Emily Kinney's path to stardom reads like a Hollywood screenplay.
The small-town Nebraska girl left home for New York City in 2006 after graduating from Nebraska Wesleyan University. She had no job and no apartment — but she had dreams of being a star.
Kinney, a Wayne native, stayed on a friend's couch while she searched Craigslist for an apartment and looked for work. Eventually, Kinney said, she got a job at a coffee shop and found an apartment she could “kind of afford.”
But her top priority was always acting.
“I mostly really just started going to auditions — even before I had a place to live. I was going to auditions every morning,” Kinney said.
She eventually would get several small breaks in various off-Broadway shows and landed some television spots, including a recurring role on HBO's “The Big C” and a part on “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”
Then she was cast in the Broadway musical “Spring Awakening” in the summer of 2008. She made enough doing the show that she didn't need another job and started to save money.
Less than two years later, Kinney's agent set her up on an audition for a recurring role on AMC's “The Walking Dead.” After reading a few scenes, Kinney got a callback: She had been cast as Beth Greene in one of the most popular dramas on cable TV.
Kinney said she draws on her childhood for her character — a 17-year-old farm girl from a religious family.
“I didn't grow up on a farm, but a lot of my friends did. (Beth) grew up in a very religious home, and I was raised Catholic. I do draw a lot from my own experience, like even when (Beth) is going through a suicidal thing. Obviously, I'm not dealing with a zombie apocalypse or anything even close to it, but I still have had moments when I'm not sure what the future's like and wondering if any of this is worth it,” Kinney said.
The future looks bright for Kinney, even if it is rough on her television character. Kinney has already appeared in 24 episodes of “The Walking Dead,” and her character survived through last season. Beth will be back for season four, Kinney said, though the cast hasn't received scripts yet.
Filming will begin again in May and run through November or December, Kinney said. The series is shot in Georgia, so that means Kinney spends a lot of time away from New York.
“The cool thing about filming in Georgia is we're sort of all away from our lives. Most of us don't live there; we live in L.A. or New York or London or wherever, so we're just there for the show and we're sort of isolated in a certain way,” Kinney said.
She spends most of her weekends with fellow cast members Steven Yeun, who plays Glenn, and Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie, Beth's sister.
Working with the other actors and the producers is the best part of being on the show, she said.
“I'm getting exposed to the best actors — Andrew Lincoln (he plays Rick Grimes) is so good; Scott Wilson (Hershel Greene) is like a legend, he's such a great actor. It sets the bar really high, and it makes me a better artist and actor,” Kinney said.
She can't say for sure how long her character will live — the body count on “The Walking Dead” is notoriously high — so she's working on other projects.
Fans of “The Walking Dead” may recall that Kinney has had a few scenes in which she sings. That's not just an important part of Beth's life, but of Kinney's as well. She's also a songwriter.
She started out singing as a child at county fairs in Nebraska, and now she's looking to release her first album, “Expired Love,” in the near future.
Kinney often performs her songs with her band at Rockwood Music Hall in New York, as well as at hotel cafes, she said.
In addition, she said, “I was just in a movie that did really well at Sundance (Film Festival) called 'Concussion.' I had a small part in that, but I'm really excited about people getting to see it because it's a really great movie.”
Kinney said she misses Nebraska, especially Wayne.
“Whenever it's summer time, it makes me think about going to the county fairs, going to the demolition derby and Chicken Days, all of those kinds of festivals that were so much fun growing up. There's nothing like that here. There might be street fairs in New York, but there's just so many people, and it's not the same where it's the community and you know everyone. It's different here,” she said.