Emily Kinney
Photo: Courtesy of Clarion Call Media

Emily Kinney Writes Herself a Winning Role for ‘The Supporting Character’

One acting job was her major claim to fame, but there’s so much more to the story for Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Emily Kinney, whose new album plays a small — but very important — part in a much bigger picture.

Becoming Dead Serious

A true romantic whose expression of love is heard in songs like “Fifteen Minutes” (I don’t wanna hold ya back / I wanna hold your hand), Kinney politely declines to discuss her current relationship status by stating twice between a laugh, “I don’t have anything to say about that.”

She just laughs when told that recent Google searches on her name bring up questions like “Did Daryl love Beth?” and “Is Emily Kinney married to Norman Reedus?” The Walking Dead actor who plays Daryl Dixon, a gruff but honorable survivor who develops a close friendship with Beth, Reedus has frequently been the subject of dating rumors involving Kinney.

Perhaps she’s reserving the Greatest Love of All title (to date, at least) for the collective connection made with her former TWD cast members from the hit AMC series, one that I managed to avoid watching until recently.

Kinney joined the show in season two as teenager Beth Greene, who lived in a secluded farmhouse with her father Hershel (played by Scott Wilson) and sister Maggie (Lauren Cohan). Through the series’ run, this suffering lost soul transformed into a courageous character who ultimately was cherished by a legion of the show’s faithful fans.

The detailed synopsis on AMC’s website that reveals her character’s fate (SPOILER ALERT for anyone with their head in the sand) proclaims, “Though Beth is initially shielded from the horrors of the apocalyptic world, she quickly develops a thicker skin and becomes a source of optimism and hope for the group, often singing to help boost morale.”

The positive reaction to the series that debuted in 2010 was almost as thrilling to Kinney as its plot twists. Her vocal talents were even utilized on haunting covers of Waxahatchee’s “Be Good” and Tom Waits’ “Hold On”. “I wasn’t going into it thinking it was gonna be as big of a thing as it ended up being,” she confesses. “… I was always really excited about it and I thought it was great writing. And I remember watching Season 1 and thinking it was so good. So in that way, I wasn’t surprised, but I definitely had no idea that it would be kind of like the global hit that it became.”

Her 50-episode run on the series basically ended with Beth’s sudden death in “Coda” (Season 5, Episode 8) that first aired on 30 November 2014. Yet Kinney’s character is forever etched in the memories of Dead Heads and fellow actors alike.

Among the YouTube comments now closing in on 2,000 for Kinney’s “This Is War” music video that was released in May 2015, six months after her Dead departure, were “I really miss Beth 😭😭 she was and still is the best character even if she’s dead in the show” and “To some people, she is known as Emily Kinney; to me, she will always be known as Beth. RIP Beth.

There was also this astute response, which may be more pertinent today: “I love TWD as much as the next guy, but it’s a pity that the only thing most people can comment here is that they miss Beth on it. Where’s the love for this great music and the potential Emily has as an Artist? This is her music video, if you want to be sad about Beth go to a video related to that please.”

In AMC’s video tribute, Cohan says, “You get to discover that she is one of the biggest badasses on the show and in the end is responsible for standing up for what this group really means and who this group really is. Her essence was like this little ray of sunshine that would come in every now and again and remind you that there were beautiful vulnerabilities that could be celebrated in this world.”

That sentiment could apply to Beth Greene or Emily Kinney, whose “rewarding experience” of being on that show continues. She still keeps in touch with former castmates through occasional Friday night phone calls or group texts.

Photo: Courtesy of Clarion Call Media

Double Duty Calls

While some parts may not be as juicy, they keep coming for Kinney. Her resume includes appearances in quality cable series such as Masters of Sex, The Knick and Messiah. The latter was a superb 2020 Netflix series in which she portrayed the strong mother of her cancer-stricken daughter. Next is a co-starring role with Breckin Meyer in The Enormity of Life. The film release is scheduled for April 6, three days before the album drops.

There’s no doubt in Kinney’s mind that her Walking Dead connection has led to more acting jobs. And she appreciates the work, whether the roles are leading or supporting.

“I like to believe it’s because I’m a good actor and I did good auditions, but I think that being on a TV show where lots of people see your character and connect to your character, it opens other doors and opportunities,” she contends. “I think that’s probably pretty obvious, you know.”

However, after all these years of zombies, shocking deaths, and ghastly violence on the series, The Walking Dead victim does admit, “I don’t watch as much anymore, but I’ll keep tabs on like the main thing, what’s going on. But I’m kind of sensitive and it is a really sad show. (laughs) It’s scary and people are dying all the time. (laughs) I mean, I’m a sensitive actor, so it hurts me to watch sometimes. I like acting in it but maybe watching it is difficult for me.”

Besides, there’s too much left for Kinney to accomplish as an artist. Even if the multitasker believes an ultimate goal isn’t in sight. “Try to make my skills better so that I can write songs better and tell stories better and connect with more human beings,” she offers. “Continue to grow, technically, as a better musician and as a better storyteller. … I do feel like a real deep connection to art … as a way to grow my connection to other people, grow my connection to a higher power, and just like grow my soul. …

“I feel lucky that right now because there have been times in my life as a songwriter specifically, where I felt really unsure of even continuing. And that is something that has really changed specifically with this album and with this quarantine time that we’ve all been in. Now I feel extremely motivated to continue to write, and I don’t know where it leads, but I feel a very strong pull to continue to make songs.”

Consider that a wrap for now. But expect this Supporting Character to attract many more disciples just dying to follow their leading lady.

Photo: Chad Kamenshine

Emily Kinney Takes a PopMatters PopQuiz

If you had to choose between singing and acting, which would it be?

Emily Kinney: I wouldn’t, but [if I have to choose], I’ll say acting … because I feel like acting, when the parts come around, it’s sort of out of your control. I can kind of write songs and play shows and stuff whenever I want. So acting, there’s like a whole other creation happening. When you fit in and it aligns, I feel like I have to go for it when it’s the right thing. So if there was like, “Oh, you’re either going on this tour or you’re gonna be in this movie” … I’d have to pick acting.

Which award would you most like to see on your mantel: Oscar, Grammy, Emmy or Tony?

Emily Kinney: Um, I don’t know. (laughs) Emmy. … I don’t know, maybe Grammy. Actually, you know what? I’ll say, I don’t know. I have no idea. Can I say all of them? I’ll say all of them.

Did you see that your former castmate Steven Yeun (Glenn Rhee in Walking Dead) got an Oscar nomination for best actor in Minari?

Emily Kinney: I did. I’m so, so excited! So cool.

Who does it better: Singers who act or actors who sing?

Emily Kinney: Both, depending on the person.

In either or both categories, do you have a favorite, someone you admire who does both really well?

Emily Kinney: I really like Cher in that movie back in the ‘80s (she won best lead actress for 1987’s Moonstruck and was nominated as best supporting actress for 1984’s Silkwood). I think Cher is a really good actor. … I like Labyrinth, so I like David Bowie playing the Goblin King Jareth. (laughs) I don’t know why but that comes to mind. That’s a great movie.

Most rewarding experience as an actor?

Emily Kinney: I guess I’ll have to pick Walking Dead because it was such a big part of my life for so long and still is. It continues to be rewarding. Before the pandemic happened, I was getting to go to cool places. I got to go to Tokyo, I got to go to Buenos Aires for conventions and stuff to celebrate The Walking Dead. And it continues to be [rewarding], with all my really great friendships that I’ve made through it. The fact that we still stay connected on these Friday night phone calls and things like that, it continues to be a rewarding experience.

Most rewarding experience as a musician?

Emily Kinney: The first one that comes to mind is at the end of a tour in 2015, I played at the Troubadour [in Los Angeles]. It was a sold-out show, and that group of musicians that I played with (including one of her best friends, bassist Hayley Jane Batt, guitarist Adam Tressler, and drummer Dustin Koester), we had such a great bond, and … I just really remember that night really well. And my parents came to see it.

My Dad would always say stuff like — you know because my Dad is a big music fan — he’d be like, “Oh, I’ll come to see a play when you play someplace like the Troubadour.” (laughs) Because I’d just play small places around New York or LA or whatever. I mean, the Troubadour is still a pretty small venue but it’s so famous. So my parents flew out and saw me play at the Troubadour.

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