Another Walking Dead episode, another shocker — this one coming in the final minutes of the show. If you’ve already watched Sunday’s episode, read on for more from the surprise visitor herself! [SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading immediately unless you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.]
Apparently, as hard as producers try to kill Sarah Wayne Callies off on dramas set in prisons, the woman keeps finding a way back! It stared on Prison Break, where her character of Sara Tancredi was offed, but then somehow turned up alive later anyway. And sure enough, now Lori Grimes is back from the dead as well! Okay, that’s not entirely accurate. But Callies did indeed return in the final moments of Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead as Rick’s hallucination of Lori, which is close enough. (Details, details.) Just as Rick appeared ready to allow Tyrese and his buddies to join the survivors in the prison, he looked up to see a haunting vision of Lori in her wedding dress — causing the group’s leader to completely lose it. I spoke to showrunner Glenn Mazzara who explained the significance behind the scene. But I also chatted with the actress herself. The always candid Callies revealed the joys and pains of going back on set, an early concept for the scene that we did not see, and what it was like to play Rick Grimes’ twisted subconscious.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start by clearing something up: When you did your death scene in episode 4 and went out for your big Death Dinner with the cast and crew, did you know at that point you would be coming back?
SARAH WAYNE CALLIES: I did not. I called [showrunner] Glen Mazzara after I shot that stuff, which was after the Death Dinner, and he said, “Look I can’t come to set. My mom just died and I don’t want to be there, but call me when it’s done.” And I called him and I was like, “It’s over. I have no idea if it’s good or bad, but I left it all on the field. I’m going to be at the bar in five minutes with the crew. “ And he said, “Well, we’re actually kicking around ideas of bringing you back.” I think I said, “I don’t want to hear it.” I was so in goodbye mode, and so many ideas are kicked around in any writers’ room. Ideas come and go and are born or die by the dozen. So I didn’t really take it seriously. We had talked about a phone call, because that’s in the script, so I thought that it wouldn’t surprise me if they did that. And I loved that episode with the phone call to Rick.
EW: Where did you record that audio from for the phone call?
CALLIES: Vancouver. It was actually kind of great. As soon as we found out that episode was happening, Andy and I decided we weren’t going to speak to each other before at all. So the only conversation we had was that scene. It was heartbreaking. Everyone in the recording studio was weeping as we were doing it. It was wired to an actual telephone. They made it an actual telephone. So between takes the crew down there would pick up the phone and be like, “Sarah, it’s Mike the camera operator. Just wanted to say we love you!” The crew would pick up one by one and pass the phone around. I didn’t expect at all to make another actual appearance, so when I did the phone call it was another round of goodbyes. It’s like, just kidding! Love you! At this point it’s a joke, right? The crew sees me coming now and they’re like, “Whatever. It’s good to see you. We’ll see you again.”
EW: Well, you do have a habit of being killed off prison dramas and coming back, so there’s a bit of a history there.
CALLIES: There is something to be said for that fact. Anyway, the idea for this last scene went through a certain amount of geneses. I remember at a certain point instead of the way that it happens in the episode, there was talk about Lori showing up as a zombie, but her being a hallucination. And then she and Rick would have a conversation about something. And I remember being pretty vocal about that. I was like, “I think talking zombies is bad for the show.” So there are a bunch of ideas that kicked around, but we ended up here. I think the thought behind the wedding dress is, if he’s going to hallucinate his wife, he’s going to picture her the day he remembers her being the happiest. His mind is going to cast about for the most idealized version of Lori. And in a way, what is true is that I have never played Lori Grimes again after that death scene. Because everything I’m doing now — from the phone call to this wraith like appearance — I’m not playing Lori anymore. I’m playing Rick. And that was an interesting switch, to realize it’s not about who is Lori? It’s about who does Rick’s diseased mind need Lori to be right now? So Andy and I did a lot of talking about that kind of thing because it’s not about, let me come with my ideas as an actor. It’s more about, “Andy, tell me what to do because this is your character I’m playing.”
EW: You already had your teary, drunken goodbye with the cast, so what was it like being back on that set?
CALLIES: It’s awesome. It’s really great. It’s a little bit like going back to your high-school the summer after you graduated. You know you don’t really belong there, but people still remember you and are happy to see you.
EW: And there are always some new people you don’t really know.
CALLIES: Yeah! The tough thing is I haven’t really met them. I’m a huge Chad Coleman [who plays Tyrese] fan. I think he’s just kind of brilliant. We swapped a couple of emails like “Welcome to the party and I’m sorry I’m not going to work with you,” but I was like, man, I would love to at least be in a scene with the guy. But they replaced those of us who have gone with people that are so talented. It’s kind of beautiful to see that there is not a hole left by your absence — that it’s filled. It’s filled with good people doing great work and that this thing is going to have a life.
EW: We’re used to seeing you in dirty jeans and stuff on this show, but you got to actually wear a pretty wedding dress this time around. Score for you!
CALLIES: It was hilarious, actually. The assistant directors scheduled me for my normal 20 minutes in hair and makeup and then they came to get me and were like, “Why isn’t she ready?” And the response was, “Because we’re trying to make her look pretty and it’s going to take a little longer.” There were whole cases of makeup that got pulled out of storage that nobody has used before, like eye shadow! And lipstick! And nail polish! It was weird. It felt very, very strange. And when I shot that, I was shooting a movie called Black Sky at the same time, so I sent them my measurements, got off the plane from Black Sky, shot for 7 hours with Walking Dead, got back on a plane and left. So we didn’t have quite the prep time we would have liked
EW: So what was it like having to say goodbye a second time?
CALLIES: I think my experience of playing Lori is a lot like my experience of coming back to set. I am a ghost. I am kind of a phantom, and a reminder of things that have come before and the era that contained Jon Bernthal and Frank Darabont. I’m a reminder of the pilot days, and it’s both comforting and unsettling — for me to be there, and for the cast. There’s a lot of big emotions that are involved with leaving a show, and coming back can be complicated. Because in some ways you’ve healed those little holes in your heart. And you come back and they kind of start to open back up.
Make sure to read showrunner Glen Mazzara’s take on Sunday’s episode of ‘The Walking Dead’. Also, Clark Collis chats with executive producer Robert Kirkman, and Darren Franich breaks it all down in his episode recap.
For more Walking Dead news & views, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.