Fear the Walking Dead
Fresh Blood: Cliff Curtis and Gale Anne Hurd On The Walking Dead Companion Series
Aug 20, 2015
Issue #54 - August/September 2015 - CHVRCHES
Cliff Curtis isn't used to playing nice guys. Over his 22-year career, the New Zealand-born actor has played a gang member (Training Day), an FBI man (Live Free or Die Hard), a cranky Marine (Runaway Jury), and a variety of drug dealers and otherwise unsavory characters (Bringing Out the Dead, Blow). He has not played someone like Travis, the idealistic schoolteacher and family man who (along with his girlfriend, played by Kim Dickens) is the focus of the AMC TV series Fear the Walking Dead. Set in Los Angeles at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, the show captures the chaotic outbreak period that viewers of The Walking Dead never witnessed due to its central character, Rick Grimes, being in a coma. Curtis has never played a character like Grimes, either—a fundamentally decent man who has to balance his ethics with his desire to see his family survive at any cost—but he doesn't seem worried about the inevitable comparisons.
"I don't really know anything about Rick Grimes," Curtis says. "I asked the creators of the show if it would be important to read the novels or see the show, and they said, 'No, no. That's not necessary. This is a whole different environment and you've got to focus on your little thing.' I took a look at an episode, just to get a sense of what the franchise is—this juggernaut and goliath—over there in that other universe, and I thought, 'You know, I'm just going to start clean.' Certainly, I don't want to compare myself to some other guy. That's not going to get me anywhere. I just want to focus on who Travis is and who he loves and cares about."
As the show is not based on co-creator/executive producer Robert Kirkman's comic book series, it will feature a set of characters, settings, and storylines with no precedent in the Walking Dead universe. As he did with Grimes, Kirkman has placed Travis in a precarious situation from the start. With his girlfriend and her teenaged daughter and son, he is attempting to hold together a blended family that grows to include his ex-wife and his estranged son. Unlike Grimes, Travis will not be surrounded by cops, seasoned hunters, and self-sufficient farmers who are capable of surviving with little more than shelter and ammunition. We aren't in rural Georgia anymore.
"Robert Kirkman has said we won't be spending a lot of time in the woods," confirms Gale Anne Hurd, the show's executive producer who also played a pivotal role in assembling the team behind The Walking Dead. As the legendary producer of The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and Aliens, Hurd knows something about branching out within wildly successful franchises. "Los Angeles obviously is very spread out. It is filled with a number of different communities, and suburban-urban sprawl goes on for miles and miles and miles, with close to 20 million people in the greater Los Angeles area. So there are going to be not only a lot more people but a lot more possibilities of people who've been infected by the virus or whatever it is that turns them into zombies. And not only that, we're dealing with an east L.A. family, so that's an area that is not Hollywood or Beverly Hills or Santa Monica. It's where working class people live, and they're not law enforcement or people who are already prepared to survive when infrastructure breaks down."
Hurd, a native Angelino, says the show has a different look and feel from its counterpart, with showrunner Dave Erickson bringing the gritty realism from his previous project, Sons of Anarchy. The storyline will be playing by the same zombie universe rules, but Fear the Walking Dead is a totally different show—not a spinoff, prequel, or The Walking Dead: Los Angeles. For the six-episode first season, it will be a family drama, first and foremost, something that might stretch the patience of those hoping for nonstop guts and gore.
"If I'm nervous about anything, I'm worried that [Fear the Walking Dead] might not be as exciting for the hardcore fans of the other show," Curtis says. "This huge juggernaut is suddenly going to come down to this little family nucleus and this small story, and that's where we start in the first episode. The first two or three episodes are about getting to know who these people are and what they care about, because it will play out in the next six episodes. But you've got to get to know them first to see what their changes are. If you don't do that, you'll miss the point of the show."
[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar's August/September 2015 Issue, which is on newsstands now. This is its debut online.]
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