A hidden gem among the multitude of shows that currently inundate the fall television schedule, Z Nation is an offbeat take on an extremely well-tread zombie genre. One would be remiss to cast off the-little-show-that-could, as its colorful characters and fresh take on the zombie apocalypse has quickly developed a dedicated following who eagerly feast upon the generous helpings from the horror-comedy series.
In case you aren’t in the know, Z Nation centers around a band of hardened survivors who are burdened to deliver “Patient Zero” to the CDC, the reluctant carrier of the cure for the zombie virus. Of course, this potential savior of humanity would have be to one of biggest jerks left alive. With his usually grouchy disposition, weird powers, and keen fashion sense, Murphy has quickly become a fan favorite thanks to the savvy and madcap flair of Keith Allan.
A man of many hats, Allan has demonstrated his considerable talent as an actor, writer, producer and director in numerous TV shows, film festivals, and features. His true passion resides on stage, as Allan has performed extensively and earned acclaim and recognition in particular for his portrayal of the Emcee in “Cabaret”.
Project Fandom was lucky enough to have a quick chat with Allan about the fan reactions to season two of Z Nation so far, his unusual path to playing the irascible Murphy, acquiring the confidence to strengthen one’s craft, and why no one should ever clear out their closet, in case you need a crazy outfit.
Congratulations on the second season of Z Nation, it’s very exciting stuff!
Well thank you, thank you! Are you up to speed? Have you seen all the episodes?
Oh yeah, all the episodes. Z Nation is really off to a running start, literally and figuratively.
They totally hit the ground running with the first two episodes especially. The second one (“White Light”) was such a run and gun, jump and climb and fall and dodge and shoot [laughs]… it was an exciting action-packed episode. I was happy they did that right out of the gate, I think it reenergizes our fan base. They’re like “OH YEAH! THIS IS WHAT WE WANT!”
Speaking of the fan base, Z Nation has a very active following on social media. How has acquiring that near-instant interaction with fans been for you?
It’s a trip for me. This is my first series. Even though I’ve been acting for years and years and years, this is the first thing I’ve done that people sort of glam on to and they’re like “Oh, we want to know more about you and the character!” So it’s a whole different world for me to be involved in, in something that’s getting so much attention and so much excitement!
That’s what I have to say I love about this genre and the fans. They’re REALLY invested! They do not half ass this at all! They are invested in the story, in the characters, in the plot lines, what’s coming up… They wanna know, they wanna know! I love that kind of passion in people, regardless of what they’re doing. Passionate people, that just turns me on. So it’s real exciting and it’s great to meet these people.
There are those passionate fans, but for the people who don’t know the inner workings of putting a television show together, there’s a lot of work that goes on in pre-production. In particular, putting a cast together. I learned that you read for the show seven times?
Yep, about that. Something like that. [laughs]
Was experiencing that extensive a process pretty nerve wracking or was that fairly normal procedure?
Well, you know it was the first time I’ve ever auditioned for something that many times. When you’re auditioning for a television show, in most of the stuff I did prior to this has been guest stars and co-stars, so that’s like an audition and a callback. That’s about it.
But you know… [laughs] After about the fourth audition, you’re sort of like “Ahhhh, you know what? Whatever.” [laughs] “I can only do so much! It’s all up to you guys now.” It was actually a little freeing after a while because I’m going to go in and do the best I can and they’re either gonna want to use me or they’re not.
It loses a little bit of its sense of importance after you do it four or five times. “All right let’s just do it. See what happens now.” […] After a while you think “Oh I’m not going to get this. I’m not gonna get it. They’re gonna go with someone with more of a name than me, who has bigger credits than me”… It’s a very large character on a fairly large show.
Well, I believe the returns have been phenomenal because everybody is talking about Murphy. They [The Asylum] certainly knew what they had if they were bringing you back over and over again.
My story is kind of interesting as far as how I got to be there. The Asylum, who is one of the producers of the show, I was working there in the office. [laughs] That was my day job! I had been working there for about three years as the stage manager. Basically it’s kind of like an office manager. I would help run the facilities, make sure the toilets weren’t plugged up [laughs], everyone had a desk and shit! Sort of running the buildings and facilities.
It was a great job for me because they knew I was an actor so I was able to run off for auditions and they were very supportive of that. Prior to that, I’d have that job but I also got to work with The Asylum in some of their films as an actor. “Heeeey! What are you doing, come in and audition for this!” “Uh, aiiiiiight…” [laughs] I wound up working in several of their independent features, then I was able to write and direct a feature with them. Subsequently, I wound up writing a couple zombie movies for Syfy. It was pretty fortuitous for me to be in the right place at the right time, and then have this show be on the docket and they’re like “Keith, come audition for this”.
It was pretty great. It is really about being at the right place for the opportunity to arise and be ready for it.
Going back to your audition, I would think having an extensive theater background like you have would greatly benefit you during the process. Do you think being a part of the stage, or at least having some exposure, should be a requisite for all actors?
I absolutely do. When you are on stage, you are being thrown to the lions. There are no re-takes. You don’t get to yell “cut” when you’re on stage. It’s sink or swim, and it is instant feedback with the audience, whether you know what you’re doing is working or not. Especially if you’re in a comedy, FORGET IT. The worst is being in a comedy and the audience is not laughing. It’s brutal! You are thrown into the fire, and it really makes you courageous and it makes you form a confidence that is very, very useful as an actor in any format. You have to feel confident and solid in what you’re doing to get out there and do it! Or else you get stuck up on stage and you’re frozen and panic, or you get in your head and you’re not in the show… it really hones a lot of skills for you as an actor that are very immediate. You have to be present, you have to know your lines, you have to be ready for whatever the other actor throws at you. […] It’s like actor boot camp, and I love it. I think it’s brilliant and I think every actor should do it because it’s such good training for you.
I have to admit that you looked awfully confident when you were smoking up that Z weed last week (in “Zombie Road”).
That was some very convincing acting there, sir.
Ah! Thank you, sir! I do what I can, it’s all part of the job.
Getting to Alvin Bernard Murphy, we’re three episodes into season two and the gang is under great turmoil. Murph isn’t making things easy for them, or for himself.
I would think with all the bounty hunters after him, he would rely more on Roberta and the others. Do you think one of his greatest fears is to rely on others?
Let’s face it: [Murphy] hasn’t had a good run with people having his back. He’s been a prisoner for a large portion of his life. I believe he really feels he’s biding his time. He’s had to rely on these people in order to survive because he’s not a fighter. The whole first season, before he actually became strong and more powerful, he was absolutely relying on all these people.
The stronger that he’s gotten and the more confident that he’s gotten, he had a complete shift in his self-confidence and self-worth. You see him sort of going “All right… FUCK this, and FUCK them!” [laughs] “I am sick and tired of being everyone’s bitch!”
That being said, once Citizen Z decided to put a bounty on his head, he is absolutely back in the same place that he was. Not exactly the same place because the team, Warren, Doc and all of them, they have a newfound respect for him because now he’s evolving into something they don’t really understand. They don’t know what it potentially could be, they’re seeing glimpses of it more and more. They realize he is a force to be reckoned with; at the same time, they have a mission.
It’s a really good balance of them wanting to get the mission done and wanting to control me, yet knowing they can’t completely control me unless they just want to throw me in a box and throw me in chains. I think that’s part of the really interesting dynamic, especially between Warren (Kellita Smith) and myself.
We have formulated a mutual respect for each other. Not only for what their goals are but what we have been through. What we’ve seen each other go through over the past few years. Even though we don’t always like each other, there is a mutual respect that I think is throughline of our relationship. I think that’s really important because Murphy would run off. He would just run off and take his chances but he trusts her, to a degree… and trusts her to do the right thing.
Then who knows? He gets a wild hair and next thing you know he’s off doing his own thing again! There are no guarantees in the apocalypse that it’s gonna go the way you want!
Now we have this other curveball that’s coming up soon in the form of an alleged unborn undead-ish child.
Rrrrrriiiiiiiight. [laughs] It’s a whole new thing that’s a shock and a surprise. It’s not a planned pregnancy by any means! The whole thing catches Murphy off guard quite a bit. In surprising ways, that I think the audience wouldn’t really expect. It’s interesting to see him be thrown this curveball and to really see what it does to him emotionally. He has some profound reactions to this new child, this new thing. As would any unexpected father who’s thrown into it, who’s like “Wow… now I gotta figure this out! Now I have whole different kinds of responsibility.”
Those episodes I’ll just tell you are a lot of fun! Sara Coates – Baby Momma – [laughs] she’s an awesome actress, so much fun to play with. We busted ourselves up. Those are going to be really fun episodes with her and the alleged zombie baby!
Lastly, even though you dress up as a zombie whisperer or zombie god as it were, for three months out of the year, will you dress up for Halloween?
Yeah! Oh yeah, absolutely! I love Halloween! I don’t know if I’ll be a zombieee…
Yeah, that seems a little played out.
[laughs] …and I may not do makeup after six months of being on set and having my face blue every day. I always dress up and half the time it’s pretty spur of the moment. I will start digging through my closet and go “Aggggh, what can this be?” Usually, I’ve enough weird clothes from over the years that I haven’t thrown away because I think “oh I’ll use this in some place some day down the road”. So I’m actually able to come up with something pretty decent. Yeah, I love Halloween.
I think I’ll actually be in Atlanta for the Walker Stalker Con over Halloween! That should be a lot of fun! In fact, I want to see what the fans and the convention will do for Halloween. That’ll be a blast!
Z Nation airs Fridays at 10/9c, on Syfy!