When an actress insists that they’re not into the makeup and the dresses that come with the red carpet appearances their fame necessitates, it can often come across sounding as genuine as a supermodel claiming they not only love ice cream, but also eat it on the regular.
Rehearsing such “common people” sound bites though, is not something one can imagine 26-year-old Alanna Masterson ever doing. In fact, when the actress tells you, “I love getting glammed up, as long as I can do it in a way that feels true to me. I’m very much a tomboy, but I also love a beautiful dress,” followed by casually dropping that her style icon is Full House’s Kimmy Gibler, not only will you believe her, you will want to give her a BFF necklace just for uttering as much.
Born in Long Island, Masterson has that storied cool New York and its five boroughs is said to bestow upon its bohemian natives; a sense of self, that goes beyond her tattoos and nose ring. Being able to call Hollywood’s Danny, Chris, Will and Jordan Masterson her big brothers, does a little something to add to that status. As does the fact that she graduated from the prestigious New York Film Academy, where she directed a short film starring the now retired supermodel and fashion “it” girl, Agyness Deyn, Jake Hoffman (son of Dustin, and the director behind this year’s Asthma) and brother Jordan (Last Man Standing), for her senior thesis. Oh, and there was also that brief stint she had as a guitarist alongside the aforementioned Deyn and musician, Jackson Pollis of Real Estate fame in Gene Jacket, hanging out at Coachella writing songs—as all cool kids do—before it became an Urban Outfitters commercial and festival fashion guides began high rotation in the blogosphere.
Laidback and not one to shy away from dropping F-bombs into a conversation, Masterson is different—more punk rock—than one might imagine from watching her Tara Chambler character on The Walking Dead.
A Police Academy cadet, back before the apocalypse struck, the audience meets Tara in Season 4 by way of the Governor’s camp, which she eventually leaves for Rick and company, after realizing she’s made the mistake of siding with the bad guys.
On camera, there is a magnetic quietness to the actress; even as she violently bashes in zombie skulls, there is a lingering sense of goodness about her, something in her eyes that verges on vulnerability—a penetrating aura that points to her character’s gentile nature. (For proof, see the pinnacle scene when Tara chooses to leave behind love interest and former ally, Alisha—who is later killed—after Alisha decides to stick it out with the Governor.) “At this point, Tara has lost everyone,” explains Masterson. “But in their place, she’s found Glenn and the group. She still looks for a silver lining in this world. She still has hope.”
On set with Masterson, for her shoot with FILLER, a similar halo of serenity lures in the camera’s focus; it would seem the studio lights brings out the softer elements of the actress’s character. Masterson’s sensitive side, while beautiful and arresting when captured in frame, is not though what makes the actress right for the part of a series regular on AMC’s Sunday night ratings grabber. In fact, as she shares, the show’s enormous popularity can translate into a target pinned onto the cast’s backs at times—as the nearly three million of us who follow The Walking Dead on Twitter already know. While some actresses might lack the thick skin and stomach for criticism to deal with such a vocal chorus of fans, Masterson welcomes the challenge and credits loyal audiences for helping the show maintain it’s high quality throughout its ongoing five-season run. “I’ll take a strong and dedicated opinion any day of the week,” she affirms. “It raised my game and made me realize that this show isn’t for the delicate actress…not that I’m very delicate, clearly.”
Currently splitting her time between Los Angeles and Atlanta, where The Walking Dead is filmed, we caught up with Masterson back home in California to talk about the show’s midseason finale, the emotional toll of zombie ass-kicking and her personal sense of style, including why exactly she equates it to that of a seven-year-old boy.
To start, I’d love to talk about how you got into acting. Growing up around so many talented actors in your family, did it just feel natural to get into the business, or did you try to resist it at first?
I think that it was inevitable, since the people I looked up to the most were all actors. I was also extremely dramatic as a child, so it was technically my only option.
Was there ever another career path that you thought about pursuing long term, music perhaps with your band Gene Jacket?
Oh the Gene Jacket days. Agyness and I were sitting in my apartment in NYC, and we formed a band. She was our singer and I shredded on guitar. And by “shredded,” I mean I could play 20 songs. We didn’t ever play a show; we wanted to go down in history as the greatest band that never played. I feel like we accomplished that. Next on the career list…Zombie Slayer.
By the time the next career path on the list presented itself, “The Walking Dead” was already a hit. Were you nervous about joining a show with such diehard fans, fans that are especially active (and opinionated) on social media?
The fans make you push yourself to best represent what the show is meant to be, and you don’t want to let them down.
How much do you follow social media and things like Twitter and Instagram? Are you on much?
I don’t have Facebook, and I occasionally fool around on Twitter. Mainly, I love Instagram because it’s the one social media platform that I a hundred percent feel in control of how I am represented. And I can share an inside view of what I like and what makes me happy—fashion, movies, my dog Oswald Cobblepot (named so appropriately after the Penguin in Batman). You can surely get a sense of my personality from my Instagram.
Is that right? You must be on it quite a bit then?
I plead the 5th as to how much I am on it.
Fair enough! Were you already a fan of the series yourself before auditioning for the role of Tara?
Yes. My brother Chris used to have Walking Dead parties on Sundays… and my girlfriends and I always joked about how much fun it would be to be a zombie on the show. They still ask if that’s a possibility for them.
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