Kelsey Smith was prepared to die when her brains were blown out by a shotgun blast. After all, it was the second time the 25-year-old Barberton woman had succumbed to death — at least on screen.
Smith, who portrayed a zombie in The Walking Dead, AMC’s hit television series, had been taught by experts how to take a fall to make it look real for the screen and avoid getting hurt.
Evidently, there is a right way and a wrong way for the undead to drop dead in Tinseltown.
“They asked if there was anyone who wanted to do training to fall or get blown up. Of course I signed up,” Smith said.
Unfortunately, the skill didn’t transfer to real life when several months later, her Hollywood acting and modeling career was curtailed by a fall in a snowboarding accident.
“It was a catastrophic injury. I shattered my elbow and humerus,” said Smith as she pointed to the pins holding her arm together — visible just under her skin.
Smith said she was thrilled to be called on to portray a zombie in the first episode of The Walking Dead’s season three, filmed in Hollywood in August 2012. Not only did she need the work, but she also loved being part of a show that has captured society’s imagination with its deliciously frightening story line.
Zombie stories are just one of the popular directions people turn for a good scare. For decades, film and television buffs have been scared silly by chain saw-wielding villains, buff vampires and other frightening things “that go bump in the night.”
Some people relish the idea that hordes of lumbering zombies will blanket the Earth and end mankind as we know it.
“Zombie apocalypse,” is the pop culture term for the end of the civilized world and the breakdown of society as a result of a spreading zombie outbreak.
As any fan of The Walking Dead can attest, even the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where the series takes place, was not a safe refuge for the straggling group of survivors to find permanent refuge. On screen, the CDC was blown up in season one in a fiery explosion designed to incinerate pathogens, viruses and bacteria kept at the facility— and take out any live humans inside the building, as well.
Never let it be said the federal government doesn’t have a sense of humor. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the CDC discovered it could use the fictional end-of-the-world scenario to effectively engage new audiences with its emergency preparedness messages.
Recognizing the popularity of the series, the agency designed a national initiative based on the zombie apocalypse premise, reasoning that if people can survive an attack of the undead, they are pretty much ready for any kind of disaster.
“If you are generally well-equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse, you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake or terrorist attack,” CDC Director Dr. Ali Khan says on the agency’s website.
In a program titled Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, the CDC offers suggestions for people in the event of an emergency and what to include in an emergency kit to withstand an attack. The agency provides posters, buttons, badges and widgets for blogs and websites to draw attention to the importance for emergency preparedness.
A cartoon-like, zombie novella demonstrates the challenges a fictional couple and their dog, Max, face as they deal with a zombie attack taking over their town. Teachers can access the site where information is available to help them share emergency preparedness guidelines with their students.
The CDC initiative has not escaped the notice of the local agency responsible for keeping people safe in an attack by hunger-crazed hordes of zombies, floods, tornadoes or any other type of emergency where people are in danger.
“It’s so key right now in the entertainment industry — they are into zombies. This is a great path to get people to prepare for emergencies in all events. [People] start reading about the zombie apocalypse and then it’s all about hazard preparedness,” said Valerie De Rose, Summit County’s Emergency Management Agency coordinator.
Smith, who works in sales by day and at a winery in the evenings, said she moved to California six years ago to pursue her dreams of acting and modeling. The fact she had never seen an episode of the show didn’t stop her from trying out for the part of a zombie when she got the call from her agent.
“I stayed up all night and watched every episode trying to find out what it was all about,” she said.
The extras in the show were judged on their ability to do a zombie-like walk. Fortunately, Smith said, she is a quick learner.
Zombie cast members sat for makeup longer than they were filming, Smith said. When the makeup technicians were finished, she looked in a mirror and scared herself.
“There was nothing left of me,” Smith said.
After her television debut, the snowboard fall effectively ended her days in Hollywood. She returned home, where her parents and three siblings helped her heal.
Smith said she learned a number of lessons from her experiences in Hollywood, not the least of which is that a zombie’s brain must be destroyed in order to kill it.
“I learned I would probably not do very well in a zombie apocalypse. I’m far too trusting. It would be hard for me to shoot somebody in the head or beat their brains out with a golf club,” Smith said.
To learn more about the CDC’s Zombie Pandemic preparedness, visit www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies.htm.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.