Cliff Curtis, Star of “Fear the Walking Dead”

His Own Man

Aug 21, 2015 Web Exclusive
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You probably know more about The Walking Dead than Cliff Curtis. Though the zombie thriller has utterly dominated cable TV for the past three years, pulling in a record-setting 17 million viewers for its season five premiere, Curtis was not one of them. In fact, he hadn't even seen the show when he joined the cast of Fear the Walking Dead to play Travis Manawa, the English teacher and loyal father who is tasked with trying to protect the ones he loves while clinging to his idealism as Los Angeles goes to hell. If that character sounds familiar, it's essentially the same one played by Rick Grimes in the original show, but Curtis says he has no interest in inviting any comparisons between the two. Here, the veteran New Zealand character actor talks about his character's value system, how the role has challenged him as an actor, and just where we'll find Travis when the world starts to fall apart (Under the Radar): So what can you tell me about Travis?

Cliff Curtis: Well, I've been trying to refine a response to that question, and I've come up with what I love most about his character is that he's an optimist. He believes in humanity. He believes in the goodness of humanity and society. He's a community-oriented guy, and he didn't set out to make big bucks and he's not a high-rolling dude. He's a family man, and he cares about his kids and the people he loves, his jobhe's a high school English teacher. So he cares about his community and the children that he teaches, and he cares about what people think and feel about life.

That might be all good stuff, in a society that's all in good order and things are going great and you've got a job and can afford to take care of your family and stuff. But when that world collapses and the chain of command falls apart and society starts to break down and it's all about survival, is there a place to find optimism in that world? That's who he is as an individual. Who he is on the show is the loving partner of Madison Clark and her two teenaged children, and he's a divorcee and has a teenage son of his own. So he's trying to pull together this blended family, and with teenagers that's never an easy thing, and he has an ex in the picture, which presents its own challenges, as well. So he's this guy who has a lot going on in his little world. There are people he loves and cares about and he's trying to get them to come together, but there's a lot of resistance there. That's who we meet in episode one, and that's who we're dealing with throughout season one. He's not a pushover, though. He's a nice guy and a good guy, but he's got a very strong core, and that core is about his values.

Would you say he's more of an idealist or a pragmatist?

He's more of an idealist than a pragmatist, and I think Madison is more of a pragmatist. She's going to adapt a lot quicker to the circumstances, but he's going to hold on to his ideals and values, like, "Hey, hold on. You're breaking the rules now. That's not a nice thing to do. We need to slow down and talk about this." That creates some problems when the world is falling apart, like, "Do we want to stand around and talk about stuff or fix it?" So there's that side of him. But the other cool thing about him is that he's a fixer. It's cool and it's annoying. He's not a big picture guy. He doesn't want to be the president or the principal of the high school. He's a small picture guy, but he's a fixer. If you have a problem with your sink or your car or your teenage kid or relationship, he wants to fix it. If anything gets too out of control, he wants to bring it down to his own frame of reference and fix it. That can be great but it can also be very challenging to people that don't want to be fixed.

You've never quite played a character like this. Has playing Travis stretched you as an actor?

Yeah. It's great to play a normal guy. I've got nothing to hide behind. I'm a character actor, so a lot of times I get cast as a badasssome CIA, FBI, gangster guy. I'm used to being this tough guy who can do damage, and it's really great to play an English teacher and have a classroom full of kids and have teenage children. I've never really had to do that before, to have these kids who have given me angst and I'm not going to fly off the handle. I'm going to be the calm, thoughtful, philosophical guy. I'm loving that, and I'm having a great time. And it is a stretch, because I can't hide behind this macho bravado of being this tough guy. I've got to step aside from all of that. It may come into play later on, but for now I'm a high school teacher who wants his relationship with his girlfriend to work and her teenage sons to accept him and who wants his own son to reconnect with him, because he's estranged from his son. He wants his ex-wife to help him get along with his own son. That's what we're dealing with in episode one.

It sounds like this show will really take the time to stretch out some storylines.

Yeah, I think so. I'm really enjoying it my fellow actors, and there's a great diversity in the cast in the sense of ages. There are great strong female leads, and there are some really exciting other characters that enter in. I love when they get introduced, because they shake up the whole world. But that doesn't happen until episode three or four.

(Also read a separate article on Fear the Walking Dead that first appeared in our current print issueFear the Walking Dead premieres on AMC this Sunday at 9/8 Central.)

www.amc.com/shows/fear-the-walking-dead



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