Mar 20 2012
The “sitting down” part was a bit dramatic, because the big news wasn’t that big: Leonard had gotten Gary cast as a featured extra in an upcoming episode of the second season. It was good news, definitely, but as always, not the big break Gary was looking for. Hell, he wasn’t even required to audition, which could only mean one thing.
“Wait, Leo…am I cast as a zombie?”
“Listen, kid, it’s $500 for a day’s work, and I got them to pay for your flight. They’re shooting in Georgia. And I kno—”
“Wait,” Gary interrupted. “You said they got the flight. Do I have to pay for a hotel?” There was a long pause.
“Listen, I know the casting director, OK? Friend of mine. Do this, and I can probably get you better stuff in the future. Just gotta bulk up that acting reel of yours.”
Two weeks later and Gary was on a flight to Atlanta, his nose pressed firmly against the window-seat glass. Despite his low status on the casting list, he was genuinely excited about this trip; he’d been a big fan of the comic book series for years, and was happy to play a part in its transition to the small screen.
In wardrobe, Gary was quickly fitted for an itchy, tattered business suit; he wasn’t looking forward to the many layers of makeup the rest of his costume would no doubt require. Much to Gary’s surprise, however, he was simply handed a shaggy wig and directions to a shuttle van. Andrew Lincoln and Jon Bernthal were coming too, he was told, but they’d be in a different car. So wait, Gary thought to himself. I was cast as a zombie, and I’m not even going to get zombified?
Once everyone arrived at the first shooting location, the simplicity of Gary’s job became clear: he was directed to stumble back and forth in the middle of a field while the camera crew shot him from a distance. Within a half hour he was done. “No wonder I didn’t need makeup,” Gary mumbled on his way back to the van. “Nobody’s going to see my damn face.”
He casually chatted up more cast members later in the day. He didn’t ask for any autographs, of course. That would have been unprofessional. Gary’s role in whatever episode this was for clearly wasn’t a big one, but as he shuffled over to the airport shuttle (Leo had booked him a red-eye), the director shot him a wink.
“Hey, man, good stuff today. You’re going to like those shots.”
Gary felt better about the flight home, eagerly anticipating the e-mail from Leonard that would tell him which episode he’d be featured in. But by episode eight, he assumed his few shots had gotten cut—that sort of thing happened all the time. He got paid regardless, but still…
A couple days later, the good news came: Gary’s scene would be featured in episode ten. This was heartening, as he’d told more than a few friends and family members to look for his name in the credits these past few months. And while he didn’t have high expectations for screen time, at least the episode would be more interesting to watch. He told himself these things as he sat down—alone—to pull up his TiVo queue.
Three minutes in, and Gary recognized the shooting location. Around the ten-minute mark, Rick and Shane drive past a lone, almost indistinguishable zombie lurching its way through the background. Gary’s walker had only appeared for a few seconds, but that had been his scene, all right. Good stuff, indeed.
By the end of the episode, Gary had forgotten he was in it at all. As the bloodied Shane and Rick returned to their car, Gary was busy contemplating the implications of their latest encounter, losing himself in anticipated plot twists. As Wye Oak’s tumbling acoustics rolled over the final scene, he was busy admiring the narrative’s collective deviation from its source material. But as a familiar country road (and walker) came into view, Gary recognized the weight of his second cameo—not as a mindless, soulless abomination, but as a metaphor for Shane’s character.
When the inevitable confrontation between Rick and Shane finally takes place, they barely escape with their lives, and it appears the two men have come to a mutual understanding. But as they drive back to Hershel’s farm, Shane gazing almost enviously across the open fields, the audience gets an extended look at that lone zombie. Gary’s zombie, whose purpose and intent remain the same, despite having only traveled across the road in however many hours. Similarly, it remains unclear whether Shane will deviate from his dark path; the combined imagery and musical score creates an eerie sense of foreboding.
Gary watched the ending again. And again. He pressed ‘pause’ the fourth time around, remembering what drew his collegiate self to acting in the first place: the layered meanings behind cinematic imagery. The director had used Gary to create a brilliantly unexpected metaphor, and this metaphor, Gary reasoned, could apply to his own aspirations as an artist (though in a much less dismal way). Acting was his passion, and no amount of negativity could ever change that. Nothing could alter his chosen path.
As if on cue, Gary’s cell began to ring. His mother. She recorded The Walking Dead on her DVR each week just to read the credits. Then she’d call to regretfully inform Gary she must have missed his scene. Again. This time, however, she could have actually seen his name somewhere—she might even be calling to congratulate him. She might be.
Gary turned back to the frozen TV screen, where Jon Bernthal thoughtfully gazed after that lone walker. Gary’s walker. With a tired smile, Gary set his phone down and pushed the ‘ignore’ button.
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