The Walking Dead kicked off its fourth season with a new wrinkle: an illness that has killed at least one in the prison population in a very, very short amount of time. And you know what death means in this world: instant transformation into a zombie. I recently spoke with Vincent Martella, whose character Patrick - new to the show this season - is Patient Zero. When last we saw Patrick, he dropped dead in the shower in the middle of the night - then awoke almost immediately, zombified. We spoke about what kind of havoc Walker Patrick might bring upon the survivors.
How did you get the role?
They sent me some material when they wanted me to read for the role. It was a lot of basics about the character, but all on a fake script because they like to keep everything pretty close to the chest. Luckily they liked my interpretation of the character, and where I was going with it. I got the full script and I got to talk to the director, Greg Nicotero, and the showrunner and writer of the episode, Scott Gimple, a bit more about my character and where he is headed and what I needed to be aware of.
Were you a fan of The Walking Dead before you got the role?
I was, a very big fan. I’ve been watching it since the very beginning. Just getting the opportunity to be on a show like this was incredible - let alone actually working on it.
Do you read the comics?
I’ve not. I read part of the first issue when I booked the role, but then I decided it was best if I didn’t. I didn’t really want to know what happened! I know they vary quite a bit.
Did you get to interact with many zombies while on set?
Yeah. My first day there I came in for fittings and there was no one really there - they were shooting in the woods. Once I got on set for my first day [of shooting], 20 or 30 walkers were lining the fence of the prison. It’s incredible to see how they turn out on film, but it is really an experience to see them in person. It was very surreal.
The great part about working on this show is how incredibly real the experience was. The actual setpiece they have built at their studio in Georgia, the prison, is so massive. It’s kind of breathtaking when you first see it, let alone when it is filled with walkers. Being in that environment keeps everyone in the mood of the show. I think it is a really cool experience to have as an actor. It gets everyone into character very quickly.
Was it easy to leave the character behind on the set, or did you carry him with you?
When we shot the shower scene at the end, we took quite a bit of time. It was very funny going home after shooting that because I was still covered in blood and I looked very bad. That was weird when I went back to the hotel and looked at myself in the mirror, I thought, “Wow. I definitely died today.”
Your character, Patrick, has developed very rapidly. By the end of the your first episode, you are a walker.
Yeah, I didn’t know I was going to end up as a walker until i got the script, but I was definitely excited about it. Obviously I’d love to work on the show for the whole season, but to get the opportunity to establish yourself as a character with his own story - then get to play a walker at the end, that’s something I don’t think you can find anywhere else!
It’s kind of a badge of honor to be killed off on The Walking Dead, isn’t it?
Yeah! I definitely wear it with pride.
Can you talk a little bit about that shower scene?
The entire makeup department on the show is incredible. Sitting in the makeup chair being transformed [into a walker] was great. Greg Nicotero is a master of the horror genre and knows so much about becoming a zombie. He makes the best zombies in the world, so it was awesome to have him walk me through that process. He was hopping in along with the FX makeup department [on set], spraying blood on me, fixing bloodlines, using different textures of blood... it was a very intricate process I had never experienced before. It was really cool to be thrust into this horror world.
Did you enjoy getting to play a zombie? It’s a very different role.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun. Getting to see myself in the makeup was an experience in itself. The process of Patrick slowly deteriorating was an interesting thing to have to play, and I loved getting the opportunity to do that. It was a very slow breakdown of this teenager until he meets his demise there in the shower.
This is a very different role for you. Most of your other work has been Disney shows. Did you have to do anything different to prepare for this role?
A big part of what helped me get into the zone was being on the set and working with the people I was working with. When walking into a set like The Walking Dead you have to bring your A-game. You want to be able to keep up with these amazing actors, especially ones I have admired since the beginning of the show. In working in scenes with these actors, I think it just makes you better. You want to give it your all and I hope it shows through in the work. It was so easy to work with [this crew] that it became a pretty simple process for me.
Can you give us a little preview of the next episode? I don’t think it is a spoiler to say we will see you next week - as a zombie. What can viewers expect?
Well, here is what I can tell you. I am a walker at this point, which obviously poses a gigantic threat to this group of sleeping survivors in the prison. It’s the middle of the night, so it is kind of a bad time for a serious walker to be hanging out in this prison. On top of that, there comes the threat of just what caused me to die and how that might impact everyone in the long run, and what it does to everyone mentally and emotionally. It’s going to be a very cool experience for viewers to watch.
I know that they don’t usually give you scripts beyond what you need for the episodes you are in, but do you know what caused your illness?
I do know. It was important for me to know because I needed to play the correct symptoms for what was happening, and I needed to understand what was happening to me in the long run. I did have discussions with Greg and Scott about the specifics of what was happening to my character and how it would affect everyone else.