The Walking Dead may contain a bevy of flesh-hungry zombies but it’s really the human relationships that propel the action. Season five of the acclaimed television series introduced character Deanna Monroe (played brilliantly by seasoned actress Tovah Feldshuh. With season six now out on DVD and Blu-ray, Tovah was nice enough to speak with me about her work on the show, as well as her extensive career as a celebrated actress. Here’s how the interview went:
How did you originally get involved with The Walking Dead?
I was asked to read a scene where I play the head of the CIA at Bialy/Thomas Casting. I read a scene. I then got on an exhibition boat to the Galapagos, and 10 days later, I got a call saying I got the part as Deanna Monroe. And I said, “What is the part?” Because, as you know, The Walking Dead is so secretive that when you meet on it, you’re never given the script. You’re given a related script. So it was a big thrill to be chosen. Scott Gimple called me in the middle of a crater in the Galapagos, and they flew me in from Columbia almost at the end of my vacation, and I started to film in Georgia immediately.
Beautiful. Awesome, awesome. Are you a big zombie or horror fan?
I’m absolutely not a big zombie or horror fan, in any way, shape, or form. Don’t forget, people of my generation, death is no longer a foreign country. Death starts to become a neighbor. Not in the house yet, but it becomes a neighbor, so I don’t need to watch The Walking Dead because I’m close enough to the last third of my life. But I’m a big fan of the story, which is how to live under enemies that are pitted to literally eat you alive and where you’re outnumbered a thousand to one, where your chances of survival are slight. How are you going to behave?
That’s why this show is so extraordinary and so beloved. We have one thing in common, and The Walking Dead hits it. The one thing in common is that we’re all going to die. Now that we’re all going to die, how do we propose to live until that moment, particularly under these terrible circumstances?
Very interesting. Did you do anything to prepare for the role, anything special?
Well, I had the honor of having Hillary Clinton represent our state. She was our state senator. I remember her Listen campaign, and I had the honor of meeting her twice, which was a very good experience for me. So, I’m not a rabid anything, I’m not a rabid – I’m a rabid American. I’m a rabid American, but I’m not a particularly observant person of my religion. I’m not kosher or any of that, and I would vote for a great Republican if I felt there was one. As a matter of fact, I voted for Rudolph Giuliani because he changed my life as a mother, and he made our city safe, and I thank him for that. To make a long story short, I based some of the role on Hillary Clinton because she was my senator, and she did a great job, and she never gives up. I admired that.
That’s excellent. So, do you think Hillary would do well against an army of zombies?
I think she would do better than I did. She would do better than Deanna Monroe. How well she could do under these sort of circumstances, she would be sure to get herself a very good commander in chief of the army, the military. That was my idea, that they were going to let me live, and I said, “Oh my god, you’re not really going to kill me off.” That is the pattern, everybody comes on The Walking Dead to die, and usually with a good writer, they allow you to attach to a character. You attach and love them, and then you kill them off. Some people stay longer than others, but mostly, that seems to be what happens except for our beloved Daryll and Norman Reedus. Would you repeat the question?
Do you think Hillary Clinton would do well against an army of the undead?
The answer is she would do better than I. She’d do better than I, and she’s spent two-thirds of her life already as a stateswoman. I mean, how bad could you be if you’re in her business for forty years? I’m in my business for forty years, and I regard myself as rather skilled at the moment. I’ve been practicing it, day in and day out, for forty-five or forty-six years and professionally been on the marquee for forty, so she’s been doing diplomacy and statesmanship and politics for two-thirds of her life. She’d be equipped to deal with the problem. Whether she would succeed is another question, whether any of us would succeed.
Okay, okay, great. Speaking to your career, you’ve been on stage, film, TV, do you have a favorite medium to work in?
No, just give me a great role.
Do you have a particular favorite from your career?
Well, I loved doing Juliet at the National Shakespeare Festival for the director Jack O’Brien. I loved of course playing Yentl at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. That was my breakthrough, that’s how I got on the marquee of a Broadway theater. In terms of television, Holocaust: The Miniseries, Law & Order with Danielle Melnick, and of course The Walking Dead, and in any movie of the week, I think my favorite was that of Katharine Hepburn with Tommy Lee Jones in The Amazing Howard Hughes. That was a wonderful movie.
Lovely, lovely. You’ve still got it!
So are there any members from The Walking Dead cast that you’d like to work with again?
Yes, all of them! The interior circle is extraordinary. I didn’t have one bad experience, not one, not one moment where people weren’t dedicated to trying to tell the truth as they felt it and trying to do their absolute best they could to serve the story. That goes right down to the director, the assistant director, the props people, the special effects, I would work with them all again in a heartbeat.
That’s very nice. Did you guys hang out when the cameras weren’t rolling?
Yes, I mean, I didn’t live in Atlanta. I was in a hotel, and Andrew Lincoln did not live in Atlanta, and Norman doesn’t live in Atlanta, but we got together. I often got together with the crew, and then I would go to Atlanta from time to time to meet the kids. They all had apartments in one apartment complex. They enjoyed that life, commuting 45 minutes to an hour each way to the set. I said forget it, no, no, no. I was much closer to the set. And we see each other at the conventions all the time and have a good time together, a fine time.
Speaking of conventions, will you be at New York Comic Con this year?
I thought I was. When is New York Comic Con?
It’s early October.
Oh, I certainly hope I will be. Yes, I think I plan to be, and I’ll be in Philadelphia for the Walker Stalker Convention, that’s the first weekend. I wonder if that’s in conflict with New York Comic Con. I’m sure I’ll be at an event at the comic con. I’m sure Andrew is coming in and Norman, I would think so.
Do you like going to conventions? Is that sort of your thing, or…?
It’s not my thing, but I enjoy going because I enjoy meeting the fans face-to-face, and it’s the right thing to do, to support the series.
Now on the street, do people stop you for autographs and pictures?
Not very much on the street, one or two people, but in the supermarkets, at catered affairs, whenever I’m in certain neighborhoods with certain ethnicities, more people watch than others, and that was a thrill. Today at the manicurist, I was asked for several autographs from the people who give mani-pedis, and it’s my pleasure. At this stage of my life, it’s a thrill. No problem. You know, it’s wonderful to be recognized and to be acknowledged for your work. It’s absolutely fine with me.
What made you want to be an actor?
I was on the waitlist at Harvard Law, and I won a fellowship the same year called the McKnight Fellowship in Acting at the Tyrone Guthrie Theater, so I said, “Well, I guess this bodes real hope. This is the way I should go.” I was originally a musician, and I could not win concertos at national music camp. I got to the finals, I played the Mendelssohn G-minor for Van Cliburn, and I got to the finals the second year, but I could not win the competition and play with an orchestra. And I was never one that could stand my own mediocrity, so I said, “Maybe I should go out for plays with music.” I went out for H.M.S. Pinafore, and there were a hundred and ten campers in the operetta workshop at Interlochen, Michigan, and I was chosen to play Cousin Hebe, and I said, “Now this bodes hope. If I’m chosen out of a hundred and ten kids to do, ‘And we are his sisters and his cousins and his aunts,’ it’s okay. It’s a beginning.” And I never lost the faith and went on to much bigger roles, even as a camper, and my dream, I understudied all the size-seven leading ladies, my dream was to be a leading lady in repertoire, and I was. At the National Shakespeare Festival, at Stratford, at Stage West, and of course, finally, thank god, early in my career on Broadway through a play called Yentl and followed by several other plays.
Wow, it’s quite a career you’ve led and are still leading.
I feel very fortunate. In my singing mode, I’m in a series now called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend where I sing. I play the mother of the crazy ex-girlfriend. If you go to my website, you’ll see the number they first wrote for me called “Where’s the Bathroom.” It’s hilarious, and I’m doing my new nightclub act called Aging is Optional ‘Cause God I Hope It Is! I’m doing that at the Prince Theater in Philly, at the Gaslight Cabaret Convention in St. Louis, and I’m doing a concert of Tovah: Out of Her Mind! in Irvine, and on Monday night, I’m at 54 Below with Broadway Goes To The Movies, doing a big Gershwin unit.
Here’s a question not just for you but for everybody else working today, especially in the entertainment industry and aspiring. Where do you find the time?
Where do I find the time?
I make the time. I love to be with people. I love people, and it’s my job to tell stories and to be paid to do it.
So Tovah, do you think if ever there were a zombie apocalypse, do you think there would be an Alexandria, and how do you think it would do?
I think that The Walking Dead is pretty accurate, and that is Alexandria got lucky. All the walkers would end up in some quarry like they did. There was no enemy action, and therefore, there was no walker threat – I would scratch enemy action – there was no walker threat to my community, which allowed me to have a sense of law and order if you will. People woke up in the morning, had three meals a day. Little children had babysitters, people went to schools, they read books, they got an education. It wasn’t just, they weren’t outside the walls, eating live turtles like Enid had to do. I think if we were lucky, we’d do well for a while and then perhaps, god forbid, what happened to Alexandria could happen to us. On the other hand, maybe we would have tremendous access, for whatever reason, to military might and weapons of mass destruction, and maybe it would be the Sampson Theory, that if we were going down, we were going to take all those walkers with them. I hope we never face that situation like we have in The Walking Dead. God forbid.
Indeed. Well, thank you for your time, Tovah, and maybe I’ll see you at a convention in the near future.
Thank you so much.
The Walking Dead: Season Six is now out on Blu-ray and DVD.