Although it is co-created by THE WALKING DEAD comics originator Robert Kirkman, AMC’s FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is set across the country (in Los Angeles, rather than the American South) and some time earlier than both the comics and THE WALKING DEAD. FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, which wraps its first season Sunday at 9 PM after earning enormous ratings and will be back with a longer second season next year, is only based conceptually on the source material.
Kirkman and Dave Erickson use FEAR to explore the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, when people at first have no idea what it means when someone is walking slowly with clouded eyes and an open mouth. We explore the situation through a blended family. High school teacher Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) is now living with colleague Madison (Kim Dickens) and her two teenagers, but he’s still in contact with his ex-wife Liza Ortiz, played by Elizabeth Rodriguez, who shares custody of their adolescent boy Christopher (Lorenzo James Henrie).
Rodriguez, a native New Yorker, is a regular on ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK and recurs on GRIMM as Wesen FBI Agent Chavez. She sits down at a round-table interview with Alycia Debnam-Carey, who plays Madison’s daughter Alicia Clark, and Frank Dillane, who plays Madison’s drug-addicted son, Alicia’s brother Nick. Debnam-Carey, originally from Australia, and Dillane, who is English, both have solid genre credentials as well. Debnam-Carey plays Lexa on the CW’s THE 100 and Dillane portrayed Tom Riddle, aka the young Voldemort, in HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE.
ASSIGNMENT X: You’ve all done heavy-duty genre projects. Is this genre something that you like, or is this just where the parts are?
ALYCIA DEBNAM-CAREY: I guess it’s mainly where the parts have been. I never thought of myself as this genre, specifically, but it seems to be all that I do [laughs]. So it looks like I found my niche. [to Frank Dillane] What about you?
FRANK DILLANE: If it’s a good part, regardless of genre, if the writing is good, then it doesn’t matter.
I’d never watched THE WALKING DEAD. I like this show because I find that it’s very rare that I get [cast in a project] that’s somehow like relevant to today’s society. It seems to me that there is something in the zeitgeist at the moment that the end of the world is coming. It’s great to be part of this generation [portraying this].
AX: Do you have a theory as to why audiences are so attracted to stories about the apocalypse?
DILLANE: Because the world is ending. Make no mistake. It’s coming to an end. This can’t go on for much longer. Capitalism has to fall. We’re coming to the peak, I think, soon. Humanity needs a look-in, and it hasn’t had a look-in for so long.
ELIZABETH RODRIGUEZ: I feel like so much goes on in the world, between disease, pandemics, terrorism, ISIS, that it’s around us every second of the day, that absolutely there’s an intrigue. How could there not be when, whether this is genre or not, it is looking into a microscope. It’s very relevant to our world right now. It’s in the air every second, whether we turn on the TV or not, with constant random shooters, with police brutality. I don’t watch the news, because [otherwise] I wouldn’t leave the house. There’s not much difference [between FEAR] to the world we’re living in other than the fact that they eat people. Emotionally, I think, it’s the same amount of trauma, anxiety and fear in the world. The idea is, run, don’t walk, and don’t depend on your government.
DEBNAM-CAREY: It’s like finally Mother Nature will take that [step].
AX: Would you say your sibling characters are opposites?
DEBNAM-CAREY: I mean, they’re similar in some ways. They often compensate for one another, too. One sibling does something, the other will fill in the other, opposite role. I’ve found, at least with my brother and I in real life, that seems to be a theme.
AX: A lot of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is family drama. Is that how you feel in working on it, or are you now far enough that it does feel like a zombie show?
DEBNAM-CAREY: I’ve found that it is heavily character-driven, even more so than the original WALKING DEAD first season. You’re immersed in that world automatically. For us, one of the joys is that we do get to slowly unpack these characters and be attached to them before everything falls apart, which I think is really lucky for us.
RODRIGUEZ: That last episode, a lot of things happen really quickly, and we definitely get a sense of, you still have these family dramas, but things go down spiraling really, really fast at rapid speed. Our show started with these broken families coming together. BREAKING BAD started out as a family drama and it took these turns. They take time to break down the characters and the dynamics between people, which drives the choices that I make, the choices Madison makes. In this story, the choices Travis makes are based on family, as opposed to a workplace drama.
I think what’s interesting about the journey is, we think we can be prepared even when we fantasize about what we would do, and you take for granted that you would have electricity or food or that you would know what’s going on in the outside world, particularly now with the social media we have. We don’t know if it’s contained or not or how far spread it is. You assume that the government’s going to take care of it. You can only [compare the zombie plague] to natural disasters, especially in America, more so than terrorism or ISIS, but that’s where you go to when you think of these things. To me, it made me think of the day to day of people that survive these things in the world, since the beginning of time. How do they just feed their children, not get into fights, just have the basics? And how quickly is it that we go from having anything and taking it for granted to having almost nothing?
AX: You do have scenes with extreme gore, though …
DEBNAM-CAREY: It’s pretty theatrical on set, because it’s so broken up and it’s very technical. But at the same time, it is really cool. The job they do on set is amazing. [Special effects makeup designer] Greg Nicotero, he’s just amazing. But it’s fun on set.
RODRIGUEZ: There were moments of things that were gruesome while you’re shooting it. When you first see it, you’re like, “That’s so gnarly!” But then, I go straight into broad comedy, so I want to kiss [the zombies], just to really break anything that might get stuck in my consciousness of it. You go home after doing a seventeen-hour day of [acting amidst violence and blood], where you have to take a shower, because this happens every day. You cannot as a human being not connect to the chaos that exists around the world day to day or the things you’ve seen on the news here domestically, where you’re like, “Oh, this is so real,” and there’s no way for your body and emotions to know that it’s not real. So you have to heal yourself from those experiences.
AX: How do you connect to your characters?
DEBNAM-CAREY: I finally have found the grittiness or the charm of [Los Angeles] for the first time, and that connected me with Alicia in quite a distinct way. I liked her edginess and there’s a power within her that’s quite strong that I hope we get to see evolve.
RODRIGUEZ: I think [Alicia is] really smart, and from what I know from you [Debnam-Carey], I find that you’re incredibly tough and [intelligent], too.
RODRIGUEZ: You’re not going to say, “I’m really smart and so’s my character,” but that’s what I’ve taken from her as a young woman. For me, where I connected with [Liza], she is a strong woman – I’m not a mother [in real life], but I’m very nurturing. [Liza is] a nursing student and when I did research as to what qualifications one needs and everything that goes into just prerequisites to go into nursing school, there were more than I would do, but I realized that having empathy and being sensitive are qualities that are really great for being a nurse, and I have those, and because I also am playing a mother, [Lorenzo James Henrie] who plays my son, it’s easy to love him and have that mother thing for him. And I think she’s also a little bit no b.s. and I have that quality, too, I’m a straight shooter, and so I was excited to play her. And also the fact that Travis didn’t leave her, that it was a choice that Liza made, was incredibly breathtaking, it was a breath of fresh air, because it’s like, “Oh, she’s not a victim. She’s not just a scorned woman.” She’s a totally independent and a single mother that was burning the candle on both sides and making things happen.
I think the thing about being with someone and knowing someone so well is that the things you love about them, you always will, the things that drive you crazy will always drive you crazy about them. And I think that happens in this storyline. We’re parents first over Christopher, and so we are there for each other in that way. I also have incredible empathy for Madison and the relationship she’s having with her children as a mother, and I think what happens is, you know someone, so there’s not that time of, “How do you speak to [this new person]?” You just go right back to the dynamics you always had. And we’ve been in each other’s lives in the three years we haven’t been together as well, so I think we’re really honest with each other, and pretty good parents, so I think it’s a pretty healthy relationship on [that] part.
AX: Have any of you had to learn how to do anything, like, say, or back up a truck rapidly in a dry riverbed?
DILLANE: Exactly what I had to learn. I don’t drive, so that was it. I had to learn how to back up down a dry riverbed. There were a few hairy moments, but it was all right. I was all right in the end, because I did just have to reverse, but …
RODRIGUEZ: I had to learn what Liza learns, how to do all these medical things. Even though it wasn’t real, it was still way too much gore, way too much blood, and I was like, “Yeah, I’m not really …” I knew I wasn’t good with blood, but doing medical things and seeing special effects of bones sticking out of people, it was traumatic, and you’re just like, “This is not my career.” In this life, I will never be a nurse as a profession, and I’m thankful there are people who can deal with all of it. I would have fainted [laughs]. So there was a lot there that I had to act like I knew what I was doing and play as if I was comfortable with that world.
AX: Does doing a show like this make you wonder about strange things that you see out of the corner of your eye and think, “What was that, really?”
RODRIGUEZ: For me it does, absolutely. Especially when we were shooting in Vancouver, there’s a whole area where they have a lot of homeless people, because they’ve closed down all these mental institutions, and so I couldn’t walk through the neighborhood without being like, “All these people right here could be Walkers.” Everything about it felt like an apocalypse, they way they live, the energy. My brain was like, “They could all be infected.” And then the distress of this thing – I just saw them and I was like, “Whoa.” It was intense seeing all of them in downtown.
DEBNAM-CAREY: When they block off huge intersections or roads or parts of downtown and it is completely empty, almost, that is a weird feeling. Sunday, straight after Comic-Con, we all arrived [in Los Angeles] at 5 AM to do all these scenes and it was just completely empty. That’s bizarre to see – L.A., downtown, and to feel like you’re the only person there.
RODRIGUEZ: Right. There’s no way of not thinking, “Oh, this would be a quality of an apocalypse world.”
AX: Besides Robert Kirkman, have you had interaction with THE WALKING DEAD people at all?
RODRIGUEZ: When we were at Comic-Con, the wonderful cast and producers of THE WALKING DEAD, they were so gracious and excited about what they heard about us and what this was and willing to just talk us through what Comic-Con was going to bring, and very much themselves talking about that this was its own thing and really wanting to push that, too. They didn’t walk in looking down their noses like, “What are you doing?” It was so wonderful to have that be what they brought to us. They were very giving and generous.
AX: Although you’re in the WALKING DEAD universe, you’re not based on pre-existing material, because your story starts before Season 1 of THE WALKING DEAD. What does that do for you?
RODRIGUEZ: The best thing is that the audience and all the fans are a step ahead. They’ll be the ones on their seats going, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that, I wouldn’t do that.” I think it’s so exciting that they know what happens before we do. We’re in a world of grays, and there’s so much unknown, and that’s what’s really scary, that unknown. So we didn’t need to know anything other than work the way we would with anything else we’ve ever worked on, with what’s in front of us
AX: With Nick’s drug addiction, he sometimes moves very slowly. Do you ever get directions like, “Don’t do this, because it will look like you’re a Walker,” or “Do do this because we want people to think you might be turning into a Walker”?
DILLANE: It’s an interesting question. [A friend] saw the pilot and she said, “Was your limp a homage to a zombie?” I just got hit by a car and I thought that would probably really f*** your leg up.
AX: Do you shoot in both Los Angeles and Vancouver?
DEBNAM-CAREY: We do a lot of L.A. shoots, location stuff. This show actually kind of joined me with L.A. I felt much more connected with it than I ever had before. I think it’s great, I think it has this amazing, gritty charm that I’ve found in L.A., finally. I hated L.A. when I first got here. Now, I think I welcomed it finally when I found this bizarre charm to it. It’s this huge city, but it’s got these cracks, just bursting with so much life and story. It’s very romantic and artistic in many ways. The palm trees, those sunsets, but at the same time, those sunsets are made out of smog by cars. But that dichotomy – it’s so attractive in a way. I think the show does a great job of finding that. It’s very cinematic, I feel. Dave Erickson, who [directed] the pilot and the second episode, he captured that so well. And he was born and raised here.
AX: Given that a lot of main characters die on THE WALKING DEAD, do you worry about your character longevity here?
DEBNAM-CAREY: Are we worried about being killed off? You know, it seems like television likes killing off big characters at the moment [laughs], so … But I’m not too worried at this stage. Maybe in seasons to come.
This interview was conducted during AMC’s portion of the Television Critics Association summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
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Article: Interview with FEAR THE WALKING DEAD stars Alycia Debnam-Carey, Frank Dillane and Elizabeth Rodriguez