The Walking Dead: Dead City Q&A — Lisa Emery on Playing A "Delicious" Villain Like The Dama

On The Walking Dead: Dead City, Lisa Emery plays the Dama, who emerges at the end of the season as the person who might be pulling all the strings. In this Q&A with, she talks about why she wanted to play this character, The Dama's relationship with the Croat, and why Hershel should be very afraid.

Q: The Dama is such an intriguing character. What attracted you to this show? Were you a fan of The Walking Dead?
A: To tell you the truth, the only zombie thing that I've ever really watched was George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, which I consider one of the scariest movies ever. When they called me about The Dama, I thought I should really catch up on the show. I thought I would watch a few of them and get the gist, but I ended up watching every last one, all 11 seasons! I mean, it was crazy, but I was riveted. You really have people that you're rooting for, and people that you hate at first like Negan that you end up learning to like.
Q: Was there anything in particular about The Dama that intrigued you?
A: She’s what really made me want to do the show. At first, I was so afraid that I would be a zombie. Not afraid per se, but I didn't think it would be as interesting to play that as somebody like The Dama, who is, God, a delicious villain. I mean, delicious, just the way that she lives in this horrible apocalyptic atmosphere and the control that she has. And she's a woman! I love all of it.
Q: Before The Dama appears in Episode 5, it looks like the Croat is the guy with all the power. But then he visits your character in the theater and you realize that she's really the one in charge.
A: I've made him my little puppy…
Yes, because then we see him in a completely different light. He doesn't seem like the big villain anymore.
Yeah, he's a tragic character I think, which is good for The Dama because I'm getting the feeling that she's very manipulative. I think she provides him with some kind of mother energy. I'm making stabs at this, but I picked up on the idea that he's a pretty needy guy. I would like to know how our relationship started and evolved.
Q: We know so little about The Dama. Did Eli Jorné provide you with a backstory for her? Or did you fill in the blanks yourself in order to help with your portrayal?
A: Eli and I had a great phone conversation about her, and he supplied me with tidbits and a basic stroke of color about her childhood, which of course wasn't at all pleasant. We also got into her appearance a little bit. I think anybody who grows into some kind of sadistic dictator has got to have a lot of bad stuff in their background. I think she really needs to be in control. [It's] imperative.
Q: You've spent a fair amount of your career in the theater, and you've received great acclaim for the plays you've done. Since The Dama's scenes all took place in what looked like a very elaborate and luxurious dressing room in a Broadway theater, was that a comfortable and familiar setting for you?
A: I loved that it takes place in a theater, and I love that the theater is quite a hangout for a bunch of very strange people, [who are] costumed and lounging about. And my dressing room is so opulent! I'm sure a dressing room like that on Broadway does not exist. They're usually like little cells. They're all comfortable, but hers is just palatial. It's gigantic and it's like a living room/bedroom/fantasy closet full of the most wonderful vintage stuff, which she is prone to wear. She has her pick of a lot of great old costumes. I'm really interested in how she got herself in a situation where she could take over the theater. Really, I have so many questions and that's part of the fun.
Q: In a Season 5 episode of Madam Secretary from 2019, you had two memorable scenes with Željko Ivanek. What was it like acting with him again after all this time?
A: Oh, it was wonderful! I've followed him for so long. I've seen him in a lot of stage stuff and of course movies and TV. I don't know – I felt like he was an old buddy when we re-met on this set. I think he's such a great actor. He's really, really good, and really creepy and yet vulnerable in this. Apart from liking the character of The Dama so much, I was over the moon that I was going to get to be working with him.
Q: What did you make of the scene at the end of Episode 5 when The Croat kisses the palm of The Dama's hand and puts his head in her hand, and then she strokes his head? What does this say about their dynamic? You mentioned she's a bit of a mother figure and he even says at one point, when Negan is going to meet The Dama, that it's like "Mommy and Daddy coming together."
A: Yes, yes! I didn't even think about that, but I do remember now that you mention it. It's such a motherly thing, although it's also kneeling for the queen.
I guess it's motherly, if Queen Elizabeth were your mother.
Yeah really, a little pat on the head! Yeah, kiss my ring!
Q: The Dama has an important scene with Negan at the end of Episode 6. What was it like acting with Jeffrey Dean Morgan?
A: I was entering at the end of a season with people who are already a really well-oiled machine, so it's intimidating to go in and just try and do your work. Jeffrey made it so easy. He made it so easy, and he was actually quite protective of me because I was just finding my way into who she was and how she behaves. You know, all of the things that you have to pull out of your hat with no prior experience with any of these people. So, he was like acting with a nice, great, cozy pair of pajamas, and just so helpful and kind. Couldn't have asked for anybody better. He was wonderful. Such a good actor.
Q: Do you think Negan lives up to The Dama's expectations?
A: I think that is yet to be seen. I know that he’s a worthy adversary. I pull out a little toe that I'd taken from Hershel. I think that's my ace in the hole when I pull that out and show it to him, like “this is how far I'm willing to go.”
Q: Speaking of Hershel's toe, The Dama comes across as quite menacing, as someone who's used to getting her own way. Were you surprised by the discovery that her menace has a violent aspect to it, considering she chopped off one of Hershel's toes?
A: No… I mean, look at the show. She certainly has an agenda in terms of control, so I think that was probably a great way to do it. Maybe she administered some kind of anesthetic. We don't know!
We don't know. Maybe she didn't.
Yeah, maybe it was just really fast. I don't know. I don't even know what she did it with.
Well, it surprised me that she had Hershel's toe and is maybe blackmailing Negan, as if to say that Hershel has nine more toes that she can chop off.
Yeah… and other body parts!

*This conversation took place before the SAG-AFTRA strike.
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