A big TV star, Sarah Wayne Calles was at Comic-Con this year with Colony – but her track through TVland goes far beyond - she is still remembered for the first three seasons of The Walking Dead, and this year she returned to the role of Dr. Sarah Tancredi in Prison Break: Resurrection. We talked about fan profiling, character complexity and the real-life roots of Colony.
When people stop you on the street before they open their mouth, do you recognize if they are going to talk to you about Prison Break, The Walking Dead or Colony? Can you recognize a specific profile having been in those shows for a long time?You know what’s interesting? I actually think it’s more or less impossible to profile fans these days because I think the whole notion of genre has broken down. It used to be that the only people who would watch a horror show based on a comic book were people who would go to Comic-Cons. But that’s just not true. I mean I have had women in their 70s stop me and tell me that they love The Walking Dead. I have had thirteen-year-old girls tell me that they love Prison Break. I have had a lot of people at Homeland Security tell me that they love Colony. (Laughter) So I am constantly surprised by who the fans are and I think what it’s taught me is that any notion that we have of being able to predict who will like what is totally fiction. I will say the only way that I can sometimes tell, I can tell that someone has recognized me and then they start looking pissed off, I can usually tell that they are going to talk to me about how they feel about Lori. Because most of the fans of Lori are really wonderful and they are great, but there is a subset of people who are just furious with her. And for some reason, they need to tell me all about it. (Laughter)
How do you work not to repeat yourself, to make every character so different in a TV show?
Well it’s one of the things that I look for, is diversity of women. Coming off of Prison Break, for a character that was so loved and so very much on the good side of things, I was looking consciously for a character with Lori, who would be more divisive and less, I guess would be darker. As I was reading the Walking Dead Pilot, it occurred to me that there’s something very dark about marriage and motherhood and it makes people really uncomfortable. We only want to talk about mothers as wonderful, supporting and loving creatures without resentment or flaws. And I really wanted to challenge that. And that was the other end of the spectrum from Prison Break. And a lot that has followed is, you know, it’s a funny business, you set your sights on something. But also, we don’t have control over the roles that we play in that you audition for something that you may really want and not get it, and you may be offered something that never occurred to you that you could even play. And that’s exciting. There’s a certain amount of architecture that we put into it intentionally, but then there is just this sort of I guess hand of faith and that means that sometimes you make decisions that you wouldn’t have made otherwise and that really challenges you.
I am sure that when you signed for The Walking Dead, you never imagined that that show was going to still be running seven years later and number one obviously.
Never. And I am glad, I am very glad because there was no pressure. And so we just kind of played around it. It felt kind of experimental, because who in their right mind would want to make a zombie story and take it totally seriously, nothing camp and no wink and nod. And Andy and Jon and I all kind of came from the same kind of drama school geek background. And we just played. It must be very different for people who come on the show now, or who even came on the show during the second season, because you know you are coming onto a success and I imagine there is a certain kind of pressure or expectation, but we had the very good fortune to not have any of that and we didn’t think anyone would watch. (Laughs) We really didn’t.
Do you think the fact that Juan Jose Campanella experienced the horrors of a real dictatorship helped make Colony a believable show?
Yes I do, absolutely. I mean from the beginning, he had an understanding of the day to day small boring details of dictatorship that are so weird that you can’t make them up. It’s a kind of thing that if you don’t have someone who can tell them to you, you just won’t get them right. I remember one of the first notes he gave me is because the story starts ten, eleven months into the occupation. One of the first notes he gave me, he said, calm down, you are way more bored with this. He said, people get used to things very quickly, and your spirit may hate an occupation, but day-to-day, you are used to it. You have gotten accustomed to these things, and bread lines aren’t a big deal anymore, they just are what they are. Men with guns in the street, they are just not a big deal anymore. And he told me the story about being in film school and driving home from watching a film with a few of his buddies and they get a checkpoint and before they knew it, they were phased out on the ground with guns to their heads, and while the soldiers were kind of doing what they were doing, his friends looked over at him and started talking about the film that they had just seen, because they were so used to it. And I think as an American, I have the privilege of thinking that every moment in an occupation is this heightened sense of terror. And Juan just, he just threw that all out the window.
Sometimes life imitates fiction and when you heard that Mr. Trump had a plan to build a wall and he became President and he said that I am going to go ahead with this, did you connect with Colony in any way?
I will tell you, I have developed a theory that our creator Ryan Condal is actually a time traveler, who came from the future to create Colony, to warn us all. And, we just missed all the signs. Because he wrote the Pilot before Trump had talked about a wall. And he wrote the second season before there was any thought in the world that Donald Trump could become the President. It’s crazy. I mean, we were shooting one of the last scenes of season two as the election results were coming in, and we were just staring at each other going, oh my God, this isn’t Science-Fiction anymore, this show just became a historical drama, instead of a Sci-Fi show. And I will say that I am very, very excited by the possibility of the third season because it gives us a chance as artists to use our artistic voices to respond to what’s happening. The second season was an accident because it was all written before the election even looked like it could be possible. But the possibility of getting together with artists like Juan Campanella and Ryan Condal and Wes Tooke and Carlton Cuse and Josh and Peter and Tory, the possibility of forming a cogent, creative response in a science fiction landscape to what is going on in the world right now and the people that are being hurt by it and the people that are in danger because of it, and all the countries in the world who are looking at it and going holy shit, we have been through this and it doesn’t go well, that’s one of the most exciting, creative things that I can imagine being a part of in my life. And I really, really hope we get to do that.
I heard that you asked the writers to kill Lori in The Walking Dead because that is what happened in the comics. Do you regret that she is not there anymore sometimes or not?
Well to be fair, I didn’t necessarily ask them to kill her. Back when Frank was running the show, he had said that he didn’t plan to kill her. And I argued that I thought it was important, and then Frank left the show. And so that decision was out of both of our hands at that point. I don’t regret it at all. I have nothing but gratitude. Look, I got to be around to create, to be a part of a team that created something that was so exciting and so new. Some of my friends in the world are people that I met and worked with on that show, people that I continue to work with creatively today like Gale Anne Hurd is producing a script that I wrote, I have no regrets about any of it. And the show goes on and it has a life and that is wonderful, I don’t know anyone on that show anymore. I mean I know Melissa, Norman, Andy, and Chandler, but the show is now something that has evolved so far beyond those of us that started it, and we have all moved on and done other shows and Jon is doing Punisher and I am doing Colony. But this isn’t a business where you can hold on to regrets, you just give thanks for what you had and keep your eyes forward.