Striving to find your own unique identity and beliefs as you set out to succeed in a respected world that’s been established by your peers can be both a daunting and liberating task. Accomplished New Zealand film and television actor Cliff Curtis once again proved his versatility and adaptability to creating a distinct character when he stepped into the lead male role of Travis Manawa in AMC’s new horror series, ‘Fear the Walking Dead.’
Anchor Bay Entertainment will distribute ‘Fear the Walking Dead: The Complete First Season’ on Blu-ray and DVD tomorrow, for a suggested retail price of $49.99 and $39.98, respectively. The home release of the show, which was co-created by Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson, become the highest-rated first season of any series in cable history after it premiered this past August on the cable network.
The project’s success was in part based on the fact that it’s a companion and prequel series to the hit Emmy Award-winning series, ‘The Walking Dead,’ which itself is based on the popular comic book series of the same name. Another large fact in ‘Fear the Walking Dead’s acclaim is that Curtis captivatingly proved that having a morally-driven lead protagonist like Travis provides a much-needed distinct take on the already admired zombie apocalypse television genre.
Season 1 of ‘Fear the Walking Dead,’ which is set in the same universe as ‘The Walking Dead,’ is a gritty drama that explores the onset of the undead apocalypse through the lens of a fractured family. Set in Los Angeles, a city where people come to escape, shield secrets and bury their pasts, a mysterious outbreak threatens to disrupt what little stability English teacher Travis Manawa and high school guidance counselor Madison Clark (Kim Dickens) have managed to assemble. The everyday pressure of blending two families while dealing with resentful, escapist and strung out children takes a back seat when society begins to break down.
The couple is forced to contend with supporting Madison’s college flunk-out druggie son, Nick (Frank Dillane), and her ambitious teenage daughter, Alicia (Alycia Debnam Carey). Travis and Madison are also trying to mend their relationship with his smart and rebellious teenage son, Christopher (Lorenzo Henrie), who’s still upset with his father for divorcing his mother, Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez). As the family tries to bond and stay together, a forced evolution and a necessary survival of the fittest takes hold. The dysfunctional family must either reinvent themselves or embrace their darker histories.
Curtis generously took the time recently to talk about starring in the first season of ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other tings, the actor discussed how he initially questioned if it was a smart idea to make a companion series that’s set in the same world as the groundbreaking original show, but after he read the initial script, he was intrigued by how the creators decided to include a character like Travis, who isn’t the typical zombie apocalypse hero; and how it’s frustrating that Travis isn’t as action oriented, and quick to adapt to the zombie uprising, as the other characters, but he’s happy to play a character who’s guided by his ideals, and is the moral center of the show.
ShockYa (SY): You play Travis Manawa, the lead male character, on the new horror television series, ‘Fear the Walking Dead.’ What was it about the character, as well as the show overall, that interested you in the role of Travis?
Cliff Curtis (CC): Well, we were coming in under the shadow of the mothership show, which is very intimidating and scary. From the start, you’re thinking, is this a good idea? Do we need another zombie show?
But then when I read the script, I was very intrigued by how distinct it was, particularly in how they decided to make it a family drama. I thought that was a very brave choice, but I was also confused by it. I thought, is that what the audience really wants? Do viewers want to get that involved with these characters and their lives? So after the show started, I was amazed by how committed audiences are to us.
I was also intrigued that a character like mine, who isn’t the typical zombie apocalypse hero, is the lead character of the show. He doesn’t like guns or killing people, and he doesn’t have a clue of what to do. I actually would have voted him to be the least likely to survive the zombie apocalypse.
I’m really enjoying how committed the creators of the show are to making their own real journey, and exploring that in every episode. They’re really creative in showing how the characters are coming to terms with the reality of their new world.
SY: Travis is an English teacher and loyal father who’s determined to protect the ones he loves, while remaining true to his ideals, as Los Angeles is invaded by the onset of the zombie apocalypse. How did you work to keep Travis relatable with the impending collapse of civilization, even though he’s determined to hold on to his values?
CC: Well, what’s interesting, and equally frustrating, about Travis is that the other characters, like Madison, are much more action oriented, and quicker to adapt. You also have this intriguing character, Strand, and this fighter, Nick, who are ruthless. They’ll do whatever it takes to get what they want.
So I’m so happy to have a character who’s guided by his ideals and philosophies in life, and he’s the moral center of the show. But he’s a lot tougher and more resilient than you might think. It’s a lot harder in this world order to believe in those things than it is just to pick up a gun and start shooting things. So I’m really keen to see how he evolves.
SY: Kim, who you just mentioned, plays Travis’ girlfriend, Madison Clark, a high school guidance counselor who’s able to adapt a lot quicker to their new circumstances. What is your working relationship like with Kim, particularly in showcasing the two characters’ drastic differences in the way they view their circumstances in the looming apocalypse?
CC: I love working with Kim. She’s such a natural badass, and has that swagger about her that lets you know that she’ll be handy in a tough spot. I think it’s really cool that my character’s attracted to a strong woman who’s independent, and doesn’t need a man to take care of business. Both Travis and Madison are strong individuals, and I like that he’s the kind of guy who finds that trait attractive in a woman.
SY: How does the fact that Travis is more committed to maintaining his values during the rise of the zombie apocalypse influence the way you approach the character’s physicality? Did you decide he would be more hesitant than Madison and the other characters to defend himself against the zombies?
CC: Yes, absolutely. There’s one particular scene where Travis witnesses a zombie attack. I’m like, I get that he’s my neighbor, but he’s coming into my house, so I’m going to deal with the situation. That was fun for me, because we kept pushing it further and further.
That led to more and more difficult circumstances to deal with, like when the military’s surrounding him and want him to shoot this innocent woman. He won’t do it, so that shows his strength and resolve. He makes decisions on his own terms, and won’t be bullied into action. He’ll do things when he’s ready, and I think that’s a really good quality for him to have. I’m looking forward to having him become a lot more assertive and tougher than we originally give him credit for.
SY: Lorenzo James Henrie plays Travis’ rebellious teen son, Chris, who resents his father for divorcing his mother, Liza, who’s portrayed by Elizabeth Rodriguez. How do you hope Travis can reconnect and reconcile with Chris in the drama’s upcoming second season, particularly in bonding over the fall of society?
CC: Well, it’s a tough situation. His family has been through separation and divorce, and teenagers don’t seem to be able to deal with it as easily. But it’s great material for Travis, as he’s estranged from his son, and he’s trying to figure out how to reach him. He’s not equipped to deal with that situation, and I don’t know how they’re going to get back on track as a family. But I’m very keen to see that unfold.
We want to see them strive in that father-son relationship, but Chris is just angry with his father. They’re in an impossible situation, and in certain ways, they’ve lost respect, even though they love each other. It’s heartbreaking to see. How do they live in that situation? So I’m curious to see what the writers come up with.
SY: Since Travis is estranged from Chris throughout the first season, and is determined to reunite with him as they fight for survival, how is the separation continuously influencing his relationship with Madison’s teenage children, Nick and Alicia, who are played by Frank Dillane and Alycia Debnam-Carey?
CC: Yes, I think there’s a whole show there to be explored. I’m interested in seeing who they really are, and how they’re dealing with it all. They’re all such great actors that I think there’s a lot to explore with them. I don’t think Travis has given up on the idea of pulling his family together, as he’s not a quitter. So his relationship with Madison has ironically become stronger, in spite of their circumstances.
SY: Since the series is aired on a cable network like AMC, does that allow you as an actor to really push the boundaries of how you portray your character, as opposed to if the drama was shown on a broadcast network? Does being on cable give you more of a creative freedom?
CC: Yes-I don’t why there is such a difference between the cable and broadcast networks, but there clearly is one. I think that cable is a little bit braver, in terms of how they present their shows. They don’t seem to be as nervous about losing market share. They have somehow become confident that if they make a great series, no matter what they show, the audience will come. But the broadcast networks don’t seem to have the same confidence in telling these types of stories.
SY: The drama’s first season will be released on Blu-ray and DVD (tomorrow), after it became the highest-rated pilot and first season of any series in cable history when it was first broadcast on AMC over the summer. What does it mean to you that audiences are embracing the series?
CC: Well, I originally didn’t know if the show was going to work, and if we were going to make it to a second season. I wasn’t sure if the audience was going to hold, which they did. So I’m just enjoying the ride, and looking forward to future adventures. I’m also deeply impressed with the creators of the show, and how well they’ve worked with the network to make something that’s sustainable for audiences.
SY: With so many emotional and physical struggles Travis is forced to contend with as society as he knows it begins to collapse, do you think his morals waver at all as he fights to survive during Season 2?
CC: There’s no way Travis can go back to the person he was in the beginning of Season 1. He has to change and evolve, and I actually wish he’ll become more involved in the action. He has to become more driven by practical reasons, so that he can survive.
But I think some of his morals will remain in tact, so that we don’t lose what’s good about Travis. We want to keep some of his true self, so that he doesn’t become a broken man; we want him to become stronger. You never know on a gig like this, but that’s what I’m hoping for.
SY: Unlike movies, for which you receive the full script and know your character’s complete arc as you begin filming, on shows like ‘Fear the Walking Dead,’ you don’t know what’s going to happen to your character until you receive each episode’s script every week. How does receiving new information about Travis and the show’s story influence the way you approach playing him?
CC: Working on a series like this can sometimes be confusing, as I can’t keep up with all the script changes. I’ll receive several drafts before we begin filming, and then receive new pages as we’re about to begin shooting. So it can be challenging to remember all of the multiple storylines that are always switching out. To remember the changes, you have to make the process fun, because it will be very frustrating otherwise. I choose to make the changes and surprises the fun part of working on television.
SY: Besides the second season of ‘Fear the Walking Dead,’ do you have any other upcoming projects lined up that you can discuss?
CC: I have two films coming out during the first quarter of 2016. I’ll be in the action drama ‘Risen,’ which is scheduled to be released on February 19. I play Jesus Christ in the film.
I also have an independent film, ‘The Dark Horse,’ that was made in New Zealand, and I’m really proud of it. It’s scheduled to be released April 1, which is about a week before the show comes back for its second season. So I’m going to be promoting the two movies while I’m filming the second season of the show.
Written by: Karen benardello