My First Fan Expo (And Why It Was Awesome) – Day 2

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My brother moved away to university on Labour Day and it’s also his first time living on his own. To show him how proud of a sister I am, I took him to Fan Expo Canada for what I was hoping would be a day he’d never forget. I’m pretty sure I nailed it.

We’re both extremely huge fans of The Walking Dead. When the show is back on October 12th, I’m going to find it supremely disappointing that we won’t be able to watch it live together – which we usually did every Sunday night, followed by an hour of laughs while watching The Talking Dead.

So when I found out that I could get us passes to Fan Expo through work, and that there’d be TWD celebrities in attendance, I knew that it was something we’d have to experience together. Not only did we end up getting to attend the Q&A panel, for which five of the actors attended, we even got to meet some of them, including a pre-purchased photo op with Norman Reedus. Yes, it was truly amazing.

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Sunday of the Fan Expo weekend was day 2 for me (my day 1 recap is here), so I already knew where to lead my brother and I that morning as we hurried to the convention centre in hopes of getting a good seat for the panel. While there were already a ton of people in the room when we got there – over an hour before the panel was set to begin – we got decent seats just to the left of the stage and right in front of one of the extension screens. We patiently waited for the panel to start (and they were late to begin, too), but deep down we could feel the excitement bubbling up to the top.

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Finally, the guests had arrived. The panel consisted of David Morrissey (the Governor), Danai Gurira (Michonne), Michael Rooker (Merle), Norman Reedus (Daryl), and Lauren Cohan (Maggie). The room went absolutely nuts.

The panel moderator asked them a series of questions and the cast were happy to give drawn out answers with some really great anecdotes. Michael and Norman also took time to take photos/a video of the audience on their own phones.

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Some of the highlights…

David, being from England, made a comment about how he had to get accustomed to driving on the right side of the road when he made the move to Los Angeles. But luckily, on TWD, he didn’t have that problem, considering he could drive on whatever side of the road he wanted.

Michael recounted what he thought was the hardest part about being on the show – the tics, the snakes, and the bugs getting all up in his ears and nostrils and his underwear.

Danai talked about Michonne’s relationship with her katana, and how it was actually made with eel skin (best for soaking up blood!) by the props department.

Norman recounted his 24 hours leading up to being there at the panel, from being on set greased up with oil and tar, to trying to shower it all off before going to the airport to catch his flight to Toronto; and since he’d missed lunch, he grabbed a burger and intended to eat it on the plane as everyone else was boarding, only to find a bunch of camera phones trained on him, so he decided to hide in the bathroom to finish his cheeseburger, all the while still rubbing black dirt off himself. He also didn’t have his own shoes, so he had to borrow his stunt double’s – which were three sizes too big for him – and the fire alarm had gone off at the hotel in the middle of the night. Needless to say, he was exhausted!

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Lauren touched on how the show still feels like a secret code between the actors and the fans – despite it being so well-known and popular. She also spoke to how she feels the stories on the show are so real, even if it’s about zombies and people eating people, and that the show does reflect what’s happening in society now: a disconnection, where people can walk around mindlessly and disconnected from others like a walker, and yet there are those that strive to hold on and try not to succumb to the “darkness” (social media), and realize the importance of being connected.

Danai also talked about how she felt Michonne was a lot like a woman in war – someone who becomes a very formidable force when they can no longer rely on anyone else.

Michael and David spoke about how each episode is made within eight days and that the amount of work put in by all of the crew members is monumental. And truly, the time they have the most fun is when they come out to the conventions and get to meet the fans.

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A Dixon brothers hug to end the Q&A.

We were sad when they had to wrap on the Q&A, but we had such a good time hearing the actors speak. They are all very well-spoken and funny with such interesting stories about their experiences. The full panel is up on YouTube here.

After the panel ended, we made our way up to Cosplay Alley to browse through the booths and see what celebrities we could spy along the wall where all of the autograph signings were set up.

Thankfully, there were way less people at the convention on that Sunday, making it a little easier to breathe and get to where we needed to go without being herded along like cattle!

From afar, we spotted that some of the TWD cast had made it upstairs to their signing booths, and huge lines had already formed. While my heart twinged a little at the thought of not being able to meet them, I was satisfied knowing that – later that afternoon – we’d have the chance to meet Norman and get a photo with him.

However, what made my heart seriously ache was seeing Ian Somerhalder at his table.

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I had glimpsed him the day before, but I hadn’t taken a picture of him from afar that encapsulates him as well as this one does.

Classic Ian. If he comes back next year, there’s no way I’m going to miss out again on meeting him. Before the photo ops even went on sale, I had been set on getting one with both him and Norman. But when it came down to it, I hadn’t yet known for sure if I would be attending the convention on Saturday, and his Sunday time was too close to Norman’s (which was a must-do with my brother). And then, wouldn’t you know it, Ian’s photo ops sold out on both days, and silly me didn’t think it was worth to may the amount to get just an autograph.

Next year, Ian… next year.

As my brother dragged me away from wistfully gazing at Ian, we made our way over to the South Building so that he could check out the exhibitor booths there.

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We visited the LEGO booth, where I marvelled at the sheer epicness of this Batman.

There were several impressive statues made completely of Legos set around the booth – if you could correctly guess how many pieces were in each, you could take the whole thing home with you!

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Over at the Ubisoft booth, we spotted a bunch of Raving Rabbids. Have you ever played those games? Those rabbits are freakin’ insane. It’s absolutely hilarious.

Once we had our fill, we headed back over to the North Building to join the line-up for our photo op with Norman. Again, we thought we’d gotten there fairly early (despite being sent to wrong locations all over the building by apparently unknowledgeable volunteers), but again, there were a hundred, maybe two hundred, people there already! Still, we waited patiently for over an hour as we inched closer and closer to entering the black curtained area. Through the drapes, we could make out the shape of Norman and were getting more anxious about the big moment.

Meeting celebrities has always been nervewracking for me. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m starstruck, or just simply over-feeling the gravitas of shaking hands with a human being that has impacted me through their work. It shouldn’t be a big deal, right? And still, I was planning out what we’d say to him, going over which side of Norman we should stand on, fussing over my hair. In my defense, we were spending a lot of money just to get a few seconds with him, so there was only one chance to make a memorable moment, right?

Finally, we entered into the immediate space where he was, and were relieved to see that Norman was trying his ultimate best to shake people’s hands, say a few things, and even give out hugs until being yelled at (well, he wasn’t getting yelled at, the fans were). As we got closer, I tried to keep my cool. Best not to freak out, lest you want to embarrass yourself in front of the person you admire.

When it was our turn, the first thing he said was, “Hi, sweetie,” and I lost it. We shook his hand and I can’t even remember what I was rambling on about anymore; it was all a gigantic blur. Did my brother even get a word in? Not sure. What I do remember was how polite and sweet Norman was. He seemed genuinely happy to be meeting us, and he thanked us for being there and we laughed and it was amazing.

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The whole experience lasted maybe 30 seconds, but it was well worth it. I walked out of that area feeling so exuberant, so wonderful, and I think our photo ended up turning out pretty well. And I have to say – Norman frequently takes fan photos with his hat and shades on, making him look disinterested and like a total thug, but that could not be farther from the truth. He was so nice to us and all of the fans before us. He is truly a gem and I’m so happy I had the chance to meet him.

Still flying high, we walked over to the food court in the area and grabbed some grub from the Gourmet Gringo’s food truck. Yum. The entire time, I was holding our 8 x 10″ print of our photo like it was a rare jewel, taking care not to get anything on it – to protect it like it was a newborn child.

After we finished eating, we decided to head back over to the South Building to do one last quick tour of the vendors for any potential loot to purchase before the convention closed in an hour. Walking past the autograph tables again, we noticed that there were now considerably less people in that area, as most of the celebrities had already left. However, there was one guest who no longer had a line in front of his booth, and yet was still hanging around, chatting with the Fan Expo volunteers, signing their t-shirts, and giving them giant bear hugs.

Michael Rooker.

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We watched from afar until a volunteer shouted that if we weren’t there to meet him then we needed to keep moving to avoid blocking people trying to get through. We started to walk away, until I realized the guy had said “meet him”, not “get an autograph”. I beckoned for my brother to come back and try something.

Walking up to the volunteer, I asked, “Can we just go up and shake his hand?”

“Sure!” he replied jovially. “Just line up.”

And just like that, we met Michael Rooker. He didn’t care that we weren’t getting anything signed and that we hadn’t paid anything. He shook our hands and just started chatting with us. We talked about how great the panel was earlier in the morning, and he told us that apparently they were muted whenever it wasn’t their turn to answer a question, and he was quite displeased with that. We talked about how great his character, Merle, was on TWD. And we were just wrapping up our conversation when I accidentally dropped the print-out of our Norman photo.

I made a noise and bent down to pick it up, which immediately piqued his interest, so I showed him what it was.

“Ohhh…” he said, and immediately grabbed it out of my hands. “I’m going to sign it for you.” “What?!” I freaked, trying desperately to grab the photo from him, though he kept swatting my hands away. “Don’t worry, Norman is cool with me doing this,” he assured me.

All around us, people were laughing and my brother was laughing and I was dying as I buried my face in my hands. When he was done scribbling on it, he finally handed it back to me.

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On it, he had written “Michael Rooker is the best.”

Michael was having an amazing time while I half-laughed, half-whimpered in disbelief at the photo. Immediately, he grabbed one of his actual photos and signed that, handing it to me. “For being a good sport,” he grinned. I laughed and he took my hand and kissed it before we walked away, bewildered again at what on earth had just happened.

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My brother was amused that he ended up choosing the scariest photo he possibly could. And one of the women who were at the booth with Michael called me over afterwards and offered to get the Norman photo reprinted for free. She told us that he had done the same thing to some other people throughout the day – some were not amused by it at all – and despite her attempts to make him stop, Michael will do whatever Michael wants to do. Honestly, I had no real complaints. It was all pretty hilarious.

We were both feeling pretty damn good after that exchange that we decided to try our luck again. Just one table over (past the huge line-up for Danai, who had just gotten back to her seat) was David Morrissey. Again, there were only a few people in front of his booth and we asked the volunteer if it would be alright to just go up and shake David’s hand. “Go right ahead” was his response.

David was extremely nice and was very satisfied to hear that we had enjoyed the panel in the morning. We told him what a great actor and a great villain we thought he was and he asked, “Now… did you guys like The Governor?” My brother responded with an excited, “Yeah!” to which David responded with an equally excited, “Alright!”

And then he proceeded to fist-bump my brother.

I’m pretty sure that was my brother’s highlight of the day.

Exhausted from that adrenaline rush, we called it quits for the day, even though the convention would be open for another half hour. As we continued on our way, passing another series of tables, I saw that the booths for Ian and Elijah Wood were both empty. I thought that it was too bad that I didn’t have the luck to meet those two – the only other celebrities at the convention I truly cared to see – but was resigned to take what I could get (which I already thought was a lot).

Until, after just lingering in front of Elijah’s booth an extra second, he walked out from behind the divider, looked around at the space, and sat down.

DSC02958Exhilarated to have the chance to end the weekend on an incredibly high note, we hurried into the little line that had formed, and I got to meet the lead actor of my favourite movies of all time. I know my brother didn’t get a word in other than to say hi and shake his hand, because our short conversation was dominated by my ramblings of “It’s so incredible to meet you, you’re such an incredible actor. Return of the King is my all-time favourite movie, I’ve watched it more times than I can count and I bawl my eyes out every time. Thank you for being so great.” Elijah could only smile and laugh and say “thank you!” until I managed to pull myself away without stunning him any further.

And that was it. We walked out of that convention centre feeling like we had accomplished something beyond what anybody else had experienced that weekend – even if they had paid to take photos and gotten autographs with dozens of the guests. We had gotten the chance to meet not one, but four incredible actors that we admired and whose work we absolutely love. And I feel so lucky to have had the chance to do so.

Now that I’ve had a taste for Fan Expo Canada, will I go back again next year? Hell yes. I may not get magic passes from work again, but it promises to be such a fun-filled weekend that there’s no way I could bear to miss it. I can’t wait.

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