An Interview With “Tales Of The Walking Dead” Star Kersti Bryan

August 24, 2022

Written by Kelli Marchman McNeely

Kelli Marchman McNeely - Horror Fuel CEO & Executive Producer Email: [email protected]

Star of stage and screen, Kersti Bryan and I sat down to discuss her role in AMC’s new “Walking Dead” anthology spin-off ‘Tales of the Walking Dead.” But our conversation also drifts to the horrifying events that are currently plaguing our lives.

 

Bryan, who you may recognize from the series “Hustlers,” “FBI: Most Wanted,” and “RayDonavan,” stars as Sandra in the premier episode of “Tales of the Walking Dead” alongside Terry Crews. In the episode (out now), Sandra, a die-hard prepper, finally meets the man (Crews) that she’s been chatting with online, only for it to go terribly wrong.

 

Kelli: “You played in a lot of, drama series, like “Hustlers,” “FBI: Most Wanted,” and “Ray Donavan” that have some dark notes. Did those roles help prepare you for your role in “Tales of the Walking Dead?”

Kersti: “There’s been a lot of different, characters over years, that probably have helped. I was in a film called ‘Hell’s Heart’ that had a dark quality to it. Then I did a one-woman show on stage – it was called “True Believer”. That character was about a young activist that gets involved in something and it takes her down an intense path. My character Sandra is a prepper and truly believed even before there was proof, that the apocalypse is coming. She’s ready. I think there have been several things I’ve worked on that lent themselves to Sandra.”

 

Kelli: “If you will, tell us a little about “Tales of the Walking Dead.” It’s an anthology series, am I right?”

 

Kersti: “That’s right. Kelli, I understand you’re a big fan of horror.”

 

Kelli: “Of course.”

 

Kersti: “Amazing. Tales of the Walking Dead yeah, it’s an anthology series, a new spinoff that each episode sits like its own film. It’s a little set of characters, its own little adventure, but definitely within the world of The Walking Dead. The circumstances they jump in time. I think it’ll be really fun for fans to see these different perspectives.”

 

Kelli: “I think the series is a great idea. I’m surprised they haven’t already done something like this.”

 

Kersti: “With each great episode, you get an opportunity for a complete story.”

 

Kelli: “Tell me about your character Sandra and her story, please?”

 

Kersti: “Sandra, as I said, she is a prepper and she meets a character called Joe, played by Terry Crews in our episode. They were chatroom buddies, preparing their bunkers and probably all things prepper. They were definitely passionate about being ready for an apocalypse. So then, of course, it happens, and Joe, I don’t want to reveal… Is it okay if I reveal things or…?”

 

Kelli: “Well, it’s already aired has it not?”

 

Kersti: “It’s already aired. Joe loses his best friend, he realizes that it’s quite lonely and remembers, Sandra. She had asked to meet IRL before the Zombie Time but Joe had said no. So, he pulled out these chats that he had carefully printed out and he decides he was going to find her because he was sure she was ready for this, that she would’ve survived. He pieces together the mystery of where she’s at. Then on that, as he steps out to find her, he runs into Evie, which is a character played by Olivia Munn and they go on their own little adventure. Of course, there’s some cool stuff that the fans will see. Then he does inevitably find me and it looks like they’re
going to be a great match and then things go crazy.”
 

 

 

 

Kelli: “That’s awesome! I love Terry Crews. He’s hilarious.”

 

Kersti: “Oh, he’s fantastic. Yeah.”

 

Kelli: “Well what was it like to work on the set with all these zombies?”

 

Kersti: “I understand you’re a huge zombie fan. The zombies are the craziest things in the world. And it’s done right. Even though it’s not real — you’re in Georgia Kelli, so you know the woods of Georgia… you’re sitting in the woods, and you hear something. It’s late at night, we were shooting, they put in some hazes. I kind of look to my left… I know it’s just an actor, but it’s really not a great feeling to see a zombie. Even though they’re doing normal things like they’re having their coffee or they’re on their phone or just talking to each other. I’m like holy sh*t. Yeah, I mean zombies are scary, yo.”

 

Kelli: “[laughter] Yeah, I bet. Yeah. I can imagine. I’ve been in the Georgia woods late at night. They are scary enough on their own.”

 

Kersti: “Right? You want to be like prepared, and that’s Sandra. Sandra is prepared. I think we all have to get prepared.”

 

Kelli: “Has her character made you want to prep and be prepared?”

 

Kersti: “Gosh, you know, yes. I grew up in Colorado… One of my uncles has a hut that’s off the grid. I have family that is kind of, I wouldn’t say preppers, but would be able to go off the grid if needed. It’s something I’m aware of. But living in New York City, when the pandemic hit, you better believe that no one in this town knew what to do. But, I had three gallons of water in the closet and a bunch of food. I have my flashlights… But that’s just because my dad made me. I grew up with that.”
 

 

I will say after going down the rabbit hole of the bunker and the preppers and… They’re not wrong to be so prepared. I think what would be tough is if you’re making this your entire life… you need to be prepared, but also the good news is if it doesn’t happen, that’s awesome. We don’t want it to happen. There have been some stories of kids whose parents were serious preppers and their parents hoard life savings to get set up for the apocalypse, but it never happened. Then when they pass, the kids are left with a bunker full of canned food that went bad. That’s a real bummer. But if something had happened, they’d have been ready. But I think you’ve got to… like everything in our life, you have to be balanced. Sandra is not balanced.”

 

Kelli: “She’s one of those all-in people?

 

Kersti:” She’s all in. Could you imagine you’re in an underground bunker and you can hear people screaming? She’s hearing it happening above her and she doesn’t open her door. You see that in the episode that that affects her. How do you emotionally prepare for such a thing? Because she was the one that’s prepared, she’s got everything, but when do you share? I think that there is a moment where she did open the door and let someone in, and that person tried to take all her stuff.”

 

 

When Terry Crews’ character comes in, I think she’s hopeful. I don’t think she means to be this person. I think she’s hopeful that maybe he is who she remembers online, but the truth is the world has changed. Everybody has changed. I have a line that says, “I wish I had met you when you still were who you were.” But she really thinks that there’s no goodness left. She’s gone down the rabbit hole. That’s a kind of tragedy, her great love shows up at her doorstep and they have nothing but things in common and they could face being in the apocalypse together. She wrecks it.”

 

Kelli: “People do crazy things out of fear.”

 

Kersti: “Oh, I think that is the best way of putting it.”

 

Kelli: “Not just during the zombie apocalypse either. When the pandemic hit, you saw the evil in people come out. I mean for God’s sake, you couldn’t find toilet paper.”

 

Kersti: “I know. That’s the thing. It’s like… that doesn’t make any sense.

 

Kelli: “Yeah. Exactly.”

 

Kersti: “That, I think, is the brilliance of “Walking Dead.” It is a study of the human condition under unthinkable conditions. I do believe in humanity, I do believe in goodness, but sometimes people respond out of fear. We have to have compassion.”

 

Kelli: “Right. Exactly. While no zombies are running around, there were desperate people and they are far more dangerous. And now we’ve got Monkeypox.”

 

Kersti: “Oh yeah.”

 

Kelli: “It’s just… Where I live we’re having another flare-up of COVID, so it’s like starting all over. A lot of people are coming back into the hospital. My mom is a pharmacy tech at the hospital and she’s warned me that they are seeing numbers rise But no one is talking about it.”

 

Kersti: “How is she feeling about things? Because I think that’s the person that we should talk to is your mom cause she sees frontline kind of what actually is happening. Because she’s sensing an uptick obviously.”

 

 

Kelli: “It’s crazy. I know people are tired of everything COVID, but I don’t understand why it’s not being reported.”

 

 

Kersti: “Dang. I don’t know how this got politicized. I mean, we’ve got to help each other at the end of the day.  And yeah, I think being in New York during the pandemic, the thing about New York is we’re on top of each other here, so I’m so aware that my behavior can so quickly affect my neighbor.”

 

 

“But now we’re seeing that we’re not islands. We’re in this together. It saddens me to hear that so many folks have died and we haven’t honored them. This is a disaster. This is our version of the zombie apocalypse. What is it? Over a million people passed in the United States. That’s a flipping insane number!”

 

Kelli: “It is. It’s crazy.”

 

Kersti: “I understand the exhaustion. But your mom is on the frontline taking care of people when they get sick and people are getting sick. Those are the folks that I’m thinking about a lot, those who are taking care of us. I can understand burnout for healthcare workers. Do you want to hear a crazy story?”

 

Kelli: “Of course I do.”

 

Kersti: “When I was shooting Invasion during September 2020, and they had put us in a hotel 23 hours a day, one hour off time because there was no vaccine, there was no protocol yet. All they knew was we needed to be in quarantine for 14 days to work one day. That was crazy. So I took a cab home after I was done with this job, and I climbed into this… In New York, there are these old, black Lincoln cars. It’s kind of a cab of a different time. But this young man was driving the cab, and I got in the back seat and was like, “Hey, you’re really young to be driving this car.” It’s cab drivers that have been around for a long time – it’s their preferred car. You see older drivers are the ones that drive these cars.”

 

I said, “Hey, you’re young to be driving this car.” He goes, “Well it’s my dad’s car.” I started chatting with him. I go, “Well, where’s your dad?” And he goes… This was September 2020. And he said, “My dad passed.” I was like, “Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry to hear that.” And then I said, “When did that happen?” He said, “April 2020.” I said, “Oh I’m so sorry, is your mom okay?” And he said, “She died too.” It turned out she was a nurse in Queens who brought it home on a Wednesday they both didn’t feel well. By the end of the week, they were both gone.”

 

Kelli: “Oh damn.”

 

Kersti: “And this little guy. Yeah. So he all, he knew… He’s 23 years old and he’s just driving his dad’s car because he doesn’t know what else to do. I was just like, “That’s the story of families that have lost everyone”. And that hit me hard.”

 

Kelli: “That’s heartbreaking. Could you imagine if there was an outbreak of zombies, what would happen? The way the pandemic was handled, it proved we’d be screwed.”

 

Kersti: “You know, I rewatched that first episode of The Walking Dead (series). Have you ever rewatched it? Where he’s waking up in the hospital?

 

Kelli: “I have.”

 

Kersti: “I think that’s so brilliant. Oh my God, that was such a brilliant series of shots.  Like you suddenly see what has occurred. And people have… Once the zombie apocalypse happened, people are rushing out of cities. They’re just doing all sorts of things to try to save themselves, but then you see who’s left and then what you make of that. Yeah, so right now this feels very similar.”

 

Kelli: “How do you think appearing in the episode has affected your life?”

 

Kersti: “I have very limited social media. I opened my Twitter account today after, and that was like, I was like, “Oh my heavens. There are fans.”

 

Kelli: “I can only imagine.”

 

Kersti: “Sandra is kind of funny. The Walking Dead is a very dark world, very quiet. There are intense and quiet conversations. I was preparing with that tone in mind. Then when I finally got the script, I looked at it and I went, “Oh, this is different.” Sandra could go so many different ways. I sat with the director, Ron Underwood, he was like: “I’m thinking Mommy Dearest, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, The Joker.” I was like, “Oh, wow. Okay.”

 

I had like five days to prepare. I just went home, put a blanket over my head, and watched all those movies. Then I watched a lot of horror stuff. Then also a lot of prepper stuff. I watched a lot of YouTube things of folks in the prepping world. The design team gave Sandra an awesome very bright costume. I asked Ron, “From one to ten, where do you want this to land?” And he said, “let’s try it all.” I was like, “Okayyyyyyyy.” I gave… multiple options. I was just throwing stuff at the wall. I was so nervous about seeing the result because I didn’t know what they’d choose. They gave her a pretty awesome ride. I’m pleased.”

 

Kelli: “Does the series have anybody connecting back to the Walking Dead?”

 

Kersti: I can’t speak to the other episodes. What I can say is I do think fans will recognize some folks along the way.”

 

Kelli: “Awesome. [dogs barking] I apologize, the mailman is outside and my dogs hate him.”

 

Kersti: “I think that’s Sandra’s downfall. She didn’t have a companion. That’s like bad planning. Have a friend nearby or… and it sounds like her foil is she was pushing people out, but I think she was trying… before the pandemic… okay. Before the zombie apocalypse. She was trying to meet Joe in real life, but I think she wanted to be together and he said he was scared. Maybe if they had done that before, that would’ve been a happy pairing.”

 

I mean, Terry Crews is kind of the greatest in the world. Just being with him, you just want to vibe higher. You question your life, I mean, am I a good enough person? Am I eating correctly? Do I exercise enough [laughter]?”

 

Kelli: “[laughter]I can only imagine. He seems like a great person.”

 

Kersti: “I think so. But he’s got just this… his spirit lifts everyone around him. He raises the boats. I don’t know how to say it.”

 

Kelli: “Every time I think about him, that scene from White Chicks comes to mind where he’s singing in the car. I don’t know why it sticks in my head, but it does.”

 

Kersti: “That’s so funny. Yeah, because he’s so good at comedy. Oh, my gosh. He is so funny, but also an artist. He’s an artist, he’s a designer. He does everything. I don’t think Terry Crews fails. Also, he’s a major mega, mega Walking Dead fan. Like major.”

 

Kelli: “That’s awesome.”

 

Kersti: “I think Terry was obsessed.”

 

Kelli: “Really? That’s great. You know, I think in certain circumstances, or a pandemic, bring out one of two things. You either turn very kind or very cold.”

 

Kersti: “Yeah. I think it magnifies something in you. I remember somebody told this to me and I want to remember this throughout my life.

 

My grandmother had dementia. We loved her so much. What I learned from that is, if you have an over-learned skill, you’ll probably have it, even when you’re not fully yourself. My grandmother’s over-learned skill was throwing dinner parties. She was always just wanting to graciously throw a party.”

 

I think in our day-to-day life, I wonder what can we overlearn that would make us better? We don’t want to be our worst selves when we don’t have all our faculties. What do you focus on now that can be a good thing? As you said, the pandemic really brought out parts of ourselves that we weren’t totally happy with. I was like: “I need more joy in my life. I need more laughter. I need more service-oriented stuff. I need to stop looking at my social media accounts and I go talk to like… Get on the phone and talk to my friends.” What can we do to overlearn something else?”

 

 

Kelli: “I am so sorry. That’s rough. You’re right, we all do need joy.”

 

Kersti:  “When I got COVID, I was down for the count. People were like, “That was easy.” I was like, “No, friends. That was not pleasant.” That was 14 days of me fatigued. I couldn’t leave the bed. I did have the pleasure of watching Picard, which I very much enjoyed. Yeah, but zero stars, would not recommend.”
Kelli: “I would have hoped that the situation would’ve made us all more prepared and the government more prepared, but…”

 

Kersti: “Oh, my heavens. When they’re attempting rollouts that it just takes… How can we get more organized, people? Let’s get the resources to the right places.”

 

Kelli: “I mean, speaking of resources and all, they had millions of smallpox vaccines – you know they think that prevents Monkeypox – stockpiled and threw them away because they let it go bad. I mean, talk about dropping the ball. They could have sent them to Africa where Smallpox is still a big problem before they went out of date, but no.”

 

Kersti: “I’m pro continuing policies to help each other globally. I’m pro continuing diplomacy of being in the world together. Because I’ll tell you something: climate change and pandemics know no borders.”

 

Kelli: “Anybody who believes that climate change isn’t real, I invite them to come to spend a summer in Georgia.”

 

Kersti: “My experience with Georgia is that there are zombies down there, in the woods, checking their phones and having their coffees. They’re there. Just be cautious [laughter].”

 

Kelli: “I grew up in the Georgia woods. I’ll be fine [laughter]. You be safe. New York would be a horrible place for a zombie apocalypse to break out.”

 

Kersti: “Oh, no. I’ve had this conversation. What would we do? Run out of the city. The bridges are closed. What do you do next? Walk us through. These are real conversations. It’s very scary stuff.”

 

Kelli: “It is, but I somehow doubt that we’ll have a zombie apocalypse anytime soon. Hopefully.”

 

Kersti: “No, I think we’re going to be okay. I think some folks really do get locked into this: “We’re doomed,” mentality versus: “Hey, we’re just being realistic here. Things could go wrong.” I say, let’s be prepared, and then let’s also enjoy life. Maybe we’ll be okay. Maybe we will be great.”

 

During our interview, which was an absolute pleasure, Kersti Bryan made a good point, no matter if it’s a zombie outbreak on TV or a real-life pandemic we have to stick together. Unfortunately her character in “Tales of the Walking Dead” didn’t get that message.

You can now watch her episode (the premiere) of “Tales of the Walking Dead” on AMC as well as episode 2. Tune in weekly for the six-episode series.

 

 

To stay up to date on Kersti Bryan’s projects follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Also, be sure to check out her short film Egg Party which marks her directorial debut. The comedy is about a group of women and fertility and made its world premiere at Cinequest.

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