‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Ruben Blades, Mercedes Mason, and Gale Anne Hurd Interview

Fear the Walking Dead Ruben Blades and Mercedes Mason Interview
Ruben Blades and Mercedes Mason star in ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ (Photos by Frank Ockenfels 3 / AMC)

Fear the Walking Dead star Ruben Blades is a huge, life-long comic books fan and Mercedes Mason is so into The Walking Dead that she leaped at the chance to be a part of the new spin-off series coming to AMC in August 2015. Both teamed up with executive producer Gale Anne Hurd at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con for roundtable interviews to talk about Fear the Walking Dead, their characters, and the world that this new zombie apocalypse series takes place in.

As an actor, what’s the appeal of doing a show like this about a zombie outbreak?

Mercedes Mason: “I’ll jump in on this one because I’m so passionate about the original show. I was such a big fan that when this came into my life, I spent about four minutes screaming. And as I was watching the original, I had all these questions. What happened? What happened when Rick Grimes…I mean, Rick Grimes wakes up from this coma and it’s depletion. There’s nothing in the city. He’s walking aimlessly. He’s like a man alone. I had a million questions as a fan. So I love that this show is coming about. There’s sort of a peek into the world from a different area, obviously – we’re going to be placed in L.A. – of what happens amongst the people? And how do we learn that these are the bad guys when they still look human? They don’t look monstrous in our version. So it’s nice to see that slow burn into okay, now this is our new world. How do we cope? I loved it.”

Ruben Blades: “Everybody remembers October 12th, 1492. You were born in the 1500s, you wouldn’t know what happened. Who knows what happened October 11th. Who wrote about that? Where’s the testimony of what happened? You know what it is. You get up in the morning and have an everyday normal day. And then the next day, you have all these things happening to you that you have no clue what it is. You have these strange people, strange animals, strange language, diseases and your world is destroyed forever. Who wrote about October 11th? Nobody. So this is October 11th.”

In The Walking Dead you see Daryl, who’s equipped for this world, had a terrible life before but he can shine. Will we see who’s going to shine in Fear the Walking Dead?

Gale Anne Hurd: “Absolutely. We have no police officers in this. We have average people. We have an English teacher. We have a guidance counselor. We have a barber. We have people with everyday professions, many professions that interact with people but they’re not in charge. They have to cope with what’s happening and they have to bring their family together because as with most of us, we’re not all going to be in the same place if something like this were to happen. Some people will be in school, some will be at work, some will be wherever.

You also have the denial factor. You have the denial with characters Alycia [Debnam-Carey] and Mercedes [play] that’s like, ‘I have this bright future ahead of me. Things are going to get better.’ That’s what we believe in the American dream. It’s going to be better, especially as we launch into adulthood. On The Walking Dead, we’ve never dealt with teenagers or young adults at all. That is sort of a whole missing section, and we’ll see what happens. We’ll see what happens with Alicia who’s headed off to Berkeley as a top student and has dreams and ambitions. We’ll see what happens with a kid who’s troubled and is dealing with drug addiction and how that tears apart a family. We’ll also deal with the immigrant experience that we meant to come here for a new life and what they want for their children, to have a better life than they did. That has all been changed irreparably.”

What do we learn about your characters? Can you give us a little of your characters’ backstory?

Ruben Blades: “Daniel Salazar is from a Central American country. He’s been in the United States for a decade and a half. Came to the country like many Latinos come to the country, because of political issues in their countries of origin, set up a new life with his wife who is played by Patricia Spindola, very excellent Mexican actress. She and my daughter are part of the Salazar family. I’m a barber. I have a barber shop. Like Gale was saying, trying to reinvent your life, basically. Having the opportunity to do so, most people that are immigrants go to New York or Los Angeles. Los Angeles being preferred because I guess of the climate, you don’t have any snow, by Central Americans. So when this happens, again you’re forced to deal with the issue. Some people are better prepared than others and don’t know this.

It’s interesting. I hope I can say this but it’s interesting that the first person that realizes what’s going on is a drug addict. I thought that was very interesting. It wasn’t the schoolteacher. It was the drug addict, the first one who understood what was going on or had an inkling what was going on. And everyone begins to discover that their past, sometimes things that you’re trying to put behind you, all of a sudden acquire a relevance that allows you to deal with a situation that you hope and wish you’d left behind.”

Mercedes Mason: “Ofelia is a daughter of immigrant parents so there’s a lot of allegiance to her parents. She’s definitely a bit of a daddy’s girl. She loves her parents, obviously, wants the best for them. I come from immigrant parents but I know even growing up you feel like you have to cater to them and take care of them because English isn’t their first language. So, you’re defending them a lot and you want to protect them. Even as a kid, I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to make sure my parents are okay.’ Ofelia’s absolutely the same way, so when this happens, the tables start turning. She doesn’t know who she can rely on because she also starts discovering things about her parents that she had no idea, that they maybe aren’t exactly who they said they were and maybe some of the reasons they had left El Salvador, she was unaware of. So she’s sort of stuck in this world now where yesterday, October 11th, she had every opportunity and hope and a bright future and now she’s literally questioning everything that she knows. Her world is crumbling and she’s grasping for straws trying to figure out who she is. It’s almost like going through puberty again. You are figuring out exactly what’s happening to you and what you’re capable of and who you can rely on. So for Ofelia especially initially, it’s very, very scary until she has to find herself.”

Is having no source material for this show scary, liberating, or exciting?

Gale Anne Hurd: “It’s exciting. It’s something that, from the very beginning, Robert Kirkman wanted to do. So because he feels unrestrained and there’s not expectations from a fan base who’re saying, ‘You didn’t do the panel from the comic book exactly the way it was in the comic book.’ There is none of that but at the same time, there’s no road map. But it allows us to really surprise the audience because there are no expectations about where we’re going, where we’re headed. We won’t get the questions, ‘When’s Meghan going to show up?’ If I hear that one more time, I may go crazy.

I’m hoping it actually spawns a comic book so there can be a complete turnaround. I don’t know if you know this, but Ruben’s a huge comic book collector from way back.”

Ruben Blades: “When it was about comics, I used to come to the Con.”

At the same time, we know what’s going to happen, so you have a pit in your stomach.

Mercedes Mason: “It’s amazing that the audience knows more.”

Gale Anne Hurd: “I mean, it’s very Hitchcockian when it’s like, ‘Don’t go down the stairs, don’t go in the basement. Don’t go down that dark hallway and open that door.’ But then we really actually want you to go there but no, we don’t. It’s that push/pull.”

How would you describe the characters central to Fear the Walking Dead?

Gale Anne Hurd: “These are characters with no roadmap as Mercedes was saying. When Rick Grimes woke up, two things. He was a police officer. He already had a skill set. You’re trained in keeping the peace. You’re trained in being an alpha male. And you’re good with firearms. There’s a skill set that’s automatic. We do get to see, there are a few flashbacks in the show, what really happens as people who don’t know what’s going on have to contend and survive or not, with what’s going on in an urban population in a world that we haven’t seen on television before. It’s not an East L.A. that’s just gangs. These are normal, average people. First we get to find out who they are in normal life. That’s another thing that we haven’t seen before, and really get into problems that average families throughout the world will be facing and relating to. You blend different family units and you have everyday problems. We’ve just never seen before compounded by what the hell is going on?”

Ruben, you have a long, distinguished career. How did you get attached to this?

Ruben Blades: “I was unemployed. That was the first thing. No, really. I asked. I asked. I said if they saw something in me that would help develop the character. The character is very, very complex which is why I decided to do this. My band is very upset because I’m the singer and while I’m doing this, I’m not singing with the band but they have another singer so they’re working. They allow me to do this too. It’s a very complex role. It’s one of the most complex roles I’ve had because of the background and the stuff that happens. And AMC’s a quality group. If you think about AMC, 15 years ago they were just maybe on the way out, God knows, become like Blockbuster. All of a sudden, they’ve got the right amount of people. I don’t know how it happened but it wasn’t luck. They had Mad Men, boom! Then they had Breaking Bad, boom, boom, boom! Then they have The Walking Dead, again. So it’s a quality group, very smart people, very nice people to deal with. So I said sure. It was a no-brainer.”

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