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Z Nation Preview: “Full Metal Zombie” [VIDEO and PHOTOS + DJ Qualls INTERVIEW] 

Photo Credit: SyFy
Photo Credit: Syfy

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

We’re going into episode 4 of Syfy’s Z Nation tomorrow and there really hasn’t been a lot of character development thus far. But there’s been enough for Citizen Z, played by the immensely talented DJ Qualls, for me to know that I’m going to really like this guy and that he’s likely going to be a fan favorite. He’s super-smart, he’s funny, and oh, he likes dogs — what’s not to love? TV Goodness had the opportunity to participate on a conference call with DJ himself earlier this week to get all of the deets on how he was cast, some of his favorite scenes and what we have to look forward to for the remainder of the season.

DJ Qualls is a very familiar face in Hollywood and has starred in his share of films as well as television series, including Supernatural, Legit and Perception. Just like every other project he has worked on, there’s always a story about how he was hooked into the role and so, naturally, that was one of the first questions that came up.

DJ Qualls: “I was on my back porch and I had just gotten a call that my show, Legit, on FX had been canceled and I was pretty broken-hearted about it. I was outside just thinking and then, the phone rang. And my manager called and said that I had gotten an offer for something on Syfy, and my initial honest reaction was, ‘No.’ I didn’t want to get emotionally attached to anything else so quickly and also, [it felt like] I was cheating on my old cast and crew. I mean you become really close to your fellow crew and I was mourning the loss of that. Then, a couple of days later I read the script and called Karl Schaefer, our showrunner and co-creator, just about the character and what they were seeing and demands there would be of my time. So, my heart started to open up to it and I read the episode again and thought, ‘This is really good writing.’ It’s a character that comes with its own set of challenges, the fact that I’m totally isolated and I don’t get to work with other actors, I rely solely on myself. Usually when I have a reaction that I don’t want to do something, I try to question why and I think the reason why was it’s just a really hard thing I’m doing. But I needed to see if I could do it and I’m glad for that reason alone. It has really been a great experience so far.”

Episode four hasn’t even aired yet and already DJ has had what I’m sure will turn out to be one the most memorable scenes of the first season — Citizen Z vs. zombie dog. How cool was that? It was such a great scene and, of course, was something we were curious about.

DJ Qualls: “You know what’s interesting in the show for me, I don’t work with any of the other actors. I only recently just met them all at the premiere. So I am talking to myself or to a blank computer screen most of the time. The dog thing was interesting because we have budgetary constraints on the show and so, we’re not getting a dog who has played in a movie or any of those kind of dogs. Actually the dog that we used, he got a movie or TV show or something afterwards and he came back and now he hates us.

You know, the editing on this show is amazing and I take my hat off to the editors because they make it look like the dog really likes me. I had to put peanut butter behind both ears. I put the peanut butter jar down my pants just to try and tempt him to come over beside me and we did it in one take and that’s what we used. So, they’re not kidding when they said don’t work with kids or animals because it’s a long day. It was like 90 degrees when I was in Spokane shooting that stuff and I was supposed to be in the Arctic and was wearing a snow suit. That whole day I was jumping from crate to crate chasing the zombie dog and at about hour 14, I was in that snow suit with hat and gloves and scarf on and a big parka while cooking steaks on an open fire and I lost my mind and started crying. [Laughs] I’m really digging the fact that people are liking the show so much because we busted our asses to make it.”

Photo Credit: SyFy
Photo Credit: Syfy

So far this season every episode has ended with what I call Citizen Z’s “broadcast of hope,” where he rattles off a 30 to 45 second very fast-paced — but also very funny — inspirational message to anyone out there who is listening. It has almost become the signature of the series and it’s quickly becoming the favorite part of each episode for me. DJ is actually a pretty funny person in real life and so, my biggest question was how much of that was scripted vs. his own improv.

DJ Qualls: “That’s a very good question. It’s actually a mix of both. The average shooting day on a television show is about 11 or 12 pages and that’s split between multiple actors. I shoot my scenes all by myself and it’s usually an episode a day. I have a lot of dialogue and it would be impossible for me to memorize it word for word. My brain blanks at about 14 pages into it, I can’t remember anything and so, they’ve given me a license to really make it my own, to try out different voices and say things in different cadences and in different accents. It’s also playing into some of that isolation madness that he has. So to answer your question, it’s a good mixture between the writers and myself. I mean I have to hit basic plot points but how I actually say it is left up to me.”

When we talked with showrunner, Karl Schaefer, we said he loved the idea of working on a zombie series with one character stuck at the North Pole, completely isolated and really not having a full grasp of what is happening in the rest of the world. I personally think it was a great idea and very original, but the question comes up as to whether it’s going to stay that way long-term and for the rest of the season. Will Citizen Z somehow be able to escape and rejoin what’s left of humanity and if not, how will the isolation effect him mentally?

DJ Qualls: “One of the fun things about the show for me is that I get to play the isolation and I start to crack after a while. [Citizen Z] gets multiple personalities that he uses to do different things on the air. At this point I think when the show starts he’s been by himself for a year because they’re two years into the zombie apocalypse. So the dog is the first living thing that he sees and that’s why he tries so hard to save him in episode 2. You know, one of the saddest moments for me that I had to shoot is when he’s having that video chat with his girlfriend and you realize that she’s probably dead, and this is just a recording that he talks to. We explore a lot of that as the season goes on. ”

DJ ended the interview by talking about what is one of his favorite episodes — episode five, “Home Sweet Zombie.” It is here that Citizen Z begins to explore several new different characters while on the air and it’s also when his love for Addy really starts to grow. And yes, folks, you did not just misread that last sentence — Citizen Z does develop feelings for Addy. I had to laugh when DJ said this because in last week’s episode, one of the things that went through my mind was how Citizen Z was a much better match for Addy than Mack ever could be. Citizen Z is hyper intelligent — so is Addy. Citizen Z is good with computers and other techie gadgets — so is Addy. And Mack — well, Mack is just Mack. He’s nice on the eyes, but that’s about it. Given that Citizen Z is stuck at the North Pole, I don’t know if the relationship will ever go anywhere, but I’m excited just for the possibility.

Photo Credit: SyFy
Photo Credit: Syfy

Tomorrow night is episode four and Garnett’s team runs into even more trouble. The group has to work to fight off an army of zombies, but we do get some good character development with details on the past of the very mysterious 10K (Nat Zang).

Episode 1.04 of Z Nation is titled “Full Metal Zombie” and airs tomorrow night at 10/9c on Syfy.



All photos courtesy of Oliver Irwin and Syfy.
Z Nation - Season 1Z Nation - Season 1Z Nation - Season 1

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