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In the comedy, gaming and geek universes, Aisha Tyler is an expert at being able to cross the streams of her interests into major success. Whether it's voicing Lana Kane on Archer for 12 seasons, or hosting E3 panels for huge video game franchises like Halo, Tyler makes it look easy. But she's always challenging herself, which is why directing has been a big part of her recent career choices. Of late, she's been getting experience directing stories in The Walking Dead Universe behind the camera for Fear the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead: World Beyond.
But for Season 7 of Fear the Walking Dead, the executive producers were able to woo Tyler back as an actress in Sunday's latest episode, "Till Death." In it she plays Mickey, one half of a famous, pre-apocalypse wrestling tag-team that established their own gym named The Grapple Chapel. Looking for safety, she separates from her partner Cliff and is taken by Strand (Colman Domingo) to become an asset in his new society. She escapes his compound to go home, and that's how she crosses paths with Dwight (Austin Amelio) and Sherry (Christine Evangelista).
Tyler tells SYFY WIRE the initial phone pitch from Fear showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg made her childhood dreams come true. "I read the script, and she's a wrestler, she's searching for her lost love, she gets to fight, she gets to ride a horse, she gets to be a cow girl. She gets to pile drive walkers. She's every single thing in the world that I have ever wanted to do as a kid," the actress enthuses. "And I was like, 'I'm literally going to clear my whole schedule to come down to Austin to be with you guys' because she was just a dream character."
"Till Death" also reconnected the actress with collaborators that she got to direct in her Season 6 episode, "J.D." including Amelio and Evangelista but with the added bonus of being directed by fellow actor/director, Lenni James.
"My episode had been working very closely with those three actors and Jenna (Elfman) so we already had a very lovely quality of interaction and a nice shorthand," Tyler says. "And I adore Austin and Christine and I just idolized Lenni. It was so great, because I got to direct them in my episode, and then he got to direct me and I got to watch him work. It was just delightful."
Coming in to play Mickey, Tyler says she really just stepped into the look and vibe of the character as written by Justin Boyd and Ashley Cardiff. "I didn't need to really come in with any ideas," she says. "There was a very strong vision from the get go and it was nice to surrender to the process."
But she did get to do a photoshoot for the incredible tag team photo hanging in the gym, which she says she relished. "We got to dress up. We got to pose. I love the poster [in the gym] and I've been waging a whisper campaign to get that poster into my house," she laughs. "Just another childhood dream come true, posing in The Grapple Chapel, which is the greatest name for a wrestling team ever."
She also got to kills some walkers and walk amongst them covered in blood during the course of her road adventures with Dwight and Sherry, which she admits didn't phase her as much as she thought it might because of her time shooting walker kills for other episodes. "I think as a fan, I probably should have been more kind of dazzled by it. But the big the heavy lift for me was the emotional work that we had for the show and and that was really what I was focused on. I know from killing walkers, but I had to do a lot of crying which was really, really fun for me."
Mickey had to run the gamut in the episode, especially playing the full arc of discovering her partner Cliff has been turned, mourning him in the moment and then reading his beautiful letter later found on his body. Asked if that was a challenge, Tyler laughed and shares, "I'll tell you right now that a nickname for me for from an old producer that I worked with was "Cry-isha" because I can cry in a heartbeat. I don't know if I'm proud of that, but I'm very emotional."
However, she is proud of her learned Mickey moves which she took very seriously for the scenes cleaning out the walkers from their overrun wrestling ring.
"I just love action and that's really kind of my wheelhouse as a fan and as an actor and a director," she explains. "I was super excited about the wrestling and really just afraid I wasn't gonna be able to do it properly. That was really my fear."
Mickey is still standing strong by the episode end, even though she, Dwight and Sherry are held by another band of rogue survivors seeking to work with them. That begs the question: we see her again for more of Season 7?
"I'm dying to play her again," Tyler teases. "I love her and I really felt very emotional at the end of this episode. We can never divulge what's going to happen downstream in The Walking Dead universe but I'm very, very much excited about getting a chance to spend more time with Mickey."
Fear the Walking Dead episodes air Sunday nights on AMC.