a very difficult thing to say no to! I confess I’d never watched an episode before, so I binged all 8 seasons in about 4 weeks. I don’t know the exact math but that’s a hell of a lot of zombies.
How would you describe Yumiko?
Yumiko is a fighter and a protector, but she’s thoughtful and knows how to keep a level head. She is fiercely loyal to her girlfriend Magna and the rest of her group whom she considers family. We’ve been surviving on the road together for a long time and I would do anything for them in order to keep them safe, including putting myself on the firing line and breaking the rules once in a while.
Did you check out the comic book version of Yumiko after you landed the part?
Being a character from the comic books is one of the coolest things that’s happened to me, so of course I had to check them out! But the truth is, our characters’ lives on the show are quite different to the comics and the more we film the show, the more we inhabit our characters and own them so now I haven’t read one in a while. I still I love to reference them though every so often and see what’s happening in that world.
What was it like joining the cast as you had a bunch of newbies coming in together to this hit show in the middle of its ninth season?
I’m excited and grateful. It’s a huge thing to join a show that is so loved and cherished by many, but I get to experience it with the greatest bunch of people. Nadia, Dan, Lauren and Angel are the most talented, fun and generous actors. I feel really honored to be a part of such a special group and that we get to board this crazy rollercoaster together.
How would Eleanor Matsuura do in a real zombie apocalypse?
I ain’t afraid of no zombie! Like Yumiko, as long as I had my crew with me, I’d be just fine. (Continues on next page.)
A fatigued survivor who understands there is safety in numbers. He values what is beautiful and hopeful and makes us uniquely human. Played by Dan Fogler (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Balls of Fury).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me about Luke in your words. Who is this guy?
DAN FOGLER: Luke is part of Magna’s tight knit motley family of survivors. They all probably wouldn’t make it out of the proverbial lifeboat alive without each other. He’s more on the artist’s spectrum of personality — preaching the love of music as a necessity to maintain humanity during chaotic times.
Did you check out the comic book version of Luke after you got the part?
I’m a fan of the comic book from the beginning and I’m really proud to be playing Luke. He’s a cool character, likable, and ,like me, tends to try to make a joke when things get tense.
Even though you have barely even appeared on screen so far, have you had a chance to compare the Fantastic Beasts and Walking Dead fanbases at all?
Both are similar in the sense that before I was even on screen they were extremely welcoming, and would literally say “Welcome to the family” all the time. It’s quite lovely.
How would Dan Fogler do in a real zombie apocalypse?
Eh, I think I’d be good at defending myself for a while, but I ain’t a prepper. I’d most likely end up as that one really fun zombie that alive folks are cool with having around… as long as I don’t eat anyone. (Continues on next page.)
Played by Lauren Ridloff (Broadway’s Children of a Lesser God). A seasoned survivor deft at using her senses to read people, situations, and trouble. Connie is deaf and uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate, as does Lauren in real life.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you tell me about Connie?
LAUREN RIDLOFF: Connie is a survivor. She’s deaf. She uses sign language and other methods to communicate, but because this is a wild frontier, she uses her inability to engage in small talk as a strength. Her deafness is an advantage — she is the one who stays on guard. She is her group’s eyes. But as Connie’s story unfolds, we see how independent and intelligent she is, partly from who she was before the apocalypse and who she connects with in season 9.
So much of surviving in the zombie apocalypse is about hearing walkers approaching, so how has Connie been able to survive without being able to hear oncoming threats?
With one less sense, her other senses are heightened. Don’t you think walkers would be pretty fragrant? It could just take a breeze to catch a whiff of who’s coming. Connie also picks up on other things — shadows, movement, vibrations. Because she’s not engaged in chitchat most of the time, she’s on guard, sharply aware of her surroundings and keeps one step ahead. Most of the time. And she’s got excellent aim. Her group moves like a pack of wolves — they travel together and fight together so they help one another.
I happened to be there for your first day visiting the set and meeting the cast and crew. What was it like becoming a part of this huge show and do you have any on-set ASL pupils?
On my first day I met Andrew Lincoln, who was shooting his final episode. After doing an emotionally fraught scene, Andrew did something incredible. He walked out of that scene covered in fake blood and came up to me with an apology. He was sorry that he could not hug me at the moment, but he welcomed me to the family. I mean, this was his final episode and he was doing some intense work, but he still took the time to pause, get out of character, and pay respects to a newcomer.
What I love about this ensemble show is how well the actors and the crew work together and swap jokes. There’s a mini fake-hand handshake story in there also. Like a well-oiled machine — all the cogs, nuts and bolts come together to make each episode happen. One of my favorite things about this group of people is how each time I come to work, someone surprises me with an ASL phrase they learned! Some of the crew downloaded ASL apps on their iPhones to learn to communicate with me. During down times my costars practice the alphabet or learn crazy random phrases in ASL. Cailey [who plays older Judith] is my top student.
What has you working relationship with Angel Theory, who plays Connie’s sister Kelly, been like?
Angel is a dynamic dancer. It’s her livelihood. When we first met, she had some hearing loss and was enthusiastic about learning more ASL. I feel that because she’s a dancer, she was able to pick up on signs and the nuances of sign language in general quickly. Then something happened (you couldn’t make this up) during filming: Angel’s hearing loss progressed significantly. Angel came into my room, crestfallen about her latest audiogram and convinced that she’d have to give up dancing because she couldn’t hear the music anymore. I shared some sympathy, but then I was like, “Come on, pull up your pants and dance anyway. No way would you ever stop dancing — you love it too much.”
I told her about Beethoven composing some of his greatest works when he was totally deaf. Music is inside all of us, regardless. As a person that has been deaf from birth, I have never lost my hearing and will never understand the loss she was experiencing, but what I am able to do is support her physical and spiritual metamorphosis by helping her recognize and articulate her needs as a hard-of-hearing person. I feel as if she’s my little sister on and off the set. I care about her and I watch her out of the corner of my eye more than she knows. But the best thing about working with Angel? I get some master lessons on how to do dance moves like the Milly Rock. Angel’s making me a hip big sister.
What has it been like transitioning from acting on the stage — where you were nominated for a Tony Award for Children of a Lesser God — to acting on camera?
I’ve been lucky. There are a good number of actors on set with theater experience. Dan Fogler won a Tony, and Danai wrote an Obie-winning drama. Avi and Andrew have theater training. I’ve picked some of those actors’ brains for advice. And I am lucky once again — my Broadway director Kenny Leon also does directing in television, so he was able to support my transition from theater to television.
The biggest difference between theater and television for me is that on stage I know my whole story from start to finish and I am in complete control of my actions the whole time. It’s adrenaline-driven because there is only one shot on stage each night. Once a scene is done, that’s it. I see the impact of our work immediately. Whereas on camera I work in fits and starts. We wait and hurry, then hurry and wait. We think about the audience’s gaze from different angles. And then my work is in the hands of the editor and I have to wait for an agonizingly long time to see the impact of our work.
But ultimately there is a space where my experiences with the stage and the camera intersect: there is a lot of trust that needs to happen in all of the relationships between the cast and the production team, and as a result of that trust and cooperation we get to tell a fantastic story that examines humanity. I love working in both mediums.
How would Lauren Ridloff do in a real zombie apocalypse?
I’d pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep. (Continues on next page.)
Connie’s ever-alert and ever-protective sister. Played by professional dancer Angel Theory, who is also a member of the deaf community.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the audition process like for you to land this part?
ANGEL THEORY: I received an email from my agents to send in a self-tape audition that was due by the next morning. I was asked if I could Sim-Com (sign and verbally communicate simultaneously) the script. After sending the video to my agents, they reached back out to tell me, “They love you but, you didn’t get the part of Connie. Instead, they are going to create a character for you.” Which I found out later would be Kelly. I want to show my dearest gratitude to AMC for seeing not only my talent and believing in me, but also for treating me like family.
Who is Kelly and how does she fit into this new group we are meeting?
The meaning of the name Kelly is warrior. But she is also compassionate, protective, a fighter, quick on her feet, stubborn at times, but knows when to listen — especially when it comes to her big sister’s opinion. In the group, she’s a bridge between the hearing and deaf. Kelly is hard-of-hearing, but is able to act as an interpreter while still kicking ass. Kelly is her sister Connie’s keeper, making sure she always in the loop. I relate to Kelly in so many ways. I feel that she brings balance to the group. She doesn’t always fit in because the youngest isn’t listened to all the time — especially when most of the words she says are not her own, and Connie tries to make all of the big decisions for Kelly’s safety. She is a force, I just don’t think she knows it yet.
So in the comic book, Kelly is a guy. Did you look at the comic or the character there at all after you landed the role?
I never looked at the comic until I got to set. Lauren showed me a photo of Connie in the comic and told me I looked like her even down to the short hair and one earring. I was curious and wanted to see what Kelly looked like and was shocked that it was a man. Kelly is tall, bald, and built — the total opposite of me. I found it amusing and empowering that AMC would allow a male role to be taken over by a female. There is no other character I would want to be. I find it beautiful how they turned Connie and Kelly from a couple into being sisters.
What’s you working relationship been like with Lauren Ridloff, who plays your on-screen sister Connie?
It has been amazing working with Lauren! Casting did a great job picking us for the roles of sisters because she has become a big sister even off-screen. When I found out I was losing hearing in my left ear, she was one of the first people to provide comfort, advice and major support. I am also a dancer and choreographer, so music is a very big part of my life. My doctor predicted that hearing aids won’t work for me in the future and at the time, I felt like my career would be over. I was told that no one would want to work with a deaf person — it’s too difficult and time consuming. I wouldn’t be able to achieve my goals because I am different.
Lauren was the person that helped me realize that even though this is my reality, I can achieve anything with or without both my ears. After hours of crying in her hotel room, she told me to play music on the speaker and feel the music. I played “Changes” by H.E.R and felt every beat and let all of those emotions and tears out. Now it’s my mission to inspire kids around the world that are Deaf/hard-of-hearing -the way Lauren inspires me. She is a shoulder I can cry on, a sister I can talk to about life, have laughs with and just overall have a good time.
The relationship between Connie and Kelly is very similar in reality. When the cast goes out together, I am usually the one that interprets for Lauren. I can also be her voice, which makes it so much more natural when we are shooting because we are all used to it off screen. I feel truly blessed to be working alongside her. She is a talented, beautiful soul, and another female that I can honestly say I look up to and respect. She is the big sister I always wished for.
How would Angel Theory do in a real zombie apocalypse?
This world is already like the apocalypse; everyone is trying to find a way to survive. Many have lost the ones they loved, there are good and bad people, and surprises with every day that passes. If I had to live in the world that is The Walking Dead it would be my mom, abuela, and the love of my life against the world. Just like today, I will always fight for a better tomorrow. If I can survive this world, then I could survive whatever the apocalypse swings my way. Just know I won’t go down without a fight. Ride or die.
Also make sure to check out our episode Q&As with Andrew Lincoln, showrunner Angela Kang, and chief content officer Scott M. Gimple. And for more Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
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