By Pauline Perenack
ScreenSpy recently had the opportunity to talk with members of the Fear the Walking Dead cast and crew, which is currently in its fifth season on AMC, and has recently been renewed for a sixth season.
Topics ranged from what’s coming up, to how scenes were shot, to how prepared the actors each are for a possible zombie apocalypse.
Those talked to included stars Danay Garcia, Ruben Blades, Alexa Nisenson, Jenna Elfman, Maggie Grace, Austin Amelio, Karen David, Lennie James, and Alycia Debnam-Carey, as well as Executive Producers Andrew Chambliss, Scott Gimple, Michael Satrazemis and Ian Goldberg.
What major danger/thing is coming up, and how is that going to affect character relationships?
Scott Gimple – Without giving something away, the world is going to expand in a big way, and by the time we get to the end of the season, it’s really going to shake the entire group to their very core, and will really change the show in a way that will launch season six in a big way.
Andrew Chambliss – The world of this show changes quite a bit.
Danay Garcia – It’s absolutely true. They write the characters on page, and then the whole page comes alive. It’s hard to answer the question because one page really affects the entire season, and that’s the beauty of it. Sometimes you start with a helicopter, and you go, ‘oh, the helicopter.’ So that’s why it’s like, I’m seeing you guys answer, and I’m just thinking of the helicopter.
Salazar has shown up no matter where the group is. How do you explain this teleportation?
AC – There is an explanation why Salazar is where he is in the beginning of season five, and it’s something we will reveal.
SG – There’s an unbelievably cool story that we’ve been working on for about a year to tell a story of how we wound up where people have ended up.
I have a question about how much time is passing between 501 and 508, and 508 and 509, and where they are in the greater scheme of things.
AC – Between 501 and 508, that’s a pretty concentrated chunk of time. It’s a matter of a week or so that our characters are stuck on the side of the mountain. And then when we come back in 509, I don’t want to give away too much, but we will be jumping ahead a bit and finding our characters in circumstances they’ve been in for several months.
Could you talk about the new Walking Dead show, and the possibility for crossovers?
SG – Right now, we’re trying to get that on its narrative feet before any crossover stuff happens, but it’s certainly possible in the future. To the timeline question, there’s some interesting aspects to when that occurs as well. We have different times in the Walking Dead world, and they’ll all catch up with each other, but we’re telling different sides of the story.
You already have an established cast of talented actors, and last year you introduced more. Does that change how you approach the characters?
AC – Yeah, I think we’re very lucky because we have such a good cast, and can do anything from comedy to drama. Everyone shows up every day and surprise us with what they deliver, and it’s great because we have so much freedom to explore, and they can give us some really surprising stuff. It’s fun to write this stuff and then see how these people take it, and elevate it to a way we might not have intended it on the page. It’s always great to be surprised to see they do it.
SG – I will say, I look at this cast up here and I’d like to thank you for being funny. I think this has been the funniest Salazar season ever, and I think Charlie gets some zingers, but seeing the accordion scene made my heart sing.
Any funny stories working with the kids?
DG – Oh my gosh, um, this is funny, but long. Usually funny stories are long. So, the plane has crashed, and it’s raining and muddy, and I had to be on the ground and it was wet, but you know, you get used to it. And little Cooper [Dodson], he’s holding his two hands in my wound where the pole was sticking out, and there was blood, and it was really sticky. So, he’s not used to it, and he’s pressing, and we just keep doing takes. And poor little Cooper, and then Murray says, “hang on to her, I’ll be back,” so he’s hanging on. And he gets cold, and a bit chilly, and he sneezes [right in her face]. And I’m like, ‘ugh, Cooper’ and he goes, ‘that was not good. My hands were sticking to your hole.’ And I’m like, ‘if you have to do this again, just don’t do this [sneeze in her face] because this will be a problem. Just to let you know.’ And he was like, ‘ok.’ That was a huge bonding moment for me and Cooper. Was that funny? I don’t know. It was life or death for him. He’s adorable by the way. It’s amazing how having kids on set really changed the tone of the set and the crew. It was really nice to open the door to the van and just have a bunch of kids. They’re so adorable.
Can you tell me more of where June and John are going?
Jenna Elfman – Yeah, I guess in the expansion of a relationship, you go through uncomfortable things, but unfortunately in this world, it’s the universe that shoves them into their discomfort. They’re so good together that when they’re together, I think, they are unbreakable. I don’t think with what they’ve been through, there is anything within themselves that would rip them apart. Period. Outside themselves, with things that are absolutely beyond their control, they can be hurt.
For each of you, what is your wish next season of something really cool for your character?
Alexa Nisenson – Nothing specific, but I would love to see Charlie continue to try to free herself, and forgive herself.
DG – Luciana knows what it’s like to stay behind and she knows exactly what it’s like to be out, so how she sees the world, from being on the outside for a bit, it’s pretty exciting to see what comes out of her. So, I hope she’s healed.
JE – I’d like to see that next thing to find her warrior, like, what is just that lay down moment where she has to act.
How was that scene shot where John split a bullet with an axe?
AC – It was shot with a bunch of different tricks, but obviously, Garret (Dillahunt) is very good with weapons, and he’s a marksman outside of the show, but he cannot split a bullet with an axe. We went to the Gene Autry Western Museum in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, and looked at all the trick shooting that Annie Oakley used to do, so it’s based on real trick shooting, but for the shot, Austin [Amelio] was on the ground holding up an axe, and then we got specialty shots of that to stabilize, and our special effects person added sparks, and the magic of visual FX provided the split bullet. So, it’s a little contribution from every department and the magic of editing.
SG – When we brought Garrett on, he was a trick shooter. Like, it was something that he did in his spare time, and we built it into the story. We were pitching all these crazy names for trick shots.
AC – We had references for all these shots, and what we’d call them, and the bulk of them ended up coming out of June’s mouth.
Will the two Walking Dead shows eventually meet?
AC – I will say we’re going to change things up, and that’s going to continue through season five, and we’re looking at a big change at the end of season five. We’re going to continue to find ways to find characters from The Walking Dead.
In season five, sound seems to be a big factor, and there are really interesting ways sound has been incorporated, and I wonder if that’s a conscious thing that goes episode by episode?
AC – It’s definitely something that we kind of conceived of from the very first episode because we knew we were going to open with this plane crash and we knew such a big part of that was putting the audience and the characters in the moment. The sound needed to be something you could really feel – that all these characters were coming to in this scene of absolute chaos, and we wanted to create this environment that felt different, and part of that was sound.
How did the idea of the contamination come about, and is that something we’re going to see throughout the season and possible future seasons?
AC – I’ll preface this by saying that this is something we talked about doing in season four, but we just had so much stuff happening in season four that it seemed irresponsible. But the other reason we did it is my dad is an engineer, and he used to work in the nuclear power industry ever since I was a baby, and it was something I grew up in, and I just always thought it would be awesome to see what that would be like, and all the things that would happen, so I would call him and pick his brain.
SG – My dad helped with legal work on malls, so we didn’t use his advice in this season.
Has being a part of this show made you create your own zombie apocalypse plans?
SG – We were talking to Lennie last night and saying we would just find him because actually knows how to use that stick, so that’s my plan.
AC – Those of you who live here, you felt that pretty bad earthquake we had recently and suddenly my mind goes to the last 10 years of thinking of this stuff and I’m like, ok, what would I need food-wise.
JE – I definitely started researching custom made emergency kits, made by specialists, and I definitely have a different point of view of what I would need for me and my family.
AC – And do you feel the show prepared you for it?
JE – Uh huh. I mean, not willingly, joyfully, but it absolutely gave me a broader insight into the thought process of the planning.
DG – You know, this is funny, every time we do Talking Dead, the crew, they give us a beautiful gift, and lately, they’ve been giving me this bag with the emergency cross, and inside is a flashlight and stuff like that, and I have three of them. Finally one day I opened them, and I realized, I’m ready. I don’t know if you guys know this, but I have a lot. Like, if I do one more talk show, I’ll be set for my entire block. The flashlight is really good. I’ve tried it. There’s lots in there, batteries, and a thermometer. I’m ready.
RB – I’ll have 9000 cats working for me and three hundred thousand rolls of toilet paper.
AN – After the earthquake, my mom ordered like five emergency backpacks, so I think I would have the supplies to be prepared, but I wouldn’t be mentally prepared.
RB – In California you need to be prepared. I’ve lived in California awhile and you have water, you have batteries, you have everything ready just in case. The other day, it was a big one and you have to be prepared.
Karen David – You know, now, every time I’m walking in the woods, or anywhere that’s scenic and beautiful, I used to think, coming from Galavant, I’d break out in song, and now I think, wow, it’d be really cool if some Walkers came out of there.
Austin Amelio – I do think about it. I’ve had dreams – nightmares. It’s part of my thought process.
Lennie James – There’s this weird thing that happens when I’m filming the show where I start having really lucid dreams, and a couple of times, my wife has had to leave the bed and go someplace else. And it’s a little bit scary, but it’s the mindset you have to be in – the place you have to go to do our show. It manifests itself in strange places, and for me, it’s really lucid dreams. I wake up in the middle like, ‘no! You can’t go there!’ It’s weird.
Alycia Debnam-Carey – I don’t really think about it at all. I don’t think it’s something I ever really thought about for years. I think I was just in the apocalypse all the time, so through osmosis I would know what to do. And then it wasn’t until we had an earthquake in California a couple of years back that suddenly I realized I had no contingency plans whatsoever. I was like, oh my god, I would have no clue. But, through this show, preparation was already there.
Ian Goldberg – I think for me, being on the show, reinforced my belief that I would not last very long. It’s like it’s a fun challenge for all of these characters who are such incredible survivors, and so capable, and I’m not whatsoever. I wouldn’t last past season one.
Out of the cast members, what was your favorite episode to film this season, and why?
RB – I don’t which one I can talk about, so, all of them.
AN – One of the favorite episodes I did was episode four where we [Nisenson and Blades] worked together, and got to work with Skidmark.
RB – One for me, I got to do something I don’t usually do, and I didn’t make a fool of myself, which I could have, easily. You’ll see.
Lennie, in this show, you set a precedent that you don’t have to be a young buck to be a badass. Can you talk about that?
LJ – I was a badass long before this show. No, I think it’s the nature of this role and the nature of what was created all those years ago, and it was already laid out with a variety of people, and the very premise of it is that different people can survive. I think the best example of that I can come up with to a greater extent, is Alycia’s character who was a child when all of this started, and what she’s manifested into. But also, Melissa McBride’s character, and what’s happened to her, and her transformation, and they’re two very different people. Badasses as they are. But that’s one of the things I like about this genre is that it’s all encompassing. Right from its very inception, it was diverse before people were using that phrase to describe what was happening. If I am a badass, it’s because this genre made me one.
Alycia, the recent episode with the blood spatter you took to the face, I’d like to know what Alycia with a “y” thought reading it compared to Alicia with an “i” did performing it.
AD-C – I feel like I read it…Did you tell me before? Or did I read it after?
IG – I think we called to let you know.
AD-C – Yes. So, I knew the very vague ideas of things. Stories. Lines. Pieces. And then the character, this is someone who has to reach out and connect to people again after closing herself off for so long, and it puts her in jeopardy, and I think she’s defined herself as a fighter, and not just physically. When she’s in fight or flight mode, she just fights, and so in that moment when it happens, there’s a moment of realization that the instincts just kind of click back in, and just have to keep going. Get the kids out to safety, and I’ll deal with myself later. I wanted to focus as well on what it felt to me, as an actor, this is the final moment for Alicia that will change her in either way. Either she’ll just spiral deeper into the darkness, or she’ll decide to change and evolve into a path of happiness, or wanting something more out of life. Really defining the past and future for her.
Alicia has been kind of seen as the leader of the group, and then Morgan comes along. They have mutual respect for each other in terms of leadership, but in the future, will there be conflict between the two for position?
IG – The Morgan/Alicia relationship is one of the most exciting things for us to explore this season. They are two characters who share a lot of things in common. They’ve both lost people close to them. It’s led both of them down paths of violence, and keeping themselves at a distance from getting close to people, and that’s something they really connect on very early in the season. They learn from each other, and tremendous growth will happen for both of them over the course of the season because of each other and their shared history. They also talk about the division of labor between the two of them. Morgan is on more of a humanist path and connects to people, where Alicia sets herself apart. We’ll see later on there will be more of a crossover of what those roles mean for each of them. Two very strong leads.
AD-C – I just want to add to that as well that we really enjoy working with one other and have similar approaches to acting, so even when we first came into this, there was an ease to it and that was just sort of instantaneous.
LJ – I also think there’s a sense that when going to war as to who’s the leader, it’s kind of conventional – I feel I’ve seen that, but there’s something different going on here, which is they’re both kind of reluctant leaders. Morgan feels himself to be a good number two, and Alicia to a certain extent, doesn’t realize how powerful, and how strong, and how smart she is, and the two of them together can help each other get to that place where they both improve. And if they succeed, they’ll succeed together. I haven’t seen that story nearly enough, and I’m interested in telling it.
AD-C – That was really good.
If you could bring one character back to the show, who would it be?
AD-C – You know who would be great to bring back? Tobias. From the pilot episode. He knew it was all coming.
LJ – And the first time you see him, he’d say, ‘I told you.’
When you talk about being in this super dark place, what do you do for self-care?
KD – When I was first cast, it was a whole new universe for me. I’m used to breaking out in song, or flying on a magic carpet ride, and there’s none of that here. But I had to really embrace my character, try to remember my lines, try to make sure my accent sounds as authentic as possible, but there’s a dark hopefulness to everything, so I latch onto the hope, and then go back to my hotel room and watch cheesy Hallmark films, and then you go back and do the same thing the next day.
AC-D – Yeah, I watch a lot of trash TV.
Karen, your character was mired in a lot of guilt about all the people who felt you were responsible for dying, but now that you’re part of the group, is there a character you’ll pair off with?
KD – Grace as a character is finding her way. Every day she’s navigating her moral compass. She’s very much kept to herself. It was hard to find that fine line to keep her still likeable. But as far as pairing goes, my scenes were mostly with Alicia, and I think just Grace getting to know the rest of the characters and see where that takes us. I hope she gets to meet the rest of the gang. I don’t know. It’s really those two gentlemen [Ian Goldberg and Michael Satrazemis]. They all know where this is going to go. They never tell us.
IG – Grace has a couple of interesting pairings in various episodes in the back half of the season. That’s all I’ll say.
Ian, are you laying Easter eggs in this season that will show up and make more sense in season six?
IG – Definitely. We see season five as one big, epic story, but as you continue to watch the background, it all builds towards an ending which very much sets up season six, that we’ve been planning for a while. We’ve been planning, but we never know what it’ll really be until we see the final frame of season five, but when you go back and watch, you’ll see it all. Is that vague enough?
Goldberg, are we going to see more of the helicopter in the back half?
IG – I think for sure what we can say is that the episode 505 which is when Al met Isabella, and the emotional investment that’s seen from Al, we’re going to see the real effect of opening herself emotionally to someone, because in that episode she opened up to Alicia and Morgan, even if it was just telling her first name. So, we’ll see a changed Al, and that change in her will be played out in season five.
Austin how does it feel being on Fear the Walking Dead?
AA – It was awesome. Funny story, when I heard it went to Austin, Texas, probably a month before the end of the season on The Walking Dead, I was talking to Mr. Gimple, Scott, and said, hey Scott, wouldn’t it be funny if Dwight went down to Texas, and then a couple of months later, I got a call. It’s been awesome. I love it. Filming in my home town with all of these wonderful people. We have a blast.
Is there a chance that Morgan and Dwight will appear in The Walking Dead, and is there any chance of characters from Fear the Walking Dead showing up in future shows?
IG – What I think is so exciting about having Morgan and Dwight crossover to Fear is that this is a universe that is constantly expanding, and by points of intersection in surprising ways. That’s more of a question for Scott as sort of the chief of the Walking Dead universe, but I think anything could happen, which is really exciting. I would be shocked if this was the last crossover from one section of the universe to another.
Fear the Walking Dead continues Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
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