Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why Connie From The Walking Dead Looks So Familiar

In Season 9, "The Walking Dead" changed forever. AMC's flagship zombie show had put series lead Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his hardened band of survivors through cannibals, corrupt police officers, undead herds, and an all-out war with Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). But Season 9, Episode 5 upset the status quo in a few big ways. The most seismic change of "What Comes After" saw Rick's departure in a helicopter, bound for a spin-off show still on the horizon. (See you, space cowboy.)

But that wasn't all — "What Comes After" spirits Rick away in a chopper and then sends viewers on a six-year time jump. We find a new group fighting walkers hand-to-hand in a field. Comic readers would have immediately recognized this group, as their arrival on the show means that "The Walking Dead" is hurdling toward its next epic story arc, the Whisperers. These new survivors — Magna, Yumiko, Luke, Kelly, and Connie — make it all the way to the show's final episode, but one of them rises above the rest.

Connie quickly became a fan favorite, not just because the only deaf character on the show proved to be a total badass (her introduction finds her bashing a walker's head in with a rock), but also because of the friendship she struck up with Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus). In Season 11, she returns to her journalist roots, helping to root out corruption in the Commonwealth community. But who plays Connie, and where do you know the actress from?

Lauren Ridloff's breakthrough role was on Broadway

Connie's actor, Lauren Ridloff, wasn't completely sold on acting at first. The "Walking Dead" star got her acting start as Dorothy in her high school's production of "The Wiz," then pivoted to cheerleading (via The New York Times). In 2000, after being crowned Miss Deaf America, Ridloff honed her hip-hop dance skills with the Deafywood troupe (per the Los Angeles Times). The Chicago native then moved to New York, where she taught kindergarten in Manhattan for nearly 10 years (via Essence).

Her Broadway breakthrough came unexpectedly. While on break from her teaching job to take care of her children, she was recruited by director Kenny Leon as a sign language tutor. He was directing a revival of "Children of a Lesser God," a play in which a teacher at a school for the deaf falls for a janitor. While "Fringe" star Joshua Jackson was lined up for the male lead, Leon hadn't cast the co-lead yet.

Ridloff blew him away at table reads, and it only made sense to cast the expressive, intelligent woman who'd taught him sign language for a year to play the part. The 2018 show, written by Mark Medoff, was Ridloff's big break when it hit Broadway. (Marlee Matlin, another deaf actress, had won an Oscar for playing the same role in the film version in 1986.) Ridloff got rave reviews, won a Theater World Award, and scored Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, and Tony Award nominations for playing deaf janitor Sarah Norman.

Her film career includes critical darlings Wonderstruck and Sound of Metal

Ridloff jumped from stage to screen quickly. As with "Children of a Lesser God," she started off as a consultant on the Todd Haynes drama "Wonderstruck" and happened to land a role in the final film (via The New York Times Style Magazine). The film was released in 2017, six years after her film debut with the little-seen "If You Could Hear My Own Tune," and received critical praise. Also in 2017, Ridloff had a small role in Emilio Insolera's "Sign Gene: The First Deaf Superheroes" — wink wink, in case you know where her career would wind up.

Her forays into television included one-off roles on The CW's supernatural teen drama series "Legacies" and NBC's medical drama "New Amsterdam." In this time, she was already on "The Walking Dead," taking out walkers with a slingshot alongside Daryl Dixon and company.

2019 was a landmark year for deaf representation in film, and of course Ridloff, the new TV star with Broadway bonafides, was a part of it. Darius Marder's indie drama "Sound of Metal," starring Riz Ahmed as a drummer losing his hearing, made a huge splash during that year's awards cycle. It scooped up a surprise Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, taking home trophies for its sound and picture editing. Deafness once again took center stage at the following year's Oscars, when "CODA" capitalized on the momentum behind "Sound of Metal" to take home the Best Picture trophy.

Lauren Ridloff made history in the MCU

At the end of a 2018 New York Times profile on the actress, Lauren Ridloff said, "I don't know if casting directors are ready to look at me and think that this woman could be someone that's more than just deaf. ... I would like to be a superhero." Someone in Hollywood must have taken this as an official request, because in 2019, Ridloff was cast in Marvel's "Eternals" as Makkari, an Eternal gifted with superhuman speed (via Playbill).

Directed by Oscar-winner Chloé Zhao, the 2021 film brought unprecedented diversity to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Ridloff played the franchise's first deaf superhero (via MovieWeb). "I am more thrilled than overwhelmed about being given the opportunity to represent the deaf community," the Tony nominee said. "There's plenty of room for more stories like that." This was her highest-profile role to date; not only was Ridloff on the poster, but she was also co-starring with big- and small-screen icons like Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, and Kit Harington. With her role in "Eternals," Ridloff also joins a host of "Walking Dead" alumni who've also starred in MCU projects, including Danai Gurira and Ross Marquand.

Though "Eternals 2" remains unannounced, the "Walking Dead" star is proud of her work in "Eternals." "My two boys, who are also deaf, will grow up in a world where there are superheroes who are deaf," Ridloff told The New York Times. "They'll be able to dream a bit more wildly."