Executive producer Dave Erickson and actress Alycia Debnam-Carey discuss the hotly anticipated 'Walking Dead spinoff, 'Fear the Walking Dead.'
The Walking Dead debuted as a niche hit but has steadily grown into one of the biggest hits on television period. In fact, season five of The Walking Dead finished the 2014-15 season as the number one show in the all-important 18-49 advertising demo. While waiting for season six, Walking Dead fans will be able to indulge their zombie jones with six episodes of the spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead. This time, the action takes place in Los Angeles. In The Walking Dead, the series picked up after the zombie apocalypse had already happened. Fear the Walking Dead will show the onset of the zombie infestation. Executive producer Dave Erickson and actress Alycia Debnam-Carey recently sat down to talk about the highly anticipated Walking Dead sequel/prequel.
Let’s talk about this wonderful new show. I saw the pilot. I love it. Your character seems very smart. Is she going to jump right away after the apocalypse to help everyone, or is she going to be in the back, in the beginning, the shy girl?
Alycia Debnam-Carey: Yeah the really interesting thing with this show is that I keep learning about her as we go, like I really do. I mean like it’s a constant discovery with her and I think what’s most important in this first season for Alicia is that she does start off with a plan, she’s come from a fractured family home and she’s ready to do her own things. She’s got a great boyfriend. She’s going to Berkeley. She’s got ambition and she’s doing it for herself and she’s very independent, but once this new world comes into play she’s got really the most to lose. She falls into hopelessness a little bit and that’s a really hard place to recover from. So beyond that, I think it’s going to be a really interesting.
You know all the secrets?
Dave Erickson: Not necessarily.
Alycia Debnam-Carey: But yeah I’m really excited to see where she goes. I think she’s got a lot of you know independence in her already. She’s got a lot of strength with what she has had to deal with, so I think she’s going to be okay. But of course you know it’s always then what will these characters have to do or what they are willing to do.
Dave Erickson: No, I mean it is interesting because both Alicia and Nick (Frank Dillane), they’ve had to deal with death. Their father died six years ago and they have reacted to that in very different ways. Nick is going off the rails and he has been living on the streets off and on for the past few years. Alicia has become incredibly focused on getting out and building a new life and distancing herself from all this. So it’s one of the fundamental questions really going into Season 2: who is going to do well in this new world and who is not? And I think the people that you would expect because they have it all, they’ve got it going on, they’ve got it together, they may be the ones that are more challenged by it whereas someone like your brother who has been living his own apocalypse in many ways, it’s like they are kind of used to the water already in a strange way. One of the things, thematically, is one of the reasons we chose Los Angeles. It’s very much a city of re-invention. It’s a place where people come to forget who they were and to you know to – they run away from the crimes they’ve done, the crimes that have been committed against them, and in some respects, I mean we will see going into Season 2, that same identity shift taking place of people having to re-invent themselves or embrace who they were, these people they try to distance themselves from. I think that Alicia is going to go through something not dissimilar from that.
And the decision to make them more realistic, what was behind that?
Dave Erickson: What was behind that decision?
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Dave Erickson: It started – well when I first sat down with Robert [Kirkman], one of the things he wanted to explore, I think he – this really started because at a certain point, I think he looked back – I can’t speak for him, but this is my interpretation. I think he looked back on the comic book and on the original show and he looked at it and there were things he hadn’t done. There were things he hadn’t explored. And one of the things I think he wanted to see was this examination of violence, physically and as a theme. It’s hard to kill – physically difficult to kill, but when you do, especially for our walkers, which they are humans for all intents and purposes, they have just turned, it’s somebody you were having coffee with a day before and suddenly they’re trying to rip your throat out. Your go-to is not to pick up a heavy tool and bludgeon them.
Your go-to is, okay you’re sick, something’s wrong, you need to call 911 or you run. And I think it was a more realistic approach to it. We really wanted to not do the zero to apocalypse sort of – by the end of the first reel in most films, even in the genre, we know it’s the apocalypse, we know these are zombies, we know we’ve got to shoot them in the head and then it becomes more of a suspense thriller for the rest and really embraces the horror genre. We wanted to delay that element and incorporate it but not embrace it fully until much later in the show and by the time we get to – we definitely play the tropes and we definitely have, we play the walker gags and we will get to a place by the middle of the season where we will get a full dose of the apocalypse. But even going into Season 2, there is still more real estate. There is still more story for us to explore before we get to Rick [Andrew Lincoln in The Walking Dead] waking up in Georgia.
But no, it was part of – tonally, we just did want it to feel and look different. We didn’t – I had never, I know [Walking Dead creator] Robert [Kirkman], I’ve worked with Robert but I have never worked on The Walking Dead. Our director, Adam Davidson, he directed the pilot and the first three episodes. He had never done the show. A lot of our actors, not a lot but some of our actors who shall remain nameless said, oh it’s a zombie show. I don’t want to do that. And I was like could you please speak to insert actor name. And yeah just like, let’s have a conversation. Let’s talk about what the show is.
Alycia Debnam-Carey: Well I thought that – admittedly when I first like heard about the role, I was sort of like, I don’t know, are zombies really my thing? And my first impression was like, do you know Halloween Horror Nights in Universal City? They do this thing and it’s like yeah and you like willingly go and get yourself scared by like zombies and stuff and so the whole time I was just like adrenaline, anxiety and I was like, no. So my interpretation was like, do I want to do that every day? But then what drew me so much to this script is that they are regular people and that these are – you attach to the characters so quickly and the relationships and you are really rooting for them way before it becomes a life and death situation. And I think that that’s so important because I am a fan of the original show. It did take me a little bit of time to really find an attachment to some of those characters whereas this one I mean immediately loved the dynamics. I really appreciated that.
Dave Erickson: It’s hopefully the thing that will – the larger answer to your question is if we embrace and engage on a more intimate level with this larger family, I mean we have an opportunity to get to know more of our characters for a slightly longer time before suddenly we are in a camp somewhere and then we are worrying about the next horde coming through. What it allows me is to really anchor those relationships so much so that when, in success, when we get to the end of show, however many seasons down the road, and we play out those final scenes if you would go back and look at the pilot, the same elements that started us will still be there. And it will be a question of you know Alycia’s relationship with Nick, how do we fracture that, where does it go subsequently? Madison and Nick, I mean that mother son relationship is incredibly important. And Travis’ relationship with his son. In Chris, Lorenzo’s character, you have a very pissed off 16-year-old who is mad because my parents got divorced and you are trying to bring me into your new family. I want none of that.
It gets a little more heated by the time the season’s over for different reasons which have everything to do with the apocalypse, but fundamentally it’s about the rift between a father and a son, and a pissed off son. It’s just heightened to the nth degree because now we’ve thrown in zombies and what goes with that, but it’s – I mean that’s the opportunity like – one of the opportunities we have is because we get to really invest I think, I hope, with these people first and understand them, how can we identify with them. And it’s just a choice. I mean it’s a narrative choice because I think “The Walking Dead” is brilliant. Like in the structural, the idea to ellipse over the actual fall of society is fantastic. You know to have a guy wake up and have to track his thought process and how did this all happen is great but you do, you are really isolated with Rick’s POV and by the time you get to the camp outside of Atlanta, everyone is sort of up to speed already. You also don’t get to see the process by which this larger survivalist family came together, which is something we will all have the opportunity to do as well. Yeah, it’s not better or worse, just different.
Will there be any kind of social commentary on our current society and what we consume? You know like some George Romero movies use the zombie as a metaphor. Is it going to be like once the zombie apocalypse hits, like, what kind of society are we? Is that part of it?
Dave Erickson: I think there are a lot of things if you want to go down that road. I mean it’s not, ultimately it isn’t a polemic and I thought a lot about this because we are in Los Angeles and the way, you know, the fall begins and the way chaos begins it starts with violence. It starts with you know the police shooting people, you know because – we know it’s because there are zombies but the rest of the community does not, you know, there’s – there are protests, there’s rioting, there’s – I know, I’m doing that thing. I don’t project. [Laughs] So no, I mean there are a lot of elements that I think will mirror what’s going on in the world because they have to. I mean when you’re – when we sit down in the writers’ room we’re absolutely drawing from what’s going on you know, what’s going on in the outside and I think there’s some reason people channel their anxieties, their fears I mean, into this genre specifically. And I think there’s something cathartic about it, strangely.
Alycia Debnam-Carey: It’s relevant to the society that we’re in right now because you know the world is going through a lot of struggles over many different reasons and so it’s a kind of morbid fascination that we have and it’s also very relevant and in the Zeitgeist. I think also like there are some great things in the pilot that are just you know, put in there, just mentioned like conspiracy theories on the Internet or like, you know, drug use – is this some new crazy drug? And I remember you know, around 2005 when like there was that whole bath salts problem and like you know. So what’s amazing about human beings is we will try and justify anything, you know, anything that’s absurd you’ll try and come up with a logical conclusion because that’s what we do and this does kind of – we have a little showcase of what could be what it is and might come to terms with what these sick people are – what is wrong. So yeah it’s very relevant. I think people will probably relate to that somewhat.
And at some point, the show is going to appear in the right time. You know we have all heard the things that Donald Trump said about immigrants and the show portrays a little bit about immigrants. The family, they have a daughter that was born here and…
Dave Erickson: If I can find a way to slam Donald Trump in the show that would be fantastic.
Alycia Debnam-Carey: He’s a zombie.
Dave Erickson: No, but, I mean, again going to the backdrop of Los Angeles I mean yeah, we have you know, our immigrant family you know, Rubén Blades and his daughter Mercedes [Mason] and Patricia [Reyes Spíndola] who plays Griselda, you have a couple who escaped Salvador in the 80’s they have – and then again it goes to that theme of reinvention and shifting identity because you know we meet two people who left – I mean if you know the history about El Salvador I think both for the most part, I think the audience will assume certain things, but you have a relationship between a daughter who’s completely Americanized you know. There’s actually a joke that Rubén put in the scene later on because Mercedes – Mercedes speaks Spanish but she’s not a native speaker. I’m trying to remember exactly and so I think Rubén and Patricia, they threw in a little joke in the end of one scene just about how bad her Spanish was, which we left in.
But no, again it fundamentally becomes a story between a father and daughter, a daughter who has made certain assumptions about who her father is and a daughter who is, you know, his only child, whom he has protected fiercely you know, in his own way. And her perception in the beginning of the show when we first meet her is, my parents are a little backwards. They are from the old country, they don’t really – they’re not American, they haven’t assimilated you know. Mom doesn’t speak any English at all. And she sees herself as this protector and then of course that begins to you know, unravel as the military comes in, the zombies come out and suddenly the landscape shifts in a way that’s something that Rubén’s character Daniel and Griselda both understand a lot better.
And suddenly they will both learn things about each other that they didn’t before. But again, it is the immigrant experience. We are bringing that element into the world, but ultimately it’s a very specific simple story about a family and how do you blend that family with the family that we’ve already established with you [Alycia Debnam-Carey] and Travis and Madison and Nick, you know. And in Rubén you have a character who does not have a son, comes from a relatively macho culture, you know and then you’ve got this rift between Travis and his son Chris, you know. Things, alliances are going to start to shift and it’s all about a massive dysfunctional blended family and how all these people bounce off of each other. And then there are zombies.
Do you think this is for the same audience as The Walking Dead or do you think you’re kind of going for another audience or you don’t care? Was there a pressure of going to the same audience or going for a broader audience?
Dave Erickson: It was never a pressure – creatively there was never pressure. No one at the network ever said, you’ve got to get some more zombie kills in there because you know the audience – our data tells us that if you don’t do, you know, X number of zombies per… No. I hope that the audience for “The Walking Dead” embraces the show and loves the show as much as they do. I have no idea. I mean my sense is, it definitely, the DNA of “The Walking Dead” is very much in the show and the mythology is very much in the show and my hope is people will respond to it and love it as much. If you know – and I also think there are some people, you can come to the show and have never seen “The Walking Dead” and they hopefully will still go on the ride and get to know these people and enjoy it as well. So I think we’re somewhere in the middle. I don’t know that we’ll do 17, 20 million viewers per week.
Alycia Debnam-Carey: Yeah I think people will be a little like confronted at first because it is very different.
But maybe you’ll connect with a different audience.
Alycia Debnam-Carey: Well that’s the thing and I think you don’t –
Dave Erickson: The seven people who’ve not seen that show will probably come and watch our show. [Laughter]
Fear the Walking Dead premieres on AMC August 23.