Interview Done By Mike Wilkerson
MW: Please introduce yourself? Hi! My name is Chance Bartels
CB: How would fans of The Walking Dead TV show on AMC know you? Of the episodes that have aired so far, I’d say that I’m most easily identifiable in the episode titled “GUTS” that introduced many of the main characters such as Glenn, Andrea, T-Dog, Dale, Amy, Merle and Daryl Dixon among others. I portrayed a “Walker” in this episode as well as in several other episodes of “The Walking Dead.”
MW: How did you get cast as a walker on The Walking Dead?
CB: I had worked for a background actor casting company called Extras Casting Atlanta for 3 other projects prior to “The Walking Dead” which were the feature films “Hall Pass”, “Big Mommas House 3: Like Father, Like Son” and the horror sequel to “Quarantine” titled “Terminal: Quarantine 2″ that we filmed at the Atlanta airport. Extras Casting Atlanta went on to cast the Zombie “Walkers” for “The Walking Dead.” After a casting call for TWD was placed on Facebook, I submitted a photo of myself to Extras Casting Atlanta to hopefully secure a spot to audition at what would be infamously known as “Zombie School.”
MW: Tell me about zombie school?
CB: Well, initially there were three days of auditions for “Walker” wannabees. Each day there were several “classes” held at the season one production office near downtown Atlanta, GA. My audition was on May 26th, 2010. When I arrived, I signed in with the ECA staff. I was given a sticker that designated me as “Day 3, B-1″ below my name. This was the very last day of auditions. There were several groups of people trying out per day. Each class was specified by letter A,B,C,D, etc. The letters represented the order of the class with A being the earliest. Next, I was given a really cool 3 page document to read at a table. This document dated May 24th, 2010 and it had the comic book TWD logo at the top of the first page followed by the words “WALKER MOTIVATION AND MOVEMENT.” This was composed by the season 1 writing team and was very informative in terms of what the Zombies can and cannot do in this series. Movement, sensory elements as well as the ability to think were thoroughly explained in great detail throughout all 3 pages. I still have my “Walker” writer’s guide. Most of these guides were confiscated, lost or destroyed. Next, one of the assistant directors whom we call “Jon Bon” gave us a brief overview of what the day would entail and what they were looking for. We were told that this was a top secret project and everyone was instructed not to post ANY details on Facebook, Twitter, on a message board or anywhere on the internet OR ELSE. Total secrecy and professionalism was expected from everyone. The members in our class were then escorted to the wardrobe wing of the production office/sound stage. I was measured by the wardrobe team for a costume. Shoes were selected for me as well. Photos were taken of all of us in our costumes. After this, we were ready to be tested. Each class contained about 40 people. Of these 40 people, 4 would be chosen to be a featured Zombie performer. There were 3 judges: makeup genius Andy Schoneberg, a choreographer the master Greg Nicotero himself. You’ve probably heard all about this, but we were shown choice clips of “Night of the Living Dead” and my favorite Zombie movie of all time “Dawn of the Dead.” There were two basic criteria for grading us: look and performance. At first I was making Zombie sounds as I performed my movements. Greg Nicotero informed me that “You don’t need to worry about making noises. We won’t use your voice.” There was an obstacle course of chairs that we had to maneuver around and we were encouraged to move as if we had just staggered out of a watering hole at 4 AM drunk as a skunk. Fortunately, I was one of the 4 in Day 3, B-1 class to be chosen to be featured based on my moves. After class, the 4 of us featured folks were taken to meet Smith Chris who was the optical expert on set who controlled the contact lenses. All 4 of us tried on the contacts so make sure that we did not have a negative reaction to them. I had never worn contact lenses in my life, so this was interesting. After that, I was dismissed from “class” and was cleared and ready to work on the 90 minute pilot movie of “THE WALKING DEAD” a few days later.
MW: Your are in episode 2 “Guts” of season 1 of The Walking Dead. Where can we see you in the episode?
CB: I was the “Walker” that the character “Merle Dixon” shot in the head from the rooftop in downtown Atlanta before he went off on poor “T-Dog. ” I used to boast that I am the ONLY Walker that you saw Merle shoot on camera. Now that Merle is back, I can say that I am the FIRST Zombie that was shot on camera by the crazier Dixon son. I’ve got stories to tell about that day! It was a blast. I can’t thank Greg Nicotero for selecting me on the spot to be shot and to the episode director Michelle MacLaren for using me in the final cut. 2 of us were filmed being shot in that scene. I am proud to be a part of this episode since it is so pivotal and it introduced so many of our hero main characters. “Guts” is an episode that will be watched over and over by fans of “The Walking Dead” both old and new.
MW: What episodes of season 1 or 2 are you in?
CB: I am in the 1st episode “Days Gone By” (1.1) eating Rick’s horse , the 2nd episode “Guts” (1.2) as we discussed, the 5th episode “Wildfire” (1.5) at the CDC set lying dead in a birds-eye shot with 2 female “Walkers” as our heroes arrive on the scene. I sat there with my eyes wide open for realism looking into the sun for a LONG time. Actress Melissa McBride (“Carol”) said to me: “You look so good doing that” to which I jokingly replied: “Do you mind? I’m trying to stay in character here.” That day there was also an extensive solo scene with me that was filmed where I attack the group from behind the tank just as the doors of the CDC are about to open. I am chomping, mashing, clicking and gnawing my teeth together violently. This was not completed since the sunlight got away. At least I got a pat on the back and some kind words from Andrew Lincoln) and in the season 1 finale “TS-19″ seen lying dead far right frame as the CDC explodes. I had a funny interaction with some of the cast that day. Jon Bernthal complimented me on something I did on set. Also, in this episode, “Shane” shot me just before he jumped into his Jeep and ducked to avoid the explosive debris. This did not make the final cut. It’s too bad since I actually performed a stunt where I fall backwards feet in the air into a grassy ditch. I recall Robert “IronE” Singleton “T-Dog” pointing to me and saying: “oooo he shot you good!” Oh, during production of the 5th episode, filming was briefly halted after someone in the Government saw the tank outside of the CDC set as they rode overhead in a helicopter. This person sounded a red alert thinking that a para military group of renegades had declared war! The set was invaded by the F.B.I, state police, Cobb County police and the Secret Service. Everything was cleared up, but man that was strange.
In the season 2 premier “What Lies Ahead” I was a highway hunchbacked “Walker” and I acted in a really cool scene from the original opening of the second season that we filmed on a scorching hot day in June, 2011 that was not used. In this lost scene, the heroes are making their escape in their convoy. There is 1 problem…Shane’s Jeep runs out of gas and he is stranded. The incredible noise of the CDC explosion attracted us “Walkers” and we get ready to feast! We chase him on foot. Shane draws his shotgun and blows some of us away. At that moment, Dale’s Winnebago arrives and he is rescued by Rick and company as he is literally pulled from our claws. Half of this scene is on the Season Two Blu-Ray/DVD released in the bonus scenes section. Also, in the original AMC trailer for season two, you see Jon Bernthal running from us and blowing some of us away. You can still find this on Youtube. Basically, the 1st and 2nd episode of the second season were edited into a big 90 minute premier for reasons unknown to me. So much was left on the cutting room floor from this episode. Editing of this nature happens all of the time and as they say, “that’s showbiz!” Thankfully, home video releases contain footage that did not make the original AMC network transmissions.
Also, of the episodes that have already aired at the time of this interview, I appear in episode 11, “Cupacabra” (2.5).
I was honored to be illustrated by MAD MAGAZINE artist Hermann Mejia in the 2011 Mad parody of “THE WALKING DEAD.” The shot where Merle shoots me from the rooftop was drawn in the first page. So cool!
Also, if you own the season one SPECIAL EDITION Blu-Ray/DVD set, there is a brief interview with me by video biographer Constantine Nasr from the 6th episode CDC set of “The Walking Dead” in the KNB effects segment on disc 3. I thank Greg Nicotero for allowing me to get my head blown off. A line of mine was cut where I say: “No disrespect intended to the main actors, but let’s face it….WE’RE who people want to see in this show!” In retrospect I’m happy that this exclamation of mine was omitted since I made it BEFORE I’d seen most of the beautiful performances of the main cast. They are all the BEST.
MW: Have you done any conventions as a guest yet?
CB: Yes. My first public appearance was very brief in the dealer’s room of Dragon*Con 2012 in Atlanta, GA. My next appearance was at the Nashville Comic Con in Nashville, TN October 6th and 7th, 2012. I had a blast! There are so many fans of “The Walking Dead” who really do want to meet as many “Walkers” as they possibly can and collect the signatures for their items. It is a “collect them all” mentality. As a collector of horror and sci-fi memorabilia myself, I understand this thought process very well. I was amazed and thrilled by the hospitality of the fans…particularly in Tennessee. The following Monday I appeared at a trade show for Gaming business owners. I’ve since appeared at Adventurecon in Knoxville, TN with fellow actor Rodney Hall.
What new conventions will you be at?
CB: None at this time. I am one of the “Walkers” who has a theatrical agent. I’m auditioning for speaking roles. I LOVE being a “Walker”, but in the Entertainment Industry this role is still uncredited and unrecognized for the most part. In this show, the rules have changed. Fans of “The Walking Dead” have made “Walkers” ROCK STARS! It’s really extraordinary.. Truly the credit lies with creator Robert Kirkman, GreGORY Nicotero, his entire KNB effects team and the show’s producers, writers and directors. Also, AMC deserves credit for giving the green light to film TWD in the first place.
MW: Who is the coolest actor on The Walking Dead to work with?
CB: Oh, this is really an unfair question since I respect and admire all of the talented actors on the show. Ok, since you are twisting my arm, I’ll say Andrew Lincoln since he literally gave me a pat on the back .
MW: What else are you doing other then The Walking Dead?
CB: I also am an ad salesman. I’m constantly auditioning and pushing myself. It’s a salesman’s creed. I’ve completed work on several upcoming big and exciting projects that unfortunately I can not speak about at this time. Of stuff that has already been released to the public, you can see me torture, tar and feather a bootlegger in the incredible and violent film “Lawless.” That was fun.
MW: What would you like to say in closing?
CB: KEEP WATCHING!