North Texas sophomore Taylor Towery, as Mean Green cheerleader and a zombie on The Walking Dead.
Taylor Towery is not your average cheerleader. The sophomore member of the North Texas cheer squad is a competitive rock-climber. She's worked in movies and television as a stunt woman, including stunt driving while still in high school.
And she's a zombie.
We're not talking an amateur home-made fan-girl/fan-boy zombie. No, Taylor Towery is a professional zombie.
When not on the sidelines cheering on the Mean Green, Taylor has made multiple appearances in gore-encrusted prosthetics and filthy costumes on the hit AMC television series The Walking Dead as one of the living-dead, flesh-eating ghouls that are the title characters of the show.
It's just as exotic and exciting as it sounds.
Taylor has attacked and been stabbed in the head by Andrea (actress Laurie Holden), attacked and been stabbed in the head by Merle (Michael Rooker), and menaced another regular cast member later this season (can't say who). She has bitten into the arm of one character. She has portrayed an old zombie twice her weight. She has had fake blood and guts flung in her face and hair, had the fake flesh melt off her neck in 102-degree heat, and worn full-eye contact lenses that left her unable to see the actor with whom she was working.
"It's really not all that glamorous," she said. "It's kind of gross."
Taylor (right) was the stunt double for actress Candice Bergen in Merry Friggin' Christmas, due out in 2014
Movies, television, and stunt work run in Taylor's family. Her father, Russell Towery, is a stunt man with more than 140 credits on his resume and is the stunt coordinator on The Walking Dead. Her mother has done stunt work around her career as a flight attendant, and her younger brother has also worked in the industry.
"My dad's just like anyone. He wanted to get his family into his business," Taylor explained.
Taylor got her start working with her father at home, helping him test new equipment and learning the skills of the trade. "The learning curve is really hard," she observed. "How do you practice flipping a car?"
But The Walking Dead doesn't leave undead training to chance. Newcomers to the cast of ghouls go through zombie school.
"It's almost like a tryout," Taylor explained. "They kind of coach you, but they never tell you what to do, walk this way or make this noise. Everyone has their own take on it, and it makes it better because it's individual. They give you little tips, like think of it as a drunken stumble.
"You kind of get more comfortable the more you do it."
Zombie days begin with makeup, usually two hours of having prosthetics applied, then 30 minutes of touch-ups before going before the cameras. Since she's been on the show previously, the makeup artists consult photos of Taylor from her previous appearances and go for a different look each time. The show is protective of those photos, not wanting the audience to recognize an actor when they re-appear. And The Walking Dead has the kind of avid following that will search out such mistakes.
Despite the discomfort, the demands, and the heat (the show is set and shoots in Georgia), Taylor enjoys working on the show.
"It was a lot of fun. You can tell everyone there has been working together for several seasons, and I got to sit back and watch everyone interact. It's obvious they've been working together, and they have it down to a system."
Taylor (left) was stunt double for actress Alexandria Deberry in the film Hoovey, to be released in 2014
There's more to Taylor's stunt resume, however, than The Walking Dead. Among her credits is the Robin Williams comedy, Merry Friggin' Christmas, currently in post-production and due out in 2014, in which she was stunt-double for actress Candice Bergen. She also worked in the film Hoovey, starring Patrick Warburton, Lauren Holly and Cody Linley, to be released next year, and has been in the TV series Dallas.
In fact, her favorite stunt job was not zombie-related but came behind the wheel of a jeep a few years ago, when she was called on to swerve and narrowly avoid hitting a bicyclist - played by her brother.
"It's your little brother, and at that age you're still bickering all the time," she said. "Almost hit your brother with a jeep? Okay, we're going to get real close."
Her least favorite role?
"I did a near miss with a car coming at me. I had to dive into a rocky ditch on my face. We did a lot of different angles, and it took a lot of takes."
Stunt work, however, takes a backseat to school and cheer.
"I don't want to make a career out of it," she said. "I never have. My mom still does stunts every now and then, on the side. While I'm in school, it's definitely something I'm interested in because it's easy as a side job.
"It's a very glorified business. But when you've grown up in it, you see the good and bad. There were times when my dad would be gone for three months on a shoot, and it was really hard. That's not the lifestyle I want. My dad is okay with having a job and then not knowing when the next one is coming. I want stability."
Instead, she's studying at North Texas toward a career in healthcare, majoring in kinesiology with a minor in health promotion. Rather ironic, really, for a professional zombie.
Taylor decided to attend North Texas after visits to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State failed to make an impact on her. NT, which was close to her home in Grapevine, was a different story.
"I came here, did the tour, and told my mom, "This is where I want to go."
Taylor's connections to North Texas, however, go much further back. Her father was the primary stuntman on Robocop, which starred Peter Weller - a graduate of North Texas.
"I like the variety of people, the acceptance," Taylor said of UNT. "I like to put myself in different groups and it was really cool how accepting people are here. It's so much more open minded, and it works."
No single aspect of her multi-faceted personality defines Taylor, and being a part of different groups comes naturally to her, despite the barriers that sometimes arise. For instance, when she joined a competitive rock-climbing team, there was initial resistance.
"It's a completely different crowd than you get on a cheer team," she said. "Coming in as a cheerleader, most of the rock climbers were looking at me like, 'What is this blond cheerleader doing here.' But when I showed I could keep up with them, I gained some respect.
"You don't have to be the stereotype. It's cool to be a part of other worlds."
Cheerleading is one of Taylor's worlds, and it has her attention now. Her squad is preparing to compete in the national Cheer and Dance Championship in Daytona Beach, Florida, the first time Mean Green cheerleaders have competed for the title in a decade.
And, of course, there's Thursday night, when the North Texas football team plays Rice with a chance to earn its sixth win of the year and become bowl eligible.
"I am so excited," Taylor said. "I hope we can pack Apogee."
And being its Halloween night, don't be surprised to spot a few zombies in the crowd.