Fear the Walking Dead begins tonight, and we have another Comic-Con interview for you. This one is with Cliff Curtis, who plays Travis Manawa, and Executive Producer Gale Anne Hurd.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of not having a comic as source material with Fear the Walking Dead?
Gale Anne Hurd: The good news is we have the co-creators of the series — Dave Erickson, who had worked with Robert Kirkman before, [and] Robert Kirkman who created this universe in which this show exists — but we don’t have to follow the template. We don’t have the fans saying, “How come you’re not doing this?” “How come this scene that I love from the comic book isn’t in the show?” So that’s two sides of the same coin.
Cliff Curtis: I’ve been campaigning that I get to have a cup of coffee with Rick Grimes, but they told me it’s not going to happen. (laughs)
Cliff, were you a fan of the comics or the TV series before coming on board?
Curtis: I’m a fan of Andy Lincoln and the beautiful cast. I’m actually a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to genre stuff, and I haven’t actually seen the show, but I did take some time to have a peek and see what I’m getting myself into, see whether I’ve the stomach for it.
I’ve got family members in New Zealand that are fanatical about this show. They screamed and started shouting at me. They were like, “You’ve got to do it!” They really believe the show is a metaphor for life and even a little bit on the religious side of things really.
What really sets Fear the Walking Dead apart from The Walking Dead?
Hurd: The characters of the show don’t know what’s going to happen to them and that’s part of the fun.
Curtis: We don’t have walkers in our show. We don’t have zombies. What we have is human beings that get infected with this really strange virus and we don’t understand it. That’s our starting place. We don’t even know if it’s real or it’s a hoax, or the scale of it. We don’t know if it’s going to clear up in a couple of weeks.
Hurd: Is it just happening here, or is it happening elsewhere?
Curtis: Is it about a drug addled son [that] has lost his mind and doesn’t know what he’s talking about? That’s Episode 1, pretty much.
The cast is very diverse and Fear the Walking Dead is set in Los Angeles, which is a blend of many different cultures. Can you comment on this aspect of the show?
Hurd: Los Angeles [is] a multi-cultural city. It’s where people are blended in a way that reflects the blended family in this show. It’s a place of reinvention and we’re in a place that you haven’t really seen much on television. I think what you have seen on television is a misrepresentation of what the communities in East LA are like.
Curtis: We’re high school teachers. We’re a family where our concerns are our children, doing a good job at our school, taking care of our students. That’s what we do in East LA. It’s taking care of our kids and the people that we love. They’ve [also] allowed me to have my last name be Manawa, which is a Maori name [that] means “hard”.
Hurd: It’s people having typical problems that the average person has. Obviously what heightens that is that they’re coping with something that they’re not prepared for. Our characters are an English teacher, a guidance counsellor, [Travis’] ex-wife, who’s going to school to be a nurse. Shane Walsh and Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead were police officers, they were the authority figures, they dealt with crime, they dealt with people who could be coming at them with dangerous intent so they were a little more advanced in terms of how to protect. We are dealing with people like most of us who don’t have that skill set.
Curtis: If we don’t have that skill set, what do we have? As an English teacher I love my character in that sense. His obsession is with literature, and literature’s obsession is with what we think and what we feel. What use is that in the world we’re going into? Does it have any place? Is it relevant? They set my character out to be, perhaps, the weak link and I love that. I love having that sword hanging by a thread above my head. I think that creates a lovely tension because it takes a greater sense of strength of character, values and knowing who you are in this life to know what it is you’re going to fight for as opposed to reacting with violence and knowing that that’s going to be your first strength, and knowing that that’s your skill set in life.
Blending two families is already difficult, and then you add these extreme circumstances that unite these people rather than divide them. Why was that an important element to add to this story?
Hurd: If this really were to happen, you can put your differences aside. They’re still going to be there. They’re still going to be the undercurrent. There’s still going to be these family dynamics, but what you care about most is you love each other, even if it’s an ex. There is a reason why you were together in the first place even if that didn’t work out, and we’ve never seen that kind of blended family in the universe of The Walking Dead before. We’ve created a family of people who are mostly strangers, but we haven’t seen this.
Curtis: I’ve got this current relationship, Travis and Madison, and we’re deeply in love. We start off the show like that. When things start going wrong, we don’t agree. That’s something we discover. You know when you have a new relationship and you want to talk about everything, everything’s great, and then things start going wrong. We don’t agree on where that should go or how we’re going to set that up. Then I’ve got the ex. We should never have [been] married, but we did. We made those decisions at another time and we stuck it out for thirteen solid years. There’s a value to that. That value in a crisis, You’ve got a shorthand. You know what they’re thinking, you know what they’re feeling, you know what to do. You don’t have to discuss it. You don’t have to talk about it. With a new relationship, you don’t even know how to start to talk about these things. That’s kind of at the heart of the show, those relationships. Then, don’t even talk about teenage children.
(Laughs) Zombies [are] much easier to deal with than teenage children.
Hurd: You know what it is a zombie wants and you know what they’re going to do. Teenagers are completely unpredictable.
What is the plan for future seasons of Fear the Walking Dead?
Hurd: At this point there’s nothing planned. This is a prequel and it’s not a spin-off. The rules of the universe however apply. You’re not going to see super-fast zombies. It follows the world that Robert Kirkman set up in the comic books, but at this point there is not a plan to connect them. I can’t say years down the line, should we be so lucky to have many future seasons, but at this point we know certainly the two seasons that we’ve already been contracted for that there’s not a connection.
Curtis: I think we’ve discussed that nobody knew what was going to happen with The Walking Dead. Nobody called it. It’s a great privilege and an honor to have that as the foundation, but it would be a mistake for us to get too cocky. We start off with a family and with familial concerns. We set them in this setting and then we navigate the most interesting course for our characters and for our audience. Then, when we see how the audience responds. We’ve got some really great things that are going to happen. Surprising things. Surprising characters. You’re going to see characters do things that will reveal things about their character that not even they knew about themselves.
Cliff, you mentioned earlier that you’re a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to horror. How did you react the first time you saw someone in zombie makeup?
Curtis: I was on set and this dude was in my face. It was freaking me out. The makeup was so real! It’s not the lighting or some king of CGI. There’s a guy standing in front of you and it’s hard to look. They’re very realistic. They’re human.
Hurd: They’re humans who’ve just turned. They’re not monsters.
Curtis: They’re humans that we know. It’s very, very peculiar. That is the most challenging aspect of the show, dealing with humans that have turned, that look real and look dead. It’s the most challenging aspect of my job.
Photo by RHS Photo. Courtesy of AMC Global.