Rosita Espinosa, the tough-as-nails, community-minded fictional heroine of AMC’s The Walking Dead, got lucky when actress Christian Serratos was hired on to play her in season four. Serratos’ youth belies an incredible confidence, strength of character, and quick humor that Rosita herself would envy.
On hiatus from zombies, Serratos is wandering around the Christmasy village of New York City’s Union Square, enjoying her brief time off. “My plan was to decompress, enjoy the holidays, see friends, become a normal person again, and then make a plan for working during the hiatus,” she says.
It isn’t surprising that someone who has been acting since she was, as she describes it, “fresh out of the womb,” is not comfortable being idle. She was born into an industry family, even though she still isn’t quite sure what it is her father does. “It’s kind of a running joke. He’s worked for the studios since I was born. Every studio in Los Angeles. And yeah, I’m 25 and I still have absolutely no idea what he does.”
It was her mother’s work as an extra that led to her trying her hand at acting. “I don’t even think I knew what it was. I just thought: Mom does this. Let me try my hand at it.” She describes her entry into the industry as inevitable. “It was never something that I dreamt about,” She pauses and laughs, “I wish I had had that fairytale story.”
Her self-awareness is impressive, and she is keenly aware of the limitations of doing the same thing since birth. “Sometimes it makes me sad when somebody says that they’ve only done one thing their entire life. They might be very good at it. But, you know, if they’ve never tried anything else how can they be really quite sure?”
Serratos has retired from acting several times over the years, most recently when her role as Angela Weber came to a close. “I had just wrapped Twilight. I told myself I was over it. I was going to look into a normal day job.” It didn’t work. “I was miserable,” she says. “I just didn’t feel like myself anymore and I realized that’s what I need to be doing.”
Acting for Serratos is not so much a passion as a cathartic pursuit. “You have all these emotions and people are emotional creatures. People are kind of insane. I feel like the majority of the time people just want to scream something unreasonable and I get to do that without being judged for it. So that’s really amazing.”
Her confidence stems in part from parents who have encouraged and supported her every step of the way, no matter how strange or wild her ideas have seemed. “I think they’re both – and this has never been said to me – but I think they’re both of the mindset that I’m not just their child but I’m a human being and I’m going to do what I’m going to do because I’m a living thing.” They have instilled in their daughter an admirable work ethic and the tenet to face every challenge with fierce determination. She lives her life by the mantra: “If I’m going to do it, do it to the best of my ability.”
She is refreshingly non-judgmental, especially with herself. In March she posed for Playboy in a shoot that she describes as “deliciously glamorous.” The photos speak to her natural beauty and self-confidence. “I love the idea of a woman being very womanly and very proud of her body, her sexuality.” She wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. “I’m not very shy, let’s say that. It’s something I’m really proud of.” Also, her mother thought it was “super gorge.”
Serratos is not a one-trick pony and acting is not her only talent: accomplished ice skater and potential bullwhip master can also be added to that list. Though she dreamed of going to the Olympics for ice skating as a kid, she made a career choice to pursue acting instead. “Somewhere along the lines it changed. And I think that’s cool. I think it’s good that I dabbled in a bunch of different things and found out what I love.” She still skates, and often uses it as a restorative exercise after particularly trying days.
Her mother also encouraged her when, two years ago, she decided to become a bullwhip master. “I’m going to start making beats with bullwhips. I’m gonna be an innovator. I’m gonna be the snapping master of the 21st century,” she explains. When asked if she has, indeed, mastered bullwhipping, she laughs. “No, not at all. But I was good at it for the five minutes that I was good at it for.” She has a natural grace and ease. It isn’t difficult to see why she was cast as double-holstered Rosita despite zero experience shooting (or killing zombies).
But, as with all previous challenges, Serratos accepted the role of Rosita with energy and determination. “Things like the weapons could have really hindered me.” She describes her first day of shooting, dressed in short shorts, crop top and gun holsters from the original comic book costuming, as an eye-opening experience. “It was the first scene that we shot so I was nervous and it was a lot of action, lot of dialogue, lot of marks to hit. And then a lot of running back-and-forth. It doesn’t look like we were running very far but we are. It was a hundred degrees, Georgia humidity. And I’m trying to run with these holsters and they’re flapping and hitting me,” she describes.
She knew, however, that if she felt uncomfortable wielding weapons, she was not going to do service to her character. “So I’m going to make it a point to go to the shooting range and become a gunslinger,” says explains. She still works on her shooting and gun handling and now feels very comfortable with a weapon in her hands. That intensity and devotion pays off in the series. Message boards are filled with high praise for her performance. “I’m never going to stop working to make her who she has to be,” she says, and no doubt fans of the comic book thank her for it.
Now in its sixth season, she seems to really enjoy playing Rosita. “She’s very no-bullshit. She’s very sassy. She’s very sarcastic,” Serratos says. In fact, Serratos draws from her own personality to imbue Rosita with her sharp, snappy attitude. “My family has told me that I can be snarky. If you see any attitude from Rosita, any eye rolls, that’s something I have perfected in my 25 years.”
Serratos has found a family in the close-knit Walking Dead cast and crew. “What I had come from beforehand was Twilight and I was there from the beginning,” she says. Arriving on The Walking Dead set four seasons in, she not only had first-day nerves, but was also confronted with the anxiety of being the new kid. That anxiety didn’t last. “What’s great is that, and this doesn’t happen very often, we got there and that feeling of being new and being nervous went away very quickly because everyone on our set is so welcoming and loving and warm.” Andrew Lincoln showed up on her first day to welcome the three newcomers even though he wasn’t scheduled to shoot. “That’s the nature of our show.”
In fact, one of her most challenging days was surmounted by the closeness of the cast. In the first episode of season five, “The Sanctuary,” the cast escapes from a train car. The scene involved eight different choreographed actions sequences and four cameras, a focused shooting situation requiring flawless execution. The director, Greg Nicotero, told her that the scene was going to end with her throwing a burlap sheet over a barbed wire fence and jumping it. “And I’m looking at him like he was dead fucking crazy. And that was one of those moments where I was like: I’m not doing that. And then I started hearing the other cast members go, ‘Wait, we should all do it then. Let’s all do it.’ So my dumb ass was like: Yeah, I wanted to do it the whole entire time. I was never nervous at all.”
All of the cast members ended up performing the stunt successfully and, when the feat had been accomplished, erupted in screams and cheers. “We heard somebody on the walkie yell at us, one of the ADs say, ‘We’re still rolling. Shut the fuck up,’” she says, laughing as she remembers. “You get so excited and we all worked as a team. It feels really good when something like that comes together and works well.”
Though she isn’t sure what the future holds, she is open and undaunted. “All I know is I’m going to keep doing what I love and do it to the best of my ability,” she says. “Give it my all. Expand my horizons. And fail; I think failing is important.” Her courage is palpable. “I would love to play somebody who is really insane,” she says, when describing her current dream role, “Any kind of insane. I don’t discriminate. I just think it would be a lot of fun.” The world awaits.
Story by Brooke Nasser
Photography by Matt Licari
Styled by Liz Rundbaken
Makeup by Paige Campbell
Hair by Leonardo Manetti
@ Ion Studio NYC
Photo Assitanting by Colleen Young