SWAMPWALKER: THE BALLAD OF KEVIN GALBRAITH
By Staff Survivor Steve Boyd*
Kevin Galbraith is a man of many hats. His “life” in the television world of THE WALKING DEAD has been varied: he’s been shot by Rick, had rocks thrown at him by Carl, been stabbed in the head by Daryl, tried to take a bite at Merle and was the first to take a look under the hood of Dale’s stomach.
And that’s just in the first two seasons.
Answering a casting call paid off for Galbraith in a big way. Featured in several episodes of SEASON 1 and 2 of the TV series, Kevin was nice enough to spend a few minutes with us at WALKINGTHEWALKINGDEAD.COM to discuss his experiences with the show, life, death and just what in the hell happened to Dale’s hat?
WALKINGTHEWALKINGDEAD.COM: Thanks for agreeing to spend some time with us, Kevin. How did you come to be involved with THE WALKING DEAD?
KEVIN GALBRAITH: Around April or May 2010, There was a short, two line blurb asking for “tall and skinny people to be zombies in an upcoming tv show” on the Extras Casting Atlanta Facebook page. I had never gotten into anything involving acting or film and television, but I had genuinely thought about playing a zombie since I was in elementary school so I sent in some photos of myself. I had just learned that “Zombieland” was filmed in Georgia and was really bummed thinking I had missed the perfect and possibly only opportunity to play undead. I’m happy to say how totally wrong I was!
WTWD: Had you read any of THE WALKING DEAD comic books or graphic novels before?
KG: The day I got the email casting me as an extra, I went straight to Criminal Records in Atlanta and picked up the first two trade paperbacks. I’m one of the countless folks you hear talking about how The Walking Dead has hooked them and made them intensely interested in comic books in general. I’m now caught up with the series and eagerly await issue 100. Whatever Robert Kirkman and Image are doing is pure magic. And gross.
WTWD: How exciting was it to find out you’d gotten cast on the show?
KG: It’s hard to describe, but I was certainly blown away when I got that email. I’m a zombie fan first and foremost, being introduced to George Romero’s films as an 11-year old and subsequently teething on other amazing zombie/horror classics by the likes of LucioFulci, Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, etc. Let’s just say finding out that I had been cast only let me imagine what would be going on, the actual experience put me square inside the minds and worlds of these incredible filmmakers and every moment is too surreal to fully describe in words.
(Kevin gets hands-on treatment by Director Greg Nicotero)
WTWD: Do the zombies get copies of the script like regular cast members or do they just fix you up, point and shoot?
KG: More often than not it’s a point and shoot, as you say. Production assistants will be dispersed through groups in horde scenes to continually update the walkers on what’s coming up next. Other days the groups of walkers will be part of the script readings for a scene, it all depends on the size of the group and the amount of detailed action involved. Since swamp walker took three days to shoot, I actually do have a call sheet and script for my day in the creek. It has KEVIN GALBRAITH watermarked in enormous diagonal letters on every page so the higher ups would know who to put on the execution block in the event of a leak. To be honest, I had to hide the thing from my own Mom for 5 months.
WTWD: Your zombie played a VERY pivotal role in the show’s mythology and if I’m not mistaken was the ONLY zombie that appeared in the episode you were in. What was it like finding out that you were responsible for killing one of the main characters?
KG: Something like my jaw falling off my face and shattering on the floor. I knew Greg Nicotero would be directing his first episode and that he was considering me for the “one zombie in the whole episode, who has a ‘really cool gag'” or something along those lines, but he wanted me to do a screen test with him and the assistant director. That’s when the three of us sat around a massive, 40 person mahogany conference table and went over the scenes in the swamp. When they got to the focus of Nicotero’s so-called “gag” they said “…Aaaaand that’s where you rip his stomach open at the last possible second of a potential rescue” before casually brushing past that bombshell and describing less mind-exploding details. I think I might have had to stop them narrating the scene so I could recover.
WTWD: You had rocks thrown at you by Carl. You ripped Dale’s guts out. You got took out by Daryl. So “Swamp Walker” got around in Episode #11. What was the most challenging part of being the Swamp Walker Zombie?
KG: So many things you might expect to hear, but it was honestly having to drive to Senoia, a 90 minute drive from Marietta STRAIGHT THROUGH Atlanta. Saying i-285 is an “Atlanta bypass” is a misnomer. Twice I thought my career as a zombie would be terminated because of bad time and traffic management, but luckily I learned how to drive like a deranged lunatic.
KG (cont.):There’s a laundry list of things a zombie extra could complain about: itchy prosthetics, annoying contact lenses, the smell of the make-up, the waiting around, and of course the finnicky Georgia weather. Swamp Walker had all that and was tackled repeatedly in the wet grass on a cold Georgia night with no shirt on. It was great! I’m hoping they throw me off of a building if they need me next time, or maybe the show will eventually have some winter scenes and they let me be a popsicle walker clothed only boxers and a single slipper. I’d do it.
WTWD: What do you think Swamp Walker’s life was like before he turned? Ever came up with an origin story for him?
KG: It’s a fun thing to think about but I don’t think it’s that important. Probably just another one of Hershel’s farmer neighbors…. Maybe not every zombie can take down a cow single-handedly though, so he could have been an expert in cattle husbandry or something.
WTWD: I’ve heard that it was supposed to be Hershel that died in the episode and not Dale. Can you confirm this or from your involvement was it always Dale that was gonna get his guts ripped out?
KG: I’ve heard the same thing about Hershel being on the tentative to-kill list but not necessarily in Dale’s place. I’ve also heard that it was supposed to be Jimmy dead in the field rather than a cow, but I can’t be sure.
WTWD: Any clue what happened to Dale’s hat? He’s wearing it in one scene and then you never really see it again….
KG: Dude, I’m so glad you asked me about that hahaha. There’s a video out there of Robert Kirkman talking about how he wished he had taken Dale’s hat when he had the chance, and describes a similar feeling of mystery surrounding who manages the bucket hats and who decides their ultimate fate. You see the hat go flying off for a split second but it’s kind of hard to tell because they do a really wide shot when they show Dale and Swamp Walker fall to the ground, and it lands in the grass somewhere. There were at least two bucket hats from what I could tell that night, maybe an entire box of them in wardrobe. I’m sure Jeff Demunn has one of them.
WTWD: Obviously, Swamp Walker bit the big one. Do zombie actors ever get to come back and play other zombies again?
KG: As a matter of fact, many folks who have the right physique and facial structure can go through make-up quite a few times and look substantially different each time. If you have that kind of build, take directions well and have the right kind of movement and performance, you will have a great chance of being called back more than once. As for me, I was the drooling rooftop walker trying to burst through the door when Merle was handcuffed to the rails in season 1. I was also the second zombie killed in the “zombie dogpile on Rick” gag from season 2.
WTWD: How has appearing on the show effected your life as a normal human being?
KG: The convention circuit is the craziest thing to me. I’m still having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that my signature has a market value, it’s a real mind trip. I love it though, because I’m talking with real people rather than arguing about running vs walking zombies on the internet like when I was 16 hahah. There are so many enthusiastic and dedicated fans of all ages out there coming up to me at shows, and being in between the whole “Pro-Dale vs No-Dale” dynamic makes every single encounter interesting.
WTWD: Got anything in the pipeline you wanna plug as we start to wind this down?
KG: I have a Facebook page where you can see some behind the scenes shots, fan art, and pictures of the other walkers I have portrayed on the show: https://www.facebook.com/TWDSwampWalker
KG (cont.): The Walking Dead is the most intense and ambitious zombie epic anyone has ever attempted. While we all have a spot in our hearts for absolutely crummy, low-budget zombie b-flicks, the genre is disproportionately riddled with embarrassing failed ventures. A zombie themed TV show has been something fans have wanted for a very long time, and we can all be thankful that it wasn’t “Return of the Dead come Back to the Living: The Series: The continuing quest for the source of the ecstasy that turns people into zombies!” or something even remotely involving Uwe Boll. We have The Walking Dead.
*Steve Boyd is the Director of ComicCollectorLive.com, co-host on the FANBOY BUZZ podcast and a HUGE fan of THE WALKING DEAD in any genre. His wife has permission to kill him if and ONLY if he’s the first to turn.