Created by Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson, the first season of AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead is now available on Blu-ray/DVD, with character bios and a deeper look at the six-episode series. Living in the same universe as The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead is a gritty, creepy exploration of the on-set of the undead apocalypse through the eyes of a fractured family, with English teacher Travis Manawa (Cliff Curtis) at its head. And as survival of the fittest takes hold, this blended and dysfunctional family must embrace what they are willing and capable of doing.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Cliff Curtis talked about his excitement for the 15-episode second season, the great time he had making Season 1, being hesitant about signing on for a show that was born out of another show, that everything is top secret and even kept from the actors, how the events of Season 1 will change these characters as they head into Season 2, and his theory for what caused this terrifying outbreak. Be aware that there are spoilers, if you have yet to watch Season 1.
Collider: Congrats on such a successful first season and already receiving a pick-up for Season 2! Are you excited about getting even deeper into these characters and this story, with 15 episodes for the next season?
CLIFF CURTIS: I’m thoroughly excited about the second season. I think we’ll have a really strong start. Season 1 started off very slow and was a slow burn while it revealed what it was all about. I’m really intrigued to see what happens, after how things were left for my character with the well-being of his family. We leave him after a terrible tragedy, and he’s gotta somehow make good with that with his son (Lorenzo James Henrie) and reconnect with his girlfriend, Madison (Kim Dickens), and go on this crazy escapade that they’re about to go on amongst the worst of circumstances.
How did you find the experience of making the first season and being a part of this world?
CURTIS: I had a great time. I really enjoyed going to work every day. We had fun. I was really impressed by how true to life they tried to make everything, and they achieved that beautifully. They created the traffic jam and the protests that turned into a riot, and that all felt real. And then, the thing that really topped it off was when the military turned up. I went, “Holy smokes, that feels so real! That’s probably exactly what would happen with the military during a national disaster.” The military would come in and lock everything down, you wouldn’t have a clue what was happening, and you’d be completely at the whim of the military.
It’s so hard to get a TV show on the air these days, and there are some spin-offs, but not that many, and prequels seem even more rare. Will you ever hesitant about signing on for a show that was born out of another show?
CURTIS: Completely! I was like, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Don’t mess with the mojo. It’s working, so why would you tamper with that.” But when I read the script, I was so impressed. It’s a family drama and so different that I thought, “If you’ve gotta try, this is an interesting direction to take it.” We were ultimately creating this new part of the franchise in our own image and we were distinguishing ourselves so clearly from that other show that that’s what makes it interesting and good.
Looking back on the journey that you went through in this first season, did things end up very differently than you thought they might, or did they follow what you were told this season would be?
CURTIS: It’s all so top secret that they just don’t tell you anything. You’re like, “Please let me see something, so that I know what I need to be doing,” but you don’t get to see anything. It’s all so top secret that it’s ridiculous, but it’s also really fun. It’s all for the fun of the show and the genre.
Because there is such a sense of realness to the human characters really having to face their own willingness to push or bend their moral code for survival, does being a part of telling a story like that make you think about how you might respond in a situation like this, or how you feel about the way your character is acting or reacting?
CURTIS: Yeah, and there are particular scenes, especially in the beginning of the season, when one of my neighbors and a friend of mine starts eating our dog inside of the house. Me, personally, I would have dealt with the situation very differently from Travis. I was told to hold back to make Travis really, really, really not have a clue about what to do and really figure out how to start to survive this situation. That became more and more fun. Travis is an anti-action man, so it was about how much we could get away with before he actually breaks. That was really fun.
Because there is so much TV to choose from these days, people are cautious about tuning into a new show and sometimes even wait to hear about what other people say about it first, so picking it up on Blu-ray/DVD is the perfect opportunity to pick it up and check it out. Do you think this is a show that is really suited for binge-watching?
CURTIS: I actually think that especially the first season is much more suited to binge-watching. Well, I guess it depends on the audience. Some people love the tension of waiting another week to get the next episode. But for me, I think it plays really well as a complete set, so you can catch up with the entire season in one day and it will set you up perfectly for the next season. It’s a really good way to watch the show.
There were some complaints about the slow pace of Season 1, which seems like it had to be at least a bit necessary to set up this family’s discovery of what’s going on. As an actor, did you personally like that extra time to really explore who this guy is and what his relationship to his family is, before throwing them all into such extreme peril?
CURTIS: Yeah, I loved getting to know Travis. Anytime you get a new character, you don’t know who the character is. You have to play out a few scenes and read a few scripts and figure out the chemistry with the other actors and the director. It’s really a collaborative process, and it takes time to figure out who a character is. At a certain point, that shifts gears and the character takes on a life of its own and tells you who it is. We still have a bit of the journey to go on with Travis before he completely embraces the reality of his new world circumstances and I’m very happy to take whatever that means to make it feel authentic. He is ill-equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse. His passion is English literature and poetry, he loves to help people, and he’s an optimist and an idealist. I look forward to seeing how much of that we can hone into while he becomes more and more immersed in and subjected to the devices of a zombie apocalypse.
These characters went into Season 1 with no knowledge of what Walkers are or that anything like this could ever happen. Now that they’ve had a bit of an apocalyptic education, will we see a very different Travis, going into Season 2? Will having a better idea of what’s going on change who these people are, going forward?
CURTIS: You can’t go through what they’ve gone through and not be changed. I think Travis is definitely going to have a shift in his priorities and his ideas about what is correct and right. His value system is being challenged deeply right now. At the same time, I think you’ll see him be a lot more resilient than you’d expect and a lot tougher. He’s not going to give up his belief in humanity and all that is good that easily. The zombies are going to have to tear that from his heart. He’s a tough guy, but he doesn’t believe in mindless action. He believes in being thoughtful and considering the consequences of your actions. That’s what he teaches, and that’s what he lives. So, I think he’s just going to get tougher and tougher. I hope, anyway. But just like the audience, I have to wait and see.
Your showrunner, Dave Erickson, has said that viewers will never find out what caused or made all of this happen. Are you okay with not having that answer, or have you come up with your own theory?
CURTIS: I’m not okay with that. I want to know how all of this happen. I’m like, “Come on, guys! Give me the information!” I’ve got a theory that I read online and thought, “That’s a good one!” It’s not on the show, but what I think is a really strong possibility is that all of the government laws around immunization of children and how it’s illegal to not be immunized, so that you have all of these kids who, for generations, are immunized, but then something goes wrong and you have thousands and thousands and thousands of people, all around the world, buying these immunizations for flu shots or to fight bacteria or disease, and we’ve basically become over-immune and our immune system takes over and refuses to let the body die. That’s my theory.
That means that it’s possible that there are people in the world who have not been immunized, and those are the ones who don’t carry the disease. That feeds into my idea about the government not responding. It would be a big problem and you’d have to try to contain the situation. It’s like, “Oh, shit! Hold back the inoculations. We’ve got a bad batch.” It’s like if you get a lemon of a car and you have bad tires, steering wheels, brakes or whatever it is. They have to recall those thousands and thousands of cars that have been put through production and sold. What if that happened with inoculations and you had a bad batch, but legally, by law, you had to inoculate your children and your family? It would be mayhem.
That’s not our show, but that’s where my mind goes. In order to survive, I want to know what’s going wrong, so that I can fix it. Travis is a fixer. He’s an idealist and an optimist, and he believes there’s a solution to everything. If you think long enough and hard enough, there’s always an answer and a solution. You just have to dig deep enough into what the problem is, to find where the answer lies. Travis doesn’t know what the answer is yet.
Fear the Walking Dead Season 1 is now available on Blu-ray/DVD, and will return for Season 2 to AMC in 2016.