LOS ANGELES | Some actresses have the luxury of preparation. Rose McIver often settles for watching YouTube videos and rehearsing on camera before committing.
It’s just part of her ever-changing world as a zombie on “iZombie.” In the series, McIver’s character, a zombified medical examiner, has to snack on others’ brains in order to stay alive. In the process, she takes on the brain’s personality.
And, yes, McIver says, it can be a challenge. In the course of the last season, which just ended, the New Zealand native assumed the mannerisms of everyone from a conspiracy theorist to a dominatrix.
“It happens so quickly, you don’t get much prep time,” she says. “I wish I had that leisure. Usually, I email strangers after I hear what I’m going to be doing.”
To approximate the zombie look, McIver has four wigs in rotation. “I have names for all of them,” she says with a smile. “Shirley was a very good one – moody at the start but we got her in line.”
Because she has such a host of identities, McIver says it’s not uncommon for people to give her strange looks. “A lot of people think I went to high school with them,” she says. “I assume it’s that they’ve come across the show.”
One of a growing number of New Zealand performers working in American television shows, McIver says plenty of her friends got involved in the business when New Zealand was a hotbed for American film production. Tax benefits made it ideal; roles in big features like “Lord of the Rings” made it marketable.
Now 28, McIver got her break in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of “The Lovely Bones.” That led to more film and television work and a place in Hollywood.
Mastering an American accent was key, she says. “If you can do that, it’s fair game. You’ve done the training and done the hard work and you have what it takes.” Sustaining a career in New Zealand is almost impossible because the film industry is so small.
As a result, McIver became so busy in the United States and Canada she didn’t get back for a year and a half. “I was hung out to dry by my family,” she says with a smile. “Now I get back at least twice a year.”
So they wouldn’t forget her, she gave her niece and nephew “iZombie” action figures – a strange by-product of a foreign career.
“The reason I love my job so much is I get to play the variety and do a little of everything,” McIver says. “But I’m genuinely terrified knowing what brains I might not have a clue how to perform.”
Sometimes, there are fringe benefits. When she was under the effects of a country music brain, McIver rekindled her love for the guitar. “My brother is a talented guitarist. This got me to pick it up again and it was inspiring – stress relieving. There are all sorts of things I’d never explore if it weren’t for this show.”
Before “iZombie” began, writers gave McIver a list of “brains” they were interesting in picking. “You are allowed to veto one.”
She chose the “cat lady” brain because “I’m a dog person. They thought it would be a great prank to play on me where I was interacting with, like, seven cats in a bedroom.”
Other brains have enabled her to draw on friends, family and co-workers. A “father-daughter” combo let her play two extremes at once.
The trick, she says, is to make people care about her character, no matter what transformation she’s going through.
Renewed for a fourth season, “iZombie” also has prompted fans to wonder what those television brains taste like.
“The brains are made out of gelatin – like coconut agar gelatin,” McIver says. “They’re disgusting. They’re drowned in corn syrup and whatever kind of makes it look good at the time. They’ve gone above and beyond to try to make them delicious.
“In the first season, there was one that was like a milkshake. I had to chug it and you’ can’t spit that. They’re not great but, come on. I get to play a zombie and get through this great show. It’s like, ‘What a self-indulgent problem.’”