By Rachael Lovette
From the first episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead: World Beyond, I knew Aliyah Royale would be my go-to partner in crime in case of a real zombie apocalypse. Her character, Iris Bennett, is the perfect combination of fearless, smart, and relatable to a fault (spoiler: our first introduction to Iris is during a therapy session).
Similar to her World Beyond counterpart, she’s compassionate and kind-hearted, which makes her infinitely more likable. While we all wait patiently for the rest of season one of The Walking Dead: World Beyond, I chatted with Aliyah Royale about the show, how she’s practicing self-care, her message to young fans, and more!
On being cast in World Beyond: “I have always been totally afraid of zombies, walkers, the undead, the deadish - all of it. When I got the audition, and I wasn’t feeling too confident I’d book it and was, like, ‘cool, thanks so much,’ and moved on with my life. I remember being at Benihanas later that day and getting a call asking me to be in New York the next day to test and do a chemistry read with Alexa Mansour who plays my sister, Hope, in the show.”
“I knew I needed something to set me apart from every other girl that was going to read in there. I remembered that when I would read with the casting director she would always cut me off on my lines so I decided that I could use that as a trigger. I told myself ‘okay, there’s this really heart-wrenching scene and if she cuts me off in one of the lines I’m just going to go off.’”
“The time came and I am in the room with all these executives and showrunners staring at me, I’m doing the scene and she cuts me off...If there wasn’t someone paying attention in that room, they definitely started paying attention at that moment. I held the moment for dramatic effect and then continued with the rest of the scene.”
“I flew home the next day and the next thing I knew I got the job.”
On what makes this show different: “World Beyond is led by two women of color, which has never been done before in any other TWD series or spin-off and that’s powerful.”
On the most challenging part of shooting [aside from walkers and dismembered body parts laying around set]: “The physicality of it all. I’m such a foodie it took me a minute to get used to the fight training. We’d been fight training for four hours a day -- hand to hand combat, weapons -- just all over the map.”
“I remember if I didn’t want to sweat, I am now going to be sweating and accepted that as my reality. Especially when wearing a heavy leather jacket, backpack, and carrying my horn pole Shiloh.”
“Every time I have my weapon in my hands I feel like a Walking Dead warrior, like I am in the universe and that I can take on anything.”
On what she’s learned from filming World Beyond: “I’ve developed an appreciation for the difficult things. I’ve always told myself and people around me: ‘Enjoy the little things. Find something that is just for you. Every day find something that is just for you.’ It could be getting yourself your favorite cup of coffee.”
On her fellow castmates: “Alexa is genuinely half of my heart. Within our first week of landing in Virginia, I had this very crazy paranormal experience in my hotel room. I woke up from this awful nightmare, opened my bedroom door, and this spirit walked through me. It felt horrible, evil, and gross. I called my mom crying and then called Alexa -- her first reaction was okay, stay with me. So for 6 months we lived together.”
“There were times that I didn’t have work that day or have one scene later that day, but I would go to set with Alexa to hang out with her all day, support her, and just hang out with her. That relationship is very important to me.”
“Nicolas, who plays Elton, is actually a genius in real life, so the character is 100% him. Hal, our favorite Australian, is hilarious.”
“It’s just a blast being with them on set and we still get to laugh with each other offscreen even though we haven’t been on set together in a minute.”
On her and Iris’ similarities: “We’re both fierce, loyal friends, willing to help out anyone and everyone, and sometimes have the same faults. Sometimes our will is so strong that we get ourselves into situations that don’t just affect us, but other people.”
On why she likes playing Iris: “I like playing a character who doesn’t need the teacher to tell her she’s smart. Doesn’t need the hottest guy in school to tell her she’s pretty to know that she’s pretty. Iris is unapologetically herself without a parent or guardian’s permission and I admire that. I wish we got to see more examples of that in content today.”
On how important it is that her on-screen character(s) align with her personal beliefs: “I think I am growing into the heart that my mom has. My mom is an empath, and I think I am developing that same quality. It’s important that everyone knows that they are valued. You don’t need someone to tell you that. Believe that for yourself. I think it’s important that we teach people from a young age that it’s okay to like who you like, it’s okay not to like what you don’t like.”
“It’s okay to make these decisions for yourself and figure things out for yourself.”
On mental health: “I love that in the very first episode Iris is in a therapy session because mental health to me is not saying “I’m okay. It’s I’m working on being okay.”
On future roles she’d like to play: “I want to continue playing young women who are forces of nature. I also feel like I have been prepared in my life to deal with the more meaty roles -- the deeper the trauma goes, the better I can play it. I love being able to dig deep, and the intimacy that film brings that allows me to play roles that are heart-wrenching, gut-punching, can make you laugh or cry.”
On making major decisions: “When I have a major life decision or I’m really going through it I will see two versions of myself. One is a 5-year-old version of myself who is going through some things and hoping to be out of the situation she is in. The other is maybe 5-10 years down the line version of myself where I am successful, buying my first house, and I am thriving. You know like “Thirty, flirty, and thriving,” from the movie 13 Going on 30, that’s the other version of myself that I will see.”
“Both are really important to me because the 5-year-old version reminds me to be grateful for where I am now because things weren’t always like this, and then the future me reminds me that there is so much more for me to do.
“I’m going to accomplish everything that has been put into my heart to accomplish.”
On future projects: “There is more in the works. I am currently on the other side of the camera, writing and producing a film that is very near and dear to my heart.”
On handling critics: “I already played the character, I was on set, and I am proud of the work that I’ve done. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and everyone has a right to a perspective that differs from yours because that’s how conversation happens and communication grows and, but at the end of the day it’s my story.”
“I’m grateful to have the opportunities I’ve had. I’m blessed to have been able to play the characters I have played, in the environments that I have played them.”
On self-care: “Right now, self-care is rewatching one of my favorite movies. My guilty pleasure is watching Hallmark Christmas movies because there’s truly something magical about their storylines and arc.”
On her role model: “I remember when I was 11, I told my mom that I was talented enough to move to LA and pursue acting as a serious career, and she believed me. She sacrificed everything -- being separated from her husband and her other children just to help me pursue my dream.”
“My first two years in LA, I was just doing background/extra work. I wasn’t really seeing the camera and never had lines, but she was still so loving, understanding, and supportive. She believed in me in ways that I didn’t even believe in myself.”
“When you give up as much as she did it’s a big deal. My mom’s hope, faith, and unconditional love - I just hope that when I reach the epitome of the woman I want to be that I have her heart.” [Excuse me while I go wipe my tears…]
Her message for young fans: “The worst thing is when you have this idea and someone presents you with the facts and it doesn’t go together at all -- and you’re like now I have to change this. TRUST YOURSELF. Do what you want. Believe that what you want will be yours. I’m all about people valuing themselves and loving themselves even if the odds are against you and you are looking at the facts saying this is not going to work -- you go, that’s fine, I’m going to make it work.”
Aliyah Royale is not any kind of daughter or young woman in the world. The roles that she plays are going to be significant not only to who she is now, but who she wants to be in the future. Wise beyond her years, she understands that not every project or role will be for her and that she needs to be patient and trust that what’s hers is hers. It’s inspiring to find a young woman who is authentically herself both on and offscreen, uncompromising in her beliefs, and I for one, cannot wait to see what the future holds for this talented young star.
The Walking Dead: World Beyond airs Sundays at 10/9c on AMC.
Rachael Lovette is the Digital Director at Flower Bomb Media with a passion for everything K-Pop, fashion, model advocacy, and pop culture. Make sure you follow her on Instagram as she journeys through the fashion industry from behind the lens.