Rose McIver looks awfully alive for someone playing undead. In “iZombie,” her new CW series, she’s a vision of iron deficiency — ghostly pallor, under-eye circles the color of eggplant, brittle platinum bob — as Olivia Moore, a Type A medical student turned zombified coroner’s assistant with a taste for human brains. The twist? Those brains, fresh from the morgue’s cadavers, allow her to channel the memories of the deceased and feed crime information to the Seattle homicide division.
But at a recent interview in New York, Ms. McIver was aglow, her wide blue-gray eyes set off by a flannel coat designed by Juliette Hogan, a fellow New Zealander who has been dressing Ms. McIver since she was cast in her breakout feature-film role at 19 in Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones.” Now 26, she has since appeared as a libidinous candy striper in Showtime’s “Masters of Sex” and a moody Tinker Bell in ABC’s “Once Upon a Time.” Critics have responded affectionately to Ms. McIver’s star turn as an all-too-human monster, with Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times calling “iZombie” “ridiculously likable.”
Ms. McIver infiltrated the New Zealand film industry at the age of 3 as an angel in Jane Campion’s “The Piano.” These days she embraces Los Angeles as home after a rocky start there when, at 17, she was parachuted from Auckland for a three-day Beverly Hills press junket for a Disney Channel movie and nearly had a breakdown.
Returning to California two years later with Mr. Jackson and his crew, “we all felt like we were on this adventure together,” Ms. McIver said. “It definitely gave me some insights into the culture and let me know that it didn’t have to consume me.” Here are excerpts from the conversation.
Q. Executive producers of your show worked on “Veronica Mars” and the WB, a predecessor to CW, was home to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Were you a fan of either?
A. A little of both, yeah. Like those shows, ours has this strong, interesting female lead that is refreshingly unlike other women I’d seen on television. I think that’s what attracted me to the role in the first place.
Liv’s complexion: Please share her beauty secrets.
It takes just as long to make no-makeup makeup look convincing, so it’s about an hour 45 every morning, then about 45 minutes to take it off at the end of the day. It’s airbrushed white pigment makeup and a wig, and when I go into full-on zombie mode, the eyes get more sunken and some blue veins come through the skin, and she rages out and makes some noises. A typical mid-20s girl. It worries me how naturally these growls come out of me.
I hear there are zombie rules.
It takes a brain being destroyed to kill a zombie. We need to eat brains in order to survive. And if we don’t, we go into full-on zombie mode. It’s almost like adrenaline. When a zombie is under threat or there are really high stakes involved, that’s when the more rabid zombie comes about.
What are those yummy brains made of?
We did this stuff that was like fondant icing in the pilot. But in the end the thing that looked most convincing and tasted bearable was coconut agar-agar, which is like gelatin. We drown it in corn syrup — this pink, sticky, bloodlike fluid — and it’s pretty disgusting, to be honest. I’m supposed to look like I’m savoring it.
So, do you actually swallow it?
Most of the time, I have a spit bucket. Each week I consume the brains in a different cuisine, like in chow mein noodles or a salad. In one episode, I make a milkshake — a brainshake — and we used chocolate milk and blended up the gelatin. And honestly, that was beyond repulsive, and I had to chug it. I must have drunk two liters of this chocolate-milk brain stuff. I probably should have thrown up, but we had so much to do.