Tovah Feldshuh discusses her role on The Walking Dead and why Hillary Clinton should be President
The sixth (and in this writer’s opinion, best to date) season of the venerable cannibal corpse series The Walking Dead will hit DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD tomorrow (Tuesday, August 23rd) via Anchor Bay Entertainment.
In case you have yet to immerse yourself in that most recent run (and if you haven’t, may we humbly suggest you avoid reading the spoiler-filled interview below), Season 6 of The Walking Dead sees Rick Grimes and his not-so-merry band of survivors battening down the hatches at the troubled Alexandria community, a once peaceful outpost governed by the benevolent Deanna Monroe. Deanna is a strong, intelligent woman and matriarch who once naively believed that her people were safe from the horrors of the new world, a world she didn’t fully understand. But as the zombie ranks swell outside their walls and as other living forces plot against them, Deanna’s dreams rapidly come apart at the seams.
Deanna is played by one of our greatest living actresses, New York-born stage and screen legend Tovah Feldshuh. Bringing her own persona and steely intellect to the role, Feldshuh gave Deanna a grace and sophistication, one that she carried with her throughout the often nightmarish season, even as narrative events hacked away at everything the character once held so dear.
It was our honor and privilege to speak with Feldshuh this past weekend. Here the passionate performer analyzes Deanna, discusses The Walking Dead phenomenon and even discusses her political leanings, ones that in turn are tied back to her work on the show.
ComingSoon.net: Much has been said about how The Walking Dead is not a horror entertainment, but rather a drama that just happens to have zombies as its backdrop. What’s your take on the show?
Tovah Feldshuh: It is not a horror show, this is true. It’s the number one cable show in the world because it dips into the river of common human experience and the theme it explores is that we’re all going to die and so, most importantly, how therefore do you want to live, especially when you are surrounded by a constant and terrifying threat of literally being eaten alive? So, if you talk to people in countries that are under siege, they know exactly what you’re talking about, this isn’t made up this is great in-depth storytelling that has a mythology that is older than the Visigoths at the gates of the Roman Empire. Forgive me, but in many respects it’s what Israel has gone through for 65 years. They’re outnumbered. And when you’re outnumbered, how do you behave under those circumstances?
CS: Deanna is such a strong character. It must have been a thrill to be able to be her…
Feldshuh: It was an honor being on this show. I loved it and people took their work very, very seriously. They shot the show like you would shoot a feature and being there, on set, I really felt like my life had meaning. I want to lead a meaningful life and The Walking Dead gave me the opportunity to continue that artistic path and I was very pleasantly surprised, to tell you the truth.
CS: You’ve often spoken about your lust for life and your search to lead a life that has meaning. And Deanna shares these traits, especially in Season 6 when things start to collapse in Alexandria. It’s almost as if this character was written for you…
Feldshuh: I tell you, God bless Scott Gimple because he just picked me out and said “come along”. And it was an amazing experience and I was very grateful for it and not once did I feel like I was wasting a moment of my precious, passionate life.
CS: Are you afraid of death, Tovah?
Feldshuh: Very. And that’s why I run around like a nut. I avoid my fear of death by staying constantly active. And I come from a religion that prescribes the Sabbath. They say, rest! Stop to look, to see, to breath! I am not Sabbath observant but I do a lot of Yoga. That’s what stops me. I love to adventure travel and see the globe and tell stories. I love to act. I’m very active because it makes me feel young. But when you’re active you don’t really deal with death. But when I’m doing Yoga and I’m meditating, you deal a lot with death, because you go to the ‘zero point’, you go to nothing. The closest I’ve come to death so far is holding my mother Lilly in my arms 24 months ago when she died at 103 years of age and I saw that last sign of life leave her body. It was miraculous to see her die. On the set, I do push ups before we shoot (see the video below). I call it “pinking up”; my face gets flush and pink and full of life and everything goes quiet. My mind goes to that ‘zero point’. So with that, the actor can know everything and the character knows nothing. So when we start the scene, you don’t know what will happen next…just like I don’t know what your next question will be…
CS: You’ve said that you based your version of Deanna on your impressions of Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Is that right?
Feldshuh: I did, back when she was my Senator. She did the Listening Campaign going all over my state, New York State. I met her the day my son was accepted at school and she asked me “how was your day?” and I said “wonderful, my son was accepted into college today”. My son Brandon was with me and she turned to Brandon and she asked, “what school are you going to in the fall?” and he said “I’ll be going to Harvard, Mrs. Clinton” and she said “slap me five, my boy!” And then, ages later, I was in a long line to meet her at a Breakfast for Women Living in Poverty and she had no earpiece and no aid with her and I said “you don’t know me Mrs. Clinton but your daughter went to school with my nephew”, which is true. And she said “what is your name?” and I said Tovah Feldshuh and she said “Tovah…of course I know you and I am so sorry I cannot see your play you wrote about Tallulah Bankhead”. I was shocked. I said “Wait, I’m performing that in a small theater that fits 200 people and you actually know about this play? I said, you should run for president!” Those are the two experiences I’ve had with her without other people around and I was astonished by her memory and her intelligence.
CS: What do think about some of the criticisms?
Feldshuh: Look, this woman has given us two thirds of her life. There’s no denying that. You can accuse her of whatever you want to accuse her of. No life is perfect. We all make mistakes. But I don’t think she’s a dishonest person. Is she cunning? Perhaps. Is she fit to run the United States? Better than anybody I know. I mean, I’d be fit to run a theater company despite the fact that haven’t done it before. I’d be fit to be the lead in any show that would have me. It’s what I’ve trained to do my entire life. So I believe in her and yes, I did base some of Deanna on her, particularly her relentless ability to not lose heart.
CS: On that note, Deanna makes mistakes as well and learns from them…
Feldshuh: She makes huge mistakes. The first step towards brilliance is to know you don’t know. Deanna, with all her perceptions, didn’t know she didn’t know. Alexandria had a couple of years for free. I was told by one person that I wasn’t supposed to put any sort of time span on the series, but basically they had this time for free with a scattering of Walkers attacking, nothing much. They locked them out, whatever. Alexandria was safe. Now, we find out later that the reason why there were so few Walkers was that there was a quarry and they all fell into it and then it was breached and Alexandria had a real problem in Season 6. But in Season 5 there was peace and harmony. There were Schools. Naps. No fear at night. They had a watchtower with no one in it. When Rick finds this, he’s like “are you out of your mind?”, but Deanna is adamant that she is right and that no one needs weapons. It takes Deanna a long time to realize that she doesn’t know everything about life outside the walls…
CS: And she has to essentially lose everything, even her life to understand that. At the 11th hour the only thing that she does know is that life is precious and must continue…
Feldshuh: That’s right and the greatest good for the greatest amount of people. And on that note, I totally feel Hilary Clinton feels this too. She doesn’t need any more money. She is absolutely dedicated to betterment of people. And Donald Trump is setting up an oppositional universe. He’s not a bad man, he’s a brilliant commercial entity. The fact that he has gotten this far is astonishing and a real reflection on my country that I’m not proud of. But he’s still creating this oppositional universe which is a very dangerous thing for the United States. We do not want to do that. We’re in a global village where there is so much accountability, where you get a speeding ticket via cameras attached to a fine and there’s not even a cop arresting you. The eye is watching. He says” lock this group out, lock that group out”; well, it might make practical economic sense but his humanitarian sense is messed up. There’s no minority in the U.S. at the moment that doesn’t feel the fear that they could be next on the list. But you know something? One big invasion from Mars and all of this would be moot, right?
CS: You’ve had such an amazing life and career, it must be amusing to see that what might be your biggest fan base is attached to an entertainment where dead things eat human flesh. Have you had many experiences with that fan-base firsthand?
Feldshuh: Oh yes! I was at the opening of Season 6 at Madison Square Gardens and I go to Walker Stalker conventions and comic cons when I’m invited because I am anxious to meet the fans. Also, I’m very excited because I’m an action doll! That was a clincher for me. All these years it was Stratford and the National Shakespeare Festival and now, I’m an action doll! AMC just did a retrospective on the whole series and I came with the same hairdo as Deanna and then stepped into the supermarket to buy groceries and the place went bananas! Everyone was rushing to the basement to get me tomorrow’s produce, adamant that I should only buy fresh basil and fresh mint. So it has a lot of perks, this Walking Dead thing (laughs).