Interview With a Zombie: 'The Walking Dead' Monster Joe Giles
By Zach Dionne Posted Nov 22nd 2010 08:30AM
Makeup and effects artist Joe Giles is a nice, articulate fellow who never says "gurrrrgghhh" or voices a hankering for brains even once. That said, he is the unofficial zombie representative of AMC's new hit series 'The Walking Dead,' appearing in zombular visage almost anywhere the show is mentioned.
"My buddy called me from the supermarket and said, 'Hey Joe, you're in Entertainment Weekly!'" a jovial Giles tells PopEater. "It's kinda interesting." Here, he talks about his once-in-a-lifetime role as a zombie in Michael Jackson's 'This Is It,' becoming the undead emblem for AMC's show, and whether fake guts smell as bad as the real thing.
Are you more of an effects guy or an actor or...?
My main job is I work in the effects shop at KNB EFX Group. Through that I got into the Screen Actors Guild and I do acting here and there when they're like, "Hey, we need a zombie."
You're essentially the zombie ambassador of the show. Entertainment Weekly and everywhere else has used this one horrifying photo of you as an emblem of the undead. How's that feel?
It's really great! Because of this I got to live out every zombie fan's dream, pretty much. My buddy called me from the supermarket and said, "Hey Joe, you're in Entertainment Weekly!" It's kinda interesting. I don't even know most of the time -- I'll just pick up the magazine and say, "Whoa! There I am!"
You'd done some zombie work before 'The Walking Dead,' right?
Yeah. It was about maybe two years ago, KNB EFX did a few of the zombies for Michael Jackson's 'This Is It.' I got to go down and be one of the zombies for the 'Thriller' segment.
Holy cow. What was that like?
It was insane! It was really cool 'cause when we went to the set and I saw the cemetery and the fog, it really didn't sink in. But when they had me lay in the dirt and I started hearing the Vincent Price voiceover, it was crazy. I was like, "Wow, okay, this is it." I remember growing up watching 'Thriller' -- to be a part of that was really great.
Was MJ there?
Well he showed up and was walking around -- I didn't get to talk to him obviously -- but he seemed really great. That's really where it kicked in -- "I'm in a 'Thriller' video now."
Was that the first time you played a zombie?
Yeah, I guess so. Growing up I worked in haunted houses and practiced doing makeup effects and creature acting. I did the zombie here and there, but that was my first professional zombie gig.
How does the zombie lurch work? Do you get much specific direction on that?
When we did the test shoot they just kinda said, "Do your thing," so I just did my zombie shuffle. I don't even really think about it -- they say "action" and you say "aghh" and see what works. What was interesting was I ended up doing all the motion capture work for 'The Walking Dead' and they would have me do my stock zombie walk and then recreate it in four or five different ways, like a little girl zombie or an older one or a zombie missing a leg. That kinda pushed me.
How do the 'Walking Dead' TV zombies stack up to their movie competition?
I think they bring their own. They're totally great.
Were you around for much of the pilot?
They flew me down to Georgia for two or three days. When I showed up it was the scene where Rick comes into Atlanta -- we pretty much had two straight, long filming days. It was real interesting walking on the set with cars everywhere and really feeling like you're in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. It was great.
I know you're a pro, but is the makeup ever real enough to creep you out?
It doesn't really creep me out 'cause I'm used to seeing that stuff every day. A few times, like when I'm in the break room, there are props set up around the shop and it'll make you jump every once in a while.
Do fake zombies smell anywhere near as bad as the real thing would?
No, nowhere near it. I guess extras in the heat end up smelling close to that, though.
You did more work on 'The Walking Dead' than just your now-famous zombie appearance, right?
I worked on the whole show here at the shop, in the mold department and the makeup and stuff like that.
How long have you been doing this?
I've been in LA working in effects shops for seven or eight years, but honestly I started doing it when I was about 10 or 12, really getting into Halloween. My parents would be annoyed 'cause I'd be busting into the Halloween box in July. I'd mess around doing makeup on me and my friends. Then I started working in haunted houses a lot, 'cause that's a great avenue to do makeup. I took some theater and makeup classes in college, then moved down to California.
Any path aspiring zombie actors and actresses can take?
Yeah, just practicing acting a lot; do a lot of theater -- plays are perfect, even working in haunted houses. If they want to have you act as a creature that's perfect because you can see people's reaction. It's a lot, a lot of practice.
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