Countdown to Fear the Walking Dead: Mercedes Mason & Ruben Blades

This Sunday, we see another side to the world of The Walking Dead with the premiere of companion series Fear the Walking Dead. Now I admit I wasn’t initially excited by the news of yet another zombie show, but the more I learned, the more I was intrigued. While covering San Diego Comic-Con last month, I was invited to a press event with the cast and executive producers. By the end of the session, and learning more about this take on the story, I was all in.

As we count down to Fear the Walking Dead‘s debut on Sunday, August 23 at 9/8c on AMC, we’ll be sharing some Comic-Con interviews. First up is Rubén Blades and Mercedes Mason, who play Daniel and Ofelia Salazar, a father and daughter dealing with a challenging new state of affairs.

Given the success of The Walking Dead, did you feel a sense of pressure in being a part of Fear the Walking Dead?

Mercedes Mason: There’s a little bit of pressure. We definitely don’t want to disappoint, so I guess in that sense there’s a little bit of trepidation. Our show is different [and] fans will see that. We definitely adhere to the same rules as The Walking Dead , but it’s also new for people who may not have checked out the original. We’re offering a new glimpse into this world before it turned. Maybe I’m being silly but I’m not feeling pressure yet.

Rubén Blades: Soccer fans? Any Soccer fans here? Imagine being [Lionel] Messi’s son. [laughs]

Were either of you fans of The Walking Dead TV series or the comics?

Blades: I have all the comics I collect comic books actually, probably one of the few people in the group that does. I’ve been collecting comics since I was a kid. I got the series of The Walking Dead, although the comic book is different than the actual show. So yes I am a fan.

Mason: I’m a huge fan of the show. I haven’t read the comics [but] I should. When I booked this, I was screaming and jumping up and down. As an actress, obviously it’s fun to do something that’s such a big monster of a show. But as a fan, I’ve had questions. What happened when Rick Grimes was in a coma? I want to know all the things that the other fans want to know. I kind of have an insight as myself, but as a fan but I know more than my own character does, so there’s this dichotomy of playing both sides.

Can you tell us a bit about your characters?

Blades: If we do we get sued. [laughs]

Mason: There are snipers. But you don’t see them.

Blades: They’re lip reading.

Mason: She said Ofelia!

Blades: I’m a complex character and I play her father.

Mason: Ofelia is the daughter of immigrant parents. Her parents had to escape El Salvador. She’s very Americanized since she was raised there, but at home [has an] El Salvadorian family so she’s sort of stuck between these two cultures. She’s a very bright girl, ambitious as you become when you have immigrant parents because you feel like you have to protect them, and Ofelia does feel that way. She feels like she has to make sure that they’re okay in this new society, in this new world. But, the cool thing that they just told us is every character has a secret. We get a little bit and a little bit more every episode, and each season we’ll get a little more info. I still don’t know what mine is but I’m dying to find out.

The cast for this series is very diverse, and the setting — Los Angeles — has such a great mix of cultures. How important is it to both of you to have this diversity reflected in a series like this one?

Blades: First of all, one of the things that I find satisfying about this is that they included Latinos in the mix. You know, usually you don’t find us represented anywhere, in spite of the fact that the amount of people are Latino people in the United States, and our contributions to society as a whole. The fact that we’re there is important. It’s not a token thing.

Mason: No stereotypes.

Blades: We happened to become involved in what happened by mere chance.

Mason: But our culture doesn’t define us. LA [is] such a melting pot of people coming in, and on top of that, people come to LA with dreams. Everybody comes to either escape something, or you want something and you’re trying to get something. So you have all those things meeting in the middle of cultures trying to get along. [The characters played by] Kim [Dickens] and Cliff [Curtis] are completely different from and us and yet [we’re] forced into this makeshift family.

Blades: It’s very unusual to have a show as diverse as this one. Like Mercedes says, the main characters, two of the principles, are from different backgrounds. You can see that immediately, but it’s not played like “I am from this side.” It just happens, which is really interesting. I’m very happy about that. Everybody’s different.

Does being part of a series like Fear the Walking Dead make you look at the state of the world — like conflicts, or environmental issues, or even medical advancements — in a different light? Does it make you hyper-aware of certain things, and maybe even elevate your own fears?

Mason: It’s definitely something to think about. If you remember just a few months ago, the Ebola scare, I have [seen] pictures of people on planes in full plastic because they were so afraid. Fear really does create this sort of environment. At this point, anything can happen.

The cool thing with [Fear the Walking Dead], with our walkers, is that to me it feels like a catalyst. It’s not like there are dead people who have come out to kill you. It’s a catalyst for the end of the world. It’s something that stirs the pot and forces you into this dire situation, and it’s do or die. Just think of human nature. That’s where it all comes back to and how would we react. Would we pick each other in an apocalypse situation? Would I pick someone else?

Blades: It’s the collapse of morals and the collapse of order, collapse of everything that we know.

Mason: Lord of the Flies.

Blades: Everything that we’ve seen and taken for granted. Even electricity. What would happen right now? It could happen. A collapse of satellites and all of a sudden you don’t have a computer. You can’t go to the ATM. You can’t get your email.

Mason: Your money’s useless.

Blades: It’s a big tragedy.

Mason: This would not nearly be as smooth of a show. [laughs] It would be all over the place.

Photo by RHS Photo. Courtesy of AMC Global.

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