Fear The Walking Dead Interviews (Part 5) – Dave Erickson & Frank Dillane
In the final part of my Fear The Walking Dead interviews with the cast at Comic Con, I spoke with Frank Dillane who star as a wise-beyond-his-years teenager and creator-producer Dave Erickson. If you missed the previous four interviews, you can read my interview with Cliff Curtis & Gale Anne Hurd here, Elizabeth Rodriguez & Lorenzo James Henrie here, Rubén Blades & Mercedes Mason here and my interview with Kim Dickens & Alycia Debnam-Carey here.
There will come a question that will come to everybody’s mind: It’s that The Walking Dead is a very popular show and so you start to wonder, do they just want to make more because it’s popular? What are the real reasons, also artistically speaking?
Dave Erickson: It’s a very good question and I’ll say to the credit of Robert [Kirkman] and AMC, they really took this slowly. Because they wanted to avoid exactly the question that you’re asking, which is obviously the show has done incredibly well and if something does well that they want more. For us, it became a process of trying to carve into what hasn’t been explored as fully on the original show and Robert had a lot of ideas along those lines we did talk about and then for me it was, I’ve danced around going and working on The Walking Dead a number of times. I was on “Sons of Anarchy” and it just never worked out. But I worked with Robert a long time ago. We wrote a pilot based on a treatment he had done and I use to enjoy working with him and I knew – I just like his story sense and his narrative sense. For me personally, I incorporated some things from my own life which I sort of said to him in the first couple of meetings define what you do and I needed to find a way to personalize it.
It starts as a family drama first and it’s about this blended family, Frank’s character being one of the kids in that family, and it really became more about telling a story about family in a family drama with all of their dysfunction and problems and conflicts. Then there happen to be zombies that come in afterwards and I think that for me by personalizing this most as I could for Robert as well, it gave us sort of a launching pad. We don’t go into the world. Obviously we have our genre tropes and we have walkers but it really started in a much slower pace and in terms of the tone of a show in such, in Season 1 it’s much more about the shark you don’t see. It’s about the apprehension of what’s to come, it’s about the learning process that all of our characters are going through. The brilliant thing, I mean the narrative turn in the comic and in the original show, is the coma – the fact that you can go from zero to apocalypse within the first act of the show.
We’re extending that to a pretty large degree. It’s very much more about exploring the characters first and then slowly bringing in the idea of the apocalypse and having that sort of overwhelm what’s going on. What’s important for us is that everything we establish in the pilot, every problem whether it’s Frank’s character, this highly dysfunctional, messed up blended family trying to establish themselves and hold on and the great irony is that the reason this family comes together ultimately is because of the apocalypse. That’s what the show is kind of like and so, when we finish hopefully, 17 seasons from now, if you look back at the pilot, you’ll look the issues that everyone is facing we’ll have closed those out by the time the show is over and then there is the obvious.
Frank Dillane: No. It’s just, it’s that great Morrissey lyric: if it’s not love then it’s the bomb that will bring us together. It’s the same thing.
So in The Walking Dead the viewer is thrust right into the chaos after the coma, but how did you decide on which point in time to start the new show?
Dave Erickson: We’re very early in the apocalypse so when we see one of our walkers, one of our infected, for all intents and purposes they seem human. I mean they have not taken on all the work that Greg Nicotero and his team do and that horrific quality and they look like monster and if something looks like monster is much, much easier to stab and shoot and put them down. That was one thing in terms of that window of I think Robert [Kirkman] had said Rick was in a coma for approximately four to five weeks. We were living in that space but it gives us the opportunity to really track the first news report that suggests something is wrong and how was that interpreted. And I think one of the things that were important to him that he [Robert Kirkman] presented to me very early on was how quickly do you get to a place when you’re learning this new world, how quickly do you get to a place as a human being where you can do violence to someone you perceive to still be a human being?
It just not going to be all the zombies, it’s going to be LAPD had to put down a homeless man the other day and then that feeds into a larger question specific to our city which is the questions of violence in our city and the questions of police brutality and then it starts off in that framework. We’re not going to have zombies within the first reel.
It still maintains the tension, the danger, the paranoia. It was actually our director Adam Davidson, he said I should go back and look at “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” the Phillip Kaufman version in the 70’s and there’s such a feeling of anxiety and paranoia and some of our characters know what’s going on, most do not. We really wanted to live in that space and that’s for us, that’s what it would have been for the first few days, the first few weeks until people start to understand that these people were not… and in many respects I mean Frank [Dillane]’s character is kind of the prophet of the apocalypse. He’s the one that gets wise to it sooner. He’s the one that realizes what’s happening and then he kind of drags everyone along kicking and screaming as the season plays out.
How big of a role do the media and the coverage of the early stages of the apocalypse play?
Dave Erickson: We actually have a line in the pilot where one of, Madison and Travis, Kim Dickens and Cliff Curtis’ characters are out, looking for their son, they’re looking for well Madison’s son and Cliff’s stepson to be. They see some kind of action going on the freeway overpass, they never actually clocked what it is. I mean they know that there is a scene, they see police lights, they realize that something has happened, it could have been an accident. It’s only the next day when the footage from the news helicopter is released that they see the first view of an attack.
Again, that’s looked at not as okay, that person is undead. It’s looked at let’s say, “That person must have been on something, he must have been traumatized by the accident.” But it starts that way. We use it sparingly in the pilot but just enough to suggest that that’s happening. It’s probably happening in Colorado and in Florida as well and it exponentially gets worse.
This will be like a family show, including a bunch of younger characters. How important do you think it is to cater to a younger audience, as many of the big franchise films like the Hunger Games cater to teenage audiences as well?
Dave Erickson: Frank [Dillane]’s character is 19, Alycia [Debnam-Carey]’s character is 17, Lorenzo [Henrie] is 16. So I think in terms of a younger audience being able to appreciate and get into the show, we have characters to root for. I think we’ve got three brilliant actors who are going to draw that audience. I mean you have two very different brother and sister, Frank’s character and Alycia’s character, Alicia. Nick, Frank’s character has certain issues, Alicia is this golden child who has a very fixed plan of what her future’s going to be, which I do think a lot of teens in that, somewhere in that bracket, will relate to and in many ways she’s the one that’s going to suffer the most because she’s got a very fixed idea of what her life is going to be and she watches that crumble very, very quickly. Every horror film at the end of the day is speaking into something very specific and very human – all our normal paranoia, normal anxieties. The fear of what the future holds and “will we survive it, will be successful?” It’s just a small thing but I do think that that’s a part of what her story is in a way.
What’s interesting to me, and I didn’t realize this until I really got involved in the show, The Walking Dead is family viewing. I mean it’s one of those rare remaining appointments, Sunday night you get together with your family.
Do you think the two shows are inevitably going down the same path and the more the zombies evolve, the more it will be like The Walking Dead?
Dave Erickson: Unlike the original show where you had police officers, you had a group of people who sort of had learned the apocalypse by the time Rick reaches Atlanta, they kind of know the score and they’ve learned how to survive and they’ve learned how to build their camps and they’ve learned how to defend themselves, the actors don’t know how to do that yet. We’ve got an English Lit teacher at high school, we have a guy who’s a counselor – we’re not talking about a group that in any way should perform prepared for the apocalypse. For me, again I’m going back to that question of what elements are worth exploring and I think things are interesting to Robert [Kirkman] from the beginning.
Our characters are a little bit insulated in Season 1 I’ll say as the apocalypse begins to unfold so it’s not until much later going into Season 2 that they fully understand what’s happened. I think for me part of Season 2 was going to be the system, watching the beats of how do they actually figure a way to survive, which in many ways, and not just from “you have to protect us from the zombies”, but we need to see the process of “okay, we don’t have drinking water.” To see that process and those little elements, just the question of survival, irrespective of the dead, is fascinating to me.
When we get to Season 3… Frank [Dillane]’s character has certain issues in the pilot and we tracked those over the course Season 1, it’s always going to start from that dynamic, the interpersonal question. When we sit down and writers get together in August, it will be “Where did we leave off? Who hates whom and why? How will these relationships fracture?” And then figuring out what the steps would be as though it were a family drama first and foremost.
Then layering in the apocalypse… There’s just things they do very, very well in the comic and on the original and so we have to make a conscious effort not be treading on the same territory. To find more internal drive, find more internal tension. Less, to make it about the new nefarious arrival.
Any chance of future cross-overs?
Dave Erickson: Whenever you do two stories that live inside the same narrative –ultimately, the same mythology, instinctively I’d like to see that but no. There are no plans to do it. Geographically there’s a long way to go if we could connect these two groups. I think people will read into certain things we say before it’s like Kim’s from Alabama. So every so often you’d hear that sort of Southern inflection, so I know at some point someone is going to assume she’s got to be from Georgia and maybe she knows Rick and maybe that will happen but as of now, no.
Fear The Walking Dead premieres globally on 23rd August and on 31st August in the UK.