Fear The Walking Dead Interviews (Part 4) – Cliff Curtis & Gale Anne Hurd

In the fourth part of my Fear The Walking Dead interviews with the cast at Comic Con, I spoke with Cliff Curtis who plays a father and English teacher and executive producer Gale Anne Hurd. If you missed the previous three interviews, you can read my interview with Elizabeth Rodriguez & Lorenzo James Henrie hereRubén Blades & Mercedes Mason here and my interview with Kim Dickens & Alycia Debnam-Carey here.

It’s great to see such an international cast. How did the casting process go?

Gale Anne Hurd:
We auditioned everywhere in the world where people could speak unaccented English. We found the best cast. It really wasn’t an intent. It was literally, who were the best actors to inhabit this world, bring them to life realistically? It’s grounded, it’s not campy, and their journeys are pretty intense and very challenging.

Cliff Curtis: I think the casting process was interesting in that it wasn’t really about casting individual actors. It was about casting a family. It’s really about finding the chemistry of the blend of relationships and a sense of connection between these actors that were translated into the roles.

You have an American accent in the show or do you use your Kiwi accent?

Cliff Curtis:
I try not to. I’ve got a wonderful dialect coach who’s studiously correcting me at every syllable.

So you’re not actually from New Zealand on the show?

Gale Anne Hurd:
The character is actually Maori descent.

Cliff Curtis: Manawa is actually a Maori name. There are little hints like only people from home will get it. I have my character belt on right now. That’s from home and I wear that in the show. So there are little things.

Gale Anne Hurd: Did you get permission to take that from set? [laughter]

Cliff Curtis: No, this is mine. They saw it on me and said, “That’s cool, can we use that?” My sister made it for me. I’ve got her weaving away. Little tiny little things. For those that know.

With the success of The Walking Dead and the comic, this show, before it even aired, has already two seasons under contract. How was it planning two seasons at once?

Gale Anne Hurd:
As you know, this is not a prequel and it’s not a spin-off. The characters are not headed to Georgia. Rick Grimes is not someone’s relative. It does however take place around the time that Rick went into a coma, because The Walking Dead picks up in the four to six weeks after the zombie apocalypse. We’re in the beginning stages. Obviously we wanted to do something that we hadn’t dealt with in The Walking Dead. We wanted an opportunity to tell a story in a completely different locale, with completely different characters. In The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes, Shane Walsh, police officers, they dealt with crisis before. They’ve dealt with murders.

Cliff Curtis: I’m an English teacher, Madison is a high school counsellor. We’re just not prepared for this kind of thing. Our show is about a couple of high school teachers who are trying to figure out how to sort out their teenagers. We do have like a drug addled drug addict in the family. Then I’ve got an estranged son and my ex-wife is a nurse. That’s the role of our show.

Gale Anne Hurd: It’s an extended blended family, which is very much what the world is dealing with today. We haven’t dealt with that. We’ve never seen the world as it is changing forever. These characters, unlike Rick Grimes in the first show, when he met Morgan, Morgan sort of told him the rules. Our characters are learning the rules and they are not always getting them right.

Cliff Curtis: We haven’t seen East L.A. this way before either. East L.A. is a cool place. It’s very multicultural, very blended. Lots of intermarriages. It’s a real melting pot and it’s very urban.

With L.A. as the setting, but you being a Kiwi and coming from New Zealand, have you ever thought about how an apocalypse like that would look in New Zealand?

Cliff Curtis:
I’m trying to convince them to come to New Zealand [laughs] for a season. Get back to me in a couple of seasons, if it’s still going. But yeah, I have. I know how it’s going to go down, too. I’m going to write a pitch for a season, and pitch it to Gale [Anne Hurd] and them and see if they buy it. [laughs] It would be really gorgeous and we can utilize a lot of the leftover props from the Lord of the Rings.

Would there be zombie sheep as well?

Cliff Curtis:
Yeah, absolutely. [laughs] It would be zombie sheep and sheepdogs. It will be very cute, that you would struggle with whether you should kill the zombie sheep or not.

Can you elaborate a bit more on the concept of a blended family at the core of the show?

Cliff Curtis:
I think that one of the fun things about having this blended family idea where my character, Travis, is deeply in love with Madison and we’re starting this new romantic love. We’ve got these, her two teenage children and I’ve got this ex. When things start to happen, we’re in this whole loved up space. But when things start happening, we don’t see things eye-to-eye, Travis and Madison. We don’t respond the same way. She’s a pragmatist, I’m an idealist. I’m a fixer, she’s a doer. [laughs] I want to fix things, she’s like “Nevermind fixing it, do this.” I want to discuss it, she wants to act. In a lot of ways, it’s interesting. Whereas with the ex, we were never meant to be married. We just did what the right thing was. But there’s something that happens when you’ve been married to someone for ten or thirteen years, you get a shorthand. When things go to custard, you know what to do. You don’t even have to say. You don’t even have to look, you just grunt. Now the person’s like, “Okay, cool, I do that, you do that.” You just get on with the business. Whereas in a new relation, you want to talk about everything, don’t you? Whereas in an established relation, there’s not such a need to talk. You know each other. That’s an interesting character trait.

In the original show there is a lot of character development too, but some people complain that it’s not enough action anymore. Are you afraid of those voices?

Gale Anne Hurd:
You know why they say that? They say that because the truth is, there are only so many interesting ways to kill a zombie. I think we’ve included a lot of them already in The Walking Dead. If that is just what it was, people wouldn’t keep tuning in. If you’re not invested in a character, if they are dead, it’s just like all the people would care about is, is it a really inventive death? People keep watching. I think it’s just cool to be the person who complains. We don’t even have to take those complainers on because on the Internet there are enough people going, “Then stop watching if all you’re going to do is complain.” We would not have been able to do Seasons 3, 4 and 5 if we hadn’t done Season 2 getting all the characters to the farm.
We believe that people watch television and tune in to a serialized show like this that isn’t a procedural because they are invested in these characters, they are identified with these characters. They care about these characters. They identify with them to the point that if they are killed off – to this day, there is still a campaign to bring Beth back. Everyday, I get more tweets about that. She’s been on two other shows now. She’s been on “Masters of Sex.” She was killed, but that’s how deeply connected the viewers are to each one of our characters.

Still, Fear The Walking Dead is going to be slow paced in the beginning. It’s going to take a while until the viewers see the first zombie. Are you afraid that zombies will be the main expectation though?

Gale Anne Hurd:
The difference is the power of this show, which people will really connect with from The Walking Dead, is that they aren’t monsters. At the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, these are your neighbours, these are your friends, these are your family members who are turning. That’s a much different thing than even a hoard of zombies attacking you. It’s much more difficult to pull the trigger.

Cliff Curtis: Especially some of them are not that threatening. What it does is that the show imagines a world where it’s real. Usually the reality of something is a lot more complex than you would first imagine. They utilize that as a technique and as a device really effectively, the writers and the creators of the show, is that they set up an expectation of how you think you’re going to behave in a given situation. Then humanity, or life, intervenes and then you go in a different direction. That’s what keeps audiences walking, [laughs] I mean talking and walking to their sets to watch. Coming back to the show is that setting up an expectation and then denying it with the reality that is totally plausible and authentic and makes absolute sense. That’s the surprise. Wow, I didn’t expect that to happen. I didn’t think that that character would do that. I thought in that situation – and then it makes us question. I would never have thought to do that, but it makes perfect sense that that’s what will happen. That’s what I think keeps people watching as much as the audiences that like the other stuff. I think I can quite confidently say there’s going to be plenty of that coming within the first season like good servings for those that want it. It’s got scale but there is a slow burn aspect to it. You do need to invest in the characters and what’s happening in the world, but there’s definitely some scale and some scope. I was impressed. I’m from New Zealand. We’re impressed by very little.

Click here for my final Fear The Walking Dead interview with Dave Erickson & Frank Dillane.

Fear The Walking Dead premieres globally on 23rd August and on 31st August in the UK.