Alanna Masterson Stays Weird

By
Photography Brian Higbee

Published February 25, 2015

ABOVE: ALANNA MASTERSON AT THE CRESCENT HOTEL IN BEVERLY HILLS, DECEMBER 2014. MAKEUP: KRISTINA BROWN FOR JED ROOT. HAIR: DEREK WILLIAMS USING BALMAIN HAIR WITH THE WALL GROUP.

On paper, Alanna Masterson might seem very “Hollywood.” She landed her first role on a soap opera when she was just a child, and often visited her older brothers Danny and Chris Masterson on the sets of their successful sitcoms, That ’70s Show and Malcom in the Middle. Her mother is her manager, and her close friends include actresses like Riley Keough and Dakota Johnson. But Masterson is not very Hollywood. Although she acted as a child, she took a break to attend film school in New York. She’s warm and funny, and wants her fans to know she is just the same as them. She has interests outside of her career: last month, while on hiatus from playing Tara Chambers AMC’s cult zombie show The Walking Dead, the 26-year-old traveled to Nepal to build a school with Keough for buildOn.

Here, Masterson discusses past, future, and current career with one of her best friends, British model Agyness Deyn.

ALANNA MASTERSON: How did we become friends? I guess we met in the Lower East Side, we met at a bar when I was 18, 17, and you were 20. We went outside and we were having a drink and I think we both said like, “Oh, I like your shoes” or something.

AGYNESS DEYN: Oh yeah. [laughs]

MASTERSON: I think we were both wearing brogues.

DEYN: I definitely remember being in that bar and then you started talking to me. Not many people just come up and randomly start talking to you.

MASTERSON: I’m just the annoying person who’s like “Hi! My name is Alanna! Do you want to chat?”

DEYN: Yeah, “Let’s be friends!” It was like when you’re really small at school—that kind of energy. Like, “Hi! What’s your name?”

MASTERSON: It was funny, too, because when I met you I obviously didn’t know that you were this giant supermodel.

DEYN: Giant in size.

MASTERSON: Giant in size! Agyness the BFG! I just thought you were the nicest girl from Manchester and I think I was at the airport flying somewhere and I saw your face on a Burberry billboard and I was like, “What the hell is happening?!” Because you were so down to earth.

DEYN: Oh that’s so funny. And then we had a whirlwind romance friendship over in New York for a few years until you came back to L.A.

MASTERSON: Until I came back to L.A. because I had to come back for acting. I remember we would always ride our bikes everywhere and play music. We started a band.

DEYN: The best band that never ever played a show.

MASTERSON: We were going to go down in history as the best band in history that never played a show.

DEYN: Never wrote a full song…

MASTERSON: Never wrote more than a chord. You, me, and Jackson. Oh man, I haven’t seen Jackson in a very long time.

DEYN: I know, Jackson…

MASTERSON: Didn’t we do an interview at Coachella one year and they asked us what we sounded like and we said, “Animal Collective and The Cramps”?

DEYN: Yeah, or The Slits. Animal Collective meets The Slits!

MASTERSON: The interviewer was so confused, which was exactly what we wanted. He was like, “Oh yeah? That’s going to be great.” And we were like, “Yeah, we are playing Coachella next year!”

DEYN: So then you moved back to L.A. Do you love living in L.A.? Because you were born here, right? And raised here?

MASTERSON: Well I was born in New York but I was raised here, because I have four older brothers and at the time Danny and Chris both booked showsThat ’70s Show and Malcolm in the Middle—and then I started working a lot. My first job was The Young and the Restless.

DEYN: Was that your very first job? How old were you?

MASTERSON: I was six or seven. I actually remember, vividly, the audition. I walked in, and they were like, “Can you cry?” And I was like, “Sure,” and I just started crying. Obviously when you’re a child actor, you have zero inhibitions. You don’t care. You don’t get introverted thinking people are looking at you funny. So I cried on the spot. I remember showing up at my first day of work and the character who played my dad was at the hospital but he was busy shooting something else, so they duct-taped a piece of paper to the hospital bed with a sad face on it. So I had to do the entire scene with a piece of paper.

DEYN: At seven years old!

MASTERSON: At seven years old! And I remember being like, “Oh, this is what acting is! People don’t show up.” I’m not saying that he wasn’t a good actor, but when you do soap operas you’re shooting so many episodes a week that he just didn’t have time.

DEYN: Wow, that’s amazing. Did you always want to be an actor? Was it because you were surrounded by it?

MASTERSON: I think that I originally became an actor because I was super, super dramatic. Over the top, all the time. I was the kid that would bump my knee and scream and cry as if I’d been shot in the face. So just automatically, the only outlet for my drama was acting and I loved theater. My mom was so big on music and had so many records, we would do musical theater in the house and we always would sing. We would drive from Long Island into New York City every day for modeling jobs and we’d listen to The Sound of Music and we’d all do the parts and she would play Maria. Funny enough, Chris ended up doing The Sound of Music on Broadway. I think seeing them probably gave me a bit of drive to want to be an actor.

DEYN: Because you saw that it was possible? It wasn’t this fictitious thing. You obviously watch films when you’re younger and you can’t actually grasp that you can do it—but because you had it around you it was something that was very obtainable. 

MASTERSON: Yeah, totally. It wasn’t so far out of the realm of possibility that I could act because I saw them doing it and they worked so much and we traveled with them. My brother Chris shot a movie called Cutthroat Island (1995) in Thailand and Malta and I went and lived in Thailand and Malta. I went to American schools there and went to set every single day. I was just very comfortable on set, so I think when it came to auditioning and working I wasn’t nervous. When you first start out trying to be an actor, you can get pretty nervous because you’re not aware of the surroundings of a set.

DEYN: Well that’s pretty amazing.

MASTERSON: My mom was really big on travel. She thought it was such an important part of our education. Seeing the world at such a young age really matures you pretty quickly.

DEYN: Yeah, and you’re really close. Family is really important to you, right?

MASTERSON: Super. It’s funny; when we went to Coachella one year, remember when you and I stayed at my mom’s house? We slept in my room and she would make you and I pancakes. She’s just the mom who is everyone else’s mom too.

DEYN: I know, I love your mom. She’s my L.A. mom. What was it like on the set of The Walking Dead the first day? Tell me about that process of getting that.

MASTERSON: I went in and I auditioned and then two weeks went by and I hadn’t heard anything. My friend Ryan Good, who is a stylist randomly for Justin Beiber, texted me and was like, “Hey do you want to come to this concert at Staples Center?” And I don’t really know any Justin Beiber songs but I was like, “Sure that would be so fun to see!” So my brother Jordan and I went, and at 9:oo, I got a phone call saying you have a callback at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow. I was panicking because I was all the way down at Staples Center and Justin Beiber was high in his trailer or something—he wouldn’t go on stage on time. I don’t know if he was actually high, but that’s what I assume he was doing. So I got the call and I went home and I just worked on it all night with my brother and I went on my audition and it was a weird process because there were four other actors there—four other girls that are really good actors that I know and I admire their work—and they called me up first. I got up and I went in and Scott Gimple and Gale Anne Hurd, the producer and the show runner, were in there with some writers. I did the audition and I got up right when I finished and they were like, “Where are you going?” and I was like, “Oh I’m done!” I was just so confident that there was no one else that was going to be able to play Tara—her name was Rachel, actually, in the sides because they trick you—and I walked out. The next day, my brother prank calls me, he sounds really upset, almost crying, and he’s like, “I need to tell you something, something bad has happened…You booked The Walking Dead!” He was with my mom who is my manager and they were screaming at the top of their lungs and I was screaming at the top of my lungs and it was actually my 25th birthday that day. The next day, I got on a plane and went straight to work. From day one it’s been amazing; it’s the best show I could be on. DEYN: How was your first day? Did it feel like the new kid on the block or the first day of school?

MASTERSON: Definitely. I actually thought I was going to be the new kid on the block. When I went in, all my scenes—I didn’t know this before I got there—were with David Morrissey, who plays the bad guy, The Governor. So I get the script and I’m like, “Aw, man! I’m with the bad guy! No one is going to like me!” None of the original cast was there, and actually Andy [Lincoln] and Stephen [Yeun] drove down from Atlanta to meet me, which was unreal. They didn’t have to do that on their day off, but they drove down to be like, “We’re so excited you are here, we can’t wait for you to be a part of the show!” They really included me. So that’s the tone that they set on that show. And in turn, we do that to the newcomers each time someone new comes in. We all go down, we all meet them. It’s actually a really wonderful lesson to learn from other actors

DEYN: And just in life.

MASTERSON: You never know when you’re going to die in the show—it’s kind of funny when you say that out of context, “I don’t know when I’m going to die”—but you don’t have time to have an ego or an attitude because you just get the chop.

DEYN: [laughs] If you did die, how do you want her to die? Have you ever thought about how you’re going to go?

MASTERSON: I think about that all the time. I do funny things, I’m like, “I hope they burn me at the stake!” or like, “I hope they throw a grenade on me and I explode!” I want to have an epic death. I don’t even care if it makes sense in the story line. Voldemort could show up with a wand and kill me and they’d be like, “Wait, huh? Why are wizards here?”

DEYN: They could send you into a different dimension.

MASTERSON: Yes, which is a new show!

DEYN: A new show in the future…

MASTERSON: …and I’m the only one who is left alive.

DEYN: And it’s like Interstellar. You got Interstellar vibes.

MASTERSON: I’m not going out in some pussy fashion; I’m going big or go home! Literally. “Go home, Alanna!”

DEYN: If you could be any other character on the show, regardless of gender, human, animal, like anything….

MASTERSON: I always make a joke that I’d be baby Judith, because she’s a baby and she gets to be carried everywhere. And it’s like, “How come this bitch gets to be carried everywhere when my legs hurt?” But she is one year old, so I guess that makes sense.

DEYN: Do they use twins?

MASTERSON: Yeah, they use twins. They always use twins and it’s always funny. If the baby starts to cry, they’re like, “get the second baby!” And some woman runs in with the second baby and hopes they don’t cry. I would be Judith or I would be Glen ’cause he’s the most similar to me and he’s funny, and I’m funny.

DEYN: You are very funny.

MASTERSON: I’m pretty funny.

DEYN: You’re probably my funniest friend. My funny friend!

MASTERSON: [laughs] Funny looking friend!

DEYN: If “vambies”—that’s a vampire baby, by the way—are a reflection of our obsession with eternal youth, what are zombies?

MASTERSON: They’re our reflection of being petrified of living forever in a dead body. 

DEYN: Mmmm…

MASTERSON: I just got real deep.

DEYN: Death Becomes Her on crack.

MASTERSON: Death Becomes Her on an acid trip where your face melts off.

DEYN: [laughs]

MASTERSON: I like that. We can make a movie. Hold on, let me write that down.

DEYN: How long does it take to get all zombied up?

MASTERSON: It depends how gnarly the zombies are. They call them “distant walkers”—if they’re very, very far back in the distance—it doesn’t take long at all. But if they’re a featured walker, they get the full shebang. And it can take upwards of two hours. Greg Nicotero, he’s the executive producer and the mastermind behind every zombie, he and his henchmen, Jake and everyone, they come up with the most incredible zombies every time. You think you’re going to get really bored of them, because you’re like, “Alright, I’ve seen a zombie, I’ve seen a zombie” but then you’ll be at lunch and you’ll see a zombie come over with his head completely turned backwards, like with a mask painted on the back of his head, and you’re like, “Wait? What? Is his head twisted?”

DEYN: Oh, that’s cool.

MASTERSON: Oswald, my dog, he loves playing with them at lunchtime. He runs up to them and he growls, and they chase him around and he’s like, “This is the best day ever!”

DEYN: I wonder what’s going through his mind…

MASTERSON: “Why does this person look like this? But okay, I’ll still play with them if they have a bone!”

DEYN: “Is this a threat? Where’s my master?”

MASTERSON: He’s actually the worst guard dog ever, because he plays with them. I’m like, if this motherfucker came in my house, Oswald would just roll over on his back and be like, “Scratch my tummy!” Worst guard dog.

DEYN: Are you a bit of a zombie freak? Have you always liked horror and sci-fi?

MASTERSON: I don’t necessarily love horror—I really love all sci-fi movies. But since getting on the show, I definitely have more affinity for horror and zombie things. I go to Halloween Horror Night every year at Universal Studios just to get the shit scared out of me, which is kind of twisted. I’m learning to love the horror a little bit. I mean, I have to wake up to myself in the mirror every day, so I’m pretty used to horror.

DEYN: [laughs] I know I’m really used to that as well, having you as my friend.

MASTERSON: Great. Interview magazine, write that down, my best friend of 10 years has fully told me: I’m a zombie.

DEYN: So you go to Comic-Con and stuff like that, right?

MASTERSON: I don’t go to the main Comic-Con that they have in San Diego because they can only bring a certain amount of people to do the panel, but hopefully one day I get to go and do that. I do do these Walker Stalker conventions, which is really interesting. It started out as a podcast, the Walker Stalker Podcast, and then it turned into this event thing. You get to meet the fans, they tell you interesting stories, they draw you. It’s pretty crazy; it’s pretty fun. They bring you dog toys for Oswald.

DEYN: The fans of the show are next level—avid, live-and-die for it.

MASTERSON: I’ll still be an actor when I leave the show and I’ll go on to do other things, but it’s really cool ’cause they’re actually really loyal. I just made a trip with an organization called buildOn to Nepal to build a school in a remote village. The closest school was 100 miles or something, and I raised all of my money on social media pretty much. Each fan, whether they donated a dollar, or 20 dollars, or 30 dollars, I saw all of the donations and it was so overwhelming to me because it’s sometimes hard to get people to contribute to something that they’re not doing. But they’re so loyal and they’ve grown to love me and my character, or me as a person I think too, and they wanted to help me get to Nepal and build this school and it was the most life-changing experience and if I hadn’t had those fans I couldn’t ever have gone. Education is extremely important to me. I had a great high school education and I went to film school—you were in my thesis film—that was the first time you acted right?

DEYN: Yeah, the very first time!

MASTERSON: And now you’re like acting and doing movies all the time! Where did we shoot? The Long Island Sound! And you slept on the floor; you were such a trooper. It was so funny because I think you had just come from some giant campaign too and I was like, “Well, here’s the couch in my little student film house.” You and my brother Jordan were wonderful stars. And Jake Hoffman.

DEYN: What are your criteria, your list of needs in a friend?

MASTERSON: I talk about this all the time with my mom, because the older I get I’ve weeded out some friends that didn’t treat me the way I treated them. I think the criteria for me is someone who gives back just as much as I do. I remember one time you called me at 3:00 in the morning and you were having a rough night at home and you were like, “Can you come over?” And I got out of bed and I rode my bike to you from Tribeca to 9th and 1st. And then the same thing, I had a really hard time at school, and you came and picked me up and took me to get a coffee and we went for a walk around Central Park. Things like that. It doesn’t have to be money or anything.

DEYN: Not massive gestures, just all the little magic gems.

MASTERSON: Yeah. Also someone who makes me laugh. I’m super outgoing and super fun. Neither of us surround ourselves with negative energy, which is why I think we’ve been friends for 10 years. It’s like, what’s the point of hanging out with people that are negative, when you can hang out with people that are fucking awesome and who you can go line dancing with at Oil Can Harry’s?

DEYN: [laughs]

MASTERSON: We’re doing that!

DEYN: Do you get people shouting your character name in the street, like, “TARA!”

MASTERSON: Yeah, all the time! A girl came up to me and she was crying as if I were a Beatle, and I said, “Oh no, no, no! Don’t cry, it’s okay; my name is Alanna! So nice to meet you.” Like I’m a normal person, what’s up? I want them to know that I’m not any different than them, I just worked my ass off to book a job and get to where I am. No one handed me anything in my life, which, a lot of people, no one hands them anything.

DEYN: I’ve been around when you’ve been going to a million auditions a day, being like, “This is so crazy!”

MASTERSON: Couldn’t book a job. “You’re not skinny enough, you’re not pretty enough” all these crazy things. I was just like, “Fuck that!” I’m going to continue to work hard. I didn’t wait around for jobs. I produced things, I directed shorts, I wrote shorts, I was always doing something creative in the art field and it 360’d and the universe rewarded me, which really nice.

DEYN: You mentioned you did ballet as a child. Did you ever think about going into ballet instead of acting?

MASTERSON: I actually wanted to be—this was before I hit puberty and got giant boobs—a professional dancer. I got accepted to North Carolina Ballet and I did this crazy intensive summer program and I wanted to apply to ABT and all these amazing ballet schools. And then all of the sudden, puberty hit me like a son of a bitch and I got boobs and a butt and curves and then I was, to quote unquote, “too big” for ballet, which was fine, I didn’t really mind. And thank god, I probably would have blown out a knee by now and been retired at 26-years-old.

DEYN: What’s your favorite film?

MASTERSON: My favorite film is Saving Private Ryan.

DEYN: What’s your favorite color?

MASTERSON: Green!

DEYN: If it was the last meal that you could ever have, what would it be?

MASTERSON: Spaghetti and meatballs and/or a turkey sandwich!

DEYN: Do you believe in love?

MASTERSON: I believe in love, I do! Do you believe in love?

DEYN: I do.

MASTERSON: I believe in love, I believe in respecting people and you will get their respect back. What’s your favorite color?

DEYN: Blue!

MASTERSON: What’s your favorite movie?  

DEYN: At the moment, Paris, Texas.

MASTERSON: What’s your favorite band?

DEYN: The Smiths.

MASTERSON: What is your secret hidden talent? I’m really good at pogo-sticking.

DEYN: I don’t think I have one.

MASTERSON: What is your biggest fear? I’m petrified of spiders.

DEYN: Oh yeah! What am I afraid of? Sometimes I get vertigo, but it’s only since I’ve got older.

MASTERSON: Stones or Beatles?

DEYN: Got to be The Beatles. What’s your favorite band?

MASTERSON: My favorite band would probably be The Beatles. Bloc Party is incredible.

DEYN: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

MASTERSON: Having written an incredible feature, having gotten it made.

DEYN: Do you want to direct it?

MASTERSON: I want to direct it. I just want to share all my weirdness with people.

DEYN: Because you’re a little weirdo.

SEASON FIVE OF THE WALKING DEAD AIRS EVERY SUNDAY ON AMCAGYNESS DEYN IS A MODEL AND ACTRESS, WHO HAS APPEARED IN CAMPAIGNS FOR ADIDAS, ANNA SUI, AND BURBERRY, AND ON THE COVER OF i-D, LOVE, POP, AND MANY EDITIONS OF VOGUE. HER RECENT FILM CREDITS INCLUDE PUSHER (2012) AND ELECTRICITY (2014), AND WILL NEXT APPEAR IN SUNSET SONG AND HAIL, CAESAR!