Samantha Morton, who plays Alpha on AMC’s The Walking Dead, talks about what makes Alpha so terrifying and why shaving her head was so empowering.
Q: The infamous Alpha is finally here! What did you know about the backstory in the comics before joining the show?
A: I came into it fresh. I knew the show existed, but I live in a quite remote area in a national park, so I hadn’t seen a lot of advertisements about it. I also didn’t have television or Netflix or Amazon or any of that for seven years. So, I hadn’t seen the show. My lovely partner paid a satellite person to come fit the house so we could watch these things. I watched the show and I was like, “Oh my gosh. This is incredible!” and it all worked out that I got to play Alpha and here we are.
Q: The Whisperers are a threat unlike any other we’ve seen on the show and even Andrew Lincoln spoke about how scary Alpha is. How did you feel about that when coming onto the show?
A: Initially, it didn’t feel daunting and then I got to the set and I was being Alpha for a couple of days and I was like, “Whoa, this is really important to people.” It means so much to people. It’s the responsibility of playing somebody that is already present in these comic books. I took that seriously. This wasn’t just about me, Sam. This character belongs to all the fans. I love rising to that challenge.
Q: How did you enjoy reading and filming Episode 10 where we learn more about Alpha’s backstory? What was it like seeing such a huge transformation in your character so early on?
A: I found it liberating and really helpful – although, these are Lydia’s memories. So, are they distorted? Are they real? I have a version of Alpha that I was playing and then there are different elements to the flashbacks and Lydia’s memories that I was playing. It was lots of fun. I loved the fact that I was able to play pre-Alpha and then become Alpha on the screen, rather than just arriving as Alpha.
Q: Do you believe these parts of her were always buried somewhere inside of her or did the harsh conditions of the apocalypse change her entirely?
A: Her nature, her DNA, these sides to her – maybe they were lying dormant. I think we’re all capable of all sorts of things if put in a certain scenario. We have to ask ourselves those questions. She’s put in that scenario and she becomes Alpha. There’s no choice. She’s acting on instinct to protect her daughter and she realizes this is the future. The way I approached it is almost like when people find God. When people haven’t had any faith in their lives and then something happens, there is the person before they found God and there’s the person after. Was it always there? Possibly. It’s the events surrounding that transition that is quite profound. Who knows what we would resort to at the end of the world? [Laughs]
Q: The survivors originally thought the walkers were evolving. On some levels, do the Whisperers actually represent an evolution of some sort?
A: I absolutely think so. There’s a lot more to come with that, but I think she’s so clever to even come up with the concept of living among them. It’s insane and beautiful and tragic and frightening all at once. [Laughs] It’s unbelievable.
Q: Let’s talk about your hair and makeup. What was your daily routine like before walking on set? Any reservations about shaving your head again?
A: When I was on Minority Report with short hair, I was younger and the character of Agatha had basically grown up in a pool of water. But this is almost like a Zen monk. Alpha shaving her head off completely and being bald is almost like a rebirth. I find it really empowering to sit in the hair and makeup chair and get my head buzzed every morning. It’s great.
Q: What does it say about Alpha that she’s willing to let the walkers take a baby out, even calling it “natural selection”? Any thoughts on her brutal “survival of the fittest” philosophy?
A: In the way I’m playing it, it’s a choice. The Whisperers don’t have to stay. They can go, if they please. Alpha doesn’t make anybody stay in her camp. They are free and have their own free will. If that woman has chosen to bring her baby out and the baby cries and has to go down, that’s just how it is… Somebody has to be the leader and make incredibly tough decisions, but she doesn’t force anybody to become a Whisperer. That’s a really interesting point. That’s how I played it. She’s brutal. She has to be.
Q: What are you most excited about this season?
A: I’m excited to see how people respond to Ryan [Hurst] and me and Cassady [McClincy] and our little community. [Laughs] I hope people enjoy it. I really do.
Read an interview with Cassady McClincy, who plays Lydia.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c.
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