et me start by stating that I am not a “Walking Dead Head.” So don’t expect long ruminations on Daryl and Beth’s relationship, or speculation on Beth’s condition or what’s going to happen in Season 5. Better yet, don’t expect me to address all your begging questions about her character on “The Walking Dead” at all because I didn’t ask. I know all too well the fandom surrounding a favorite show (see: “Breaking Bad” fans). It’s all been chewed to death by “Dead” zealots anyway. There’s just no way to know who gets killed off without watching. And if I did know, I’m no spoiler. But it doesn’t even matter, because it ends up that Emily Kinney is not Beth. Maybe she was Beth, once. Standing across from She’s sipping a venti Starbucks green tea when I ask her about her creative process. Her answers are like a railroad switch locking in and out between tracks as she quickly shifts back and forth between a calm clarity and flickers of cheer. The blue pools of her eyes widen when she speaks about vegetarianism or her favorite Brooklyn bands. But she quickly shifts back to restrained thoughtfulness when delving into her motivations and creative processes. She communicates from an obviously guarded standpoint, but it doesn’t appear defensive or anxious; she’s just gauging the situation, feeling out the people around her. “Now I have separate teams helping me [that] want to take every opportunity for acting and every opportunity for music,” she says, responses dosed out in between baby sips from the candy-green straw. “As each grows … it’s hard to balance and decide which opportunities to take advantage of because you get to this point where you can’t do everything, you know? Only recently has it felt like, ‘how am I going to manage all this?’ like I’m making choices of one against the other.” She gazes off in one of her innumerable reflective pauses then states, “And I love both so much. I want to do everything.” This love for music and theatre has been with Kinney since childhood. She was born and raised in Nebraska, which is “similar in some ways to rural Georgia — it’s very flat. Where I’m from there’s lots of fields and little farming communities. [My hometown, Wayne, Neb.,] is
her in a downtown Atlanta studio, Kinney’s a mature doppelganger at best who is both confident and sophisticated. Leaning against an exposed brick wall, with smoky eyes and punk-rock boots, she’s a far cry from a 16-year-old farm girl with dirt on her face. What she is happens to be somewhat of a mystery. Part singer, part actress, part professional Instagrammer, part professional zombie killer, she’s too quiet to be a stage ham and too grounded to be your average starlet. As an ascendant, multi-talented artist, she quickly becomes more than her show, which is ultimately just a platform for expression (albeit a 13-million-viewers-and-growing platform) that she happens to star in.
pretty tiny, around 5,000 people.” She grew up playing piano and writing poetry, and by high school Kinney was writing songs for fun, “mostly for myself, but I’d sing them for my mom or my friends.” But she had also fallen in love with acting, participating in one-act plays her senior year and entering the theatre program at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln — despite feeling like she was waiting to move to New York or L.A. the entire time. “It’s funny … I hadn’t done a lot of acting at that point. I always did musicals because I could sing,” Kinney admits. “But when I visited Wesleyan I realized I needed to learn the craft of acting so I [enrolled]. But I always knew I needed to get out of Nebraska.” She made the jump to New York at age 19 with her acceptance to New York University’s theatre program, which ended with Kinney in debt after a semester — “I mean, I couldn’t afford NYU, you know?” — and forced her to return to Nebraska with an even stronger desire to go back to New York. Kinney saved up $1,000 and made the move again. “It was a bit of a back-and-forth journey,” Kinney muses before adding enthusiastically, “It was crazy! When I think back on it I’m like, ‘what made you think that was enough money to move back?’ I must’ve thought that was a lot of money [for New York] … But even before I had a place to live, I was looking for a job and going to open auditions and casting calls. I was like, ‘GET A JOB NOW.’” The sudden burst of energy catches me off guard after the quiet and soothing telling of her life up to that point.
But here marks the beginning of Emily Kinney’s life as a working actress. It comes with the excitement of her nurturing a dream of leaving her Midwestern home to pursue an acting career, which has become reality. She worked at a coffee shop, auditioned for roles and immersed herself in the Brooklyn music scene by going to shows and befriending musicians. “I actually liked working in coffee
THERE’S JUST NO WAY TO KNOW WHO GETS KILLED OFF WITHOUT WATCHING. AND IF I DID KNOW, I’M NO SPOILER. shops,” Kinney says with a soft-spoken chuckle. She wasn’t writing songs professionally, but she frequented music nightclubs on the regular. “I was going to auditions all day, but at night I’d sing backup for fun or see my friends’ bands.” In 2009 Kinney landed a role in the musical Spring Awakening, where her friend (and noted Broadway multi-instrumentalist) Conrad Korsch pushed her to commit to songwriting as seriously as she had devoted herself to acting. Something she did while performing in the traveling stage version of August: Osage County the following year. These songs were later released on Kinney’s first record, 2011’s The Blue Toothbrush. She also began booking shows for herself around the city.