Interview with D.J. Qualls of "Z Nation" on Syfy - Primetime Article From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

D.J. Qualls

Interview with D.J. Qualls of "Z Nation" on Syfy 9/30/14

I enjoyed this call! I don't like zombie shows, but I do love D.J. Qualls, so it was great to speak with him again.

Moderator: Maureen Granados
September 30, 2014 5:00 p.m. ET

Operator: Good afternoon. My name is Mike and I will be your conference operator today.

At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the ZNation Conference Call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers' remarks, there will be a question-and-answer session. If you would like to ask a question during this time, press star, then the number one on your telephone keypad. If you would like to withdraw your question, press the pound key.

I will now turn the call over to Maureen Granados from SyFy

You may begin your conference.

Maureen Granados: Hi, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today for our ZNation conference call featuring DJ Qualls. We're so excited to have DJ on the line to answer your questions.

As you know, ZNation premiers -- or airs, rather, Fridays at 10:00 on SyFy and this week will be the fourth episode in its run. So, without further ado, I will turn it over to your questions.

We can open the line.

Operator: And at this time, I'd like to remind everyone, in order to ask a question press 'star-one' on your telephone key pad. We'll pause for a few moments to compile the Q&A roster.

Your first question is from the line of Suzanne Lanoue from The TV MegaSite. Your line is open.

Suzanne Lanoue: Good morning, DJ.

DJ Qualls: Good morning. How are you?

Suzanne Lanoue: Pretty good. I'm a big fan of yours. I enjoyed the -- I'm sorry. My mind is blanking. It's early for me.

DJ Qualls: Oh, that's OK. Actually, I just -- I just woke up. I went to a premier last night and I'm a little tired.

Suzanne Lanoue: Oh.

DJ Qualls: So, you're good -- you're in good company.

Suzanne Lanoue: Well, was it fun?

DJ Qualls: It was really fun. I went to the premier of Annabelle. My friend, Alfre's in it so I went and hung out with her.

Suzanne Lanoue: Oh, cool. Yeah, --

DJ Qualls: So, well, what would you like to ask?

Suzanne Lanoue: I'm sorry. Yeah, Memphis Beat -- I loved that show and I enjoyed your work on Supernatural. And--

DJ Qualls: Thank you so much.

Suzanne Lanoue: -- I was wondering, will we be seeing you this year on Supernatural, as well?

DJ Qualls: You know, I'm not sure what they're doing on the show. I really only know probably a few weeks to a month out if they're planning to use me. But also, this year has been probably one of the busiest of my career. I -- my -- I was on Legit then was cancelled. I was on (refugee) that was cancelled. I was on Legit and that was cancelled. Legit hurt because I really loved doing that show. And I recur on Supernatural. I recur on Reception and now I'm doing ZNation and I just did a pilot, too. So, it's been a pretty busy year. I would love to go back to Supernatural but I don't -- like I say, I have no idea.

I'm headed to the UK in a couple weeks to do a convention, so I'm sure I'm going to get that question a thousand times in the next few weeks.

Suzanne Lanoue: Right. Cool. Why do you think zombie shows are so popular right now?

DJ Qualls: I don't know. But you know what's interesting, if you go to any major city, drugs, like problems with drugs are out of control. There's a lot of homeless, druggie people that kind of resemble zombies. And I was walking around downtown Spokane where we shoot and I had this really weird experience just looking at things like as an outsider. And probably just this looks like our show. It's sort of a reflection maybe of what's happening in current culture. And also vampires, sort of ran their course. I think it's zombies' turn. You know what I mean?

Suzanne Lanoue: Yeah.

DJ Qualls: All those romantic themed vampire movies I really just didn't understand. Having sex with a vampire probably's not that fun. They're cold. It'd be like, you know what I mean, getting stabbed with a popsicle. OK. So, I probably shouldn't talk about that anymore.

Suzanne Lanoue: All right. Thanks a lot.

DJ Qualls: OK.

Operator: Your next question is from Tony Tellado with Sci-Fi Talk.

Tony Tellado: Hi, DJ, it's great to talk to you.

DJ Qualls: Hey, brother, how are you?

Tony Tellado: All right. I wanted to talk to --

DJ Qualls: Good.

Tony Tellado: --talk to you about that scene you did with the two dogs, the zombie dog and the regular dog. What was that like? I mean, you pretty -- you pretty much were the only one talking, obviously, so -- and how was...

DJ Qualls: Yeah.

Tony Tellado: ...the -- just yeah, how the physicality was for you and things like that.

DJ Qualls: You know, it's interesting about this show for me. I don't work with any of the other actors. I only recently met them all at the premiere of the show. So, it's -- I am talking to myself or two a blank computer screen most of the time. I do -- I do, in Episode Eight, I have an actor to play off of. It's my favorite episode of the season. I can't wait for it to air.

But the dog scene was interesting because we have budgetary constraints on our show. So, we're not getting, obviously like -- we're not getting a dog who has played in a movie where he dunks a basketball or any of those kinds of dogs. These dogs don't really want to be there.

And actually, the dog that we used, his name is Wizard. He got a movie or a TV -- a big TV show or something like after we shot the first three episodes. And he came back and now he hates us. The catering on that other show must be amazing.

But, it's -- you know, the editing on this show is amazing. I really take my hat off to the editors to make it look like the dog likes me. We had to -- I had -- I put peanut butter behind both ears. I put the peanut butter jar down my pants just to try to tempt him to come over and stand beside me. And he did it in one take and that's the take that we used. So, they're not kidding when they say don't work with kids and animals. Because it's a long day.

And also, it was like 90 degrees in Spokane when I was shooting that stuff and I'm supposed to be in the arctic. And I was wearing a snow suit that whole day while I was jumping from like crate to crate in the -- chasing the zombie dog. And at about hour 14, I was in that snow suit and it -- with hat and gloves and a scarf on and a big parka cooking steaks over an open fire.

And I lost my mind and started crying. And the (frigister) had to talk me down off the ledge. As I'm going this is abusive. This is abusive. Get me out of these clothes. I'm standing there in my underwear with the snow suit around my ankles just crying from exhaustion. So it's -- I'm really digging the fact that people like the show so much because we bust our ass to make it.

Tony Tellado: Yeah. Well, did that dog not like you after you cooked the steaks for -- steak for him and fed him, too.

DJ Qualls: You know what? We actually -- it's we have kind of a bewitched situation on the show this year like we -- you know how Darrin switched to another actor without explaining it?

Tony Tellado: Right.

DJ Qualls: We couldn't get Wizard the dog for like episodes, I think six and seven, so we have another -- no, no, no, it's episodes -- yeah, it's six and seven. We couldn't get that dog, so we have another dog that's like 40 pounds lighter. And we made a mistake. We use a wolf pelt like an actual wolf pelt that's been stuffed with like plastic wrap as the dog, a lot of times, when he's just chilling. And we made the mistake of letting that new dog smell the wolf pelt. And it's smelling a dead animal. And so after that, he wouldn't lay in the -- in the crate anymore.

Tony Tellado: Oh, no.

DJ Qualls: So, it has its challenges.

Tony Tellado: Yeah, definitely. Well, great to talk to you. I'll get back in line.

DJ Qualls: Thanks, brother.

Operator: The next question is from Kyle Wilson with

Kyle Wilson: Hey, DJ, what's going on, man?

DJ Qualls: I don't know.

Kyle Wilson: So. Right on. Hey, so, I really enjoy the show and I'm wondering, with Citizen Z, is he -- is he going to continue to sort of suffer signs of the isolationism? Because, I know in this week's episode, Full Metal Zombie, you start to see another behavior tic start to come up, a little bit of obsession. Is that going to continue to affect him throughout the season?

DJ Qualls: Yeah, you definitely -- that's one of the fun things of the -- about the show for me. I mean, I don't get to play with other actors, but I get to play the isolation. And he does start to crack after a while. He develops like multiple personalities that he uses to do different things on the air during broadcasts. Yeah, you definitely see the effects.

I think, at this point, when the show starts, he's been by himself for, I think he's been isolated for a year, because they're two years into the zombie apocalypse. And he hasn't seen another human being for a year. The dog's the first thing that he sees. And that's why he's so -- that's why he tries so hard to save him in episode two. But yes, you definitely see that, the effects that it takes.

And also, I mean, one of the saddest moments to shoot for me, and when I watched it, it really drove it home, because I didn't see the actress playing Daisy but when he's playing that video chat with his girlfriend and he realized that she's probably dead and this is a recording that he talks to. We see a lot of that as -- (when we see more of that) as the season goes on.

Kyle Wilson: Yeah, absolutely. That was -- that was a nice moment, but I will say that the show definitely -- it puts a little bit more of the fun back into the zombie films or and TV shows.

DJ Qualls: It should be fun.

Kyle Wilson: Absolutely.

DJ Qualls: That's exactly what we're trying to do. This is a genre that's (arrived) with humor. It should be. I mean, but we also play -- I mean, we also play our dramatic moments honestly. Some pretty heavy stuff happens mid-season in the next three or four episodes that really, really affects not only the group of survivors but also Citizen Z in a really, fundamentally, sort of detrimental way. And he has to deal with that and he doesn't have the -- there's no one around for him to hug. There's no one around to really comfort him. So, you see him suffer that by himself. And it was -- it -- when -- I will -- I take my hat off to the writers, too, on this show. They do a really good job of balancing the, you know, the fun and the drama in this show a lot.

And also, as opposed to shows like, you know, we -- the inevitable comparisons against Walking Dead are happening. And we're not that show. We don't strive to be that show. We are a fast-moving, popcorn show. And it's really fun to be on one of those.

Kyle Wilson: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that's what set it apart for me but hey, I love your work, appreciate it and good luck, with the rest of the season. Can't wait to see where it goes.

DJ Qualls: Thanks, man, I appreciate it.

Operator: The next question is from Mary Powers with TV

Mary Powers: Hello, or good afternoon.

DJ Qualls: Hey, Mary.

Mary Powers: Hey.

DJ Qualls: Where you from?

Mary Powers: Kentucky.

DJ Qualls: I love it. I'm from Tennessee. I'll be talking just like you by the time I'm off this call.

Mary Powers: Great. That's awesome. OK. I have a question about those little spiels that you read off at the end of each episode while you're on the air. And they're so funny and I love them. Are all of those scripted or is that part of your improve? Or, how is that done? Because you go so fast.

DJ Qualls: That is a ...

Mary Powers: Yeah.

DJ Qualls: That's a very good question. It's a -- it's a mix of both. Because I have so much dialogue to memorize by myself, I mean, a lot of times, on an average shooting day on a TV show is about 11, 12 pages and that's split between multiple actors. I shoot about 30 pages a day by myself because I block shoot.

And I'll do maybe an episode in a day. So I'm shooting a lot of dialogue. So, it would be impossible for me to memorize it word-for-word. My brain sort of blanks about 14 pages into it. I can't remember anything. So, they've given me some license to really make it my own and find different voices to say things in and different cadences of speech and different accents. And it's -- and that's also playing some of that isolation madness that Citizen Z has. So, yeah, it -- to answer your question, it is -- it's a good mixture of them, the writers and myself just sort of coming up with stuff. I mean, I have to hit basic plot points.

Mary Powers: Right.

DJ Qualls: But how I say it is left up to me.

Mary Powers: Okay. Great. I'll get back in line and thank you.

DJ Qualls: All right (gentlemen), my pleasure.

Operator: The next question is from Jamie Ruby with SciFi

Jamie Ruby: Hi. Thanks so much for taking the call today. I'm really loving the show so far.

DJ Qualls: Oh, my pleasure. Oh, and by the way, everybody, I'm sorry that I wasn't here last Wednesday. I was working and I couldn't get off the shoot to talk to you guys.

Jamie Ruby: Well, we're talking to you now. We're fine. And I apologize for...

DJ Qualls: Perfect.

Jamie Ruby: And I apologize if my question's been asked. I had some phone problems but you were just saying how you kind of hit certain plot points as you go. Is there anything, though, like a specific thing that you can think of that may be added that you liked? Or, was that part of that question?

DJ Qualls: In Episode Five, I think, it's called Home, Sweet Zombie. We have a weather storm that moves in and I -- that's when I first started exploring the different characters that Citizen Z's going to play as opposed -- I mean, the innate two characters are Simon, who's -- Simon Cruller (ph), who is the guy behind Citizen Z and sort of the Wolfman Jack character we explored a little bit. Which comes out of just frustration and he's trying to pump up everybody to go out and kick some zombie ass and find a way, you know, to cure this thing.

But, in Episode Five, you really start to see the character explore sort of different ways of saying things, different ways of talking and also, his love for Address (ph) starts to grow.

Jamie Ruby: Well, very cool. So, how did you come into the part in the very beginning?

DJ Qualls: That's a good question. I was on my back porch and I'd just gotten a call that my show, Legit, on FX was cancelled. And I was pretty broken hearted about it and I was outside just sort of thinking and then, the phone rang. And my manager called and said that I'd gotten offered this thing on SyFy and my initial, honest reaction was, no, I'm not doing it. just because I didn't -- I was -- you know, I was in that sort of thing where I just -- I didn't want to get emotionally attached to anything else so quickly.

Jamie Ruby: Right.

DJ Qualls: And also, it just felt like I was cheating on my old cast and crew because we get very -- television actors more so than film actors. Films have a beginning, a middle and an end. It's going to take, you know, one-to-three months of your life to shoot. And you may not see these people again but television is open ended. And you let your guard down in a way that you don't in film. You become really close with y, your fellow crew, for example. And you know, I was mourning the loss of that.

And then, a couple days later, I read the script and talked to Carl Schaffer (ph), our show runner and co-creator just about the creator and what they were seeing and what the demands would be of my time and all that stuff. And you know, and my heart started to open up to it and then I read the episode again. I was like this is really good writing.

And it's a -- it's a -- you know, it comes with its own set of challenges, the fact that I'm totally isolated. And I don't get to work with other actors. So, I rely solely on myself.

And usually, when I have a reaction that I don't want to do something, I try to question why and I think the reason why was it's hard. This is a really hard thing I'm doing. And I needed to see if I could do it. And I'm glad for that reason alone that I took it. But also, I've fallen in love with our new crew. We -- they're -- they bust their ass for us. And I couldn't love them more.

Jamie Ruby: Great. Well, I'm really enjoying it so far so, thank you.

DJ Qualls: Thank you.

Operator: Next question is from Jeff Grant with Geek Smash.

Jeff Grant: Hey, DJ, how are you doing?

DJ Qualls: Hey, Jeff, what's up?

Jeff Grant: Hey, one of my questions has already been asked. I've been waiting a little while. Well, I just wanted to say The Asylum, is who's producing ZNation, I'm a fan. I love their movies and stuff. Were you a fan going into ZNation?

DJ Qualls: To be honest, I haven't seen any of their movies. The first time I was really aware of them, obviously, was (Rick Shardanado) stuff. but I was -- I was working most of that time and I was in and out of the country a lot. so, I didn't really, I still haven't seen them. I understood the sort of social media phenomenon it's taken on...

Jeff Grant: Yeah.

DJ Qualls: ...that occurred from it. But I've met -- I've met the two guys that run it. I met a lot of the staff at The Asylum. It seems -- they all seem crazy happy to be there and...

Jeff Grant: Yeah.

DJ Qualls: ...that casting from your production company, when everybody's happy to go to work every day, it trickles down to the production itself and to the actors and everybody who works under them. So far, I will say they've been pretty great. Our season ends in a bit of a cliff hanger so you don't know -- really know any of our fates. So, maybe my attitude toward him will be determined by the -- whether I live or die. So far, so good. They seem to be really great, creative, fun people.

Jeff Grant: Awesome. Thank you so much.

DJ Qualls: Thanks, brother.

Operator: The next question is from Benhameen with

Benhameen: Hey, DJ, how you doing, man? This is DJ Benhameen from Fanbros.

DJ Qualls: Hey, how are you?

Benhameen: Great, man. My question is, would from higher three characters from Kyle Edwards from "Road Trip", Shelby from "Hustle & Flow" or Citizen Z, who would be the most likely to survive the zombie apocalypse?

DJ Qualls: Oh, that's a good -- that's really a good question. It'd probably be Shelby from "Hustle and Flow".

Benhameen: Thank you.

DJ Qualls: Yeah. So, have you been to Memphis?

Benhameen: Yes.

DJ Qualls: You've got to be buff to survive there, man. It is no joke. You just pull into the wrong driveway, you'll be met with gunfire. I'm not even kidding.

Benhameen: So, apparently...

DJ Qualls: Yeah, Shelby definitely would survive the zombie apocalypse. Citizen Z, you know, get back to me next -- ask me this same question when we do this again next year after Season Two.

Benhameen: OK.

DJ Qualls: He's acquiring a lot of skills. I mean, you have -- you have to think -- I'm not in the military. I'm at a military outpost. I'm at the NSA outpost. But, I mean, he's a computer hacker. He's a computer guy. All of his life experience, basically, you know, takes place in front of a monitor. And you know, he reminds me of my own -- myself. I spent my whole life on it -- on a set my whole adult life. I don't know how to do anything.

I went to buy a curtain rod two years ago from Ikea and stayed there three hours and left with -- and left empty handed. I can't do anything practical. I have no practical skills. Like last -- just last night, somebody had to help me use the valet ticket machine to get out of Hollywood and Highland. I went to a premier last night there and I could not figure out how to work the ticket machine. So, I -- out of -- out of the four of us , out of those three characters and me, I probably would die first.

Benhameen: All right. Well, thank you, man. I'm really enjoying the show so far. So, thank you very much for doing the call and everything.

DJ Qualls: Thanks, man.

Benhameen: All right.

Operator: The next question is from (Guy Hutchinson) with (Agent of Geeks).

Guy Hutchinson: Hello, DJ. I'm curious about the aspect of acting in one place -- how is that different from if you're all over the place acting in multiple locations? Is it a lot harder? Or, is it easier?

DJ Qualls: It is so much harder to do what I do on the show being isolated. I don't really get the benefit of someone else's performance. I'm a big believer in film and television as an ensemble experience. You know, from the -- from the writers, the directors to the other actors, it really is -- it's about everybody. And I don't really get anybody and I don't get to see the other side of the conversations that I have with the survivors.

So, and a lot of times, I work right before them, so they do get to see what I have done or at least, they get to hear it. So, they get to respond to something. It's a challenging thing. And you know, I have a hard time watching my own work but I have -- I've watched, you know, every airing of the show and I'm seeing it with the audience. I haven't seen anything that hasn't aired yet. And I mean, I have to -- I'm not -- I'll be honest, I'm proud of myself. I'm proud of (him) holding it together and I'm able to do this with no -- really, I'm acting, basically, in a bubble.

And I'm lucky that we have John Hyams is the guy who -- he directed the pilot and a couple other episodes this season. He's also a producer on the show. But he's my -- he's the director who directs every one of my segments in each of the episodes. And then, he gives the footage over to the director and they -- he does what he wants with it.

But, I have a really good crew behind me of producers and directors who help me. And you know, they're my -- they help me sort of understand the intent of lines. They help -- they see bigger -- big picture, I don't. And they help me get through it and I really appreciate that.

Guy Hutchinson: Are the screen images there for you when you're working? Or is that all put in later?

DJ Qualls: Yeah, they're all put in later. I don't see anything. I have to imagine what I -- and what we do before I shoot every scene, we all work out with the -- I work out with the director of photography, Alex Yellen (ph). I work out where I'll be looking. And I get to choose what monitor I see different things on and where things happen in that room. And then, Alex lights accordingly and then, we will blue that screen out and -- because we use blue screen, not green screen. I think most people do now, actually, I don't know why. But, so we'll blue that one out so it can be CGI'd later and they can add the visual effects they need just so I can see what I'm seeing.

Guy Hutchinson: All right. Thank you very much. I'll get back in line.

DJ Qualls: (on) brother, thanks.

Operator: We have time for one more question. The last question is from Tony Tellado with Sci-Fi Talk.

Tony Tellado: Hey, hello again, DJ.

DJ Qualls: Hello.

Tony Tellado: I just wanted to ask you about him mentally. Do you think it's one of these things that we never get to the apocalypse. He's a guy who's worked on computers all his life. He kind of got what he really liked, you know, to do and now can do it all the time. But then again, that's the problem. He can do it all the time and there's nothing else. Do you think that he kind of got what he wished for but he kind of wished now that he didn't get that kind of thing?

DJ Qualls: That is so smart. Thank you for asking that, which I've actually -- I've said this to the director. This is a prime example of be careful what you wish for.

Tony Tellado: Yeah.

DJ Qualls: This -- he's gotten exactly -- I mean, he's the guy who could -- he's helping save the world. And just -- I mean, just physically being this guy, I know what it's like to -- you're marginalized. You grow up and you sort of look like me. You have interests that aren't sort of mainstream and that you know, people marginalize you. They don't like take you seriously. And this is a guy who's really good at this one thing and this is a time in his -- in his life that it's not only -- it's not only his biggest moment; it's the world's only hope.

And we use -- we see that as the season goes on that the isolation and loneliness that that brings. And just to sort of equate that to my own life, like I got successful really fast. I did a -- I went to a one-line audition for my first movie. And wound up like eight months later, I was on "The Tonight Show". And it was so fast and I got exactly what I asked for, what I'd always wished for, which was to be a working actor.

But, I was incredibly lonely. I'd done like 10 films without a break. And then, somewhere around 2004, I woke up one day and I was like, I can't go -- I can't go to the grocery store by myself and feel, you know, and feel like safe.

Tony Tellado: Yeah.

DJ Qualls: And I was in Vegas once and these frat dudes were hugging me. You know, I -- turned out security guard looked dicky when I first started because you're embarrassed about all these things that actually, you need to live. And in Vegas, I do need security and these guys started hugging me and sort of passing me around. And later that night I went to my room and started getting sick to my stomach and they had cracked my collar bone.

Tony Tellado: Oh, wow.

DJ Qualls: So, but it's -- but then, I look at these moments. I'm like well, you got exactly what you wished for. You didn't know what that entailed. You asked for this. And all the good stuff and all the bad stuff that accompanies that, is part of it. it's part of the wish even though you don't know.

Tony Tellado: Yeah, yeah. Cool. Well, great. Well, loving the show and I'm having a fun time watching it, that's for sure.

DJ Qualls: Thanks, man.

Well, we're super stoked to the response. I've been interacting on twitter for every episode and I'll continue to do that. I don't have an east coast feed so I just basically work either from memory or what people are telling me is happening. But I haven't -- I've never had this kind of response from a project before.

I mean, even -- I even -- I get more interactions from this than I do Supernatural, which is pretty crazy because that fan base is rabid. (Cold Frame) is so much different than a guy who's just known as an actor. (Cold Frame) when people identify you with one or two characters is a whole different animal. People call you -- they call me Garth from Supernatural or Citizen Z in public when they see me. And it's pretty great that -- to be loved like that.

Tony Tellado: Oh, sure. Sure. Well, it's great to talk to you, man and looking forward to seeing what you guys do next.

Female: All right, thank you.

DJ Qualls: Thanks, man. Keep watching.

Female: Thank you so much, everyone. It looks like we are out of time for the call. But DJ, thank you for taking the time today. We really appreciate it.

DJ Qualls: Oh, no, it's been my pleasure. Thank you so much, guys, I really appreciate your time.

Maureen Granados: All right. Thanks so much, everyone. Again, ZNation airs this Friday at 10:00 on SyFy. Thanks so much and have a great week.

DJ Qualls: Bye.

Maureen Granados: Bye.

Operator: This concludes today's conference call. You may now disconnect.


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