Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on January 2012

Photo: Kohji Shiiki; hair & makeup: Satomi Hara

For someone who has just sat through 16 half-hour interviews, Sarah Wayne Callies is genki as she bounces onto a chair to talk to Metropolis at the Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo Midtown. Japan viewers will recognize her as Dr. Sara Tancredi from the popular Fox TV series Prison Break, but she is into her second season as leading lady Lori Grimes in the Golden Globe-nominated The Walking Dead. Based on the zombie graphic novels of the same name, the series was an interesting choice for someone too scared to watch horror movies.

“I tried to watch Zombieland because it’s a comedy, right?” says Callies. “I made it 20 minutes.” Her aversion to horror flicks causes much amusement on set. “We were shooting with 200 zombie extras and I made one walk to the bathroom with me. They’ve been teasing me ever since,” she laughs.

With a raft of undead shows, novels, etc. vying for attention in recent years, what makes The Walking Dead different? “Vampires defy death and live forever in youth and beauty… and they’re sexy,” she says. “We’re starting to move away from the idea that living forever is sexy and cool. Instead, it means that you are hideous and revolting.”

Callies says the series makes for interesting, if thinly veiled, social commentary—like George A. Romero’s Living Dead movies of the ’70s. “Zombies allow us to see what people are like in the absence of culture—when they’re terrified all the time.” Much of The Walking Dead is not about killing zombies, but more about the characters’ relationships as they learn to survive in a new social order. “It’s about not becoming a monster inside,” says Callies.

So, how does she unwind from the undead mindset when she’s not filming?
“I rent a cottage [close to the set] on a 60-acre farm. I started learning how to shoot rifles and shotguns. We are shooting in Georgia, so I might as well shoot in Georgia,” she jokes. “My landlord is promising to take me deer hunting next season… so I’m learning survival skills.”

Callies also works for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a humanitarian organization dedicated to helping refugees from war or disaster. She spends some time working at an Atlanta relocation center with a sponsored family. “We teach English to the parents, or help with passing the drivers’ test—basic things. They’ve only been in the country for about six months,” she says. “Working with a family that, up until six months ago, was living in a refugee camp…” She pauses for a moment. “There’s no greater perspective for, ‘Shut up and don’t whine!’”

With just limited time in Tokyo, is there anything Callies looks forward to doing?
“Snow monkeys,” she says at once. “We’re going up to Yudanaka to hang out in Shibu Onsen and track down some snow monkeys. I’m really excited. I brought my hiking boots and a snowsuit so I’m good to go!”

Born in La Grange, Illinois, but raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, Callies now calls Vancouver Island home. It’s there she’s been learning to grow her own food, raise chickens and become more self-sufficient. “The show got me thinking about all the things I don’t know how do,” she explains. “So I took a class in permaculture… I spend a lot of my home time figuring out where we get enough sun to grow vegetables and how to build up the soil… its become a bit of an obsession.”

Callies is also able to work on another aspect of her career living in such a natural setting—writing. “I sold my first screenplay a year ago and I did that at home—and that’s a transition I think I’d like to pursue.”

The Walking Dead, Season 1 airs on FOX bs238 every Fri at 9pm starting Jan 13. http://foxbs238.tv