By Chris Post
Matt Davidson might not be a household name, but fans of the show Z Nation have certainly seen his work.
Davidson has been playing zombies and background extras on the show since the first season, including some of the most iconic of Z Nation’s undead. It’s an impressive accomplishment, considering he almost didn’t audition for the show.
“Five years ago I saw a Facebook ad promoting a new zombie television show being filmed in my hometown, Spokane,” Davidson said. “I thought it sounded super cool and I’ve always been a huge zombie fan, but I had absolutely no acting experience and so I wasn’t even going to try out. But I was talked into trying out and auditioning for background extras work, which has snowballed into some incredibly cool roles and life experiences.”
In the years since joining the Z Nation cast, Davidson has played more roles than even he can count (he puts it at at least 30). In addition to zombies, he’s also played a human extra and several Enders (feral humans who haven’t dealt well with the apocalypse) including the Tighty Whitey Ender from episode nine of season three.
“While they are technically humans, they’re closer to zombies in that they’re just super crazy and wild,” Davidson said.
Of course, a big part of what makes Z Nation such a hit with fans is the unique zombies that populate the show and Davidson has been there for many of them. In fact, he’s been the man behind so many stand-out zombies that it is impossible for him to pick a favorite.
“It’s like asking which of your kids is your favorite,” he said.
Looking back at his roles, Davidson is able to pick a few which are near and dear to his heart. They are, in chronological order, Abe Lincoln, Smiles and Tan Mom.
Davidson’s Abe Lincoln was one of several that appeared on a bus in the second season’s sixth episode. He said this one was fun for him because people had been telling him for years that he bore a resemblance to the president.
“The makeup and prosthetics by Claire Brooksbank were just badass,” Davidson said. “And the excellent promo picture taken by Daniel Schaefer (Z-Nation writer and set photographer) even made it onto the cover of the Z-Nation comic book issue number six.”
The zombie called Smiles, also known as Grandpa because of the sweater he wore, came from the season three Lucy story arc. In fact, this zombie and Lucy share a special bond and through that connection Smiles becomes the first talking Z on the show.
“Oh what adventures Smiles could have had with our gang if only Warren hadn’t shot him in the face,” Davidson said. “I’ve gotten a huge fan response from this character, and it was an absolute blast to film. Incredible prosthetics and makeup by Josh Foster of Synapse FX.”
And then there is Tan Mom. This extra crispy zombie popped up in season four’s tenth episode. She was notable for the full-body make-up and being the first naked zombie on television; beating the Walking Dead’s much more talked about naked zombie by several months. Tan Mom stands out for Davidson for another reason as well: the 15.5 hours that he spent in the makeup chair.
“It was a LONG day! 12.5 hours to apply the makeup and prosthetics (whole body), 30 minutes of filming and then immediately back into makeup for another 3 hours to remove it all,” he said. “It took a whole squad of people, led by Logan Tobia and Tess Laeh, to get me looking that glamorous.”
Despite the long hours getting into character, Davidson isn’t one to complain. It’s actually quite the opposite.
“I personally think makeup is a blast,” he said “It definitely can be less than fun being covered in makeup and sticky goop all day, and some makeup jobs can take hours (or even all day in some cases) but when you see the final product on the screen and hear the fans’ reactions all the long hours and stickiness don’t seem to matter as much.”
Davidson also noted that if a zombie actor isn’t wearing some sort of prosthetic with makeup, they get to wear it home.
“That also allows us a little fun outside of working where we get to stop by the gas station or drive thru in full makeup on our way home, and we definitely get some hilarious reactions,” he said.
Beyond the joy of getting paid to dress up as a zombie, Davidson said his experiences on the set of Z Nation have been great. He noted that unlike many shows where the stars and extras rarely interact, Z Nation’s set is much more open. According to Davidson, on most productions, extras and background actors are only on set for a short period of time and then there off to work on other projects.
“The Z-Nation production has utilized the same background actors for years so we’ve all gotten very close,” Davidson said. “When you spend that much time together in makeup or on set, you almost become like a family, with all the ups and downs that entails. I also regularly host Zombie Dinners so all us zombies can stay in touch, and that is always a ton of fun. This show has introduced me to some of my closest friends, and I will always be grateful for that.”
Now that he’s got a bit of experience working on television, Davidson has become a member of the Screen Actors Guild and is considering taking on roles in other projects. But Z Nation fans don’t have to worry about losing a versatile zombie actor: Davidson is still a part of season five and has at least one item on his zombie bucket list that still needs to be done.
“In five years I’ve still yet to ACTUALLY eat someone,” he said. “We have the whole fake flesh stuff we can eat (most of the time it’s gelatin, but we’ve also used beef jerky or ham soaked in fake corn syrup “blood”, mmmmm!) and I really want to just tear into someone and really chew them up!”
Categories: Zombie television