In the finale of The Walking Dead Season 4, when Andrew Lincoln’s character Rick tells his group—“They’re fucking with the wrong people!”—Lauren Cohan says the gauntlet is thrown down for Season 5, and it ain’t going to be pretty.
The American-born, English-raised beauty, who plays farm-girl-turned-zombie-slayer Maggie Greene, loves waking up every day to battle the inner and external monsters that inhabit the ratings giant, which returns to AMC Sunday (9/8c).
Keeping an eye out for approaching walkers—and trying like mad to resist her tony accent—we chatted about acting, dramatic dynamics and surviving a zombie apocalypse.
“I’m pretty good with complicated stunts and moves. But I always end up hurting myself doing something simple, like stabbing one of those pesky walkers and then falling…”
You grew up a tomboy. Is Maggie the badass southern version of Lauren Cohan?
[Laughs] Yes she is! Although she has some skills I wish I had, she has really grown up from being the farm girl we met. She knows how to farm, herd the animals, look after the chickens… but she’s also good with a shotgun. I love how in Season Two, the moment when the walker herd is approaching the farmhouse, and Glenn [Steven Yeun] gives her a questioning look when she walks out with a shotgun, and she says, ‘You grow up country… you know how to shoot!’ That was fun, because up till then you didn’t know who or how capable she is.
Having an English mother, and having lived and attended University in Winchester, do you still keep any British rituals?
I still do like my cuppa, and they have PG Tips tea on set, which is terrific. One thing I miss is the Sunday roast. My mum would cook this to-die-for Sunday roast every single week—roast beef, roast potato and veggies with all the trimmings like Yorkshire pudding, stuffing, and gravy—and I do miss that and the ritual of doing it.
How does being removed from Hollywood, help build a family feeling for the cast and crew?
We really are like a family down here. For eight to nine months of the year, we all live near each other and hang out—even during hiatus, we make social dates. During production, we go to karaoke, and I’ll go for anything from Pat Benatar, like “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Heartbreaker.” But I’d like to try something like “I’d Rather Go Blind,” maybe the Rod Stewart version.
How much fun is it to play almost like a super heroine?
She’s super-fun to play, she’s a survivor of a zombie apocalypse, and if she is afraid, and who wouldn’t be, she does it anyway. That’s key about her character, it’s not whether the situation is scary, you just act and do it. And she doesn’t want to give up. It’s hard for me to have perspective on this show now. Maybe looking back after 10 seasons of The Walking Dead, [laughs] I’ll have hindsight. The most fun about playing her, she is a strong woman, but she has vulnerable emotions, she’s fallen in love, was split up from her family and her man, but was on a mission to find them again. She also gets to be pretty kickass, from the time when we break into the prison, she wields a machete and helps to clear the prison yard.
Someone cleans up nice…
Michonne and Carol can handle themselves, your Maggie was a mini-boss in the prison. Couldn’t the TWD ladies survive on their own, hypothetically, as a band of Amazon zombie killers?
[Laughs] They could but would the guys do without us? The women do show strength and vulnerability and it’s great to see. When I watch the episodes, I love Michonne [Danai Gurira] wielding that katana. I’m so in awe of her physical prowess. She’s not necessarily like an action hero but she has learned to be strong. It’s like: It’s the end of the flipping world, and you got to learn how to protect yourself. That’s the fun for us, letting the characters be almost super powered but keep it very much grounded in reality.
How physically demanding is the acting, being chased by human and zombie monsters in the Georgia woods?
I do stay in shape doing yoga, strengthening my core, and taking intense 5Rhythms dance classes. So, I’m pretty good with complicated stunts and moves. But I always end up hurting myself doing something simple, like stabbing one of those pesky walkers and then falling and hurting myself. I’m always getting bruises. Where we’re at now is that to survive, Maggie’s so dependent on her physical strength. It’s as if that’s all she is because they’re living a pretty barbaric life. She’s definitely still a sensitive, vulnerable person, but I feel like we’re kind of all animals now.
Andrew Lincoln suggested the series’ overall theme is about the group struggling not to turn into monsters themselves—so apart from zombies, it’s often about human monsters inside and outside?
Yeah, I love Andy’s interpretation. I think of the advice that my dad gives me: If you ever feel afraid, just act crazier than the people threatening you. This season, we ask: Is it better to try to be civilized or is it better to survive? And that’s what the group comes head-to-head with—you really see how animalistic they have become when the new scenarios present themselves. Our poor group walks into Terminus and it’s like, ‘No way, this can’t be a good idea!’ And what happens right off the top is kind of jarring, but it’s the only way out.
Glenn and Maggie have been the only consistent couple in the show. All the hopes of love seem pinned on those two.
Right, so does that put us more at risk of dying or less? It’s such a necessary hope. Last season, we felt that invisible bridge between Glenn and Maggie, even though they were apart, and how much we needed that. But this love is a dangerous thing. Steve and I talk about it, is it OK to fall in love? Then again, you only live once. The language in the show is that when Glenn gave Maggie a ring, that was like the de facto marriage. We didn’t have the luxury or time to do the wedding ritual.
How has Maggie managed to hang onto her humanity through the apocalypse?
I do like how she’s kept her vulnerability. She’s been thrust into different scenarios, and last season was very testing for her as a character, coping with losing others. But you get to learn so much more when you step outside of your comfort zone. In fact, the zombie apocalypse has been the making of all of us, from Carl and Rick, to Glenn and Maggie. For her, the focus now is, what’s the prime human need and how do I pursue that? But you have to do things you don’t like on the way to that goal.