How to get picked as a zombie for Walking Dead attraction: channel your inner walker
Casting director calls out the zombie shuffle as dead boring and has some advice for wannabe undead as Hollywood's Universal Studios auditions extras to act in live re-creation of hit series
Troy Zimmerman staggers and lurches, a rasping, guttural growl issuing from what must once have been fully functioning vocal chords, as he limps among a horde desperate for human flesh.
Zimmerman isn’t really one of the undead - he’s a freelance designer with a jaunty Hercule Poirot moustache and a charming line in self-deprecation – but he zombie-shuffles like a pro.
The 45-year-old is among more than 1,000 hopefuls who have come to audition for the newest attraction at Universal Studios in Los Angeles – a live re-creation of AMC’s hit horror series The Walking Dead.
“I have down time for about half the year, so anything I can do to monetise my creepiness is always welcome,” the San Jose, California, native says moments before his audition.
Universal is looking for 100 “walkers” and human survivors for a permanent attraction due to open in summer that will re-create the experience of living through a zombie apocalypse.
Although applicants have been told to turn up without make-up, those who are hired will look just like the zombie extras on The Walking Dead, the most popular cable show in history.
Universal has partnered with the programme’s creative team, including legendary zombie special effects master Greg Nicotero, who will painstakingly recreate the moulds and prosthetics that have scared the living daylights out of millions of viewers weekly over six seasons.
“We want guests to feel like they stepped into the world of The Walking Dead and they are active participants in that world,” creative director John Murdy says.
Visitors entering the attraction will be approached by a “human survivor” who says the location isn’t safe.
“You have to escape and get to another location,” Murdy says. “You’re not really sure if you should trust this person, but given that there are walkers trying to break in, you don’t really have much of a choice.”
The first few dozen auditioners – mostly in their 20s and looking for their big breaks – line up nervously under an unseasonably but fittingly oppressive California sky.
“I hope to be one of those big actors and I hope this really gets that going,” says Eric Mejia, 19, who is unemployed and spent the previous night binge-watching zombie movies and practising distorting his face in the mirror.
Further down the line, 23-year-old trapeze artist Emily Kates, from the state of New Jersey, carefully sets out her strategy for getting into character.
“My plan is to do what I’m told, and when they say ‘act like zombie’ I’ll act like a zombie,” she explains.
Murdy, who has trained dozens of actors to be zombies at Universal over the years, says they always start out doing the same thing.
“It will either be the right shoulder or the left shoulder, but one of the arms will go dead and one of the legs will go dead and physically if every actor is doing that, it’s really boring.”
A judging panel of some of Universal’s most acute creative minds, all well versed in how the undead should act, settle into their seats, sternly preparing to sift the good zombies from the bad.
The applicants are herded into a large, gloomy studio area on the edge of the park and asked, first in groups and then one by one, to be walkers.
The majority immediately drop one shoulder, let one arm hang and one leg go dead, launching into Murdy’s “really boring” zombie shuffle.
Although a few have demonstrably put a lot of thought into their auditions, the majority look like end-of-night stragglers in the world’s longest pub crawl.
Murdy prefers that his actors think about who their characters were before they rose from the dead – how they lived and died, and how their deaths affected the way they move as the undead.
“The first thing I say is ‘I want you to find the inner walker within yourself,’” he says. “It sounds kind of silly but it’s absolutely true.”
“It’s a little bit method-acty, but what we’re asking our actors to do is create their own back story.”