Playing Dead on AMC
Portraying both the living and the undead, Adam Baggs scores a cameo in the post-apocalyptic drama The Walking Dead, thanks to production assistant Alexandra (Xan) Angelovich ’11.
Adam Baggs is not a zombie, but he’s played one on TV.
A fan of the AMC show The Walking Dead, Baggs scored a cameo in the post-apocalyptic drama, thanks to production assistant Alexandra (Xan) Angelovich ’11. As both the living and the undead, Baggs appeared in two episodes in the show’s third season in 2012-13.
“It was a bucket-list kind of thing for me,” said Baggs ’17 Ed.D., an assistant vice chancellor in TCU’s Advancement division and a doctoral student in the College of Education. “Seeing how the show is created — the makeup, costuming, filming — it gave me a new appreciation for it. I was really impressed with the cast and crew. They make it look so real.”
But he never would have roamed rural Georgia in zombie makeup had he not met Angelovich and her parents Jeff and EvMarie, who are supporters of the university’s Film-Television-Digital Media department. In 2009, Baggs worked with the Angeloviches to create the AXA Endowed Fund, which allows the department to invite industry professionals to campus for workshops and guest lectures.
A longtime science-fiction fan, Baggs discovered the show on Netflix after hearing friends talk about it. He and wife Elizabeth Rainwater ’00 (MBA ’10) binge-watched the first season’s six episodes to catch up, and soon were faithful viewers.
This month, the Golden Globe-winning program launched its sixth season and drew an audience of about 14 million.
Baggs got on the show sort of by accident. He had planned a trip to Atlanta to visit friends and asked Angelovich if he could watch her work to learn how the show was produced.
“I asked, ‘Can I visit the set?’ ” Baggs recalled. “Xan said, ‘No, it’s a closed set. But I know the casting director. How would you like to be a zombie?’ ”
Odds were pretty good. With a world populated by millions of “walkers” and “biters,” “The Walking Dead” needs more extras than any other show in Hollywood.
Baggs sent a photo to producers, was selected and got instructions on when and where to show up during summer filming.
“When I got there, I was a little awestruck,” he said. “They were shooting in a small town called Senoia about an hour south of Atlanta, and they had sort of taken over the place.”
Before they appear on camera, most extras attend the show’s “Zombie Academy” to learn how to skulk, scowl and attack like someone who’s out for human flesh. But Baggs didn’t have that chance.
When he arrived for costume and makeup, he was tapped to play a special role that executive producer Greg Nicotero was going to step from behind the camera to play. The two were roughly the same build, so the 6-foot-1 Baggs could play the part.
“They escorted me to the trailer where the stars are, and I put on Greg’s costume and makeup,” Baggs said. “It’s all way more than I bargained for. I just didn’t want to mess anything up.”
When they got to the set, details about the scene were scant. Baggs was to portray a walker that had gotten into the walled town of Woodbury and was threatening the townspeople. Nicotero offered only a little direction before shooting.
Playing dead is harder than it sounds. Baggs’ first attempt was too aggressive, he remembered, and the producer coached him on a few nuances with snarling and arm movements.
“There’s a balance between being too stiff and being too programmed,” Baggs said. “They try to eliminate movements that are too repetitious. I was nervous and just had to loosen up a little bit.”
Dying can be startling. In one scene, Baggs is shot after biting a Woodbury citizen and is dead. He’s lying still when The Governor emerges from his home and shoots the victim next to Baggs.
“We filmed it twice and both times the pop of the blank was jarring,” Baggs remembered. “I think I flinched a little the first time.”
When it got dark, producers used him as another citizen of Woodbury to chase a group of invaders near the town. Former NFL star Hines Ward was in the same scene.
“We filmed until 3 a.m. and I was exhausted,” Baggs said. “They work really hard and enjoy what they do, but, wow, they work crazy hours. And during the summer in Georgia, it’s hot, arduous work.”
Baggs was up late the following night too. Producers wanted to reshoot a scene they weren’t satisfied with and cast him again as a townsperson. This time, he and a group of citizens jeered at a pair of combatants battling in the town’s death arena.
The script called for the crowd to yell “Kill him!”, but mischievous fanboys have since created a meme suggesting that Baggs is screaming something else not suitable for print.
When it was over, it was 4 a.m. and Baggs had to sign an agreement that he wouldn’t reveal any details, even to his wife.
Months later, his episode aired as the mid-season finale, and Baggs watched with family and friends. “I didn’t know if I’d recognize myself or if I’d even make it in,” he said.
He did, in fact, appear, but only for a few seconds at the very end.
“We said, ‘That’s it?!’ ” Rainwater said. “We were a little disappointed at first. We really thought he’d been cut. Then we realized that he’d be in the next episode too, but we would have to wait a couple of more months to see it.”
Still, Baggs raised his “street cred” with his teen-age and pre-teen children. “They thought it was all very cool,” Rainwater said.
Baggs said he would love to be on the show again, but Angelovich has since moved on to pursuing acting herself, playing a minor role in “The Hunger Games” series and other films.
But every Halloween, he reminds his kids what he’s capable of.
“You just never know when.”