"It Will Change the Genre Forever": An Interview with "The Walking Dead's" Jeryl Prescott

"It seemed like an odd marriage: Frank Darabont and AMC ... and zombies." Jeryl Prescott talks about how her Southern roots prepared her for this story of zombie apocalypse in the South.

The Walking Dead

Distributor: AMC and Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies
Network: AMC
US release date: 2011-03-08

Jeryl Prescott may not have known much about zombies when she signed on to play Jacqui in AMC's The Walking Dead, but she most certainly knew a thing or two about being a nurturing, strong black woman in the South. For this, she credits her mother.

"I'm from a tiny town in South Carolina called Hartsville, poulation 8500; [now] 8499 since I left. Everybody knows everybody and my mother is everybody's mother. She feels she can discipline everybody's child, but she also feeds everybody's child who comes to the house. So, I consider her to be the mother of the community, and she's very active with our church, and always has been. I grew up watching her be the president of the gospel choir, and serve in the Willing Workers, which was a community service/church service organization. She also was in charge of the children's choir. There were always other children in our house, even though I'm an only child -- there were always these other kids coming by. She also worked in the kitchen at a small college in Hartsville, and sometimes she'd bring students home from there. And now, there are a lot of people that call her 'Mother'; a lot of people who say 'Oh! Your mother's my mother!'

"And I think it's relevant to the show and Jacqui and the kind of actress I've become, because people often say that I have a nurturing kind of persona. That I come across as a mother and a nurturer. And I think I get that from my mom."

It was that nurturing quality that led to her being cast as Jacqui, one of the women inhabiting the camp that takes in Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his family after the onset of the zombie apocalypse. "It was totally unexpected," she says. "My agent called and said I needed to put myself on tape for this project. I knew nothing about it, I didn't know anything about the zombie world, but I did know about the creative genius of Frank Darabont, of course. I took it seriously, because I heard he was involved with it, and AMC ... it seemed like an odd marriage: Frank Darabont and AMC ... and zombies. But one day my husband and I put it on tape and sent it in. I was totally floored when I heard they wanted me. And it got extended to five episodes when I was initially only supposed to be in two."

Clearly, the casting folks at AMC saw something in her performance that warranted more screen time, which is impressive, considering that acting is Prescott's third career. She was a professor before she was an actress. With a Master's in African American Literature and a PhD in American Literature, she taught at Wake Forest University and the North Carolina School of the Arts. Before teaching, she worked in trucking, having originally earned a Bachelor's Degree in Industrial Management. Prescott seems to have led a life that's informed her performance on a show in which women perform non-traditional tasks.

When discussing the portrayal of women and minorities on The Walking Dead, she says, "I have been really impressed with the way Frank has drawn the characters of color in that he simultaneously -- and not just the characters of color, but the women -- I think he's played around with a lot of stereotypes. He's acknowledged a lot of stereotypes and a lot of assumptions one might make about such characters, and then he's turned them upside down in various ways. Because you have, for example, Jacqui after the attack on the camp in Episode 4, she is dragging bodies. I mean, where have you seen that? A woman dragging bodies. But that is what is required in the community at the time, that everybody just has to do what needs to be done. And at the same time, Andrea buries her own sister and refuses to be helped. She puts her own sister in the grave. Then she's also known to be a crack shot. She's the best shot in the group, basically.

"Laurie is so intelligent, and so logical, and so incisive in the way that she's dealing with these men that are pulling her in this triangle. But she's not a weak woman. She doesn't seem to be so weak that she's being controlled by either man. It's just really fascinating. And that Jacqui as well would makes some of the decisions that she would make, certainly in the season finale, is not only unexpected, but it complicates a lot of assumptions. I think often we like to talk about the strength of black women, and really that can become an interesting stereotypical trap -- that these women are so strong, that they don't fear anything, they don't need help and they have no vulnerabilities. Well, that's not a human person! That takes away a lot of the humanity as well."

Prescott also points out the positive portrayal of black men on this show: the fact that T-Dog's moral compass is so strong that even a violent, callous racist can't extinguish it. Or the fact that Morgan, the gentleman Rick promised to help to safety, is a good man who is a good father and loves his wife. These things shouldn't be a big deal, but are too often an exception to the rule. Prescott praises Darabont, saying, "That's what's so compelling [about The Walking Dead]. Darabont makes everybody so human and complicated."

While it is unlikely that Prescott will be returning to The Walking Dead for Season Two (if you saw the season finale, you know why), she says we have a lot more sex and gore to look forward to, and she praises the series, saying that it will "change the genre forever."






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.