Life on AMC’s The Walking Dead can be short, but Tovah Feldshuh made it longer than some. The 62-year-old actress is known primarily for her long career in the theater, but she won a whole new audience when she appeared halfway through the fifth season as Deanna Monroe, the head of the Alexandria Community, and though her tenure in the zombie apocalypse is over, she nonetheless must deal now with the consequences of appearing on a show like The Walking Dead: interacting directly with fans at events like Toronto ComiCon. For Feldshuh, who comes from the relatively staid world of the theater, it’s a whole new experience.
“I had people come up to me at my first Walker Stalker convention… Don’t forget, I’m from classical theater where people say ‘Ms. Feldshuh may I have you’re autograph?'” she explained. “They’re paying $175 to see you walk around a stage in New York, they don’t come over to and say ‘Hey Tovah!’ Or in the case of a fan out there, they said ‘Toova.’ I said ‘Tuna.'”
Although she does get occasionally accosted by people a little too much in character as walkers, Feldshuh said she’s found the convention experience in Canada refreshingly different. “You have the most polite, well-bred fans who must be absolutely horrified when they cross south of the border,” she said. “In certain cities, everybody asks for a hug. Now I happen to be a very warm-hearted person, but get away from me please. It doesn’t mean I don’t love people. Of course I love people, I’m on Broadway. My livelihood has been in live entertainment, but I’m very grateful not to have that situation in Toronto.”
Feldshuh does have a past in Toronto, and in Canada. She earned her way to Broadway by first taking the stage at the Stratford Festival, a long-running theater festival in the Ontario community of Stratford west of Toronto, the same stages that launched the careers of Christopher Plummer and William Shatner among so many others.
“We went from the Guthrie to the Royal Alex to the Colonial to the Paris, so I’ve played Toronto,” said Feldshuh, who also occasionally teaches acting at Yale. “I’m coming back to Toronto June 5 till June 19 the biggest hit of my Broadway career, Golda’s Balcony,” she added. In the one-woman show, Feldshuh plays the former prime minister of Israel, Golda Meir. She owns the rights to the play, and performs it once a year. “I would love all of Toronto to come because you’re not going to see it in a theater of that size very often.”
But sitting there in her Walking Dead hockey jersey, the point of the day was clearly to reflect on Deanna’s life, death and undeath. “Did you see that episode where my son finds me and he kills me, and then he holds me like the Pietà, like Mary and Jesus, and then he buries me? I was very touched by it, I didn’t expect it to do as well as it did,” Feldshuh said.
Playing Deanna was very different than the role Feldshuh auditioned for, the secrecy around The Walking Dead is so tight the prospective actors can’t be given the actual script, or the actual character description, that he or she is auditioning for. “I went to the Galapagos and I got a call from my secretary, and he said, ‘Tovah, I think you got a job,'” she remembered. “I did not pursue this job, I was chosen to be the head of civilization.”
Feldshuh explained that she made a simple deal with Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple. “I said to him ‘Mr. Gimple, I know you’re the number one show in the world, I haven’t had the honor of watching it because I’m close enough to death that I don’t need to watch, and my mother recently died, so if this part is meaningful, and dimensional, and makes an impression, and really serves your series, if whatever episode you have me in I have one major scene that makes a difference, than I accept this position.'”