The Walking Dead cast share incredible stories from their first days on set
With The Walking Dead finale just around the corner, the cast reveal some incredible behind-the-scenes stories from their first days ever on set.
Melissa McBride (Carol Peletier)
What was only known at that time, of course, was that this was a six-episode pilot for what it was hoped would become an ongoing series. For some of us, the fate of our own character within those episodes was also unknown. All I knew for certain about my character was that "she's an abused wife and mother… and you'll be needed for maybe three episodes." Maybe? And I'd seen the image of Carol letting a walker bite into her neck in the comic book, so I didn't expect to be around very long. The not-knowing-when was intriguing.
My first day on The Walking Dead was day three of the third episode. That they'd already been filming for weeks, I knew they were well into a good working momentum together, and my overwhelming thought of the day was not to screw it up. Lucky for me, Carol was mostly in the background, and I was comfortable there, you know… acclimating… feeling it all out. Moreover, how could I screw that up? "Melissa, can you move a little camera-left, we can't see you back there." This would happen often.
I vividly recall my excitement at the sight of Madison Lintz and Chandler Riggs, both Atlanta locals whom I already knew. Seeing that both of these terrific young actors had landed this opportunity was a big deal to me, for them, and for all of "the local" actors I recognized on set that day. I was also happy to see some of the local crew on set that I'd not seen in quite some time. And several others in the cast and crew were people I'd briefly worked with on The Mist a few years prior. Seeing all of those familiar faces, it was just a really warm feeling and a very nice surprise!
Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon)
I remember the first day me being really nervous. The scene where I come out of the woods was my first scene, and I didn't know what all of the dialogue meant and thought it was going to be hard to say, but I just went for it. The second scene, they gave me about a dozen squirrels on a string. They just handed them to me last minute and I had to figure out how to throw them. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do with that role yet, I hadn't quite figured it out. When I turned around and saw the whole cast (which was a lot of people who were already friends), I felt really insecure and I just ran with that chip on my shoulder from there on out. When they started to accept me, I did the same. I was happy it went that way .
Lauren Cohan (Maggie Rhee)
The first day, it was getting off the horse, and arriving at the house, and being on the porch with Lori. I'm pretty sure it was just that. It was being on the porch with the binoculars and seeing Andy running in the distance with a shot Carl. And I think my first line on the show was "Dad." [Laughs] It was a really nice advantage to shoot pretty sequentially and to have had all the scripts ahead of time. The show definitely dumps you right in. It puts you right in the zone and was all very tangible.
Josh McDermitt (Eugene Porter)
I'm on the flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and I'm trying to play it cool like I wasn't losing my mind because I was now working on my favorite show. In the middle of the flight, I looked over and saw that I'm sitting next to the guy from Band of Brothers and Southland! I'm freaking out. We land, and I see this big fist reach across the aisle. Oh my God. He wants to, as the kids say, bump fists! It was the day after Labor Day, and I decided to wear a white sweater. Why? I get cold on planes. There was also a part of me that wanted someone to say "Hey, it's after Labor Day… not supposed to wear white anymore." And I would've come up with a pithy response that would've made that person question their life choices up to that point.
I took one step outside into the Atlanta swamp, and wasn't I the fool? I remember after about 30 seconds my sweater was dripping wet and weighed like 20 lbs. Renee from our transportation department came to pick us up and I asked if we could pull over so I could throw my sweater on a random clothesline to dry out. "No" was her response. I guess these Georgia folk ain't ready for my dumb sense of humor. Cudlitz kind of laughed.
The first thing I remember saying to Cudlitz was asking if he liked football. "I like hockey," he said with an authority that cut off any followup questions. I was hoping he would say, "Yeah, I like the Green Bay Packers" and I would say, "Same. Are you an owner like me?" and he'd say, "Yup" and then we'd laugh and hug and tell everyone we were best friends. But no. He liked hockey. I mean, he's not Canadian. That one didn't make sense to me. So now I'm thinking, "Great, is this how it's gonna go with this guy?"
We rolled into the basecamp where they were set up filming for that day. Andrew Lincoln was not even in our first episode, but he made the hour-and-a-half drive down from Atlanta to meet us. He played it off like he was there to do a fitting or something, but after working with him for years, I found out that was all BS. He was there just to meet us and give us the lay of the land. But he didn't want to be a weirdo about it. So he pretended he was there for some other reason. He did that for everybody. What a swell guy.
I sat in the hair and makeup chair to figure out what to do with my hair. Taylor Knight ran our hair department and I told her I was so excited to be there. She just kind of snorted and in her thick southern accent said, "Everyone comes here to die, baby." How could you say that to someone? I kind of chuckled and said, "Well, hopefully not me." She snorted again and under her breath said, "Honey, pleeeeeeeease." That was my first of about 5,000 "honey, pleases" I heard come out of Taylor or someone impersonating Taylor. I don't know many people outside of sitcom characters that have a signature phrase and this was completely natural and unforced. Everyone had an impersonation, their version of Taylor. Within moments, Cudlitz, Christian Serratos, and I were saying "Honey please" to each other.
So Taylor cut my hair into a mullet and I was mortified. My beautiful blond hair was no more. I had a dark brown, flat top, baby-party-in-the-back situation going on. I was beside myself. I asked Renee, the transportation driver, if she could take me to a store so I could buy a hat. She took me to a shop that sold trucker hats for $2. That night, Cudlitz, Christian, and I went to some Italian joint in Peachtree City. As rattled as I was to now have a mullet, I remember looking at Cudlitz's hair and thinking, "I'm so glad my hair isn't that." I might've even said that out loud. On the way home, we passed a sign on the highway for Ginger Cake Road. I desperately tried to get Ginger Cake to be Mike's new nickname. Cudlitz wasn't having any of it. I believe his response was, "Is this how my time on the show is gonna go?" Yuuuuuup. Honey, Please.
Ross Marquand (Aaron)
So the first day I went to set was rather crazy because I was a huge fan of the show before I got on it. And I remember having just watched season 4 a few months prior to getting the audition for Aaron. And I was sweating like crazy. I was so nervous to get to set. And the first person I met was Andrew, and he gave me a great big hug and said, "Welcome to the family." And I thought, "Holy s---. That's Rick Grimes!" And then after that, I met Josh McDermitt and Michael Cudlitz, and they were equally warm in their own funny way. It was just honestly one of the most surreal experiences of my life to go from being a fan of something to then actually getting to meet the people I was going to work with for the next seven years of my life.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan)
My first memory is we do a thing called story time of a scene prior to filming where the assistant director reads the script and the actors do the lines and we just kind of get an idea of the words and whatever it is. And in this, it's just Negan talking. And it's 17 pages of Negan talking, and a lot of stage direction. But I remember I didn't have a script with me and I remember seeing the cast, everyone in the lineup, looking at me.
I knew Norman a little bit, and we'd said hi, but no one knew what the f--- they were getting with me. And we were still in street clothes and I was all off-book. I knew all the lines already, and I could just see Andy looking at Norman and everybody's like, "Ohhhhhhhh."
I remember putting on the outfit that night, and [showrunner] Scott Gimple was in my trailer and we were looking at the Negan outfit for the first time. It all happened that day because I was doing The Good Wife at the time. So I flew in, went to set, did a quick thing while they were set up cameras, I was doing my wardrobe fitting, and the next thing I am in that trailer waiting.
I had a little walkie talkie with me waiting for the assistant director to say, "Action, Jeff. Action!" And I was gonna come out. And I remember it vividly. Everyone in that lineup was so with me and so connected for those two nights of just brutal work. I'll never forget it.
Nadia Hilker (Magna)
Once behind the Stalwart Films gate, I was part of TWD family. Everyone greeted me and seemed to know who I was and which character I was about to play. My heart was beating very fast and I really had to focus to keep up with all the new impressions. Between a quick fitting and finally meeting Magna's group for the first time, Lauren Cohan passed me, stopped, took my hands and told me: "You're part of this family now!" That really touched me, and that feeling until to my last day and beyond would never leave me.
Eleanor Matsuura (Yumiko Okumura)
My alarm went off at 3.45am, the earliest I have ever set it for work, or maybe anything. I had just moved to America with my family and my 7-month-old baby. I was so tired and nervous I completely left my body. I think I just floated onto set, but not a relaxing float, a stressful float… I honestly have no real memory of it or it's hard to remember what's real. We were in the woods, it was hot, sweat was dripping into my eyes, and I remember thinking, "How will I ever remember everyone's names?"
Lauren Ridloff (Connie)
My first day on set was also Andrew Lincoln's last day. I wasn't actually shooting that day —it was more of a tour, an introduction. When it was time for lunch break, we all went to the cafeteria and they had a magnificent huge cake made in the shape of Rick's boots! I think it was the first thing I took a photo of on set: Rick's cake.
Angel Theory (Kelly)
I remember my first day being both excited and yet nervous. Excited because this was my first television show I booked, and nervous because I was in a completely new environment, with new people, far from family and friends, and not sure what the energy/vibe would be like with my new co-stars. I remember getting picked up by transpo and heading to basecamp. I was met by my interpreter and Landon's big beautiful smile and open arms (literally) shouting "GOOOOD MORNINGGG Angelll!" right there, and then I instantly felt comfort.
I wasn't expecting such a lovely welcome on my first day of set. Mind you, I'm not a morning person, so to have someone make me smile ear to ear so darn early in the morning says a whole lot 😂❤️. Shortly after, I got into HMU trailer with everyone — some talking, playing music, laughing, half asleep, or reading their lines. That moment felt like the smell of rain (beautifully calming). Shortly after, I got into Kelly's wardrobe and stared at myself in the mirror in amazement & also disbelief. Like am I really here? Am I dreaming? This is not the path that I thought I would be on, but I'm here and I'll be the best "Kelly" EVER and prove to everyone that they didn't make a mistake believing in me to portray this character!
Once we got on set, I noticed how everyone was doing something, and how each job was just as important as the next one. It literally took a village to make TWD be the show that everyone knows and loves. Whilst waiting for our scene to begin, the actors/actresses all shared an area in which we sat together getting ready with props, wires, hair and make up touches. Once we were called on set, my stomach felt like I was on the top of a rollercoaster getting ready for that first drop. We met more of the crew and had a story time to know exactly what to expect as the scene goes on. This scene was in a field and on a VERY hot and sunny day. Kelly, Connie, Yumiko, Luke, and Magna fighting off walkers back-to-back (our introduction scene in TWD S9 Ep5).
It was so fun learning how the show made the kill scenes for the walkers look so realistic because we barely touched them at all. I can't explain enough how much fun I had, but I knew this was only the beginning of one of the coolest/exciting moments in my life.
Here's an Easter egg fans don't know — during the shooting of that scene, I had to leave early from set for personal reasons to go back home to NYC. So if you look closely and pause when "Magna's group" were in a circle fighting, you'll see Kelly's photo double taking my place for a sec until I was able to come back and shoot the next part of the scene with the lovely Cailey Fleming (Judith), who gave the iconic "Judith, Judith Grimes" line with her back pressed against a tree to hold her aim with her props gun, which we all shared a laugh over because not only was our fate in the hands of a kid with a cowboy hat on, but it was honestly a BADASS introduction for our group and for older Judith.
Cailey Fleming (Judith Grimes)
I remember my first day on set being amazing! My first scene ever as Judith was her introduction scene. I was super excited to be able to put on my hat and boots for the first time. Her introduction will always hold a special place in my heart. I felt so welcome and excited to become a part of this family! Everyone took me in with open arms and I couldn't have asked for a better first day.
Cassady McClincy (Lydia)
I remember my first day on set was at Hilltop, and it was one of the rare days when all of the cast was together. It was like 100°, but everyone was still so happy just to be there, a part of the show. I must've heard, "Welcome to The Walking Dead" told with a knowing smile at least 50 times that day. It was so surreal and I'll never forget how happy I was to get to pretend to be in such anguish.
Paola Lázaro (Princess)
My first day on Walking Dead, I got to the set to do a costume fitting and the first person I met was Norman. Scott, the head of makeup, was talking to me and said "Oh wait, come and meet Norman," and I was like "No, it's okay. I'll meet him later on." And Scott said, "No, come meet him now, he's great! And I was like, "No, no, I'm good," because I was terrified because I had seen him during those nine seasons of the show and he plays such a strong and kind of rough and tough character that I was terrified that he was gonna be like that in real life and I just didn't wanna bother bother him or anything.
But Scott insisted and said, "Norman, come over here" and Norman was like, "What's up, man?" and he walked over to us and I was for some reason terrified. I'm a pretty tough girl, but I was terrified, and Norman walked over to us and Scott said, "Hey this is Paola, she'll be playing Princess on the show," and Norman just walked up to me, extended his arms and just gave me a big hug and said "Welcome to the show."
He actually turned out to be one of the sweetest people I've ever met on a set. He was just kind, funny, and welcoming, and he just made me feel right at home immediately. Just receiving that hug really gave me a sense of the type of family that I was about to be a part of; the type of family that I will always be thankful for.
Okea Eme-Akwari (Elijah)
My first day working on TWD was such an amazing experience. I don't think I even had lines that day, but I remember I arrived with the intention to find a place to sit, read my scripts, and try to soothe my anxious excitement with some music until my name was called, and the cameras were rolling…no such luck. Angel, who plays Kelly, came over and we hit it off pretty quickly, chatting about our mutual love for music, her experiences on the show, and cracking a few jokes here and there. She even gave me a run down on who is who in our crew.
Eventually, the crew was just about ready to film what would be my first scene on the show. At this point my excitement peaked, and I let myself relax and enjoy the experience a bit more. Our assistant director finished the safety meeting regarding the explosion, I popped my earplugs in, and I retreated to what I thought would be a good place to watch the boom. It wasn't until we wrapped for the day and I got back to my trailer, that I realized I still had some of the fake blood spatter on my costume and arm and then it kind of hit me for the first time…I'm on The Walking Dead. I couldn't have asked for a better start to this crazy ride.
Michael James Shaw (Mercer)
I mainly remember being terrified the majority of the first week. I think Josh McDermitt sensed that. Between takes one day on the break, we talked about music. Can't remember exactly who, but that moment got me out my head and into the present. Really grateful for Josh and the times I got to work with him.
Margot Bingham (Max)
I had booked The Walking Dead about two years before I got to Atlanta. The pandemic really stretched out the time, the whole industry was shut down, along with the world. After I relocated to Georgia, I then had about a month or so before I could actually be on set! So when my first day arrived, I was a mixture of nerves, anticipation, anxiety, excitement, you name it! I remember getting to our basecamp, going through the works of costume, hair, makeup, the whole thing — and then walking over to the actual set and just thinking, good lord this might be the biggest production I've ever been on.
Thank G_d Greg Nicotero was directing that episode. We had already become kindred spirits because of our Pittsburgh roots, so I knew I was in good hands. He could tell I was pretty nervous, even with no lines (our Max/Stephanie didn't speak yet as to not blow her cover), and he walked over and told me to "relax, have fun," the way only Greg can make light of something so gigantic.
Laila Robins (Pamela Milton)
I was nervous my first day, as I was playing a large antagonist role against a cast that had been together for 11 years! How would they accept me joining the show? How would I fit in? Would I capture the right tone, style, world? I had seen the show, but not followed it religiously, so how would I catch up on their storyline?
Then I realized that my character, Governor Pamela Milton, has her OWN world and was also just learning about these other people, so in some ways, I was in the right mindset organically. It was a very different world for the cast regulars. A very high-functioning city with beautiful clothes, clean streets, and even ice cream! The actors kept saying how weird it was to be in an environment like that. I was so impressed with the town that the art department had built, including the Milton Hotel! I felt confident that together with hair, makeup and costumes, we had come up with the right look for Pamela: wonderful vintage designer clothes and a great pixie wig. It was important to get that right from day one.
All the actors were so warm and welcoming. I felt let into "the club" immediately. I was impressed with their continued enthusiasm and dedication to the show, even after 11 years! Together they had created a VERY special and beloved show and you could feel their pride in that. I was also very excited to work with director Jon Amiel! I had so admired his work in The Singing Detective with Michael Gambon and felt honored to be working with him. He was a delight. The first scene was an outdoor festival and we had many background actors. They were all very lively and focused. I learned later that many of them also play the Walkers. They clean up well, though. :) It was a beautiful sunny day filled with a lot of fun! It was a lovely initiation into The Walking Dead family. I felt relieved!
Josh Hamilton (Lance Hornsby)
My very first day was doing the Commonwealth promotional video. I think they had hoped to get to it earlier, and so I was just in my trailer for three hours, and the time was clicking by, and it looked like they weren't gonna get to it. And finally, about 10 minutes before they had to stop, I was like, "Well, they're not getting to it." And I started to get undressed and they said, "Wait, we're gonna try to get it." We ran up to set, and I hadn't met anyone. It was Greg Nicotero, and they were like,"Okay, start at the top of the stairs and walk down as you're doing this speech, and then stop in front of the camera. Okay, go!"
We literally had, like, three minutes They said, "Action!" and I was trying to figure out how to time the speech down the stairs and, and they said, "Okay, look in the camera." And I looked down, there were three cameras, and I was like, "Which camera?" And they're like, "Choose one."
I was really worried, so I thought, "Oh, wait, was that it? Is that gonna be the whole video?" And then we went back the next day and got stuff all around the Commonwealth Square. But I remember going to bed that night thinking like, "Wait, did I just get one take at the whole Commonwealth thing?" I just tossed and turned the night going, "No, no, that wasn't enough time." But luckily, we went back and got some other footage too.