It’s not every day that an actress gets to portray a cute brain-eating zombie psychic hero with a sarcastic wit and a heart of gold.
That’s why Rose McIver jumped at the opportunity to star in iZombie, which premieres at 8 p.m. Tuesday on CW.
It was “a no-brainer” to take a bite out of this role, McIver says.
The New Zealand-born actress plays Olivia “Liv” Moore, a medical student who was in the wrong place at the wrong time: a party attacked by flesh-devouring ghouls.
Now Liv is among the walking dead, too, but she’s one of those rare higher-functioning zombies, with a white-haired, pale-skinned appearance that makes people think she’s gone “goth.”
To satisfy her carnivorous urges without attacking innocent people, she has taken a dead-end job at the morgue, where she secretly snacks on the fresh human brains of John and Jane Doe corpses.
It is here that our hero discovers even this bleak existence can have meaning. With every brain she consumes, Liv retains some of its owner’s memories, which include point-of-view images of how the person was murdered. So, posing as a psychic, she assists the police in homicide cases.
The result is “a zombie genre show mixed with a police procedural that’s got equal parts comedy and drama and relationships, so basically it’s a little bit of everything, yet it’s one of a kind,” McIver says. “That’s why I found it so appealing. It’s not the same TV show I’ve seen a million times already.”
McIver, who previously had recurring roles in Once Upon a Time (as Tinker Bell) and Masters of Sex (as Vivian Scully), couldn’t research this role in the conventional way.
She and co-star Rahul Kohli (who plays medical examiner Ravi Chakrabarti) met a real-life coroner and toured a morgue, but she couldn’t exactly interview a zombie. “And it definitely would be eyebrow-raising if I went to the butcher and asked for a bag of bones,” she says.
So McIver binged on zombie movies and “got an education in the lore” that way.
Her favorites of the genre now include George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (“the foundation on which all other zombie movies are built”) and Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (“an interesting movement in the genre, turning zombieism into an epidemic and an outbreak”).
Speaking of that latter film, Liv sometimes goes into 28 Days Later mode, her insatiable hunger transforming her into a powerful, fast-moving and savage creature, not unlike the way mild-mannered Bruce Banner morphs into the Incredible Hulk.
In certain situations, it virtually turns Liv into an unlikely superhero. (It’s worth mentioning that iZombie is based on a DC Comic.)
“I never really thought of Liv as a superhero until you mentioned it,” McIver says, “but I guess she does have some of those qualities. I like that idea.”
Every day of filming, McIver must endure nearly 90 minutes in the makeup chair to create Liv’s undead look. But the actress says she doesn’t mind.
“It’s actually quite interesting what happens during the process of putting on the white skin makeup and painting the hairline and putting the wig on,” McIver says. “It’s like I’m putting on a cloak or a suit of armor and it makes it very easy for me to slip into character.
“It’s also fun that I look nothing like Liv. It’s quite novel to be able to walk down the street as myself, right past a huge poster of me as Liv, and no one around will have a clue that it’s me.”
One thing she definitely does NOT like about the job is the eating of brains.
Liv has the culinary skill to make a bowl of gray matter look and taste like an innocuous noodle or pasta dish. But the special-effects wizards on the show have yet to whip up something that’s palatable.
“The brains are made of gelatin and we use vegetable juices to make them look bloody,” McIver reveals. “It’s turned me off to gelatin. I wouldn’t be caught dead, literally, eating gelatin away from work these days. And I’m leaning away from tomato juice, too.”
Ah, the sacrifices actors make for their craft.
▪ 8 p.m. Tuesday
▪ KDAF/Channel 33