[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “No Way Out” midseason premiere of The Walking Dead.]
Another one bites the dust. Well, the entire Anderson family, actually. But the saddest of those departures would have to be Jessie, who watched her son get devoured by zombies, then got devoured herself, and then got her arm cut off by boyfriend Rick when she would not let go of Carl’s hand. (To make matters even worse, her other son, Ron, then got stabbed by Michonne when he was trying to shoot Rick for basically getting his entire family killed.)
So all in all, a pretty terrible day for the Andersons. And the last day, as it were. We spoke to the woman who played Jessie, Alexandra Breckenridge, about her final moments — how she found out, what filming it was like, why she was so sad to leave — and her personal Deadwood-inspired pitch to come back. (Also, make sure to read our midseason premiere Q&As with Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, showrunner Scott M. Gimple, and director Greg Nicotero. And for more Walking Dead scoop all season long, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So how aware were you of Jessie’s fate when you landed this role?
ALEXANDRA BRECKENRIDGE: When I first got the part, I really actually didn’t even know who I was playing because as I’m sure a lot of people that follow The Walking Dead avidly know that when you audition for the show you pick sides for a character that doesn’t actually exist, so I didn’t know who I was playing until I got to Atlanta and sat down with the producers and they said, “You’re playing Jessie Anderson. She’s in the comic book but don’t read the comic books because we don’t always follow the comic books.” Because, obviously, they didn’t want me to know that my character might be dead.
I think they always knew that they were going to follow that storyline. At least that’s what I was told, but I didn’t know until just before the beginning of shooting the sixth season, so I didn’t know when I got the job. I thought maybe I’d be on the show for, like, a couple of years.
It’s interesting that they did tell you at that point because I’ve spoken to some people who only got about two or three weeks notice. But you’re saying that you did know before you guys started shooting season 6.
Yeah, I knew in about March. [Showrunner Scott M. Gimple] had sort of mapped out the season I think already and knew that they were planning to have that whole scene with Jessie and her family and Rick and Michonne and Carl, and have that happen around episode nine. I think he was just giving me the heads up so I didn’t unnecessarily plant myself in Atlanta, like get a long-term rental. He was just trying to be nice and give me the heads up, but I was super sad.
That is nice of him to do that because I do know people that’s happened to, where actors on the show buy a place down there after being on for a while and then, oops!
I know and I think because of that he’s giving people more of a heads up.
How did he deliver the news about the situation?
Actually, we were at a cast dinner and I was just talking about looking into apartments and he said “Oh, you’re looking at apartments. Oh, I should talk to you about that, actually.”
I looked at him and I was like “What?!” And he said, “I’ll call you on Monday.” So I sort of left that dinner a little bit devastated. I was like, oh, no — my character’s dying. Damn.
Not a great night out on the town, it sounds like.
No, not necessarily. It’s okay. I had a fantastic time, so I can’t really complain.
Let’s talk a little bit about the last episode. There’s that moment where Jessie says to Sam to stay back with Father Gabriel and Sam begs to remain with her and basically says “Oh, I can keep going,” so she relents and says okay. Any regrets about that decision, Alex?
[Laughs] Well, listen, if it was actually me in that situation, I would have told him that he has to do what I’m telling him to do. I don’t think that I would have bent so easily. It was hard for me to have to make that decision as the character and really understand where that character would be coming from, because it’s such a dangerous situation. You know that this child can’t handle the pressure of the situation. You kind of know that he might crack at any moment, so saying, “yes, you can come with us is” kind of…I don’t know, it’s a little wild, right? I mean she really had the weakness for him, I guess.
Well, I can understand not wanting to be separated from your child in a super dangerous situation. You get separated in this situation, you may never be able to get back with that person again, so maybe there’s a little bit of that too.
Yeah, that’s the conclusion I came to in that scene, and so that made sense for me.
So let’s talk about your big death scene. Sam is now starting to get eaten, you’re holding onto him, but you’re also holding onto Carl and screaming and not letting go, which forces Rick’s to get chopping. What was filming that whole madness like?
Oh, it was just super sad. It was just really sad. I mean, this mother is watching her child be eaten alive. I can’t think of something worse, I really can’t. It’s just excruciating, and so being in the moment as an actor was just horrifying. But almost all of the series regular cast came out to watch that night and be there as support, so that was pretty incredible. We shot until 6 in the morning, and yeah, but there were a few people that literally stayed until 6 in the morning with me just because they wanted to be there and be supportive.
You see that a lot on this show. I have to assume it was very emotional for you, not only for the scene you’re playing, but then also saying goodbye to the cast.
Yeah, it was. But I was also extremely grateful to be there and be fortunate enough to be able to work with those people because they’re such incredible actors and such incredible people. They’re just so sweet and giving, so I just hope to be lucky enough to get on a set like that again. I think I should dye my hair black and be covered in tattoos and then come back later as another character on the show.
Just a whole new look.
Just a whole new look. They did that on Deadwood.
Yeah, Garret Dillahunt played two totally different characters.
Exactly! So it can be done. That’s my pitch. That’s my pitch to The Walking Dead. I can be renewed.
Yeah, well, good luck with Scott Gimple on that one.
I know, I know.
What are you going to miss most about working on this show?
The people. It’s a brutal show as an actor. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that your character is constantly going through with the heat and a lot of physicality that you have to do, which I actually find to be really fun. One of my favorite scenes was having the right scene with the Wolves. That was just so much fun to shoot. However, I was in an air-conditioned house, so I was lucky enough to be able to have my crazy sub scene in air conditioning. But it’s the people. Having that camaraderie on a day-to-day basis at work is pretty phenomenal.
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We’ve said goodbye to Jessie now, but what did you love most about playing this character?
I thought she went through a really incredible arc. She was an abused woman. She was in a situation that she was sort of letting rule her life, and having this man come in and acknowledge that and say, “I’m going to be here for you. I’m going to help make you stronger,” and helped her become this stronger version of herself. And then through all of the circumstances that happened to her, the way that she was able to handle it up until the end.
I think in the end, that was her weakest moment is when she sees her son die, but up until that point she went through a drastic change. She became so strong so fast. If you think about the timeline from when her husband died to where you find her when she actually dies herself, it was only a few weeks. To me, that was great. I loved the opportunity to play such a strong female character. It was awesome.