'The Walking Dead' star Pollyanna McIntosh knows 'a lot of people really hate Jadis'

Kimberly Potts
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Photo: AMC

To celebrate the Oct. 22 Season 8 premiere of  The Walking Dead — the series’ 100th episode — Yahoo Entertainment will be posting a new TWD-related story every day through the season opener.

For all the drama and trauma of The Walking Dead Season 7, it also introduced us to unusual characters like King Ezekiel and Jadis. The mysterious, confident, playful leader of the Heapsters — or Scavengers, or Garbage Pail Kids, depending on your favorite name for the dump-dwelling diva and her crew — was instantly one of the most interesting apocalyptic survivors on the show, and even if you’re still angry about Jadis and the Heapsters betraying Rick and the Alexandrians in that season finale showdown with the Saviors, you must admit, things will never be dull when the Heapsters are around.

The woman behind Jadis is the delightful Scottish actress Pollyanna McIntosh, who viewers may have been familiar with from her equally scene-stealing performance as Angel on Hap and Leonard. Ahead of Season 8, in which she’s been promoted to series regular status, McIntosh talked to Yahoo Entertainment about creating the complex character that is Jadis, about what makes her one of the show’s signature badass leaders, and how her complicated character has drawn some complicated fan reactions.

So, diving into Jadis, this wonderful character who’s been fascinating since the moment we met her in Season 7… how did the role come about?
It was one of those magical moments where your agent calls you and goes, “Oh, you have an audition tomorrow,” or in two days more likely, “for The Walking Dead,” and I went, “Oh, wow, okay great. I’ve heard loads about that show. I’d better watch some, hadn’t I, to understand what it’s like?” because I’d never seen it before. I was under the impression that it was “that zombie show,” you know. I had no idea of the nuance and wonder that it actually was. As soon as I binge watched it, I became a hardcore fan. I went in, and I just had a few pages. It was that dialogue from the “New Best Friends” episode, where she’s coming in and giving the “Who are you and what do you want?” kind of stuff in her strange dialect. I just felt really grounded with the character, and the casting directors, [Sharon] Bialy and [Sherry] Thomas, are just really nice folks. I hadn’t met them before. It was one those rooms where they just make you feel like, “let’s have fun and do your thing and we’re here to support you.” It was a really relaxed and really enjoyable audition. I think I did it twice for them and went out of there thinking, “Gosh, they’re awfully nice.” Then I heard that afternoon it’s looking really good, and then the next day I was told, “You have the job.” It was strangely fast. They have a lot of respect for their casting people, and they just watched the tapes, and they decided that way. So I didn’t meet any executives until I got the job.

Did you know what the specific role was when you were auditioning?
I knew that she was a leader. I knew that they were seeing both men and women for the role, which I loved, that they were thinking outside the box. That told me a lot about the character. It told me that we weren’t going to be tied to the traditional societal expectations of the male and the female with this one. I just thought it was so very cool of them to think that way, because I often look at scripts and go, “Well, that would be a great role to play. Can I play that one? It’s a man, but can I play it?” That was that. I didn’t know where the character was going to go. I didn’t know her background at the time. That I discovered when I came to work.

Jadis doesn’t have a comic book equivalent, so what did you and showrunner Scott Gimple and the writers and the producers talk about in terms of creating her? 
The thing I remember from the very start was that she’s regal. She looks at Rick and his group, and that’s certainly true at the beginning, like they’re children. She holds herself above outsiders. Like a lot of things, they told me some background stuff that I can’t talk about. Then I just put it into my head and made it come out like how I thought it would work.

It’s so hard to talk about this stuff, because it’s both ethereal and childish and playful, the way in which we work as actors, but it’s also oftentimes based on all sorts of psychology and study of humans and all that jazz. Scott just told me some of her background and what she did before the apocalyptic situation that they’re in now. He said, “I just feel you’ve got her. So take it away.” That’s what I got to do. I think with writing like this and a great love of the show, you can’t really go wrong. Of course, for some people, I already have. A lot of people really hate Jadis, but that’s just par for the course, because she did stuff to our heroes that people are not very happy about.

She is such a fierce, powerful character, but in a calm, quiet way. Even when surrounded by chaos, like in the season finale in the middle of a war battle, she remains calm, and it makes her a very intimidating and powerful character to watch, as powerful as Maggie and Carol and Michonne.
I think that’s exactly what Jadis wants everybody around her to think. I didn’t want her to be intimidating in too much of a mustache-swirling, taking pleasure in other peoples’ pain or psychotic way. She’s no Negan, you know. She’s not under any illusions about herself in the way that he is. She knows what she’s doing, and she knows the moral lines that she has to cross.

With Jadis, she’s got her heart and her pain hidden, but she’s very upfront about the fact that she’s finding ways to still enjoy herself, like you say. She controls the situation with anyone she’s talking to precisely, because of that mysterious element to her, and that strength that she clearly has, without having to hold a big stick or without having to get in anybody’s face or raise her voice.

You said you’ve gotten some negative reaction to Jadis, that some people aren’t fond of her. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s all about perspective. As audience members, if you love the show, you love those heroes, and you want them to succeed. As far as the yelling at the TV when she’s got her gun on Rick, I totally relate to it. I feel the same way when I’m watching it. But like you said, and I think this is something that has really saved me with the fans as well, because I was warned I’d get death threats… though, actually, most people have been really nice. And even when they come up to me and say, “Oh God, I hate your character,” they say it like, “I love to hate her,” which is exactly what you want. I always say, “Well, I’m doing my job then. That’s great.” Jadis hasn’t been watching [Rick’s group] for six-and-a-half seasons. She’s been doing her thing, and she’s been thriving and doing very well, being loyal to this group that’s incredibly loyal to her and taking care of business. These guys… she’s not going to cry any tears over them. She’s got work to do. She doesn’t waste a thing, and that includes regrets. She’s moving forward all the time, which is something that’s really fun to play, because she’s always got a very strong sense of purpose.

Photo: AMC

Plus, though it was shocking on the one hand that they cut a side deal with the Saviors, we don’t know them well enough to really know that it was surprising.
And that “We take, we don’t bother” line, I think is just a really great line for them, because they are as sneaky as foxes. That’s what we are. We do very well with it. Why would we change? That’s just how it works. We’re much more the, “Oh, yes Mom, I’m not going out tonight,” and then we just climb out the window and go to a big rager types.

The flip side of that, then, is that they could very easily at some point realign themselves with Rick’s group.
Yeah. That’s one of the great things about the character’s possibilities, especially since she’s not been in the comic. We don’t have anything to stick to there. Also, it makes total sense for her to go with whoever’s going to be on the winning side. That’s really where she’s at. Whoever’s going to cause the least amount of trouble and let her keep winning, that’s who she’s going to be with. There are people who keep saying, “I was yelling at the screen because of Rick, because he should have known that you were the sneaky cow that I thought you were when I saw you come on the screen.” That always makes me laugh. It’s like half and half between people who expected it and were still mad and people who had no idea and got that kind of “no way” moment out of it. I just love that. I love this show. It’s always surprising.

One of the most memorable moments with Jadis and the Heapsters was the junk pile battle between Rick and Winslow. Do you think Jadis is behind the creation of Winslow?
Yeah, I think Jadis was behind everything that is close by to her, really. She was definitely in charge of the Winslow project. She can still have a fondness for him even in that state, too which is, again, about her adaptability. I love that line that they wrote when she says, “His name is Winslow.” I kind of felt quite sweet about him when I was saying that, and that’s how it ended up being.

I think Winslow is the all-time coolest walker on the show.
That was truly horrific and smart and brave and just showed you how much she toughened and hardened, but also how much she wanted to survive, which is noble. It’s a really weird twist of the eye to see her with those two armless walkers. I didn’t really think it would get any more extreme than that until I saw Winslow. Greg Nicotero’s mind is just… everybody who works with the show, but his walkers are something else. I’m looking forward to everyone getting to see a bit more walker weirdness.

GIF: AMC

Oh good, is that a little hint about what’s ahead for us in Season 8?
You just need to look at the barnacle walkers that came out of the water in Season 7, you know, to know that there is no limit to the imagination and the creation of these things. There’s going to be more of that.

Speaking of the visuals, Jadis and the Heapsters are very striking and unique visually. What was the process of creating Jadis’ look, her hair, her wardrobe?
It was great fun. There are some projects you come in on and you really collaborate with the wardrobe and come up with your own ideas. You don’t do that on The Walking Dead, because you don’t need to. These guys are amazing. So it was just me walking in to find this incredible costume that had all these different pieces of fabric and the great sewing lines on it. The military vibe of it feels really good when it’s on. It has a little weight to it. And those high boots, they’ve got details on them like a little bit of electrical wire holding one part together. It just shows you the community — they don’t waste anything, and they’re creative, and they take enjoyment in their skills, and I love that.

The hair was already there, actually, because I did this James Franco movie called Blood Ride, and I was playing a biker gang leader. The other actress that I was working next to, we were playing best friends, is [Inhumans star] Serinda Swan, and she’s got long dark hair like I did at the time, I had these heavy bangs. And I thought, “Gosh, we’re just going to look too similar.” It’s no fun watching a film with this kind of aesthetic possibilities and have the two leads look so similar. It’s going to be confusing. So I said, “Let’s do something weird with my hair.” So we started messing around, and I had her cut these really short bangs, and they came down at a weird angle at the side and we dip dyed the bottom so it was bleachy blonde. I wanted something aggressive, but that also kind of looked like somebody who’s enjoying themselves, you know? Then in the first scene I didn’t feel like I had enough to do. I was just kind of sitting there drinking a beer, waiting for everybody to come in. So I just took a pair of scissors and started cutting my hair off at the chin in the scene. And I thought, “Oh, that’ll be good.” That shows she’s a bit tough and a bit wild. Then a week after I finished that movie, I got the audition for The Walking Dead, and I thought, “Well, no one’s going to hire me with this hair. I haven’t had time to color it back yet.” And they liked it. And they kept it. Now it’s become very Jadis.

And now you have to maintain it. Michael Cudlitz has talked about how much maintenance went into Abraham’s hair color… it must be similar for you with Jadis’ cut and color?
I do. It’s really hard. The hair department is, I’m sure, absolutely fed up with it. It’s like I have to go to the hairdresser all the time and get it exactly matched back up. It’s got to have the ombré about it and the bangs have to be measured. It’s very funny.

The moment in the finale where Jadis tells Michonne she’s going to lay with Rick — your expression and Andy Lincoln’s were incredible. What was filming that scene like?
I got to watch Andy do that little comedic turn, and I got to see how much he enjoyed himself. He was like a kid having discovered the best game in the corner at kindergarten. He was just like, “This’ll be fun.” I think we did two takes, and we were done. The first take he went one way, and the second take he really pushed the comedy in there. That was the one they chose, and I was really glad they did, because watching the enjoyment on an actor’s face when they’re playing a moment that can be enjoyed, it’s one of my favorite things in the world. That was lovely. And Danai [Gurira] is just brilliant. She just always locks right into Michonne. I got to see the measure of Michonne as a woman, and that was really fun as well. Jadis is always throwing things out that are going to tell her more and more about other people, so that she knows which way to manipulate them. That’s a really fun part of it. I get to thoroughly enjoy myself with her. I think that tiny little scene was a favorite for a lot of us. It’s nice to bring a bit of levity to things when you’re in this world.

What can you say about Jadis in Season 8?
I can say that you can expect the unexpected from her. That you will not be disappointed whether you love her or hate her. That you will get to know a little bit more about her environment… It’s a very adrenaline-filled season. I’m sure everyone’s been telling you this, but the first four episodes are bigger than anything we’ve done before on a grand scale.

The Walking Dead Season 8 premieres Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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