Tops – Urban Outfitters // Bottom – NOE Undergarments

LAUREN COHAN: SOLE SURVIVOR

Lauren Cohan
Photographer: Brian Bowen Smith
Stylist: Gara Rose Gambucci
Hair: Christian Marc
Makeup: Denika Bedrossian
Motorcycle: Todd Blubaugh
Retouching: Becky Siegel
Stylist Assistant: Gaby Acosta

(Interview follows photo series)

Bra Top and Bottom – NOE Undergarments // Mesh Top – PRB Studio Private Collection

Hat – Vintage // Top – Isabel Marant // Long John’s and Military Boots – Vintage

Jacket – Zara // Top – Urban Outfitters // Skirt – PRB Studio Private Collection // Military Boots – Vintage

Bra Top and Bottom – NOE Undergarments // Mesh Top – PRB Studio Private Collection

Top – Urban Outfitters // Flight Suit and Military Boots – Vintage // Cuffs – Oyate Adornments

Long Underwear and Military Boots – Vintage

Harness – PRB Studio Private Collection

Tops – Urban Outfitters // Bottom – NOE Undergarments

Top – Urban Outfitters // Flight Suit and Military Boots – Vintage // Cuffs – Oyate Adornments

Parachute Dress – PRB Studio Private Collection

Harness – PRB Studio Private Collection

Hat – Vintage // Top – Isabel Marant // Long John’s and Military Boots – Vintage

Jacket – Zara // Top – Urban Outfitters // Skirt – PRB Studio Private Collection // Military Boots – Vintage

INTERVIEW BY MICHAEL WILLIAMS
STORY BY RACHEL L. BERGMAN

The world knows Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene, the last surviving member of her family on The Walking Dead. Intelligent and brave, Maggie’s intent on not just staying alive, but making a life in her new world. It’s not hard to draw the connection, then, to the bold, open, adventurous woman behind the character.

Lauren operates on creativity before caution, impulse before plan, feeling before fact. Eschewing possessions, she prefers to stay light in all aspects. To play the serious, you must first be easy, she tells us. She was a perfect pair with photographer Brian Bowen Smith – with fun, light hearts, they created intense, action-driven images.

Two days before she headed off to shoot season six of The Walking Dead, Lauren talked life, art, comedy and horror with Imagista.

Imagista: So how was your shoot for Imagista with Brian Bowen Smith? We have a slightly unconventional approach to our portrait shoots in that we really like creative input from both our subject and our photo and styling team.

Lauren Cohan: Brian and I had a mutual friend who first told me about Imagista. When Brian and I spoke on the phone I could tell right away that he was super collaborative, excited, and excitable. It’s very rare that you get to be in an utterly creative environment. We weren’t promoting a product or even a film or show. We were promoting creativity and art so everything we did was a “yes.” Everybody on set was game to try or at least to consider every idea that was put on the table.

Brian just thinks so big. We shot at Joshua Tree which, in itself, is amazing. From standing on rocks and letting out a huge parachute behind me, to riding on a motorcycle, to wearing deconstructed old army clothes – I was even wearing some of the stylist’s old army clothes and old long johns.

We were in this big, barren environment and we all had this sense that we could make something that was all our own. I think that happens really rarely on photo shoots.

At one point toward the end of the day I was riding on the back of Todd’s motorcycle and there was nobody on the road except us, not another soul for miles and we were just driving with the parachute strapped to my back while Brian was shooting. I think those photos really captured what a crazy day we had.

I felt like we were this little band of gypsies out in the desert by ourselves and we just had to take some pictures.

Imagista: That’s really cool. And we’re happy that you had that experience. That’s what we try and do at Imagista – encourage and support our contributors and our subject’s creative processes and experiences.

As you make all these references to your shoot it all begins to make sense to me. There’s something very evocative about the images but I couldn’t put an exact finger on it. And I love the epic scale of the images.

LC: It was just so big. Big rocks. Big props. We had a huge parachute. We had the Joshua Tree. We had this 50’s horn.

I had this weird idea for an Americana kind of 50’s thing. I was really thinking in terms of how you can tell stories with certain hairstyles and the idea of putting a 50’s vibe into a really contradictory situation. Brian had this idea for this sort of lone survivor point of view. We wanted to bring different ideas of combat and war along with an almost Mad Max theme to the shoot.

Imagista: Are you Australian?

LC: No, I’m actually American but I lived in England for a long time. Everybody thinks I’m Australian and I haven’t even been there yet!

Imagista: So, shifting gears – how did you become an actor?

LC: I was at school and I always planned on studying psychology. In fact, I’d always wanted to become a child psychologist ever since I can remember. Then toward the end of high school and the beginning of college I was doing plays just for fun on the side. And then I thought: “You know, this is kinda fun actually. Maybe I’ll give this a shot.” I left school and I got an acting job and I thought that doing the film would pay for drama school so I could go and study acting. I landed this one job and then landed another film after that and I never really made it to drama school, which I still really want to do.

But it’s been really good for the most part. Some stuff has been really challenging. One of the first movies I did was a big challenge and it was disorganized in a lot of ways and difficult but I made some of my best friends and learned some of my biggest lessons there. Then on every project after that I was like, “Oh, that’s actually not what making a movie is usually like.” I realized that making movies can be much more streamlined. But that was a really great place to start because I really learned a lot.

I was living in London at the time and I was in my early twenties and that film was shot in Egypt. It was pretty crazy. Then I moved to the US a couple of years after and I already had US citizenship so it was kind of a fun and impulsive decision. I’m a very impulsive person. My favorite thing to do is to literally give everything away and just move to a new country. I’m the queen of giving everything away and just starting all over.  I feel like I’m truly happiest when all I have is a duffel bag.

Imagista: Tell me about how your role, Maggie, came into being on The Walking Dead.

LC: I’d done one of those drop-everything moves again – after being in LA for a few years I just wanted to be back in England and about a week and a half after I got there I made this tape for The Walking Dead. I booked it within a few days and then I just moved to Georgia. I had no idea – no idea! I just knew how much I liked it.

I didn’t get a script. I’d just gotten these two scenes and from that it was just like, I had to play this character. Even in just those two scenes, you could just feel she was this woman on the precipice of everything. I just thought it was so interesting. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind since then, and now I’m in Georgia seven-and-a-half months of the year.

Imagista: Obviously the show has become this massive hit but when you were reading the script at first, however complete, did you have a premonition of how big the show would be or any inkling of how far it might go?

LC: No. I was so attracted to the idea that these were such different people all in this one crazy situation and I was just enraptured by the story. I never thought about whether anything would do well. I just wanted to have fun and this was the next adventure. Maybe on a deeper level though, you know? My gut was just like, “Yes. Go, go, go.” But did I know? Hell no! Nothing’s ever this successful! Everybody’s always trying to wrap their heads around it, including us.

Imagista: Who has had the biggest influence on you as an actor? Who are your muses and inspirations?

LC: As far as actors I just adore Goldie Hawn and Kevin Kline.

Imagista: Both of them are such great comedic actors. Is that part of it – the comedic element?

LC: The irony is I never intended to do serious drama. My natural self is much more at ease than any role I’ve ever played. Maybe that’s why I play more intense, serious, dramatic roles. I think the dream career is having a foot in each side, the dramatic and comedic, and bringing the comedy to the serious and vice versa.

Imagista: How do you like to spend your downtime, when you have it?

LC: I love to run, I love to read, and I love to travel. My grandfather lives in Greece and we have a little house there, in Kalamata. My granddad is an interesting character. He definitely instilled in me a love of music and art from a young age. Art was his gift. I have a lot of his hand-drawn pictures.  

Imagista: So if you weren’t an actor, what do you think you’d be doing right now?

LC: I love building. I love houses and design. I think I’d love to buy a big old building in Dumbo and turn it into apartments and have a coffee shop and restaurant on the ground floor and a yoga studio on the top floor and a children’s sculpting studio on another floor.

Imagista: Are you working on anything else right now that you’re really proud of?

LC: I just finished a movie called The Boy, which is a horror film. I wasn’t going to do horror but I read it and couldn’t say no. It’s about a girl who’s American and she goes to England to be a nanny for this couple’s child. They’re a pretty buttoned-up couple but when she gets there she realizes they actually want her to look after their doll. So it’s sort of this black comedy kind of thriller. As the nanny starts to look after the doll she starts to fall in love with it as her own child. She goes on such a crazy journey and through such a gamut of emotions. When I was reading it I couldn’t wait to do it. That’s pretty much how I gauge if I want to do something – if I can’t wait to act it out.

When I first read the script I thought maybe I needed something that wasn’t so intense and horrifying. But I’ve come to realize that that’s how you feel reading the script and hopefully how the reader feels watching it, and filming it is different. My character only knows what she knows. She feels safe being there. Making a horror film isn’t half as scary as reading or watching it.

Imagista: You said you like to give things away and go on an adventure. Do you have a possession you’d never give away?

LC: I have a t-shirt that was my uncle’s that my mum stole from him when they were kids and that I stole from my mum. I was thinking lately that if I could only keep one thing, this crappy t-shirt would be it.

You know, I read the other day that it’s really good to hold on to something for a year and then pass it on, even if it’s super sentimental to you. Pass the energy on instead of wasting it. Getting rid of something is only getting rid of the thing. The energy will come back to you at the time you need it.

Also, when you’re having trouble getting rid of something it helps to think about whether what connects you to it is a fear of the past or the future. I think when you’re less cluttered all of those things are more alive inside of you and your memory and I love the idea that we sort of already know everything we need to, and have everything we need to. We have all the knowledge but it’s the clutter and the noise that stops you from accessing it. It’s all a journey. It’s a process.