Fear The Walking Dead Interviews (Part 2) – Rubén Blades & Mercedes Mason

In the second part of my Fear The Walking Dead interviews with the cast at Comic Con, I spoke with Rubén Blades who plays Daniel, family father and refugee from El Salvador, and Mercedes Mason, who stars as his hardworking daughter Ofelia. If you missed it, you can read part 1 of the interview series where I speak to Kim Dickens & Alycia Debnam-Carey here.

How do you feel being part of the world of The Walking Dead?

Rubén Blades: It’s going to be interesting to see what the take is. You know, because this is a different show. And it shares the common background, but it’s about what people do when facing the collapse of civilization. The other show is really a reaction of what has already happened. In this show, you don’t know what’s happening.

Mercedes Mason: Our characters don’t even know. We think it’s an infection.

Rubén Blades: We don’t know what’s going on. They have a bad hair day. They’re acting weird. What’s really going on? Would you kill these people? Would you attack them? What do you do?

So it’s the zombies of The Walking Dead in their beginning stages?

Mercedes Mason: Well, we obviously adhere to the rules of The Walking Dead, the way they move, the way the act but, our walkers haven’t decayed yet. And again, it’s the onset to the original beginning. You were having coffee with your neighbour yesterday who’s now trying to eat your face. It’s a whole different situation when they still look human. The morality is really questioned as well. It’s all about survival and who you rely on. When the proverbial shit hits the fan, who do you go to? When there are no cops to turn to, there’s no infrastructure.

Rubén Blades: You don’t even know where God is. It’s like, what’s going on?

Mercedes Mason: And what’s right and wrong.

What made you take on your role in Fear The Walking Dead? What did the writers convince you with?

Rubén Blades: The complexity of the character is what got me. I wasn’t sure about taking a television show because of the commitment. So, for me it was the characters’ complexity. I don’t want to play a one-dimensional character because that’s very boring. I think they [the writers] are discovering it also as they see you interact… It wasn’t like they were telling me things. And being unemployed helped as well.

Mercedes Mason: Being unemployed absolutely helped. [laughs] I had a conversation with Erickson, Dave Erickson, and so much has changed even from our conversation. It’s like this moving fluid living creature. They even changed from the original offer to AMC to what the show is becoming this first season. It’s constantly changing. There was a whole lot he couldn’t even tell me. We’ve discovered things as we go along.

So to see a Zombie apocalypse in Los Angeles will be interesting. How do you feel about that?

Mercedes Mason: L.A. is a dream maker, right? You want to leave your past and you come to L.A. to create a future. You have hopes and dreams. I think all of us have sort of ended up in LA because of that reason. We want to have a resurgence. We want to have a beginning. And of course when this happens then, it all sort of crumbles backwards and you literally are forced into figuring out who you are. But I like the fact that it’s very real. There’s a mixing pot of all cultures and it has nothing to do with being Latin or being Caucasian. We’re families. And we’re all going to act the same way. We’re all human at the end of the day and how do we all get along together when we’re forced together?

Rubén Blades: Right, it’s a study on humanity. This is important because it’s not like a token Latino family. You know, let’s put them in there so we can have this demographic covered. No, it’s about what happens in a place like Los Angeles that has a very strong Latino presence. New York is the same thing. New York has over 3 or about 4 million people that are of Latin background. Unfortunately, our contributions to the US society are not registered the way they should be, and our presence. We’re finally now in outer space. You know, they got old Oscar Isaac in the new Star Wars. They’re doing a movie about the 27th century and they’re worried if you have an accent? Who gives a shit? [laughs] Who’s going to care in the 27th century if you have an accent? I really think it’s a wonderful example of what can be done. These people did it, AMC.

So are you afraid that there is going to be peak in zombie films and shows, like The Walking Dead, Fear The Walking Dead, or iZombie, and then people are going to get tired of it like it happened with vampires?

Rubén Blades: Actually, you know it’s a good question. I don’t know, because [in Fear The Walking Dead] it’s about the relationships between people. So it’s not about the zombies that are there. It’s really about people. How do we react? What do we do? How do we act in the face of the collapse of everything that we’ve known and has sort of held us together. It’s all over the world, some places have collapsed. We’re over here ordering a latte but right now in Syria people are dying and Darfur people are dying. The person they had coffee with is dead. The school they went to was bombed. It’s happening in so many places and so many stories that are reflected, as a result of this collapse, are interesting to everyone.

So it’s almost a universal approach to tell the story of humans in a collapsing society?

Mercedes Mason: It’s a universal thing. I mean the walkers, it’s like war. They’re the catalysts. You’re forced into this sort of existence. And then now what do you do, who do you rely on? What’s right, what’s wrong? We don’t know any of that. And that’s sort of what sets our world apart. When Rick Grimes woke up from his coma, he was in the mix of it. Things had gone crazy, and then now he’s got to survive.
For us, we’re forced into this sort of segment, all of us, this makeshift family that we’ve created and we don’t know what’s happening. So, part of it is there’s still that hope that slowly gets killed off and then there’s the resurgence of “Alright, well now the world is not going to come back the way we know it. Now, what do we do? And how do you create sort of new relationships and find safety again and find some sort of infrastructure in your lives?” The walkers are there of course but a shrewd watcher will be able to see it as just a catalyst that leads to the human condition.

Rubén Blades: The story continues to be interesting. The human story changes constantly. It’s all about the writing, to keep the writing interesting so that people will continue to tune in. Because no story is the same, ever.

Mercedes Mason: And the one, the universal thing that all humans share: fear. We all know fear and survival. And that will never change. And again, there are places in the world that are really desperate. Syria, all these things happening there… we’re lucky in that sense. But I think our characters are sort of thrown into that world of “Now what?”

Do you think that issues like the Ebola virus, spreading fear and people panicking world-wide, or the effects of global warming are reflected on a show about the collapse of the world as well?

Rubén Blades: We’re inches away from a mutation. I believe it’s a valid fear, the way that global warming is creating mutations and producing new threats that we are not even aware of right now so… the fact that it happened already – it’s almost as if Earth cleanses itself every X amount of years no matter what you do. I’m going to get rid of these people.

Mercedes Mason: Humans are the parasite and Mother Nature wants to get rid of us. The walkers are like natural selection. It’s Darwinism because it’s a total natural selection of the strongest and the fittest will survive.

In terms of global warming, there have been extreme cases in the US. Have you ever experienced some extreme conditions like that yourselves?

Rubén Blades: We just went through a hurricane scenario about 2 years, 3 years ago. Storm Sandy. People react to help others. I mean I’ve seen that in New York of all places that has this image of nobody cares, you know. That’s not true. It brings the best out of you.

Mercedes Mason: Or the worst. Because I remember I was New York in Storm Sandy when it hit, I was down in the Lower East Side. We had nothing. Like I stupidly thought that, “Oh it’ll blow over us, not a big deal. And it was a week of no lights, no water, no nothing. And, you started getting these stories. I was shooting a show at the time, and the producers at one point said, “You guys have to leave the Lower East Side or any of that area. People are raping people because it’s dark. And they’re grabbing and snatching people out. Robbing, doing God knows what. And then there were the others who were helping.

It’s really about who you become in times of terror and fear.

Mercedes Mason: It comes down to human condition. When everything goes wrong, who do you become? Who do you become when there’s no right or wrong, and there are no rules?

Rubén Blades: The better angels of our character would be the ones dictating how we’re going to do this. There’s something in us that makes us help, or feel for someone else. In every country, that doesn’t change. That’s why I don’t understand why homelessness still exists. You know it’s a political problem, it should be resolved. It could be resolved if there was political will. Because I think everyone would want to do something to try to help somebody. There are some other people that need medical attention, so you can’t really take them home with you.

Mercedes Mason: That says a lot about the healthcare system.

Rubén Blades: And the politicians, I mean, this is something that could be resolved. So that’s terrible, because they could solve it and they don’t.

To end the interview on a lighter note: Normally as a viewer you’re not used to stars of the show just dying. One of the great things about The Walking Dead is a high kill rate. But as actors you must be concerned all the time, to survive the next pages of the script?

Rubén Blades: I’m a musician. My band wants me dead. [laughs] I’m the singer, so imagine you know… they need me. Let him die as soon as possible so we can continue playing. [laughs]

Mercedes Mason: My pets do not want me dead because I provide food for them, comfort. We get our scripts the day before the table read and then we shoot the next day. We come in early and we’re flipping through trying to get the gist of it before we do the table read, because we have absolutely no idea. We don’t want to die but you know… it could happen. It keeps us on our toes.

Rubén Blades: I think it’s exciting actually. You try to be as good as you can because you don’t know when there’s a next time you’re going to be on.

Mercedes Mason: We should just start sending flowers and puppies to all the writers.

Have you yourselves been fans of shows where you weren’t prepared for main characters to die?

Rubén Blades: Game of Thrones, my friend. What happened to Jon [Snow] pissed me off. You know, you don’t expect that at all. It’s interesting cause the story’s going to go where it needs to go.

Mercedes Mason: There will be a cross-over, Jon Snow is coming to our show. He walks through the closet of Narnia.

Click here for my next Fear The Walking Dead interview with Elizabeth Rodriguez & Lorenzo James Henrie.

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