This interview contains major spoilers.
Back during our set visit for Fear The Walking Dead’s third season, we had to sign a rather frightening non-disclosure form, which has become a standard process to prevent naughty journalists from spoiling content before they’re supposed to, but it was only after viewing the first few episodes of season three that it became apparent quite how critical secrecy was.
Within a heartbeat we’d had the death of Travis, Maddie spooning a psychotic Troy’s eye and then, of course, the oft-theorised return of Daniel Salazar. The level of security around his return was such that whilst on set, a group photo was taken of the cast above, one with the legendary Ruben Blades and one without, just so the press photos could be released in waves.
Luckily for us though, it meant that we were able to sit down with Mr Blades, who came in just for the interview, alongside his cast mates, where he provided entertaining anecdotes on why he doesn’t eat chicken: “You know I used to buy the little chicks and then we became friends and then they were killed by my grandma. Assassinated and then served in front of us as an act of cannibalism – it was, you know, my little friend Chicky – thank God they never owned a cow. If they bought a cow I would be eating grass by now!” He also confessed to having a collection of comic books that numbered around 15,000, which got quite a reaction from the room, prompting him to say “Well, ask my wife, she’s not that thrilled, no. I have to sort of sneak out as if I’m like buying drugs. I don’t have them all in the house, I mean I have actually a storage area. She does knows about it, but she doesn’t visit.”
We also chatted with the fantastic combination of Colman Domingo, Danay Garcia and Kim Dickens, so with plenty of questions lined up, we started with the return of Daniel Salazar…
Welcome back firstly; there was always that hope that Daniel was going to come back – did you know in advance that you were going to return?
Ruben Blades: It was discussed. It was discussed I – first of all, we don’t know what’s going to happen with our characters, none of us do. So, that means – and it’s the same thing with Walking Dead, I mean no one knows what’s going to happen. So even if they tell you “Oh you’re safe, you’re okay” I don’t trust them. I don’t! Because tomorrow the theme changes for whatever reason and you’re gone. And that’s the way it is, you come in knowing that that’s in fact a possibility.
So, when I – what I was told was, ‘We’re going to remove you in a way that’s going to be ambiguous. You’re not going to know, no one is going to know for certain if it happened, but you’re going to burn.’ So I was happy about that, because I wanted to come back and be with them, at the same time, my band was very happy – because I’m a musician, and they want a zombie to bite me as soon as possible, so I can die and we can all go on tour. So they were excited, gave me a false commiseration, but they were happy as hell when I was with them for a while and we were working. And so – then I got the call.
So you got the best of both?
RB: Yeah. But, you know, it’s – I missed them. I missed – this is very much like a family for as long as it lasts and then we don’t see each other for years, maybe. But it’s very intense when you’re here.
Danay Garcia: I only just met him.
Oh yes, of course.
DG: Because he kind of left right when I came in and imagine I’m from Cuba everybody is like – he’s like the James Bond in Cuba and then my mom is like, “What? What do you mean you haven’t met him?” So, it’s like, I can’t believe it, I hope he comes back.
RB: I want everyone to really enjoy the third episode and the fourth there’s Salazar with – [catches himself] but it’s pretty much Salazar coming back and it’s all in Spanish. I wanted to say this before. I don’t know what other network has ever done this, but the complete episode is in Spanish and I applaud AMC. Complete with subtitles and I grew up in Panama watching US films with subtitles, but in the United States people don’t like subtitles.
It’s the same in the UK.
RB: Oh really, they don’t like subtitles in the UK?
No and it always upset me, because I remember working back in a shop when Crouching Tiger had just come out on DVD and we were selling endless copies, but almost every person that bought one asked if it had the dubbed version on the disc, which amazed me as it always cheapens a film in my opinion.
RB: You know in Panama and I think that in Latin America in general, we do not like dubs.
DG: They hate the dubs.
RB: We’d rather get the subtitles. We get John Wayne talking like [does a Spanish John Wayne impersonation!]
DG: It’s horrible, yes!
RB: What the fuck is that? He doesn’t speak Spanish. And then it’s Spanish from Spain, which is even more ridiculous.
We finally saw Strand lose his cool for the first time, when he’s being held over the railings…
Colman Domingo: Yeah, absolutely.
It’s interesting to see him lose his composure, because despite everything he’s been through, he’s always held it together pretty much.
CD: Yeah. Well, I think that that was a really – I remember me and Deborah Chow we talked about that scene a lot, because I didn’t understand him at that point. At that moment, it was very difficult for me, because I was like “I’ve never seen him be this expressive,” and she wanted more and more emotion and I said “I don’t know. I feel uncomfortable for my character.” So I had a little pushback with that. But I realize that he had lost so much and we’ve deconstructed Victor Strand so much, that by the time he’s about to get thrown over and he’s just like – he already has given up everything and now he has given up his mask in many ways.
So we even – I wanted to make a choice and Deb wanted to make a choice. Even his vocal quality, the way he usually speaks is gone so that he’s just sounding almost like a child, do you know what I mean? And so that was a very conscious thing. It was like he can’t sound like Victor Strand when he’s screaming for his life. He’s going to sound – he’ll go back to that inner child.
[At this point Kim Dickens enters…]
Kim Dickens: I’m still in my costume. Welcome, everyone.
CD: We were just talking about me.
CD: No! …yes.
I spoke to Frank Dillane last year and we talked about how Madison is more addicted to Nick than he is to drugs. She was one of the first characters to adapt to the apocalypse, but she sort of came unstuck because of her obsession with her son, pushing her daughter aside at times. Was that quite a prevalent thought for you and your performance?
KD: I know. I know. It’s like the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I think it’s a typical dynamic when there’s an addict in the family, there are also enablers in the family and I think it’s human nature and I think she feels that – Madison feels a certain degree of responsibility and we actually learn later. We learned last season just how responsible she felt for it genetically and yeah I think it is. Her Achilles’ heel is to save this son, who feels like he maybe a danger to himself and the daughter is the golden child, with a good head on her shoulders and she doesn’t have to worry about her as much. So, I think that was part of the draw in the beginning, was to play this family with real, you know, flawed dynamics. But yeah it’s her own doing in a way, it’s where mistakes happen is when Madison Achilles’ heel with Nick takes over – that’s where she makes her mistakes.
Is it difficult to work with different directors from one episode to another?
CD: One tricky thing is we’ve sort of – as a cast, I think we have to hold the thread of our character and really help flush that out over the course of an arc. And so, when you work with different directors, sometimes they may have a vision that may – you know, that you may bump up against certain things on. So, it’s up to them to help us and for us to help each other articulate what we’re trying to do. We’re all trying to just to serve the best product. So, it’s – you know, it can be difficult but, I think most of the time it’s pretty – they’ve got a good idea of the kind of directors that are great matches for this show and also for the cast in temperament and all.
RB: I think it’s more difficult to have different writers for each episode.
KD: I agree because it changes everything.
RB: Because they don’t know you. They don’t really know you. They know what they’ve seen but, I mean, we all have our own perspective.
Have you ever had to go and dispute a character choice with them?
RB: I have done it, but as a result of doing – at the end of the day I have created a back story for Salazar that doesn’t correspond in many ways to what they think. So instead of fighting a losing battle – not battle, but a losing effort in trying to explain something I’d rather inform my own behaviour with my background and go and do it and do what they’re writing, but know I have another motivation. And so there’s always something that I add to it that will allow me later to justify something else, but at the end of the day – I mean, you’ve got to get the line in and then you have a committee and it’s not just the writer, it’s like AMC. So, you got to go and somebody thinks this is the way it should go and then the writer does it and then – so you’re not really discussing with a writer. You know, it’s something bigger than you and you’re alone.
DG: And with the directors sometimes I’ve noticed that once you get the rhythm of the director, that’s when they usually end their episode and then you have to kind of like start all over again and prepare yourself mentally for, first of all what’s the next episode of the script, and then adjust that to whoever is going to come to put it into you know, the cameras.
RB: And then because I speak Spanish it’s okay to change some words and I can say “I would like to try this” but sometimes it’s just that we all know how our characters speak now. I know what I would say, how I would say it, so I try it sometimes and depending on who’s in charge then they’ll let it pass, or not. We have something also unusual, we have the writer on the set. That’s very unusual and that’s wonderful in my opinion. So you can actually ask the writer “What did you – what’s the point in there?” that’s wonderful I never saw another series that had that.
KD: The nature of television is that that you do have the writer that wrote the – sometimes you have an executive producer writer that will represent all the writers and be their proxy on set to sort of help you in the interpretation. What are we doing in this moment? Can we lose this? Can we gain this? But, yeah, there’s usually someone there. You probably just didn’t know it all the time, because sometimes it’s the same person all the time and sometimes it’s each person attached to that exact script, which is kind of way we do it. But television, historically, was always considered the writer’s medium. Film was the director’s medium, where the director really had the say, but with television, directors are coming in and out but the writing staff works together and it’s overseen by one show runner, so that is their vision. It’s considered the writer’s medium.
I know it’s part of the nature of the show, but I was shocked by the death of Travis and didn’t see it coming. Has that been quite a difficult adjustment, especially for you, Kim?
KD: You know it’s a shocking story point certainly, but I think we were all pretty shocked too, because it happens so early on and we were – most of us were sort of briefed before we came down to work just – because we’re a family. And certainly, the four of us had birthed the thing together and were very tight, Alycia and Frank and Cliff and I.
So, we were able to sort of talk about it with him on the phone beforehand and process it and then we got here together the first night for pre-production, then we all went out and had dinner and drinks together and you know, it’s what we do, but it’s tough. You do form a family and then the job ends in one way or the other and you move on, we’re a pretty resilient sort. But we stay in touch with him and I think it is a powerful story point and something – sometimes things like that happen.
And actually you, Danay and your character Luciana, just lost everyone that you were working pretty much. You’ve only got Nick left…
DG: But that’s all I’ve got left and he went away with mommy and he left me up in the helicopter and I fainted!
I just remembered two days ago while we were doing another interview that that sequence of me getting into the helicopter, Cliff picking me up and holding on to Alicia, you know, usually Luciana is the one that kills the zombies, she’s full on, she looks nothing could possibly happen to her and I’m starting the season completely the opposite. I’m the one that is really weak and dying and we were shooting that scene all day, the helicopter, zombies everywhere and as I keep fainting and I look at Kim and she is like surrounded by zombies and I want to be there. I’m thinking this sucks, then ‘pow!’ I faint again, like all day, because this was the first time we worked together and I get to see her (Kim) in action and she looks bad ass, but I can’t join in.
CD: You know what’s interesting about that too, because I think season three really is – I keep looking at the taglines saying it’s what – face your fears and things like that. And I think it’s so interesting that all of our characters are actually going to the opposite place that they thought that would be in.
DG: Completely yes, totally.
CD: The strong character in season two is now having to rely on others and what does that bring out in the person? Does that make a person stronger? It just challenges you.
DG: And going to the process of putting make up on to be pale and sick and when you’re just not used to it at all and you’re like, “Oh my god, I can’t wait until I heal. Ugh I can’t wait until this is out of me!” So like that inspiration is totally true. It’s true.
And since Strand has been stabbed and injured, how much of that is a burden in terms of performance, or are you – is he healing pretty quickly now?
CD: I think that was the reason why – that was one of the reasons why Strand stayed behind at the end of season two, because he also still needs to heal and also you know, he believed that Travis compromised where they needed to be. I mean you can only play injured for so long, I believe. For me it was like okay, am I healing and how much is it? I’m sitting around a lot and people come in and talk to me and I just want to get out and do something – but it was just also part of the process. Now, as you can tell with the first three episodes, we’re very active and I think it’s also symbolic for where we were in season two, like taking a breath for a second and now it’s like full guns are blazing in season three!
Kim Dickens, Colman Domingo, Ruben Blades & Danay Garcia – thank you very much!
Fear The Walking Dead airs Mondays at 9pm on AMC, exclusive to BT.