Dead Sexy

Maggie Greene may or may not survive the zombie apocalypse, but the walking dead’s Lauren Cohan will be doing just fine either way. By Todd Longwell. Photographed by Shane Mccauley  

“I don’t worry about death,” says Lauren Cohan, over a cup of black coffee outside the Hollywood Corner café in Los Angeles. “It’s definitely going to happen.” What might sound like dime-store philosophy is, in fact, hard-won equanimity from the actress, best known for her role as scrappy-yet-ever-imperiled Maggie on AMC’s The Walking Dead, a show that has made regular sport of killing off its most popular characters. Playing a survivor of the zombie apocalypse has forced Cohan to maintain a healthy detachment. She can’t even say if Maggie lives on at this moment: As Cohan drinks her coffee, cameras are rolling in Atlanta on the eighth episode of the show’s fifth season, which debuts on October 12. Does Maggie make it that far? “I can’t say if I figure into that at all,” says Cohan. “A big theme of the show is that we can’t talk about it.”   For Cohan, it’s all about living in the now—and right now, it’s all good. The star—who can next be seen in the big-screen dramedy Reach Me—practices Zen meditation and works on sketches that might become scripts. “I think everything is fun,” says Cohan. “I play dress-up. Right now, I have a loaner Corvette while I’m in L.A. A black Corvette fucking Stingray. Excuse my French. It’s dangerous. When I first stepped into it, I was like, ‘This isn’t my car.’ Now, I’m comfortable, but it’s like I’m playing at being a Corvette driver.” The Corvette, she says, appeals to “some deep hair-rock part of all of us.”  
Cohan traces back her penchant for playacting to what sounds like a tumultuous childhood. A Philadelphia native, she spent her early years in Cherry Hill, New Jersey; her parents split when she was young, and her mom remarried. “There was this whole new family coming in, so you’re like, ‘I’m fun, I’m fun! Come here! Pick me up!’” she says. When she was eight, she marched into school and informed her teachers that changes were coming, now that her mom was having a baby with her new stepfather, whose last name Cohan had adopted. “I said, ‘My sister will be Cohan and I will be Cohan,’” she says. “They said, ‘We have to ask your parents about that.’ And I said, ‘No, you don’t need to. That’s the only name I’m going to answer to.’ I was pretty gutsy.”  
Cohan has five step-siblings, ranging in age from 10 to 27. She converted to her stepfather’s Jewish faith, and was bat mitzvahed. She says she remained close to her birth father, staying with him at a rented Jersey Shore beach house during her childhood summers and going on “random cool adventures,” despite moving to her mother’s native Britain at 13. The change gave her an appreciation for a peripatetic lifestyle: “I can pick up and move to a totally new city. To me, moving and being in unknown territory is life. I have to train myself to stay still. If I can’t move, then I move my furniture around.”  
But uprooting also brought its own small calamity. “I had to perform somewhat and seem cool with [the move],” says Cohan, whose Walking Dead Southern accent is replaced, in real life, by an ever-fluctuating mix of all-American and proper Brit. “I was skinny as a twig, so I was already the awkwardest awkward girl. Then I got boobs, which was great,” she says, laughing. Said boobs are frequently obscured under layers of zombie blood in The Walking Dead, since Maggie is more tomboy badass in a grimy tank top than post-apocalyptic siren. “One good thing about The Walking Dead is that it makes you a little less precious about things,” says Cohan. “You’re out in the sweaty Georgia heat covered in bugs and dirt all day, so you end up being a little more carefree about how you dress and what you own. We’re dipping in and out of the most vulnerable, grave situations all the time, and we just remain in this messy place that’s awesome. In any one moment, you’re going to have to pretend you had your hand in somebody’s guts, but then you still have to go and cook some food.”  
Or, in Cohan’s case, credibly make out with co-star Steven Yeun’s Glenn. “I’m so lucky that Steven is my co-star, because we’re good friends—we see the comedy of it, but we also want it to be real,” she says. “The naffest thing in the world is watching a sex scene where people still have a bra on. As an actor, you’re supposed to portray reality and let people get completely lost in this world. That includes wonderful, gentle, delicate things like sex, too. Why should I want to make decapitation believable and then not want to make sex believable? Sex is the best thing ever. And decapitation is so-so,” says Cohan with a laugh. For a moment, it’s hard not to wonder if she is just talking through any number of Walking Dead mortalities—including her on-screen father, Hershel Greene, whose head was memorably removed from his body in Season 4—or previewing Maggie’s own demise. Cohan reconsiders: “Decapitation is pretty shit, actually.”