Watching Fear the Walking Dead‘s Colman Domingo as debonair survivor Victor Strand is like watching a skilled Shakespearean actor give Hamlet’s soliloquy during a zombie apocalypse. Whenever Strand strolls into a scene, crisp shirt buttoned all the way to the top, it’s as if he’s standing under a single spotlight on a dark stage. Everything else disappears into the backdrop and we listen.
Domingo has taken all his years of experience in theater and crafted a new kind of character unlike anything the Walking Dead universe has featured before, but so desperately needed. I had the chance to chat with Domingo about everything that makes Strand the silver-tongued complex character that he is.
DEN OF GEEK: The Walking Dead universe seems to, in the end, split itself up into two camps of people. The survivors who do what they need to survive, regardless of the moral implications, and those who keep to the morals of the old world. Some might call the latter group “softer.” Strand started off in the first group, but now he seems to be softening up.
COLMAN DOMINGO: If he should live, I think he is a combination of both. A new kind of character we haven’t seen before. I think he is recalibrating and figuring out who he is.
Do you think this new kind of character, with the combination of hard and soft, will fair better?
I think he would. I think he absolutely needed a softer side, and he has been challenged to have that. To care about others more. As the characters are learning in this universe, you need people. You can’t do it alone.
In the beginning, Strand started out as a leader. He had the boat and he was smooth, with a “my way or the highway” attitude. And he constantly would butt heads with Madison. Then in “Pillar of Salt” he had to take a backseat and Madison stepped in as the self-proclaimed leader. How do you think Strand feels about that?
I think that Victor Strand is a feminist. I think he is all about girl power and supporting women. I think he is unlike anything we have ever seen. I think he is very much about, if you have a better idea he will take it. Otherwise, he’ll run the room. But if you emerge as someone with a voice, a strong voice, that he can listen to and get behind you, then he is all about it.
I think he is establishing that with Alicia, and Alicia could definitely be his daughter. He is empowering this young woman to be seen in the world and to have her voice.
I am on the same page, there. It is so interesting how first Strand helped Nick out, built him up and got him ready for this new world. And now we see the same happening with Alicia. Strand tells Alicia that she can stand up for herself to Madison. That she can let Madison know she is there and strong and what kind of person she is. Alicia has been amazing these last few episodes.
I think that is the thing with Victor Strand. He sees people for who they are and their potential. He wants people to rise to their potential. I think that is the way he operates. Especially with a young mind, he wants to empower. Otherwise, he will treat you like a child like he used to treat Alicia as if she were a child. Saying things like, “don’t run on my deck.” But now he is seeing this strong young woman and he is really interested in helping her find herself.
Do you think that is his “seducer of people” attitude or is there another layer of Strand that we are peeling back?
There are so many layers to him that we are peeling back. I think there are things that he doesn’t know that frustrate him.
I think it is interesting that Victor Strand is not someone that has children, but in a way he would make a good dad. But would he admit that to himself? Probably not. He said before to Madison, “I am not the boy’s daddy,” when it came to Nick. But he sure did sort of become a surrogate father to him in a way. There was care there. It’s just the same with Alicia, there is care there. But I am sure he would say, “I’d would never be a father. That’s not me.”
Once again, I think people design themselves and then the universe redefines them and they have to come to grips with exactly who that is.
There is almost like a role reversal happening between Madison and Strand. Where Madison is kind of off and leading while Strand is playing daddy to her kids.
Exactly. That is exactly it. I think they are being pushed to go to places they didn’t even imagine. I don’t think Strand or Madison would have ever imagined that’s where they’d go. But I also think it has happened because they have developed a friendship, and that is the way they sort of lean on one another. Where the other has shortcomings.
As you said, Strand is becoming this new character and he might not even realize. In the beginning, he was so mysterious and cloaked. It seemed he thrived there. Do you think he is a little insecure now that some of that cloud of mystery has dissipated?
I’m sure he does. I’m sure he is very vulnerable right now. This character has been completely stripped bare throughout the season. You know all his inner workings, you know some of the things he held close to himself. Now he has to deal with that, and through the eyes of these people that knew him a certain way. He is in this really precarious place of trying to define and redefine himself in this universe. I think he has got so many great skill sets, that I think it will be useful if he pulls it all together. If he can pull it off, it will become even more formidable.
The show’s universe is always talking about good vs. evil in a world where it is hard to tell who falls on which end. I think Strand is sort of an illustration of that.
I think so. I think Strand strikes the line. I think he understands that whatever evil is, evil does, and whatever is good is good is just one coin, just on the flipside. We all have the power to be evil or good. He does straddle that line.
I think, though, he is conscious of exactly his behavior. How he is doing it. I think he will be very conscious of it, if he is going to do something that is going to unearth a human being. Or do something very good. I think he is very conscious about it.
There is definitely something humanizing about a person like that, where you can see that unfolding.
Exactly. Instead of just responding emotionally and doing something because you are upset or hurt. He is more methodical than that.
I think that is also seen in that moment he had with Oscar where he wasn’t doing anything because that’s what needed to be done, he was expressing some connection with someone. Some human connection.
People always say that Victor Strand looks like he is just out for himself, but we are finding him doing more and more things that are about others. I, personally, look back at the episodes and look at Victor Strand and what he has been doing and I think, “Has it all been self-serving or has it been for others?”
What is happening now kind of blurs it all and we have to reevaluate.
You almost have to go back and [and think], “Hey, when he cut that rope off and let that raft go out, was it for his own benefit or the survival of everyone else?” We have to go back and look through that lens and really look at the mechanics of Strand.
I love the fact that people say, “Oh, he was so mysterious.” But the fact is he didn’t say a lot. But when he did, he meant business.
He was very on the nose. On top of that, we are watching the show knowing they are very new to this whole thing, and we have this guy who is seemingly okay with doing all these morally ambiguous things, and we are all like, “Oh, what kind of person is that?”
Right. Who does that?
He understands. He’s watched a lot of George A. Romero.
The minute they arrive at the hotel and he is setting up his bar, he seems so content in a world that is not easy. Like Nick, do you think some part of him feels at ease in the zombie apocalypse?
I think so. Just that one scene, that they are alive at this hotel and there is a bar, the most common thing for anyone to do is just have a drink. You can take a breath and it is actually very simple. The thing that we can do and have agency with right now is to have a cocktail.
I think Strand makes himself at home wherever he is.
It does seem to be like that.
Yeah. He understands who he is in the realm and he can take stage and have a seat. That’s very disarming for people because most people don’t do that. People apologize or they are not certain. But that’s the way he survives. He will walk into boardrooms. He will walk into real estate development meetings, and he would own the room. That’s jus inherently a part of him.
When Strand walks into a scene, it immediately turns into a stage, as if there is a single spotlight on him. He’s so smooth and commanding. Even though he doesn’t say a lot, it’s felt.
Aww, thank you!
I think he knows his power. I think he still has glimmers of knowing that. Even when he is lying on this bed fighting for his life. He always has a sense of self and power. I think that if the light is on him, he knows it. He walks into a room, he knows where the light is.
I think he even understood with Madison that it was time for him to bow down so he can brighten her, so she emerges as a leader as well. I think he knows that power he has, when to support and when to take stage.
It’s funny you’re talking like that because you’re a stage man. You come from that long impressive history of theater. Do you think that helps you with the character?
I am sure it does. There is something theatrical about Victor Strand. He is a creation. He created himself. The way he used to dress. The way he would present himself and speak and understanding language. I think it is something that he built, and I think the stage prepares you very well for creating such a detailed character, because that’s something I have been doing for twenty-five years. I try to create characters that are very, very detailed. I make a decision on where they place their voice, how his hands are, what’s his sign, how he sits. It is not just language, I also want to do my part in shaping and creating this fully realized human being.
Even in the post-apocalyptic world, he is looks so cool. Like his whole life is just sitting at the end of a bar with a martini.
Absolutely. It makes sense. It’s like suddenly, we don’t know. Is there a secret? Did he used to bartend? We don’t know. I made the decision that he is very comfortable at this bar. He knows his way around any bar. So for me, that is another layer of this character.
It adds a whole other dimension to his character and to the episodes that he is in.
These characters are new to all of this, but you are also new to this Walking Dead universe. Is there something that has just been so hard for you to film or be a part of so far in the run?
It has all been such a great challenge in every single way. When it comes to stunt work, the long hours we work in Mexico. We are just learning new things about ourselves, about how we take care of ourselves. How we make our day. All of it is a tremendous challenge, honestly. All the locations we work in. But I think it is all met with such a great spirit and camaraderie between the cast and crew. We just feel like we are creating something that is special so we give all that we’ve got to every episode. We give it all, which is great. We also just enjoy ourselves. I am having the time of my life.
That’s the dream.
You are walking into this Walking Dead universe and I think a lot of people compare and contrast the shows a lot. Do you think there is something uniquely Fear the Walking Dead?
Yeah. I think it is really examining these human relationships. We are at the beginning and have frailties in the way we are handling things. First of all, I think the fact that we have become more of an international series, the fact that we are shooting in Mexico and working with a Mexican crew and actors. So once again, I think we are telling the story from another point of view, being American in another country, which I think is very unique.
In the beginning of season 2, we are on Victor Strand’s boat, then in the desert, [and then] the urban areas of Tijuana. Language barriers, and trying to get the things you need while being a foreigner. I think that is all fascinating and really does differentiate the shows.
I tell people that our show is a companion series, but I find that the audience for our show has people who are like, “I don’t like guts and gore,” but then they watch Fear the Walking Dead and are like, “I am into that show! That’s different for me!”
In a strange way, because we are closer to the beginning of it, people can identify and find themselves as characters. In The Walking Dead, the people are superheroes now. And that is also a phenomenal dynamic and I watch that show for that. But we are just ordinary Joes on our show trying to work it out. [Laughs]
It definitely feels more human. You can connect to all the emotional struggles of every character separately, which is weird for the universe.
This franchise is just so popular. People go nuts when it comes to The Walking Dead. Was it a weird experience for you to just hop into this established world?
No, because I did not know anything about it.
I didn’t watch these shows. I think many of us didn’t know. So I am still a virgin… Well, now I am not. Now I am fully realized in the universe. But I really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it has been a great ride so far. The fans are fantastic. I love all the people who are engaging with the conversations around The Walking Dead. So I am glad to be a part of it.
Well, I enjoy it! Thank you so much.
I really enjoyed talking to you! I’m sure we’ll cross paths again!
You can catch Fear the Walking Dead on Sunday nights at 9 PM on AMC.
Daniella Bondar is a TV contributor and the host of Den of Geek’s Walking Dead podcast, No Room in Hell! You can listen to the latest episode below: