You may not know the name, but you’ll definitely know her work. Acclaimed character actor Kim Dickens has popped up in some of the biggest TV shows of recent years, including Deadwood, Sons Of Anarchy and House Of Cards, as well as taking on the role of Detective Rhonda Boney in movie phenomenon Gone Girl.
Now starring as the lead character in AMC’s hit apocalyptic zombie show Fear The Walking Dead, she spoke to Mark Butler about the challenges of keeping a straight face while killing zombies, her memories of working on Deadwood, and how she’d love to reprise her role for a Gone Girl TV series.
Kim Dickens doesn’t give herself much of a chance if a real zombie apocalypse were to strike tomorrow.
“I think I’d be a lunatic. I’d be crying and screaming. It would be my worst nightmare.”
Fortunately, her character in Fear The Walking Dead is made of sterner stuff.
Set in LA, and revolving around a dysfunctional family’s battle to survive when ravenous corpses take over the city, the warmly-received companion piece to AMC’s established zombie show thrusts Dickens centre-stage as protagonist Madison Clark – a high school guidance counselor and mother-of-two.
She’s certainly a very different proposition to hard-bitten cop Rick Grimes. And all the more fascinating for that.
“At first, you don’t think she’d be at all equipped for a zombie apocalypse, but she might actually be the most well-equipped. She knows how to wrangle teenagers for one thing!
“She had her own struggles and a tough upbringing, so she’s adaptable and a survivor. But she’s compassionate too, and wants to help people.
“She’s a school teacher. She doesn’t know anything about enforcing the law, or using weapons. I think part of the fascination of the series is seeing her develop and adapt over time. She’s a very relatable character. These are all ordinary people.”
Created and produced by franchise mastermind Robert Kirkman, Dickens notes that the new show offers a “different window into his magical imagination”.
“It’s the dawn of a zombie apocalypse, rather than the aftermath. It’s a slow-burning look at society and all its infrastructure collapsing around people. We see it happen.”
Also stepping up to the forefront alongside Dickens is another veteran character actor, Cliff Curtis, who plays her boyfriend Travis. Just as Dickens has previously appeared in supporting roles in a whole host of iconic TV shows and movies, so too has Curtis – who made a memorable mark in the likes of Training Day, Trauma and Sunshine.
The decision to give both actors the spotlight in this series delighted Dickens, and she’s relished taking on a challenge that offered interesting, and occasionally bizarre, opportunities.
“I really, really enjoyed killing the zombies,” she laughs. “That was a lot of fun.
“It’s one of the first roles where I’ve done a lot of action. I did some in Hollow Man, but this was so much more full-on and I really enjoyed the adrenaline.
“Yeah. It’s absurd. When you’re in a scene and you step back, and look at a zombie standing in front of you with all that crazy make-up, it’s actually quite funny. Cliff would laugh at the zombies sometimes.”
Originally from Alabama, the decidedly youthful 50-year-old actress appeared in films such as Mercury Rising and House Of Sand And Fog, before netting herself roles in such TV phenomenons as Sons Of Anarchy, House Of Cards and the widely-adored, cult Western drama Deadwood – where she played complex, compelling brothel madam Joanie Stubbs.
The latter, in particular, stills holds a special place in Dickens’ heart. And it’s clear she’s just as enthusiastic about it as the shows’s rabid fanbase.
“I remember a friend saying they saw a comedian doing stand-up in LA. He got his box set of Deadwood out – and got someone to ‘marry it’ on stage.
“The whole thing, when I look back on it, just has fond memories all round. It was such a creative, rewarding experience. There were all these terrific actors, and we didn’t have scripts. We’d get the pages daily, and storylines and scenes would just evolve.
“In one sub-plot, the Charlie Utter character was supposed to be setting up his own business, and he had to swap out his old clothes for this long frock coat in order to look respectable. The actor, Dayton Callie, was actually embarrassed about wearing it, and he was running around camp asking people if it looked stupid – if they thought it looked like a dress.
“Well, the writers and director picked up on this, loved it, and they ended up incorporating the whole thing into the character, and into the show. It was art imitating life. That kind of thing happened all the time on Deadwood.”
Those of you who’ve enjoyed David Fincher’s incredible, Oscar-nominated thriller Gone Girl – one of WOW’s Top 10 movies of last year – may also recognise Dickens as razor-sharp detective Rhonda Boney.
She brought real warmth and relatability to a character who might have been cliched in other hands, helping to make her one of the most compelling pieces of the gripping, ever-twisting puzzle.
Dickens sees it as the role of a lifetime.
“It was incredible. It felt a little life-changing, in a way.
“David Fincher pushes everybody – including himself. Working with him so closely, you see how specific he is, and he really keeps you on your toes. He breaks all your bad habits. After Gone Girl, I find myself constantly asking: ‘What would Fincher do?'”
Indeed, she enjoyed the experience of playing Boney over the 105-day shoot to the extent that it was difficult to leave the character behind.
“I loved the character so much, and I loved Gillian Flynn’s writing. If I could play her again I would.”
Maybe there should a spin-off TV show with her as the main character, investigating different cases?
“Maybe! Just as long as Gillian Flynn writes it.”
FEAR THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON is available on Blu-ray & DVD on 7th December, courtesy of eOne