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Z Nation Series Premiere Preview [VIDEO and PHOTOS + Karl Schaefer INTERVIEW] 

Photo Credit: Oliver Irwin/SyFy
Photo Credit: Oliver Irwin/SyFy

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Ready, set, go folks! We have been teased all summer long and this week, the wait is finally over. As much of a giant that The Walking Dead is, it could very well have some serious competition with Syfy’s new zombie series Z Nation, set to premiere this Friday. I have screened the pilot and all I can say is that the series so far is living up to everything that was promised and much, much more. I think everyone will end up being very pleasantly surprised.

The show’s synopsis: Three years have passed since the zombie virus has gutted the country and a team of everyday heroes must transport the only known survivor of the plague from New York to California, where the last functioning viral lab waits for his blood. Although the antibodies he carries are the world’s last, best hope for a vaccine, he hides a dark secret that threatens them all. With humankind’s survival at stake, the ragtag band embarks on a journey of survival across three thousand miles of rusted-out post-apocalyptic America.

The cast includes Harold Perrineau (Lost, Oz) as Mark Hammond, Tom Everett Scott (Beauty and the Beast, Southland) as Charles Garnett, DJ Qualls (Road Trip, Supernatural) as Citizen Z, Michael Welch (The Twilight trilogy) as Mack Thompson, Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show) as Roberta Warren, Anastasia Baranova (The Darkness II) as Addy Carver, Russell Hodgkingson (Big Fish)  as Doc and Keith Allan (Rise of the Zombies) as Murphy. TV Goodness participated in a conference call earlier this week with executive producer and showrunner  Karl Schaefer (Eerie Indiana, Eureka, The Dead Zone) to get all of the deets on the series as well as what to expect as the season progresses.

On What Sets The Series Apart From Others In The Genre

Karl Schaefer: “There’s a great zombie show already on television, The Walking Dead, and our mission is to go where they don’t. I think the biggest difference between us and them is our series has a sense of hope and also a sense of humor, we’re trying to put the fun back into zombies. Our heroes have a mission and so, we’re traveling every week, they’re going across the country. They’re just not fighting for survival and hunkering down in one place. They really have somewhere to go, something to do. Our characters aren’t afraid of zombies necessarily. I mean they’re weary of them and zombies are certainly dangerous, but they take the fight to the zombies. We try to have as much action in an episode as The Walking Dead does in half a season.”

“There’s a lot of black humor in our show, a lot of social satire, but primarily it’s that sense of hope and mission. If you were going to go through the apocalypse, I think you’d want to go through it with our guys because they’ve got somewhere to go and something to do.”

On working with Harold Perrineau

Karl Schaefer: “He is just a great guy and totally committed to it. He didn’t come in acting like he was working for a low-budget show or anything like that. He really had a big influence on the rest of the actors. We have a lot of local, Washington talent and some people who are much less experienced and he just brought up every scene that he was in, brought in a sense of commitment and drama to what he was doing and was great with the rest of the cast. We had some of our younger, local cast members who were a little intimidated the first couple of days of shooting I think and he would pull them aside and say something to them. I don’t know exactly what he was saying to them, but on the next take they would be a whole step up better at what they were doing. So yeah, he was a blast to work with. You can see why he works so often and is in so many classic genre movies and programs. If you look at his resume, he’s just one of those guys where everything he is in is good and I think he helped make one of those good things that he was in.”

On What Makes Z’s Different From Walkers on The Walking Dead

Karl Schaefer: “On The Walking Dead, they call them anything in the world but zombies.  In our show, we wanted to put it in a universe where people know about zombies, they’ve seen zombie movies, they’ve seen The Night of the Living Dead. We have all kinds of zombies and we wanted to be the zombie show where we said, ‘Yeah, we’ll do that kind of zombie.’ We have fast zombies, slow zombies, animal zombies, we have a zombie bear, we have zombie babies and our zombies are evolving too. Our main character, Murphy, has been infected with the zombie virus and given a vaccine but will be evolving over the course of the season into what eventually may become a human/zombie blend. So, we wanted to leave the world wide open for the zombie virus to evolve and the type of zombies that we deal with to evolve. I mean, every week you’re going to see our zombies doing something different that you haven’t seen zombies do before. Our goal was to put the fun back into zombies and I think the audience is going to enjoy that aspect of it. We’re not really stuck in stone in what our zombies are like and what they do.”

On the Casting and How Everything Came Together

Karl Schaefer: “Before we were getting a certain amount of money from the state of Washington to shoot here, we looked very hard for cast members who were Washington-based and found some fantastic people. Russell Hodgkinson, who plays Doc, he’s just hysterical and fantastic on the show. Nat Zang, who you see only briefly in the pilot but who will have a much larger role going forward in the show, he’s an 18 year-old kid and this was his first professional audition and he’s fantastic. He’s going to be a huge star, I think. Also the Cassandra character that they find in the cage, she’s a Washington local as well.  When it all came together, I think it was a lot better than people expected it to be. I mean, even Syfy is going, ‘Wow, this is really good!’ [Laughs] So, I’m very happy with the cast that we got, we worked really hard to get them and gave a lot of people a break.”

“The guy who plays Murphy (Keith Allan) was working for the Asylum. He acted in a couple of their movies, but he was their office manager at the time that I met him. We just read him as a courtesy and he was really good. He just kept beating people out. We ended up sending three actors to the network and they didn’t know Keith was the office manager. [Laughs] And they thought he was great.  He’s really been fantastic in the series. He’s really stepped up and met everyone’s expectations.”

On DJ Qualls and Bringing “Good Morning Vietnam” To The Series

Karl Schaefer: “DJ Qualls is great and he’s in every episode. The idea was to have a character stuck at the North Pole where the zombies can’t get him because they’ll all freeze before they get that far, who has kind of an overview of the whole apocalypse but very little that he can directly do about it. And he’s keeping what’s left of the Internet and the communications system alive using the old NSA assets spread around the world. So yeah, he’s in every episode, he’s fantastic to work with and so funny himself. Some of the episodes revolve totally around him, some whole shows are completely his. There’s a whole social satire to the series and he helps to focus that.  He’s our narrator, the Wolfman Jack of the apocalypse, that we use him for.”

Episode 2 is such an episode that will focus heavily on DJ Qualls’ character, Citizen Z.  While the rest of the team is faced with the problem of finding gasoline, Citizen Z is having his own issues when he encounters a zombie sled dog.

Is Schaefer and the network confident in the success of the series?  Hell yeah, and so am I!

Schaefer stated, “We have like a 5-year story arc, that’s just how cocky we are about this show. [Laughs] The network asked me to come up with that before we started. Even after they make it to California, that’s not going to be the end of the line. Nothing goes according to plan on this show for our characters. The Murphy [character’s] evolving, the mission is going to evolve, the nature of the apocalypse is going to change and I think the show is going to wind up going to places that will really surprise the audience.”

The series premiere of Z Nation  is titled “Puppies and Kittens” and airs on Friday at 10/9c on Syfy.



All photos credited to Oliver Irwin and Syfy.

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