Zany Zombies and Spiritual Sense – Interview with Christopher Russell

As a manager of a business, I have to keep things in balance. As an aspiring actor, I also have to keep things in balance. For keeping a balance, nobody has it better figured out than Christopher Russell, who has recently been seen in Syfy’s latest series, a horror tv show called Day Of The Dead. Inspired by George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and interestingly enough, Chris also had a role in Day of the Dead, another production by Romero. If there’s one thing Chris is good at, it’s being truly authentic and getting many roles. After a hectic couple of weeks trying to keep things in balance, I finally got a chance to talk to him via Zoom and we talked about his latest role, his past role in DOTD, and how he keeps steady in his career as an actor. He had a lot to offer. Now it’s time to, as Darren says, roll the tape.


HNMAG: So tell me a little more about Day of The Dead. Your character, Trey is one of the protagonists, what kind of adventures and dangers can we expect him to get involved in?

Christopher Russell:  In regards to the dangers up ahead, there are MANY. They involve zombies, but the heart of the show is more about the human relationships. A lot of the characters including Trey come up with some big decisions that they need to make in their personal or social lives. For a very long time, Trey has been at the Beck & Call of his wife Paula. When the undead rise on this fateful day, lots of secrets come to see the light of day. Decisions need to be made moving forward, that will change the power struggles between these characters. Eventually Trey will be put up against a wall and he’ll have to make a choice!


HNMAG: You’ve also been in Land of The Dead. How do the two series differ?

Christopher Russell: We shot that particular series about 16 years ago. Land of The Dead was a George A Romero original. He wrote and directed it. He is the Godfather of the zombie genre, he essentially created it with Night of the Living Dead. The TV show I’m currently in is based on his 1980s TV show of the same name. Working with him was a different experience, it’s a post-apocalyptic setting. There’s this city with the last remaining humans, it’s a fenced-off city with a corrupt government and overtime, the zombies have developed a way to communicate with each other. They’re not just aimlessly walking around eating whatever comes their way, they have a different plan in LOTD. It was one of my first jobs, was terrific, and George Romero was a delight. Compared to DOTD, drastically different characters for me, on LOTD I played a young soldier who was in charge of manning the perimeter of the city. In DOTD, I play a father, a husband, and a bit of a buffoon.


HNMAG: Are Living Dead series some of your favourite types of series to act in?

Christopher Russell: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. It usually boils down to the writing, but in that genre/realm whether it be zombies, vampires, or even aliens. It’s a lot of fun if it’s done right. On DOTD, the writing was terrific and the cast was great to work with. The prosthetics that the zombie characters had were so believable. It was a lot of fun. 


HNMAG: And as a father have you incorporated some of your fatherly traits into Trey?

Christopher Russell: Trey’s so different from my real life. The only thing I could take with me from the reality of being a father was the unconditional love for my child. I have 2 in real life and 1 in the show. Trey takes care of his child despite being a fearful pushover. When push comes to shove involving his kid, he steps up. That’s something I hope every parent would do because at the end of the day, if you have children they’re all that matters. That’s all I can relate to with Trey, but beyond that his way of parenting and conversing with his son is certainly not how I would talk to my son.


HNMAG: Given your experience on these series, will you ever direct or write a series of your own?

Christopher Russell: That would be the endgame for sure. I’ve written a few scripts that are in development right now. They’re not in that genre, they’re thrillers. But it would be VERY exciting to pen an episode of DOTD.


HNMAG: I understand you have a very special technique to land many great roles. How did you manifest such a technique?

Christopher Russell:  I think it’s something that came from years and years of No’s. There’s an actor called Matthew Del Negro who has a book called 10,000 No’s. Essentially this is manifested when one keeps pushing forward whenever they get a No. Especially in this business. Auditioning at the beginning of your career, or even when you’ve established yourself is quite competitive. A lot of times, people can get caught in trying to present themselves in a way that they think other people want to see. What I’ve learned is that if I prepare, prepare, prepare then I know what I’m doing when heading out. If something isn’t clicking I’ll seek outside help with a coach, and that way when I go in on set or an audition, on-screen test, chemistry test, or whatever it may be. I know that I know the material inside and out so whatever happens, happens. If I’m trying hard to manipulate the situation, and create moments out of nothing, it’s just going to fall flat.


Chris proceeded to tell me how he spoke specifically to his character of Trey, and create some backstory for this character in case he got to set and something was different than what got pre-planned so he could adjust. Just like how sometimes we have to adjust to change in real life.


HNMAG: When consulting a coach, how do you know they are reliable to work with?

Christopher Russell: It would just be experience. Have they been around a long time, and who have they coached. Or how accessible are those other actors. You can also work with coaches that coached Halle Berry who is successful in a very big way, but chances are when they work with YOU something doesn’t click. You have to find someone who’s right for you.


HNMAG: What’s the best kind of advice you gained from a coach?

Christopher Russell: Don’t tell me what you’re feeling, SHOW me. I think a lot of actors try to spell it on their face, like “Oh, I feel this now, or I feel that.” Another thing too that I read is Meisner doesn’t want to see how good an actor can cry, he wants to see how hard they’re holding back the tears. It’s important because a lot of people can switch on and off an emotion but if it’s not authentic, it’s not interesting. That’s what I strive for. 


HNMAG: What words of encouragement would you give others trying to reach the same goals as you?

Christopher Russell:  Don’t give up on yourself. If this is your passion and what you feel compelled to do, do it. More importantly, if you’re an actor, ask yourself: WHY are you doing this? Is it because you want a lot of Instagram followers or because you want to be famous? Do you want to prove something to someone else or because you love it? Have you wanted to do it for as long as you remember? If this is how you want to express yourself and your art, only you can know that as an actor. When you’re in it for the right reasons, which is what you will know, then just keep at it.


HNMAG: As you get into auditions, how does your mindset work when you’re portraying the character?

Christopher Russell: It honestly depends on how much lead time I have before it. If it’s the night before, I’m just going to do my best to be as natural as I can with the given context. Not try to do too much but also not too little. Auditions are like a vacuum or a bubble compared to working on a set. With auditions it’s you standing in one small area while someone off camera reads with you, not necessarily an actor themselves, looking at the paper completely ignoring you. If your on-set technique is connecting with other actors and feeding off their authenticity, you’re not going to be able to do that in an audition. You need a pretty good imagination to build and create the world around you. That way your action, movements, tone, and delivery is authentic within such a limited space.


HNMAG: I also understand you are skilled in keeping balance. Do you train people or other actors this kind of balance?

Christopher Russell: No, but I’d be happy to. I’m 38 years old, I’ve been at this since I was 21. In the past 5-6 years, I’ve actually figured out how to somewhat piece together my career. It just takes a lot of perseverance and a lot of trial and error, also sort of just being okay with yourself so that you don’t have to bend over backwards to make things work for other people. You can be more collaborative in a way that works for everyone. It’s just all about planning your day out and ticking off all the boxes before going to bed.


HNMAG: How do you keep a clear mindset in the most toughest of situations?

Christopher Russell: It’s definitely easy especially for us actors to get carried away in our thinking. If I got really close to a job, like there was me and another person at a screen test, that would be pretty stressful. A lot of nerves to contend with, and worry about it not working out. Now those things, I look at them like it’s an exciting opportunity to just grow as an actor. The work will be there eventually, but the opportunity right now as an actor: What can I learn from this, and how can I give the best performance possible and whether I get the job or not, walking away from it, feeling like I’ve achieved something. Be prepared, work on your breathing as well if the nerves are going away. Just having fun with it and enjoying the opportunity to meet new people. That’s directly for auditions and screen tests. Set can get very stressful too, maybe we’re running out of daylight or there’s a technical issue that keeps happening so we only get one shot at this take. It’s all about being prepared.


When it comes to actors, sometimes they complain when nothing seems to be falling into place. But with Chris, he sticks to his notion of being prepared, something he mentioned constantly and lives to. Because one hardly knows what to be prepared for, so it’s best to know what happens, happens.


HNMAG: Through your studies of varying beliefs and practices, did you learn to be prepared through those?

Christopher Russell: I listened to a lot of podcasts that speak specifically to actors, but Peter Renaldi’s Back To One is really great, because he gets a lot of experienced actors on there. With that and reading lot of acting books, on the technique of acting by Chekov and Meisner, Strasberg even. Uta Hagen, Larry Moss. I just pieced together common threads of information that they all share. It all boils down to being prepared. A lot of people get confused with being authentic and organic, with not over-preparing. But for me, being prepared is just knowing the scene inside and out. 


HNMAG: What are some other important lessons you’ve learned?

Christopher Russell: (chuckles) Don’t take yourself too seriously, don’t take it personally which is a hard one, because the job is a lot of rejection and it’s my product. It’s me. I’m not selling anything but myself, and if you don’t like me, it’s hard not to take it personally. Everything sort of fits into its place at one particular moment. Just keep trying and don’t give up. A lot of people say there is no try, only doing. Well, keep doing and show up! (laughs)


HNMAG: And do you maintain it in other situations of life, like when you’re with family?

Christopher Russell: Yeah, I do my best. There will be moments where I get caught up in my own thinking, but I understand that someone has something going on which I’m unaware of. Sometimes the way people act or react isn’t necessarily a reflection on the situation at hand. To keep that in perspective is a good way to handle in all sorts of areas. We’re all here for however long and it’s best to just make the experience the best as possible for each other. 


HNMAG: Now also regarding family, is there anything fun you like to do with your wife and kids?

Christopher Russell: We like to go hiking and to the beach a lot. Biking, and skateboarding. I’ve picked that up again, and getting my son into it. 


HNMAG: Is it difficult getting back into skateboarding?

Christopher Russell: I’m actually not as bad as I thought I’d be. It hurts the old knees, but I can land a few tricks.


HNMAG: Do any of your family members do acting or film work too?

Christopher Russell: Not professionally yet. My daughter is very interested in it but I told her she has to take an acting course for a year and if she still wants to do it after that, then we’ll talk. She’s loving her course so I think we’ll be having a chat in a few months.

HNMAG: Given your variety of roles, have you had to travel or live in different provinces or countries during your career?

Christopher Russell: I lived in Ontario for a while, I’m from there. I was actually coming out to Vancouver for work quite a lot and staying in hotels. So then we moved out here. I’ve seen more of Canada than I would have if I weren’t an actor. I’ve pretty much been to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, and so I’ve been all over Canada for work. I’ve been to Morocco, and LA of course. 


HNMAG: With the way things are going in Day Of The Dead, do you feel it will be going on for a long time?

Christopher Russell: Some shows can have incredible numbers and not last very long, then some shows can have abysmal numbers and just keep going. I think it has legs, I think the writing’s good. The conclusion of the first season will definitely keep people interested, but only time will tell in that front.


If anything, this shows that Christopher Russell is a man of success, and things are turning out great for him. I sure am excited to see what happens when he books more roles in the future. Who knows? It could be more zombie apocalypse movies or even other kinds of cool films.

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