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Emily Kinney's balancing act 

Singer/songwriter holds a passion for music and acting

It sounded worse than the cable company. "Emily will call you between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.," the publicist told me. "Sorry I can't give you a smaller window."

While I resolved myself to sitting at my desk until the phone rang, I suddenly got hungry for the lunch that I had sitting across the office in the breakroom refrigerator. Do I have time to get it? What if she calls and I'm not at my desk? Will she call back? My stomach's growling. Now I think I have to pee. No time to get to the bathroom. I just hope the phone rings... soon.

All of these thoughts raced around my head as I stared at the blinking lights on my phone and then at the email pulled up on my computer screen. Usually, we're given a time, even if it's an estimate. Interviews can run longer than planned and many publicists often stack them one on top of the other. "... between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m." That's an eternity.

When a 917 area code flashes up on caller ID at 1:29 p.m., I don't recognize it, cross my fingers and pick up the handset. It's Emily Kinney. She quickly explains the giant call window that was needed.

click to enlarge Emily Kinney starred as Beth Greene for three seasons on The Walking Dead.
  • Emily Kinney starred as Beth Greene for three seasons on The Walking Dead.

"I'm in Vancouver, working on a movie," she says. "I'm pretty much in every shot. I had a 3:15 pickup this morning, so the only time I have is between setups. That's why I didn't have an exact time."

All is forgiven as Emily tells me we have about 10 minutes to talk before they're ready to roll film again. She's on the set of the TV movie, Love on the Sidelines, and our conversation quickly starts with a discussion of balance. How does the 30-year-old, who starred on the hit AMC TV show The Walking Dead for four seasons and who is about to hit the road to support her debut album (including a tour stop at the Visulite Theatre on Nov. 23), balance her time between acting and music?

"The hardest part is scheduling," Kinney says. "To be honest, they end up being a nice break from each other. I used to say that when I had a break from acting, I'd have a great project to work on — my music. So, I never got bored or waited around for someone to cast me. Now, music is so much like a small business I'm running and acting can be, too. To be honest, they end up being a nice break from each other. It's interesting and something I'm still learning how to balance."

There are plenty of people who are able to have steady hands in both worlds — from Drake to Zooey Deschanel. Oftentimes, the trouble comes from long-time actors who dip into music and aren't taken seriously. Kinney notes that her debut EP, Blue Toothbrush, was out before she was cast as The Walking Dead's Beth Greene and that her character also sang, which makes the transition a bit easier for some to see.

Kinney released two EPs before her debut album, This is War, became available in October. Her music is usually pop-infused rock that's acoustic in nature and jangly at times, with her sweet vocal tone drizzled on top. Of course, people familiar with The Walking Dead probably have an idea of what her album sounds like.

"One thing that helps people be able to make that crossover is that Beth sings," Kinney says. "So, they're able to accept the fact that 'she's not just an actress because that character she played was a singer.' I do think that people can be surprised when they come to shows because it is about my life and I'm older than the character. All this stuff about relationships and living in different cities comes out in my lyrics."

Beth Greene was one of the main characters who lived through The Walking Dead's zombie apocalypse. The teenager played by Kinney first appeared on the show's second season and was killed, much to the dismay of fans, in the show's fourth season. It was in the show's third season that the character started to sing.

"When I was cast, she wasn't necessarily a singer," Kinney says of Greene. "It was an idea that Glen Mazzara — the season three showrunner — had. He called me between seasons two and three and said they had the idea of sitting around the campfire and Beth singing as a good way to bring together the family."

She adds that some of the writers on the show had seen her perform while she was playing shows in support of her debut EP and were aware of her musical talents in case they wanted to add them into the show.

Being aware of the show's popularity, Kinney says she does perform a few of the songs she sang in The Walking Dead on tour — including "Be Good" and "Hold On."

"It's such a gift that so many people connected with that character," Kinney says. "I know that some people who come into my music are Walking Dead fans. The lyrical content of my songs can sometimes be a new element of me that fans haven't seen."

Where Beth Greene was a devout Christian teenager, Kinney is 30 and has experienced far more in her life. She's not afraid to write about personal things — relationships, etc. For her, she feels that being honest in her lyrics is an important way to connect with her listeners, regardless of their interest in her acting career. It's tough though, because many people in Hollywood are used to sheltering their personal lives from the public.

"I feel like most musicians, or actors — you put an element of yourself into the thing you're working on," she says. "I feel it's my chance to get my point out or say my side of the story. It's a release and freedom. Letting people in... it's an interesting balance of how much you should tell people. When you come up with something, there are elements you take from your life, and there's a creative thing where your imagination kicks in. I feel like the truth is what keeps it all grounded.

"People will listen to songs and then tie them into their own life," she continues. "If you're super truthful and honest and put in the things you're the most moved by, it's more likely that people will see your point of view. Or maybe that song offers comfort if the same thing happened to them or they felt the same way."

It's now 10 minutes into our conversation and Kinney's tone has gotten a bit hurried. I know our time is winding down and she'll be called back onto the set at any moment.

So, is she worried that people who are familiar with her acting won't take her music seriously, or vice versa? Not at all. She views music and acting as two different loves that she's able to work on. Acting gives her a break from music. Music gives her a break from acting. She can work on writing songs when she's not filming, and she often reads scripts while traveling on the road.

"They're both things that I really care about having in my life," she says. "I love acting and I'm super-passionate about it. I love writing and love writing poetry and music and do it every day. I feel that in some ways it keeps me from getting burned out on one or the other. I have gotten that question a few times, 'Do people take your music seriously?' Well, I did write these songs and I've been singing since I was little. Whether or not I expect people to like my music — I can't form people's tastes for them. As much as we try to define the people around us, the world can always surprise you."

Before I can even begin to ask another question, I hear talking in the background and to my surprise, Kinney cuts me off. "Actually, I have to go."

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