As my readers know by now, Z Nation is at the extreme top of my list of shows I can’t wait to see air each week. My favorite horror films have always involved zombies, and some of my all-time favorite films include, ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968) or the cult classic, ‘Night of the Comet,’ (1984) among others in the zombie genre. After several decades of zombies being shown on the big screen, the 21st century finally brought them to life on the small screens in homes across the world.
It seems that throughout the years, there has been a slew of zombie shows made for television, and while there have been a few good ones, it’s not always easy to find one that stays on air long or really has the capability to fully entertain with every episode. That is, until Z Nation came along in 2014.
Yes, I know that there are a few other shows featuring zombies that are currently on and have great ratings, and while I do watch other shows including The Walking Dead, Z Nation is just such a unique show that it’s become my favorite just as it has become the favored show of thousands of other Z Nation fans around the globe.
The best thing about Z Nation, besides the brilliance of the writers behind the show, is the cast we welcome into our homes every Friday night on the SYFY Channel. This show has seen an incredibly talented cast over the years, and with great zombie battling heroes including Lt. Roberta Warren, Steven “Doc” Beck, Murphy, 10K and Addison Carver among others, you just won’t find a more interesting, rough and tough or comedic bunch of characters anywhere else on television.
One of the fan favorites from the show, actor Russell Hodgkinson who plays the hilarious character Doc on the show, was kind enough to take time from his busy schedule to talk to us about the show, Z weed and life in the apocalyptic times. So, without further delay, let’s see what Russell can tell us about life and surviving the zombie apocalypse Doc style.
Hi Russell, I wanted to say thank you for taking your time to do this interview. I know you are a very busy man and I truly appreciate this. I can’t imagine Z Nation without Doc, and you do an incredible job at projecting the character in the show and to the fans that adore you.
I’ve heard your first introduction to acting was in a Wizard of Oz play in the 7th Grade and you realized that you wanted to go into the acting profession due to that experience. Since those days of your youth, you’ve come a long way in the acting industry.
I’ve read that you were a member of the Army, how long did you serve, and did you get to do any acting while enlisted?
I enlisted in the Army after high school in 1977 and was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I discovered a semi-professional theatre on base, so I auditioned and began performing regularly. It was peacetime, so over the next several years I gained invaluable experience working with many seasoned professionals.
After about 20+ shows I earned my Actor’s Equity card, got out of the military and moved to New York City. It was 1983, an exciting time to be in New York.
I had a blast, but wasn’t very focused on my career. After a couple years I began to miss the stability of the military, so reenlisted in the Coast Guard, eventually ending up stationed in Long Beach, California where I worked in the daytime and did theatre at night until about 1990. Over 11 years total.
You’ve come a long way since those early days. The character you play on Z Nation, Doc, is a huge hit on the show. What was your audition like and did you know ahead of time what the show was about?
My audition was the ‘airshaft scene’, Doc smoking weed with the zombie. It was a perfect monologue for me, funny and dramatic. I wasn’t familiar with the zombie genre beforehand, so I watched an episode of The Walking Dead. It was pretty intense! I also wanted to get an idea about the production company so I watched Sharknado. That’s when the real fear set in…lol.
Let’s just say, I knew Z Nation was gonna be a little different.
Z Nation is definitely a little different, and I think that’s part of its charm. Do you have a favorite genre for films or shows you work in?
Not really. I enjoy historical dramas. It would be great to work on a show like Vikings or Peaky Blinders. I’d probably be happiest doing a situation comedy, preferably one that’s taped before a live studio audience.
From an acting standpoint, it’s probably the closet thing to live theatre, which I prefer over all.
You’ve worked with some very impressive cast members in Z Nation. Is there any actor out there that you would like the opportunity to work with either on this show or another?
Most of the “impressive cast members” don’t last long, we kill them pretty quickly…lol. When it comes to actors I’d like to work with, I’m partial to any good comedic character actors with solid theatre backgrounds. We’ve had so many wonderful unknown actors on our show, they’re always my favorite, many live here in the Pacific Northwest…my people!
There have been quite a few zombie shows on television in recent years. What is it about Z Nation that you believe sets it apart from others and makes it such a fan favorite even when there are other shows that are a bit more dramatic or serious?
First of all, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we’re just trying to put the fun back in the apocalypse. I think fans embrace the low-budget, cheesy aspect of our show, it’s kind of charming in that way. We also don’t have too many cast members, so it’s easy to connect with the characters.
Our team has a clear-cut mission, we’re not just trying to stay alive. We also introduce many new and interesting types of zombies that you won’t see on other shows. In addition, many of the cast have a strong social media presence, often responding to fans directly via Twitter, Instagram & Facebook., so there’s that.
It’s rare to see cast members reaching out to fans to the extent that I’ve seen the cast and crew of Z Nation via their social media pages. As a fan myself, I believe this has an impact on how your fans see you and helping keep people interested in the show. The show is excellent, but being able to make a connection with the “human side” of the characters we watch weekly really makes a difference.
What would you say has been the craziest thing to happen to you while on set filming Z Nation?
Crazy things happen, but usually not on set, we’re too busy working. I did flip a canoe once…not too crazy, just embarrassing. It’s when Doc was going to find 10K up the Mississippi River. I got soaked, they all laughed me…not my favorite moment.
Now that’s something I’m sure we all would have loved to see. Too bad they couldn’t have kept the film rolling for that one! It would have fit well with Doc’s part in the show. What do you believe it is about Doc that makes him such a wildly popular character for fans?
I guess fans can relate to him in one way or another, they trust him. He has funny lines, smokes weed, levitates, hallucinates, wears cool t-shirts. Doc is kind-hearted and vulnerable but capable of turning into a bad-ass at any moment …a little something for everyone I guess.
Did you have any role models in the acting profession who influenced you along the way to be the actor that you are today?
I received a lot of encouragement from various people throughout my life. My high school Drama teacher (Bob Challener) being one of them. Also, the artistic director at the Fort Bragg Playhouse (Lee Yopp) was a mentor, enabling me to develop my craft at a young age, giving me invaluable opportunities to stretch and grow as a performer.
My wife Shelley, a retired actor/director was incredibly helpful to me as I tackled more complicated, emotional roles later in life. All of these people had a huge influence on me, but they weren’t necessarily role models.
Besides a steady paycheck, what would you say is the best thing about being a regular character on Z Nation?
The opportunity to connect with people all over the world has been amazing. I enjoy hearing from fans about what the show means to them. Just knowing that you’re bringing a smile to someone’s face is a great feeling. I’ve also had kids contact me for advice, which was surprising, not sure their parents would have approved, lol.
I’m particularly grateful though for the friendships I’ve formed within the Z Nation family.
Have you ever personally had an idea for the show that you wish you could have the writers work into the script somehow?
I’ve pitched several ideas that have made it on the show, Z weed being one of them. I also pitched the idea of a beauty shop called ‘Curl Up & Dye’ which ended up in the Sketchy & Sneezy episode, along with my idea to include a tanning bed zombie. I have an idea about an episode where we come upon the 30th Anniversary touring production of CATZ THE MUSICAL. The cast all turned zombie during dress rehearsal.
That could be an awesome episode, right? Actually, it could be any theatre production, I just thought CATZ would be the coolest.
Maybe we’ll see it in season 5.
Anytime Russell! As a fan of the show, I’m looking forward to season 5! Are there other career paths you’ve considered over the years besides acting?
I always enjoyed a lot of different things besides acting, choosing one ‘career path’ seemed so limiting, and for an actor, impractical. I’ve always been artistic. I love theatre set design, which combines my love of theatre and art.
After the Coast Guard I worked as an artist assistant for a sign painter, I was a decorative painter doing faux finishes, stenciling, distressing etc. I worked in the art department on several films, had a brief stint as a ‘food stylist’ for commercials, I was a paper mache’ artist building Mardi Gras floats in New Orleans.
I directed a few theatre productions and loved the casting process. I would have enjoyed being a casting director. I did stand-up comedy for a short while and loved it, but people steal your jokes and the venues were always past my bedtime.
I would love being part of a comedy writing team. So many possibilities, now you’ve got me rethinking this whole acting thing.
You’re a man of many talents and it seems that you can go any direction you want with the skills you’ve developed over the years. What advice can you offer to someone who may be considering taking a shot at building a career with acting?
I’ve had a pretty unorthodox career, so I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I would say, if you can find a career that you enjoy as much as acting you should consider it. Remember, you can always act, every town has a community theatre or an independent film scene. You can live most anywhere you want and still be a performer. You don’t have to be a struggling actor in LA or New York. One day, if you’re lucky, you may discover that a TV show is being filmed in your area. You might even get to audition. Next thing you know you might be agonizing over interview questions like this one. I would say getting cast on Z Nation is a contender for “the craziest thing that ever happen to me”
Are there other projects that you are working on now that are important to you?
YES! I have got to finish remodeling my basement. It’s a nightmare down there! I’ve spent the last four summers filming Z Nation, so I haven’t had time.
I also need to finish the mural on my fence and make another trip to the dump.
On a professional level, I finally got a chance to work with Judd Apatow. That was important to me. I’ll be making an appearance on his new Netflix comedy LOVE, coming up next year.
We’ll be on the lookout for your debut on LOVE when it airs next year. As fans around the world hope that Z Nation is renewed for a 5th season, what personal plans or goals do you have set for yourself in the future?
I’m a ‘here and now kind of guy’. I don’t plan too much into the future. I want to stay healthy and fit, spend more time with my daughters and grandchildren. I think I’d like to write more. Keith and I have an idea for a film that could be fun. I also hope to find opportunities to get involved with charity organizations. Volunteer work has always interested me. A couple years ago I helped out at the Senior Center here in Seattle. I think I may also enjoy working with veterans in some way.
Those all sound like interesting plans Russell. Of course, we all want to know, if a zombie apocalypse were to happen tomorrow, where would Russell Hodgkinson be, and do you believe you would survive?
I would definitely be with my loved ones. I’m a survivor for sure. My emergency kit is ready! “Have Hammers, Will Travel”
Maybe we could find an island to live on. I have a boat now….I just need help blowing it up.
Be sure to take a few fans along when the time comes! We have a pump in the garage that’s perfect for your boat. You’re great Russell and this has been a pleasure. I want to thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me and share a little about your life, Z Nation and your upcoming projects. I wish you the best with the show and your future career and as all the other Z Nation fans out here, I’m of course hoping that the Syfy Channel and NBC Universal will renew Z Nation for a 5th season!
You can keep up with Russell Hodgkinson by following him on Twitter at: @hodgmahal
Be sure to watch Z Nation, Fridays at 9/8 c on SYFY Channel.
You can Angela Caito on Twitter at: @AngelaCaito