Streaming in October, ‘The Walking Dead: World Beyond’ sees young actor Aliyah Royale leading the mission to survive in a terrifying post-apocalyptic world
“I never imagined working with a creature like an ‘empty’, as we call them on World Beyond,” says Aliyah Royale over phone ahead of the launch of AMC’s The Walking Dead: World Beyond. The series follows a new generation of young survivors — following Rick Grimes, Daryl Dixon and company — on its journey to find a haven away from zombies and the decaying world.
“To be on a show where that is my reality was frightening at first but that’s what gave me a lot to pull from, maintaining that level of naivety because Iris is younger than I am in real life,” says the 20-year-old Maryland native. “At the same time, the strengths that I have as Aliyah helped me find the balance between what’s curious and what’s naive, what’s a power move and what’s rebellious.”
Iris and her sister Hope (Alexa Mansour) are leader figures in this terrifying new world; jumping into that powerful role in her community was inspiring and deeply personal for Aliyah. “Iris was fearful when the apocalypse happened,” says Aliyah of her character Iris from The Walking Dead: World Beyond. “This is a weird thing to say about a five or six-year-old [character] — I’m so disappointed in how afraid Iris was.” Yet, from a young age, Iris understood responsibility and accountability, she adds, “She just wanted to take care of people around her, including her sister — I’m accountable for several of the really important people in my life and Iris taught me that even when you are afraid, there’s a way to come out on top and still make choices that seem hard to make at that moment. I also love that World Beyond is led by two young women of colour, two sisters navigating this world. Life is crazy with trauma and heartbreak along the way but we’re better in numbers.”
Into the fire
Aliyah laughs when asked about the surely exhaustive scenes she had to shoot. She says, “I’ve been a relatively physically inactive person; I understand the concept of exercise but my body disagrees with it. The show has such vigorous physical components to it where we did hard stunt training and hand-to-hand combat training the first week we were in Virginia. I’m so grateful to have had that experience and be ready to fight!”
Speaking of the first day she stepped on set. “I was immediately in love! As Aliyah, I pictured frightening bugs and anything that crawls… and then to be thrown in 105 degree Fahrenheit weather in the forest? I had to make a choice: was I going to be Aliyah or just dive into Iris’ world?”
Though The Walking Dead: World Beyond is part of the original The Walking Dead series (which ran for 11 seasons), Aliyah is thrilled for World Beyond to have its own voice and narrative. The series does not just comprise a diverse mix of rising talent but also features big names such as director Magnus Martens and Julia Ormond, which Aliyah loves. The series also stars Nico Tortorella, Nicolas Cantou, Annet Mahendru and Hal Cumpston.
“It is critical to have a successful production,” she agrees, “not just limited to when the show comes out but also in making the show itself. There has to be a high level of trust between the showrunner, the writers’ room, the director and the actors. As actors, you have these characters in your hands, so you should know what you are going to do with them without ending up being stuck in how you think a character should be. You have to be ready for anything to be thrown at you.”
Indeed, Aliyah was ready; for the first night shoot, she and her fellow cast were also introduced to the walkers of which she had been afraid for the longest time. “I just remember walking on set and opening this door to get some food and 20 or 30 walkers in costume come out in the single file. They didn’t realise I was there, hiding behind the door. I just ran back to my trailer and called my mom, thinking ‘oh, baby, you’re in it now!’”
Season 1 of ‘The Walking Dead: World Beyond’ will stream on Amazon Prime Video from October 2.