On an overcast Thursday afternoon, I hop on a Zoom call with zombie-slaying actress and heroine, Lauren Cohan. Her character on The Walking Dead, Maggie Rhee, is a tough-as-nails survivor, protector, mother, and lover. Half the time, Maggie is covered in the sweat and blood of her enemies/zombies as she glowers ferociously at the camera. Cohan, however, is wearing a sweater the color of strawberry ice cream, and she’s quick to laugh. When I compliment her on her sweater, she launches into a story about being in Paris airport and picking it up because the plane would be chilly. As she rearranges a few things in her room, pushing a basket of laundry out of frame and grabbing some pillows off the bed, I suddenly feel like I’m catching up with a close girlfriend rather than conducting an interview. Maybe it’s the way she smiles with such sincerity, or her easy demeanor—or maybe it’s her ice-cream pink sweater—but Cohan in real life is warm and inviting (though you get the impression she’d probably still outlast a zombie apocalypse). Ahead, get to know Lauren Cohan.
So, how are you? Are you currently quarantined with family?
Yeah! Well, no; I’m quarantined with my boyfriend. We’re getting ready to film in a couple weeks, actually. I’m getting ready for The Walking Dead. We’re doing six episodes this year, and we’re calling it The Bridge. It’ll be a good dry-run for the new COVID protocol. But also...so excited. Just, like, so excited!
When I saw you appear on the last aired episode, I thought, “Oh, my God! Oh, I’m hallucinating!”
Yeah, that’s how I felt when I read it!
What’s it like being on set, compared to before?
We haven’t done any filming yet, but I did shoot something else last weekend and we followed the same protocol that The Walking Dead is going to follow. I said, “I want to do this thing, but can you guys meet all these safety conditions?”. And we did, so it was just a great dry run for me. It was just so amazing. Like, it’s really a testament to doing the right prep, so that the performers and everybody can kind of forget that we are, you know, trying to navigate this new strange. And obviously there’s extra steps: having a face shield, and a mask. When the talent goes to set, you minimize the amount of people there, because we don’t have masks on and stuff. We got to just, like, do our thing. I was really able to forget, so it gave me a lot of confidence about going back to the television show for a big stint.
You must be glad to be back and just see everybody on set again.
Yeah, it’s really cool. We got sent all the scripts for The Bridge, which is already a win because our writers don’t usually get that much time to prepare six whole episodes to send out. I just got them, literally, yesterday. And when I read them, I completely forget any anxiety I have. I just get so pumped to get out there and tell the story!
You’ve had such a long run on the show and you must have so many memories. Do you have any in particular that stand out to you?
Oh, my gosh. It’s, sort of, the entire experience. It’s such good—oh, how do I even put it? I guess the best memories are experiencing deep emotions with people. Something that can be shared. We’re all really, really close friends, and what better way to express friendship than to get to connect over and over, through these adventures and scenes? We get to go to such good places in the story. You know, when I read the first new script, I went through such a wave of emotions for the story. And it’s only doubled, knowing that people will experience it, too, when they see the finished product.
Speaking of deep emotion, I feel like you have such an exquisite ability to deliver pain on camera. I remember you were talking about the C-section on Lori and it really stuck with you and you had such a visceral reaction to filming it, and your character has had so much emotional trauma. How do you transition and self-care at home to get out of the headspace?
Thank you. Yeah, I know what you mean. In the beginning, I didn’t know how to get it out and how to shake it off. I was very, very tired in the beginning. It would be hard to summon your adrenaline and energy…God, this is hard to articulate. For me, it was learning to not linger and not identifying too much with the character. It actually coupled really well with learning meditation. It’s okay to say, “I have this feeling, but it’s not going to last forever”. And that goes for good and bad stuff. Nothing is permanent. And when you go through those emotions and prepare for intense scenes, you let the emotions live for a minute, and then just say, “Okay, this was great, you can leave now.” I don’t think I consciously did that, but I think that’s sort of an essential, for any of us. You gotta give things oxygen. I think any sort of negativity gets strengthened by being suppressed. And going through intense scenes brings up tons of personal, subconscious connective tissue. But you know, as an actor and as a person, it’s good to feel that stuff. It expands your compassion for other people. It’s like, okay, this is a real thing. And I just put that in my pocket and say, “Thank you, you can stay here for now”.
Like, “we’ll revisit you at a later time”.
Yeah, “we’ll re-visit you at a later time”!
It sounds a little bit like you compartmentalize the experience of the character, and meditating really helped you, even before the quarantine. I think a lot of people really struggled with that transition from normal life to quarantine, and they really started using cooking or skincare to build new routines and hobbies to help them mentally.
Yes, 100%. It’s kind of like compartmentalizing, but I try not to think in terms of any boundaries or rigidity. If I’m feeling scared or out of control, I put the emotions on the shelf for a second. Then, I’ll revisit with a fresh perspective. I think quarantine definitely brings those things fuller into focus, because we’re all going through the same anxiety and fear of the unknown. But I think at one point, it was hard to navigate because it wasn’t exactly “special.” We were all experiencing it. And eventually, that “non-specialness” kind of became comforting, because we’re all going through it.
I’ve found that I’ve relied on soothing, comforting things like home-cooked Chinese food or masking all day. Have you been doing any cooking in quarantine?
I’ve been doing things one at a time. I’ve been doing things as home-grown and as from-scratch as possible with my little garden and meals. Dinner time just became so sacred and so special, to just sit together at a table and put the time in. I’ve also been painting. I’m doing things that I’ve been able to put my entire focus on. Maybe it wasn’t that I couldn’t focus on them before, but rather I told myself I couldn’t focus on them. Or maybe it was just the addiction to my devices. Device addiction is so hard, when you have “permission” during quarantine! Especially in the beginning, when everyone was told to just hunker down with your loved ones! But I think I’ve felt this renaissance of honoring time.
What does your skincare routine look like? Do you have any long-standing holy grails from your teens or twenties?
I want to say that I always took good care of my skin. Although, I used to pick my acne. I had acne until, probably, two years ago? I just could not stop myself. I guess having my fingers on my face is just part of my thinking process? And honestly, it’s only been really in the last 18 months that I’ve managed to stop it. I’ve only changed two things. The first is that I don’t touch my face, because of COVID safety, and the other is to wash my face with cold water. But I remember hearing that no matter what you do, no matter how much makeup you’ve been wearing, when you get home at night, to always wash your face. I think Naomi Campbell said that. So, cleansing really really well was always a big thing for me.
I navigated this oily-combination skin for a while, and I only wanted to use gel moisturizers. But then when I started transitioning into using face oils, my skin did so much better. I did so much better than I thought I would, just giving my face more moisture. The other major Holy Grail to taking care of my skin is just to watch what I’m eating. I try to just be strict most of the time and then splurge sometimes, which doesn’t cause me to breakout. I just try to keep things yummy, and thoughtful when it comes to my food.
You’ve been an actress for such a long time. What do you think you’ve learned about beauty in your thirties, compared to your twenties?
I’ve been off a makeup regimen for months now. I almost feel like a child: I play outside, I don’t wear makeup, you have to really convince me to wash my hair. Like, when you’re a kid, you go kicking and screaming to the bathtub, and then you love it. But I bathe. To clarify! I bathe! I just don’t like washing my hair. I think the difference between your thirties and your twenties, is first of all, skincare becomes more important. I definitely use more sunscreen now, than I ever used to before. I don’t go outside without it.
That’s a good habit to have.
Yeah! When you’re in your twenties, you’re always told to wear it and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, who knows”. And then in your thirties, you’re like, “No, no, they were right! You should moisturize and protect your neck all the time!”.
There’s an inner glow you can switch on just from your attitude, and it’s nothing you can re-create or match by using any product.
But I find the most interesting thing that I’ve learned about beauty as I’ve gotten older, is that it is inevitable that my skin is going to change, and that I will look older. I really want to step outside of myself, and honor the beauty of womanhood. And the beauty of womanhood is all the different stages and wisdom that come with maturing as a woman. I want to respect that and not criticize myself, or compare myself to my younger self. Because I’m able to look at women and people of every single age, and see their beauty. I see Sissy Spaeck and I see huge life goals, as an artist and just as a beautiful example. And I just think that’s the most important. Just be where you’re at, be accepting of yourself, have gratitude. Be grateful that your body works, for your vision, your sense of taste, to be able to read. There’s a Roald Dahl quote that I love: “If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams, and you will always look lovely.” And that’s so true! There’s an inner glow you can switch on just from your attitude, and it’s nothing you can re-create or match by using any product. Having said that, of course, I love moisturizer. I can’t live without Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Cream.