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‘The Walking Dead’ Newcomer Pollyanna McIntosh Talks Jadis and Her Mysterious Group

Variety logo Variety 2/20/2017 Ian Servantes
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The Walking Dead” introduced yet another group in “New Best Friends,” led by the stoically powerful Jadis. We still don’t know much about the still-nameless group, how they’ve managed to amass so many people and survive in a junkyard, or what exactly their “we take, we don’t bother” credo means. But we did get to see an excellent game of cat-and-mouse between Jadis and Rick as he tries to build his militia. Pollyanna McIntosh, who plays Jadis, breaks down the new character for Variety and talks about joining the cast.

This group is so menacing, but they’re not necessarily villainous like the Saviors. What do you think sets them apart?

I think everybody has to be menacing at this point. It’s a dangerous world. We’re keeping our cards close to our chest, and I as an actor on the show have to keep my cards very close to my chest about where this can go. I definitely don’t see myself, as Jadis, as a villain at all. I’m a survivor and a leader, and I’ve taken pretty good care of this group. And I think she’s done a pretty good job when you see the size of it.

Is her primary focus just getting the stuff her group needs? She doesn’t seem as interested in morality.

Yeah, you can see the weaponry they all have are all road signs made into knives. My knife is an old railroad spike that’s been flattened out. You need to have those visceral things to recognize where we come from and how we do things. Morality in this day and age is a hard thing to hold onto. That’s what makes the show so exciting to watch. The audience sees Rick and his group as the good guys, but even they have all sorts of morality issues. Carol’s arc is amazing. I think we can be let off with a few things like chucking Rick into a pit with Winslow. It worked out just fine. Why should anybody be upset by that? (Laughs.) Rick certainly measures up to be the man that we hoped he is.

Why does Jadis need to keep testing him when she already saw him retrieve everything from the boat?

Gabriel said Rick can do anything. He made him into Jesus. Jadis is a very good reader of people. So I can see in his face what he’s been through, how much he means it, that he’s sincere. That gives me an idea that he might be right. But you can’t trust his words. So throwing Rick into that pit with Winslow means I can see what kind of a fighter Rick is. I see his tenacity. I see that his group jumps toward the tubes to help him. I even signal with my hands to come toward the tubes so they can see what’s going on, and I can also test how useful they are and how much they care. That tells you a lot about how successful a leader is, how their group responds when he’s in danger. I find out everything I need to know. The character of Rick is also really impressive he comes out of the pit. He doesn’t waste time with, “Why did you throw me in that pit?” He just starts moving on to the deal, and I like that about him. I couldn’t just take Gabriel’s word for it, no matter what my first instincts were. Jadis’ instincts were correct, but you can’t take any risks in this world.

Does she see Rick as an equal or as someone who’s an even greater force?

I don’t think Jadis thinks of anyone as a greater force. I think it would be dangerous for her to do so. She has to keep on top of things. That’s one of her survival tools, that incredible confidence. But I definitely see him as someone that I may have met my match with, both for what he can do and how he’s got a sense of humor about it. That lovely bargaining scene that we have together was really cementing the playfulness of her and him. I think Jadis really enjoys the dealing part of it. And Rick is somebody who stands up for himself and knows when to let go. I think Jadis is excited to be going forward with these guys.

There was also some great humor when she first said no. It was a simple no, but her face was more like “Hell no, why would I do this?

There was a slightly patronizing way that she speaks to him in the beginning, which is fun. The way that he responds to it shows that he’s not got a massive ego to deal with. There’s definitely playfulness to Jadis when she gets what she wants. She kind of enjoys the cat and mouse thing about it.

It was also funny when she refused to shake his bloody hand.

She’s like, “I don’t get my hands dirty. That’s a little bit gross.” And I know the irony of it. I caused it. It’s another playful thing, another reminder of who I am and the respect that is due. That was just too fun. We had a good time. At the end of the scene, Andy (Lincoln) was like, “That was fun.” It was my first scene on this huge show. He’s been doing it for seven years, so to see how much he’s enjoys himself is inspiring.

Were you a fan of the show before joining the cast?

I hadn’t seen much of it. I watched more to audition, and then I thought, “I want to watch more of this even if I don’t get the job.” After getting the job, I binged on almost seven seasons of the show. I’m a huge fan now, really beyond anything about being in it. I loved in this episode seeing Carol and Daryl coming back together, seeing the guys rise up. As an audience member, I was so excited seeing Rick come around the corner after that deal we made, which I didn’t get to see shot. It was just like, “Yeah we got this. We’re going to fight.” I was fist pumping.

What does it mean to you to be a part of it now?

I feel like the luckiest actor around. I have so much respect for the creatives in the show, the crew and the cast. They’re so warm. They’re so welcoming. They’re so excited to be coming to work every day. They’re just really good people. I know that I’m part of something that’s so nuanced, such a humanist show. For all the blood and guts, there’s so much humanity to it. It’s a fearless show, and I love it.

How did you prepare for your role? A lot of characters are from the comic book, but you didn’t have that reference point.

It is a totally new way of working for me. I didn’t know exactly what my character was all the way through. Normally, I can build from that. You create your own backstory, or you’re given some of the backstory. In this case, I know some of the story—I’m obviously not able to talk about it—but not as much as I’ve known before, and not much of what the outcome’s going to be. It’s a challenge. I put my faith in it and remain in the moment. I do have some background from (showrunner) Scott (M. Gimple), as far as what her story is. It may sound weird, but I also connected really easily with this character. She’s really clear about what she wants. She enjoys the play of it. It was quite easy to get into. And the fact that she could have been cast as a male or female told me a lot as well. We weren’t going to be dealing with the traditional expectations of a female.

What does that mean to you?

We still are living in a very patriarchal society. There’s work to be done on that front. Just the fact when you hear it can be played by a man or a woman, it’s so progressive. That out of the box thinking means a lot to me. I want to see more of it. I’ve been reading more scripts like, “What about this male character? Could I not play them?” There’s often a lot more for the guys to do. It’s still a business in which the writing and directing is done by men, so I thought it was open-minded to say your gender doesn’t define you as a leader or sexualize you. That was real confidence building for me.

This show is also one of the more diverse on TV.

I think that’s one of the wonderful things about the show. The world has completely changed and fallen apart. Different races, different genders, different sexualities, different classes are all coming together. It’s not that I’m wishing for the zombie apocalypse, but I’d love to see that kind of egalitarianism.

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