by Rachael Lovette
If the name Aliyah Royale doesn't ring a bell yet, don't worry, it will soon. The 20-year-old actress is starring in AMC’s latest limited miniseries, The Walking Dead: World Beyond. World Beyond follows two sisters coming of age 10 years after the zombie apocalypse. Aliyah takes on the role of Iris Bennett, a smart, no-nonsense teen, ready to leave the walls of Campus Colony, a satellite outpost of the larger (and much more sinister) Civic Republic Military (CRM), and head out into the unknown in search of answers.
Before Aliyah took on the role of Iris, she has been making a name for herself in film shorts and TV series like The Red Line that resonates with her as a person. In the cover story for New Face’s October issue, we discussed filming World Beyond, representing diverse, fierce, and intelligent females on screen, and more! There are many reasons to jump on the Aliyah Royale bandwagon aside from her onscreen roles -- welcome to the club!
R: Tell me your casting story. How did you end up on The Walking Dead: World Beyond?
A: It was a normal sunny day in LA when I got the audition and I wasn’t feeling too confident I’d book it because I am TERRIFIED of walkers. I did the audition and was like “cool, thanks so much” and moved on with my life.
Fast forward a couple of hours after the audition, I’m at Benihana’s and I get 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.
In New York, we went through various rounds of testing with Alexa, where people were slowly being eliminated after each round. When the individual test with Alexa came, 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 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.
R: Aside from walkers and random dismembered arms laying around waiting to scare you at any moment. What was the biggest challenge of shooting?
A: The physicality of it all. When you sign on for such a physical role you don’t realize that eating cheeseburgers and pasta, you're not going to want to jump over a bus or do a fight sequence where you are slicing and dicing some walkers. You know you have to eat something light so you can still move, so adjusting to that was really crazy because I’m such a foodie it took me a minute to get used to the fight training.
R: There’s this still from the show where you have this determined, focused, and devil may care attitude. Are you similar to your character Iris in real life?
A: The similarities are ridiculous. I’d say that 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.
Iris’ decision to go on the road -- she thinks it’s just going to affect her and her sister, but it affects Elton, Silas, Huck, Felix, and everyone on the road. She’s lost her mom already and her therapist at this point. She might lose her father -- she doesn’t want to lose anyone else at this point. It’s a lot of pressure on her to keep everyone alive and everyone safe.
I feel the same responsibility in my life. I always want to make sure everyone around me is taken care of, happy, healthy -- but sometimes danger and risk do happen and you can’t always protect the people you love.
R: From what we’ve been talking about and from the episodes I’ve seen it doesn’t seem like there’s a real difference per se between Aliyah Royale and Iris Bennett.
A: Thank you. I have always been mature for my age and had to grow up quicker than those around me. I’m 20 and playing Iris, she’s 15/16 years old so I wanted her to have some of that hope and naivety of innocence that I necessarily didn’t have at her age. So making sure I could stay true to that while still making her a young woman that can make decisions for herself, able to be decisive, able to know what she wants -- that was really important to me.
R: What have you learned from filming World Beyond?
A: I’ve developed an appreciation for the difficult things. I’ve always told myself and the 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.
“I’m realizing that difficult things have their rewards. I think that not everything is meant to be easy -- some things should be difficult. It’s okay to work through it and not try to get around it.”
R: What is your relationship like with your fellow castmates?
A: Alexa (Mansour) 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 onset in a minute.
R: Have you watched every episode and what did you think?
A: When I am on set I worry about my scenes and my scenes only so nine out of ten times I don’t have any idea about the secrets or details happening with other characters. I like finding out things at the same time as fans do because we can share in the genuine excitement of each episode together.
R: This was your first leading role. Why is it important now more than ever to be represented culturally? As a female?
A: I love being able to tell stories from different perspectives. I think it’s powerful that World Beyond is led by two women of color, which is insane and a breakthrough for the industry, and I am so grateful for this opportunity.
It’s also important to me, and what drew me to this character is -- Iris is a force of nature. It’s very rare currently to find a young adult character, especially a young woman who can make decisions for herself, who knows what she wants even if she doesn’t know the best way to execute it. She knows she’s smart. She knows she’s talented. Those qualities are important to me.
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.
R: Your recent filmography credits are very relevant to the times and portray topics like racism, sexism, and equality in a real way.
A: I feel like on World Beyond we are doing a good job of telling the stories of diverse people correctly. We’re giving young women chances to be themselves in whatever reality they want to be. It’s really important for me to play young women who are respectful, assertive, and strong-willed. It’s also very important to me that everyone find their
“It’s really important to me that everyone finds their inner strength and uses that to become a contributing individual to the community.”
R: How do you navigate self-care these days?
A: Self-care is rewatching one of my favorite movies. My absolute guilty pleasure is watching Hallmark Christmas movies. I cannot even explain to you the joy they bring me -- I would love to do a Hallmark Christmas movie.
R: Did you know you always wanted to be an actress?
A: Yes. I always knew I liked this. I always knew I liked this. I saw myself 30 years in the future looking like this.
R: What types of roles do you want to try?
A: 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.
“If I can provoke emotion, provoke conversation -- that’s my dream.”
R: How do you handle all the critics?
A: There’s a belief that it already was what it was. 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.
R: Wow. That’s so powerful and speaks to who you are as a person. I feel that makes you a great role model for young boys and girls. With everything going on in the world, what message do you have for fans?
A: 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. If I don’t see the solution, I’m going to be the solution.
“I always believe that what has been put in my heart to execute will be done.”
R: Final question. What can you say about any other projects coming up?
A: 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.
When I first sat down with Aliyah, I knew she was the real deal and not just because she plays a badass heroine on TV. She exudes the intimacy of being your BFF and not just because she gives honest answers that make us say “SAME” or the fact that she is a huge nerd when it comes to pop culture facts. From being terrified of walkers (kudos special effects team) and singing her personal “anthem” at the top of your lungs on a late-night drive to having a great mom as a role model and knowing her own self worth, there’s truly something special about this breakout star. I for one, can’t wait to see what she does next.
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.