Keith Allan Talks Z Nation, the Messiah Murphy and Getting His Freak On [Exclusive Interview + “Zunami” Preview]
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
I have been a Walking Dead fan for years (hey, I probably could even be called a Walking Dead “snob”), but I have to admit that I have completely fallen in love with Syfy’s new zombie series Z Nation. And when I started to think about it, I came to realize that one of the main reasons this show fascinates and intrigues me is the lead character Murphy, played by the immensely talented Keith Allan. In the pilot Murphy began as simply a man who survived being bitten by a zombie, thus making him extremely important in creating a vaccine. This in itself is not really anything new and it’s been done many times in other horror movies. Now that we are past mid-season, we are now realizing that Murphy is so much more than that. He’s not so much immune to the zombie virus, but is undergoing a slow transformation into some weird human and zombie mix. While Z Nation has other things going for it like its dark sense of humor, this is actually what makes the show unique. This is what makes the show so compelling. And this is becoming one of the main reasons more people are tuning in each week.
I was fortunate enough to chat exclusively with Keith earlier this week and what a pleasure he was to talk to. This is a guy who genuinely loves the character he portrays, loves his job and absolutely cannot wait to find out what’s next for Murphy. So he was more than happy to talk about crazy Murphy, who and what he is changing into and what we can expect for the rest of the season and going into season 2.
TV GOODNESS: Let’s talk about that freaky scene from “Welcome to the Fu-Bar,” you chowing down on that guy’s throat. We know Murphy is changing. Is this just part of it? Does he actually want to eat people now?
Keith Allan: “I really don’t think he wants to eat people now. But, I think it was sort of an animal instinct or reflex and I think it even caught him off guard. He’s more of a snake in the grass now. At this point, when he is threatened his first instinct would have been to talk himself out of it. But I think now he’s becoming something different than just a regular human. I think these instincts catch him off guard. So I think it was something that he didn’t plan on happening, but it just happened. But yeah, I don’t think he’s out to eat people [Laughs].”
TV GOODNESS: With Murphy, are we dealing with a man who is actually turning into a zombie or are we dealing with a man slowly morphing into a human/zombie hybrid — or as I call it, a zybrid?
Keith Allan: “I believe that, yeah. I definitely think he is becoming a zybrid. Whether or not he will live through that, I think remains to be seen. Even I don’t know that. It’s going to depend on what the writers want to do, but certainly part of the zombie virus and the vaccine are reacting with his own DNA that is changing him physically quite a bit. Just from the fact that he’s losing his hair and his teeth. The other indicator is he now has a real connection to these zombies that nobody else has. They are actually docile around him. They seem to calm down. They seem to chill around Murphy. As before, they would have wanted to eat him, now it’s completely different. Now, as you saw in episode 6, he sticks his fingers in the guy’s mouth. He actually is pushing those boundaries. He is testing, ‘What does this mean to me, what is the advantage of this transformation?’ I think he’s figuring out it all himself as he goes along. I think he’s fascinated by it, but I also think he’s terrified because he doesn’t know what he’s going to become — I mean nobody does at this point. I also think he still feels victimized and am not sure what’s going to happen to him. But at the same time, I think he’s fascinated by the road that he’s going down.”
TV GOODNESS: Speaking of parts falling off, I went to your Twitter last week just to look around and stumbled on a very disgusting photograph of your toenail that had come off. I was like, “Holy crap!” Can you talk a little about that? I know there is a good story behind that?
Keith Allan: “[Laughs] Oh, yeah. Several months before I got the part, I went hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with a buddy That’s like a 5 hour hike. At the end of that hike, I wound up with a couple of black toenails just from being on the downgrade for so long. So once I got the job, I read that I pulled a tooth out of my head. I told the producers and writers, ‘Guys, my toenail is going to come off at some point during the filming. We got to get that on film.’ They were like, ‘Yes, yes! Keep us updated and let us know when it’s going to happen.’ So, during filming when I was in the bathroom and my hair starts coming out, it was the time and told them it was coming off. So I told the makeup crew to put a little fresh blood underneath so that when I pull it off it would be really gooey. It was one of the last things we were shooting, but it was a quite of a shot of me pulling out my actual toenail. Several people on the crew did not know it was my own toenail and when they found out, they almost threw up. They were like, ‘Oh, my God!’ What was even more gross was it didn’t come off completely, it was still attached. I knew we’d get only one take on this. And it kind of hurt — I was twisting it and turning it, trying to do everything to get it to come off. Finally it did and they didn’t even use the shot. ”
TV GOODNESS: Why? Did they think it was too disturbing or gross?
Keith Allan: “I actually don’t know. I have not been able to get a straight answer because I think it was genius. I mean, who wouldn’t tune in to see Murphy pull off his actual toenail. [Laughs] So yeah, I’m sure it will wind up on the extras on the DVD.”
If you want to get as freaked out as I did when I saw the photo, then you can check out Keith’s Twitter at KeithAllanActor@Twitter.
TV GOODNESS: I wanted to ask you about the makeup. I was at Walker Stalker Con Atlanta a couple of weeks ago and I noticed that you had your hair and your beard. So did you have to shave your head? Just talk a little bit about the makeup process you had to go through for the role.
Keith Allan: “We wrapped about 3 weeks ago, maybe 4 weeks? So Corinne Foster is one of the owners of Synapse, who does all of the zombie makeup and regular makeup and hair and special effects, gags and heads exploding and that kind of stuff. Corinne, she’s awesome. She is very invested in my character, so she put a lot of thought into what Murphy’s look was going to be and how it would evolve. We got together very early on when I got [to] Spokane and started testing out different looks, the different prosthetics and things like that. It’s great, she’s really good and I love working with her. She’s a real pro, she’s very detail-oriented, so things like the scars on my chest are latex scars and she applies each one. Then, she hand-paints each one on top of that. So whenever I have to do scars and my face makeup, it’s about 4 hours sitting in the makeup chair. She puts a lot of thought into what Murphy’s skin texture is looking like. She coats my face with a substance that makes my face wrinkly and creepy-looking and then she paints my face and all of the veins. Then they also were painting my teeth. But I love it because it really transforms my character, especially as we go through the show and we get to see him looking more and more like shit in each episode. I think it’s interesting for the audience to think, ‘What’s going to happen to him next?’ I think because it’s happening so fast, people are intrigued and they’ll tune just to see what’s going to happen to him this week.”
TV GOODNESS: Another thing about Murphy is how his whole outlook and attitude seems to be changing at the same time. I can remember back in “Home Sweet Zombie,” when they were in that basement during the tornado, he was so sad and so terrified. It actually almost made me cry. Now, he’s just — well different. Can you talk a little about that?
Keith Allan: “From the beginning of the series Murphy has been a victim. He was a victim of the government’s trial on humans and he’s also been other people’s prisoner. He was a prisoner before the apocalypse, he was a prisoner during it. So now he’s their prisoner. He really hasn’t been in control of his own life for some time and the reality is that Murphy is not a fighter. He doesn’t really have fighting skills and he probably wouldn’t survive the apocalypse without these people. At the same time, he does feel like their prisoner. So being strapped down to a table and having a dozen zombies come in and bite you up — you’re going to get a little phobic. For the first half of the season, he was freaked out by the zombies and rightly so. What was really important in that scene in the bathroom is Murphy starts to see himself become zombie-ish, and it scares him. But he also starts to have a connection with the zombies that he did not expect. When he’s down in the basement and looking into the eyes of that zombie, he actually sees himself for one, but he also has a sense that this thing was a person before, that maybe there’s more to him than just being a mindless face-eater. Maybe there is some humanity still left in him and I think there’s a lot of things going on with him. He’s terrified about what is going to happen to him and also I think he feels empathy with these people who, quite frankly, the team just goes and whack them in the head. And I think that’s changing with Murphy, unexpectedly so. He is seeing something different in them, partially because he’s getting their perspective because he sees in them himself.”
TV GOODNESS: Do you think Murphy is going to become more of a representative of humanity on the show because of this way he sees the zombies?
Keith Allan: “Well, I don’t know if it will necessarily be humanity. but I certainly think there are certain things coming up where he questions people and what they are doing. Where he’s like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa!’ He brings it up that maybe what you’re doing isn’t right. Maybe just blowing these people’s heads off is not the right thing to do. So he starts to pose these questions to the group.”
TV GOODNESS: We don’t know a lot about Murphy. I actually thought about it today and I don’t even think we know his full name. It’s just “Murphy.” Can you talk about what we do know about Murphy and how much more can we expect to learn in the near future?
Keith Allan: “His full name is actually coming up and I’ll let that be a surprise to you because it’s funny. Part of what’s interesting about that is the people he’s with don’t even know his first name and they’ve been traveling for weeks together. I think that’s indicative of the way they treat him. They do treat him like cargo, just a package to be delivered. I think it says something about the way this group functions. Even though he does start to feel some sort of connection with them, there’s still part of him who says, ‘Hey, these people don’t care about me.’ They’re on another mission, it’s not the Messiac Murphy mission. It’s the save humanity mission and Murphy is just part of that mission. So I think that is part of what the writers are keeping, that part of Murphy that’s a little bit underplayed because, quite frankly, the people that he’s with haven’t even asked that question. But that being said, I think eventually — in fact, I know eventually — we will start to look into who he was. I actually think it becomes interesting when we start to see where these people came from and what their circumstances were. I mean, what did they lose? In my mind, people are not assholes just because they are assholes. They become that way because they feel they’ve been wronged. You know, [Murphy] had a life before this happened, he had a family, he had things going on in his life. I think it’s going to be interesting when we do get to that point to find out like, ‘Wow, who was this guy before all of this happened and what did he lose?'”
TV GOODNESS: Is this something coming up in this season or is it just something that you know now that we know there’s going to be a season 2?
Keith Allan: “Well, some of it will be this season, but I think more of it will be season 2.”
TV GOODNESS: When you auditioned for the role, how much did you know beforehand? Were you told who Murphy was going to eventually become? He started out as just a man who had survived being bitten by a zombie, but he’s turned into so much more — this very strange human/zombie mix. In fact, he’s become a pretty major player — actually, the lead — in the series. Can you talk a little bit about that and, in general how you were cast for the role?
Keith Allan: “Yeah, I didn’t get the chance to read the scripts and I was just given the sides. So I knew very little about how important his role was in the series. What they were looking for basically in the audition was whether I could pull off this character in so many kinds of levels in one scene. They weren’t really giving me any more clues than that and how critical he was to the show. In my audition, I auditioned for the role maybe 7 times and I was convinced I wasn’t going to get it. You know, Asylum has a history of casting actors who have a name and who people recognize their face even if it’s a face that hasn’t been around in a while. I assumed they were going to put someone in the role that the public would already know.
I actually have a very interesting connection because I worked at The Asylum as the stage manager. I had been working there for about 3 years, basically running the facility. It was my day job because I work as an actor as often as I can and as often as they’ll pay me. For the past few years, I wasn’t making enough money as an actor, so I had to get a regular job. My job was working at The Asylum. It was a great job and if you have to have a job job, it was great. One, because I was still close to the industry and secondly, they gave me a lot of opportunities I probably would not have had. Within a couple of months working there as the stage manager, I was acting in one of The Asylum’s films and then, a couple of months after that, I was directing a feature. I’ve been in a half-dozen of their movies and have written a couple of movies for Syfy, a couple of zombie films, a movie for Lifetime. So they knew me in that sense, my work ethic and what I was capable of doing as an actor and as a director. The Asylum was really behind me to get this job, but the bottom line was Syfy had to approve me and Syfy really didn’t know me. Again, I really didn’t think I was going to get it, then kaboom I got the job on a Friday afternoon and I had to be in Spokane because we started shooting on Tuesday. So it was a total last-minute thing. I had to put some shit in the car and get on the road.”
TV GOODNESS: As you mentioned, I know you are a writer besides being an actor. I looked up Z Nation to see if you were credited as a writer. but did not find your name. Are there any plans or would you like to eventually write for the series?
Keith Allan: “I would love to write for the series. I just talked to the show creator about that recently and he’s mulling it over. We’ll see what happens. But yes, I would love to write for the series. One, because I’m more familiar than ever with the zombie genre and two, I feel like I have a good insight into the characters being here for the past 5 months shooting. So yes, I would love to but it remains to be seen if that’s going to happen. If I don’t wind up writing for Z Nation, I’ll eventually end up writing something else. I actually only started writing the past few years and I love it. It’s really great and it’s a talent I didn’t know I had until I tried doing it. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m actually pretty good at this.’ So if it’s not for this series it’ll be for something else. I would actually like to both write and direct for Z Nation. “
TV GOODNESS: If you were a writer for Z Nation and you could do anything — and I mean anything — with your character Murphy, what would you do?
Keith Allan: “They have very specific ideas of where [Murphy] is going to go and what he’s going to become, but I’m more interested in the backstory. That’s where I would really love to dig in. I have very specific ideas myself about Murphy’s background and where he came from. I think for me as an actor and as writer, that’s really interesting stuff to get into, that’s the thing I would really be interested in. That being said, what they’ve got coming up for Murphy, as far as like his evolution I think is fascinating, so I wouldn’t mess with that at all.”
TV GOODNESS: From what I can see, we have a pretty good episode coming on Friday. What can you tell us about the episode? Is Murphy going to play a large role in this one? We’ve got a massive horde on the way and my gut says Murphy might be able to be helpful and keep the situation under control. Until I see it, of course, that’s all speculation.
Keith Allan: “Well, what I can you is that yeah, Murphy is feeling his own power, as far as like being able to now walk among the zombies. I also will tell you that he does something really awful.”
TV GOODNESS: Oh, no. Do you mean awful as in really bad and we’ll all get pissed at Murphy?
Keith Allan: “You might!”
TV GOODNESS: Oh, God. Murphy, Murphy, Murphy. Friday is also Halloween, so the last question is a fun one. Do you do the Halloween thing? do you dress up? If you do, what do you dress up as? Is it Murphy?
Keith Allan: “[Laughs] I just went to a big Halloween party and fundraiser in Los Angeles. Yeah, I love Halloween and it’s a lot of fun. I love dressing up. I’m one of those guys who doesn’t throw anything away, so I’ve got clothes that I wore in the 70s and I’ve got pieces of costumes that I wore in a play or a show. So I’ve got all kinds of stuff to draw from and oftentimes, I will just throw something together. My outfit last week was Robo GI-Joe. I had this shirt that lit up and a green jumpsuit. With my hair cut like this- I kind of look like him anyways. So that was my costume for last week. But yeah, I love Halloween. Sometimes I’ll go just gross and disgusting and sometimes I’ll go really funny and ridiculous. Yeah, I love it and have a great time with it.”
Edited for space and content.
Okay, is everyone as freaked out about Friday’s episode as I am after Keith’s remarks? It’s already going to be intense enough because we have a horde heading straight for our survivors. But what the hell does Murphy do? Argh. Friday night, hurry up and get here!
In the meantime, check out the below preview for the episode. It’s titled “Zunami” and airs Fridays at 10/9c on Syfy.
You can also read more about Keith and his work by visiting his website at KeithAllanActor.com.
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