Life after life on The Walking Dead: A chat with a professional zombie

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Jan 25, 2016, 4:21 PM EST (Updated)

When Sonya Thompson, an actress who played a zombie in the first two seasons of The Walking Dead, sits in the makeup chair, she pays close attention to the makeup artist’s work.  

“The whole time I’m watching, I’m thinking, ‘How am I going to play this role today?’ If they put a bite mark on my neck, I need to make sure the camera sees that. I need to utilize this in my stance. I need to tilt my head down a little. You need to use the makeup to your advantage,” she said.

Thompson started undead life on Zombieland, where she was one of the few actors whose work was required viewing for all other zombie actors. The casting company submitted her video to The Walking Dead, and one email later, she became a featured zombie.  

Remember the scene where Rick battled zombies on top of a tank? Thompson climbed that tank more than 25 times to get to Rick. That scene in Episode 4 in which Glenn comes into a car and a sleeping zombie awakens to chase him? That, too, was Thompson. 

Thompson spoke to Blastr about life as a professional zombie actor on The Walking Dead ... as well as her life after the show.

How does a zombie act?

I went to high school in the ‘80s, and breakdancing was big back then. I utilized that in my movement, because you have to think about how a zombie moves. 

When they called me in for my promotional shoot for The Walking Dead, we needed to be animated. What I thought about was a raptor from Jurassic Park, and I also thought about my breakdancing, and I combined the two together. It created some awesome modeling zombie photos for the show.


What was a typical day on TWD like?

If you were doing an all-day shoot, you had to get there between 3 and 4 a.m. You would first go to wardrobe, and then makeup would take an hour and a half to two hours, depending on how many prosthetics they were applying to me that day.

Then you got your hair done, and then you would get your contact [lense]s in. And then you went on set, and as soon as everybody was ready, they placed you, and you did the same thing over and over again, about a million times in a scene.

It was more hard work than I could have imagined in the heat and humidity in Georgia. That was challenging on some days.

Did the heat affect your makeup?

No, it was stuck. At the end of the night, when everyone was going home, us featured zombies had to stay so they could get the prosthetics off of us.

It took another 45 minutes.

What did you like most about the makeup?

They kind of evolved my makeup. Over the seasons, the contacts the zombies used—well, I should call them walkers, but they called us zombies on set—got more cloudy.

For the contacts I wore in Season 1, I couldn’t see very well, but in Season 2, they were more yellowish, and I was practically blind. They try to add these extra touches in there, and it’s very believable. 

Why aren’t you on TWD any more?

I was only in Season 1 and 2. One of the makeup artists told me they couldn’t use me much anymore. I would assume it’s because of all the promotional images of me. My image is one of the most seen images in the world for promotion of TWD. I’ve been on magazine covers and posters all over the world. I’m on DVD covers, trading cards, and T-shirts. 

What are you currently working on?

I just finished Chronology, with Danny Trejo and William Baldwin. My focus is doing more speaking roles. I want people to know me for more than just my zombie roles. 


Have people ever recognized you?

Yes, and I always wonder when they recognize me, am I looking really bad that day? 

Did you work closely with the stars of the show?

When you’re in the scenes with [the actors] and you’re there in their face, you get to know them. I worked very closely with Glenn, Stephen Yuen. 

I kept telling Stephen, “You will never recognize me when I don’t have this makeup on,” and he said, “I will.” And you know what? He really did. He always knew it was me, no matter what makeup I had on or how much. And when I didn’t have my zombie makeup on, he still knew it was me. I was very impressed by him. He’s a very talented actor and a wonderful person, he really is. 

How has your work on TWD impacted your life?

[During the filming] when you go to sleep, guess what you dream about? You dream about all of it. 

I now have a zombie plan of action. If the zombie apocalypse ever happens I know what I’m going to do, and I know what weapon I’m going to choose [a sword]. The rooftop is the best place. You get the high ground.

How are you dressing for Halloween?

I don’t dress up for Halloween anymore. I’ve done my fair share.