Joe Giles is a Nebraska guy who is living his dream in the horror genre, working in makeup effects and as an actor. He’s been a featured walker on The Walking Dead and was the grave zombie in Michael Jackson’s This Is It. If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, you’ve likely noticed Giles; he was the poster boy for season 1 and did the original test photos for the zombies. His work with K.N.B. EFX Group has really opened up doors for him. Read on to find out how.
You actually came to be on set because of your work with K.N.B. EFX. Tell us how you went from that to a featured walker.
When I was working at the shop, Greg Nicotero (co-owner of K.N.B.) decided to have the walker makeup test done on me. Being a zombie fan, I completely agreed with that. It was cool to see how the look of the walkers would grow and change to be what they finally became for the show. When they were ready to do a camera test, I went down to the sound stages in California and did some filming with Frank Darabont. He was a really an awesome director. After that, it all just kinda fell into place and he asked me to go to Atlanta to be in the first episode!
Earlier this year at Contagion, I saw you greet some overzealous fans who had your face on their shirts, bags, everything! What’s it like meeting people who are so enthusiastic about your role as “Black Suited Walker”?
I love those ladies! I still keep in touch with them over Facebook. It makes ya feel like you did something right. I’m a big fan of particular characters from film and all media, so it’s really surreal to meet people that look at what you’ve done in that light. It’s a really big compliment. I have received art and fan fictions about my zombie and how he was created. That stuff is just rad.
You’ve also played a zombie in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” for This Is It. What can you tell us about that experience?
Absolutely amazing! It was kinda one of them moments where I found myself coming full circle. I have always been a huge fan of the “Thriller” video and to think that I was finally going to be a part of it somehow. Crazy! I remember showing up to set and my jaw hit the floor when I saw the cemetery sound stage. It was every horror fan’s trip to Disneyland. The moment that really hit it home for me is when I laid down in my grave, Mr. Ortega said “action”, and I could hear the Vincent Price voiceover play through the sound stage. I was also very fortunate to meet Michael that day as well. It was truly the experience many people would kill for and I will never forget. I have K.N.B. to thank for it.
It was like a mandatory thing for horror geeks to collect the Movie Maniacs figures from McFarlane. I had all of them! I damn near crapped myself when I was told at work that I was gonna be a toy by McFarlane. From what I understand, they took a scan from me in the show and that’s how they got all the proportions and likeness down. I love my little guy. It’s neat to have a horde of mini zombie Joes at my computer desk.
With being both a makeup effects artist and actor, do you prefer one career over the over?
I’m the type of guy that just needs to be connected to makeup effects somehow, whether it’s in makeup, or applying it. Growing up, working in haunted houses acting and creating makeups was the best thing I could have done. You meet people with the same interests and talents. It only helps you to grow and become better at what you do. I found that at Omaha’s Mystery Manor. Professionally, it’s really killer to be a creature actor. Who doesn’t want to be the monster? My passion for both is a stalemate, just as long as I’m involved.
After having makeup done for a character like a zombie, do you ever look in the mirror and see a stranger looking back or do you still see yourself under the layers of makeup?
The makeup only lets a part of myself come out that at any other time people would think I’m insane! I itch all year until I can be in makeup for Halloween or filming. Wearing it really helps you become the character and throws you in the mindset. I’m gonna sound cheesier than hell, but when I’m in the makeup, I really try to become the character. So after me sayin’ all that, when I look in the mirror wearing a makeup, I see the scariest zombie imaginable!
What can we see you in next?
After the first season, I was featured in Greg Nicotero’s webisodes for The Walking Dead. That was a really fun shoot because half of the walkers were crew from K.N.B. EFX. It’s not every day you hang with your friends in zombie makeups and munch on flesh! I am also in season 2 of The Walking Dead and my episode airs in February. I can’t say much about it, but it will definitely be gruesome! Like I would have it any other way… [laughs]
Jen is working on a young adult urban fantasy novel called Slacker Heroes and a collection of pop culture essays. She makes room in her heart for both Bobby Drake and Batman. You can catch her on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
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