That Christian Serratos was ever terrified by knives now seems laughable. At one point, the fear—aichmophobia is the clinical term— was so extreme the 24-year-old actress would deliberately buy foods that didn’t need cutting, or would slyly ask friends to slice her meals for her at restaurants. Nowadays, Serratos spends seven months out of the year stabbing zombies in the head as the Army-fatigued badass Rosita Espinosa on AMC’s triumphant series The Walking Dead, which is in its fifth season.
“There was something about the sensation of my skin splitting. Even if somebody touched me and went like that...,” she tells me in Los Angeles, tracing her index finger along my pant leg to mimic a slit in my lower thigh. “Even now, I feel the sensation of skin splitting, and it really freaks me out.” We’re sitting on the porch of a hillside cottage that overlooks the Silver Lake Reservoir on a clear 80-degree afternoon. The setting is anything but the zombie-torn, post-apocalyptic Georgia countryside that Serratos patrols onscreen, having joined the show late last season.
Filming down South came just as the Burbank native was “so fucking over Los Angeles.” She’d been working in Hollywood since the age of seven, when she was signed to the Ford modeling agency. Some years later, Serratos parlayed modeling into an acting career, taking one-off roles on TV shows. Around this time she developed aichmophobia. A boy brought his knife on-set to woo her (a weapon of flirtation), but Serratos wound up cutting herself from the thumb to the palm, and fainted instantly. “I didn’t even need stitches—but after that I had this weird phobia,” she says. So when, two years ago, the call came through to play the hunting-knife-wielding Espinosa on The Walking Dead, Serratos came face to face with her greatest fear, then conquered it to lock down the role.
She committed herself wholly to the part, moving full-time to Atlanta, about an hour from where most of the show is filmed. Not only has working on The Walking Dead helped Serratos acclimate to handling serious prop weaponry (as well as the average butter knife), it has also served as the star’s introduction to the over-13 film-and-TV-watching public.
Her first roles fit pretty squarely in the teen demographic, including Zoey 101, 7th Heaven, Hannah Montana, a recurring spot on the Nickelodeon series Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, and notably as Kristen Stewart’s understated glasses-wearing human friend, Angela, in the Twilight series. Having mastered that genre, Serratos has graduated to gore and cult fandom, even shooting a brief sex scene this season. Understated no more. For Serratos, all the onscreen zombie slaying is infectious.
“That’s my favorite part of the job,” she says, excitedly. “Doing stunts and killing and working with guns and weapons—that’s what I live for on the show. I get really excited to do emotional or gone-crazy kinds of things. Instead of going home and smashing a phone like I used to do [laughs], I just go into a scene and kill it!” Her enthusiasm has even led to a new hobby offscreen.
During her free time in Atlanta, the actress goes shooting as much as she can. She says she’s shot some “pretty cool stuff,” meaning machine guns, automatic weapons, and a bow and arrow. I point out the bizarre paradox that she—a longtime supporter of PETA and other animals rights organizations, not to mention the onetime owner of six mini poodles—would become so entranced by weaponry reserved mainly for hunting.
“But I would never hunt! I talk to the people who have trained me about how I think it’s sad that they do hunt animals,” she clarifies. “People know what my opinion is. I’ve been very outspoken about it. I’ll say it once and if they say, ‘No, I’m gonna keep hunting,’ I’ll say, ‘OK, keep hunting. But you suck for it.’”
Of course it’s best she not let that gentle, animal-loving side shine too much on camera; at least not while evading the carnivorous undead. Still, she says, staying in character can be hard sometimes.
“You can’t be very method about fighting zombies. It’s not a very natural thing,” she says. “The problem with our job, I think, is that sometimes we’ll be in a scene and it’s hard to turn off outside life, so we’ll be thinking about our grocery list and shit in the middle of the scene.... It is a weird concept, I suppose, when you’re trying to be someone else the best you can. But it’s therapeutic.”
Text by Colin Stutz. Photography by Bryan Sheffield.