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Exclusive Interview with The Walking Dead Star Michael Traynor

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At a young age, actor and writer Michael Traynor developed a love for the arts, earning scholarships for dance while he was in college and working as a professional dancer for a number of years. However, it wasn’t long before Michael caught the acting bug and decided to devote his time and energy to pursuing that as his career. In addition to doing theater, Michael worked on a number of television and movie projects, earning guest roles in shows such as Trading Eights, Make It or Break It, Rectify and The Fosters, and an ITVFest Award for his writing on the show Underwater, before finally landing a recurring role on The Walking Dead as Nicholas. I recently had the opportunity to chat with this hilarious and talented man about the upcoming season of The Walking Dead, what’s in store for his character Nicholas and what he would do if there was a real zombie apocalypse. Keep reading to find out what he had to say!

How did you get started in the acting business?

Back home, on Maui—I went to high school in Maui—there’s a very vibrant art scene, and I kind of stumbled into that, and then got scholarships for dance and was a dancer for a lot of years, mainly, but did a little acting here and there. Then eventually, the siren song of acting just kind of won me over and I slowly let go of dance and started dating acting. (Laughs). Acting and I have been pretty steady ever since. Acting is a sly little hussy; she really gets into your bones.

Were you a fan of “The Walking Dead” before you auditioned for it?

What show is that? I’ve never heard of it…What show? (laughs) I was, actually. I caught on to it around season two, and then I went back and watched the first season, and by the time season three rolled around, I was telling everybody to go f*#% off on Sunday nights because I had plans.

That’s pretty much how it goes with that show!

Yeah, isn’t it?

It’s like, “Yeah, don’t call me during that time because I’m not going to answer!”

It’s like, “Treat it like church, at nighttime. God be with you. Shut the hell up!” (Laughs). Even the Pope, I think, takes that time on Sunday evenings. He’s very excited that he might be in America for the premiere!

Before you were on the show, who was your favorite character?

That’s interesting…I’ve never actually thought about it; I liked all of them so much. And that’s not just being political, I’m being genuine. I’ve gotta say that, as a fan, I was always drawn to the situations that Rick was in, and what a moral rock in a hard place that he was in—for example, with Shane and Laurie, and trying to be a good leader and put aside your baser, Neanderthal need for things like revenge and that sort. He carries so much of the show. He really does. So, I guess I was a Rick Grimes dude.

What was the hardest scene for you to film last season?

The one where I was standing around and didn’t get to talk a lot, because I’m kind of a megalomaniac and if it’s not about me—no, I’m just kidding. (Laughs). The ones that were the hardest to film….certainly the revolving door, as far as time and energy; Steven and Tyler and I had to be at that energy level for I think it was eleven hours that day. It was unrelenting. It was the same with all the background and all the walkers in their heavy make-up. Everybody was just at their peak level of just pouring their heart out. That was the trifecta of just complex emotionally, high-stakes and just long hours, because sometimes filmmaking just takes a long time to do.

What is a standard day on set like for you?

Well, I get there usually in the morning or whenever it is that my call time is. I have my breakfast already prepared for me, two different masseuses—a Thai and Swedish, because you never know what I’m going to feel like—so we go through that process, and then I am groomed by three blind monks. (Laughs).

No, a normal day, I just kind of get to set, you just hop to it. It’s awesome because make-up is pretty simple most of the time, unless you have special effects or like blood or bruises. So, it’s all really fast and the crew is so jazzed. They’re the true heroes of “The Walking Dead”. They’re there for such long hours and they greet you and they are excited for the day, and that energy is certainly contagious, you know? Which is maybe a bad word to use in a zombie apocalypse show…but, yeah, you just get to set and you just kind of prepare. The scenes aren’t often funny, so it’s more about making sure that you’re in the right headspace and that you’ve done whatever homework that you need to do , and just come ready to rock.

That was one thing that I learned early on. Like, one of the first things that I ever filmed was opening the gates of Alexandria and the heroes that we know and love, Rick and the gang, walk through the gates, and then later that day, I’m getting tackled by Norman Reedus and there’s a fight scene. So, I realized from the very first day—and Scott Gimple, the showrunner, was actually on set that day, and was like, “So, we haven’t really had the chance to talk, but we’re so happy that you’re here and here’s the deep end of the pool”—so I learned from the very first day that you come to play, that you pack your bags, get ready, and come with your homework done and a sense of adventure, and that’s the best way to prepare for being on “The Walking Dead”.

What did you think of Nicholas when you were first introduced to his character?

I really didn’t know a whole lot, to be honest. I knew my character existed in the comic books, but Scott Gimple had said “Be aware of it but don’t get married to it, because we do things differently on the show.” So, it was really script by script just being aware of what it is. Initially, I understood him to be somebody who was, to the degree that he was capable of, one of the big guns of Alexandria, and then through these gates walk in these seasoned, battle-hardened people, and that’s gonna be unsettling. I just started with that, you know, recognizing that each of these people was a threat, and that allowed me to focus on something besides just being mean and sneering. So, I think my first thoughts of Nicholas were that he was trying to justify this sense of threat and being intimidated by the heroes that we know and love.

You mentioned that you do homework to prepare for the role. Can you tell me a little about what kind of homework you do to prepare to play Nicholas?

Yes. I do a nightly mudscrub with Himalayan sea salt—I don’t know why I have all these grooming jokes! (Laughs). It’s weird; to say an actor prepares or to ask them how they prepare, I feel like it forces them to describe a very private, personal kind of alchemy, you know? I personally just read the script a whole lot, like repeatedly. When I get it, I immediately read each episode script twice, just to make sure that I have a sense of flow and that I understand the story, because sometimes, I pick up on something on the second pass that I missed on the first pass, because the writing is so good on the page that you get excited in the same way as when you’re watching an episode for the first time. And so I reread it again for some of the facts and some of the subtleties that they put in there.

There is a lot of meat on the page to sort of consume and gain a lot of inspiration from. And in the big read of the script, you kind of map what’s happening and take note of the nuggets from previous scripts that they put in there. Then you just sort of ask yourself, “What would this be? What is happening? What are the circumstances?” You do sort of start to do a free association thing where you start writing down ideas or images that pop to mind and then you go through the technical work of breaking down the architecture of a scene. Like, what’s the thing that happens in this scene or the thing that’s said in this scene that changes the course of the story, or that brings to light new information that will eventually change or drive the plot in a different direction?

Then you kind of just play around with all the different possibilities of how you can react and how that might echo in your character or that world. I call that “Packing Your Bags.” Then I just show up the next day with my bags packed, and I’m ready to do the choices that I’ve thought of and I’m also ready to throw all of that out, because very often, once the director comes into play and you see the reality of what is being filmed, all the stuff that you prepared, it’s not useless but it’s not totally conducive to doing the scene as it’s going to be shot. So you have to stay agile and be willing to throw everything that you’ve packed out the window. That’s why I say that it’s important to come with a sense of adventure, because often it’s like, “Oh, I wasn’t expecting this route! Here we go!”

Ok, so I’m going to ask you for some dirt on the new season. What can we expect from the upcoming season?

Epicness. I mean, think about it; there were so many things that the finale of season 5 set up. So many questions. It just left us wondering so many things. Nicholas and Glen are out there in the woods. Wolves are out there. Walkers are out there. What’s gonna happen in Alexandria with Rick and Morgan finally together, and their roles strangely reversed from the last time that they’ve seen each other, with Rick being this bloody wildman trying to impose his version of law and Morgan being a strangely zen, civilized humanist? So, there’re so many hot points of conflict, and they take care of it—the season six premiere is an epic powder-keg of an episode that just explodes—and the fanboy in me had to repeatedly set the script down while reading that episode and walk away going “Holy….wow.” So, I guess that’s the long-winded version of my previously succinct answer, epicness.

Are the Wolves going to be the primary villain this season?

I don’t know. I forget.

Are we going to see any changes in Nicholas’s character this season?

I can tell you for a fact that his outfit changes a few times. We get to explore Nicholas’s sense of style.

What would you like to see happen with Nicholas’s story arc this season and in the future seasons?

Well, the fantasy is that Nicholas especially—I mean, there’s a moment where you see him glance at Glenn after the fight, when Glenn, in this surprisingly large-hearted gesture of hoping for the best in humanity, decides not to assassinate Nicholas—not even assassinate, more like rightly kill that coward—and in that moment, I think that there’s a path for not only redemption but for Nicholas to be the person he’d always hoped to be: to fill up with a true sense of ability and spine, this image of the capable warrior that he had projected in Alexandria. So, I would love to see that explored, you know?

Could Nicholas be the Glenn that Glenn never had? Could he be his right-hand man? And I think that it’ll be very interesting to see if that story is explored. I think it’s interesting to see someone trying to contend with the reality of who they are. And Scott Gimple and those guys are pretty clever. Does Nicholas become better? Does he try to double-down and eliminate the threats? I don’t know. It’s all exciting.

Were you surprised to learn that there are “Team Nicholas” fans?

Yeah, totally! I think it’s called “Cowards United.” (Laughs). They would love to have weekly gatherings but everyone is too frightened to leave the house, so they communicate via Skype. And even then, everyone is in silhouette and they have voice filters and hand puppets that go, “Hello, I am a fan of Nicholas!”

Has being on “The Walking Dead” made you think about what you would do if there was an actual zombie apocalypse?

Sure….I mean, the joke answer is that I would go to the nearest donut shop and just stay there and hunker down. But what I do think is fantastic about this fascination with the zombie apocalypse is that it’s prompted people to actually be prepared for emergencies. I’m not a preparedness nut, but I do have a small bag of survival essentials in my car. I have stuff in my apartment because I live in Los Angeles, you know, and there’s earthquakes and what not. I am fairly excited that one of the benefits of the popularity of “The Walking Dead” is that people spend a little bit of time thinking about preparedness.

Have you been watching “Fear the Walking Dead”?

I caught the first episode, but I’ve been a little too busy so I’ve missed the other ones. It seemed pretty cool. I think it’s exciting that we get to explore what happened in the beginning, when Rick was in a coma. I’m a fan of sort of slow burn, “what’s gonna happen, what’s gonna happen” plot development, and I know that Robert Kirkman and Gale Anne Hurd and those guys are so clever that there are heaps and heaps of tricks in store. I’m kind of letting it pile up on my DVR so that I can binge watch it soon.

Who would you love to see guest star on “The Walking Dead”?

That’s a great questions! It would be great to see somebody like The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, be the leader of some cool rag-tag group of badass zombie fighters, but then they get taken out like right away. Like Carl takes them all out or something, like he’s just out there and he likes snipes them!

Besides acting, what are you passionate about?

It’s really strange because it kind of feeds back into acting, but I’ve been really passionate lately about doing less and being more engaged with all the activities in my life outside of career. Because the thing with being an actor that most people see is the fun little parties or the work that we actually get to do in an episode, but that’s such a small part of it. There’s so much more hustle and uncertainty that most actors, even those who are mildly to incredibly successful, encounter, and we can often let the hustle and anxiety drive most of our day. I’ve become really passionate about defending against that and just enjoying my non-acting time.

Stuff like my girlfriend and I taking the dog for a hike and just enjoying that and not talking about the episode that I have to film next week or what we’re going to do during hiatus or this silly puzzle that we never know all the pieces of and try to plan for. So, it’s a strange answer and not all that funny, but I’ve become really passionate about making sure that the quality of my world and its interactions are rich and just have nothing to do with acting.

 

Season 6 of AMC’s The Walking Dead premieres October 11 at 9 pm. Also, be sure to follow Michael Traynor on Twitter at @TraynorLand for more news and updates!

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