The zombie apocalypse has arrived in Los Angeles.
Set to premiere this summer, “The Walking Dead’s” sister series explores the terrifying initial days of the global undead outbreak from its West Coast setting. And while Rick Grimes and company will be nowhere to be seen, the Cabrera and Tompkins families provide more than enough drama and insight into the escalating zombie threat.
“Fear the Walking Dead” co-creator Robert Kirkman spoke in a recent conference call with journalists about expanding his shambling, undead universe, how he plans to keep the post-apocalyptic narrative fresh despite now having two shows to shepherd and casting the spinoff for one of the most popular series on television.
The comics scribe turned TV heavyweight also assures that “Fear” is an all-new, stand on its own concept rather than a collection of “leftover or B-side” storylines and characters, what approaching the end of the world through the eyes of two families who have just become one offers from a story standpoint, and why, as much as those living in Kirkman’s zombie-riddled hell might wish otherwise, none of his shows will ever fully explain the origin of the zombie outbreak
Are any of these characters from the new series, the ones played by Kim Dickens and Cliff Curtis — are any of them characters that you had in mind previously when you were writing the comic or working on the original show that you wanted to throw in the mix? Or did they spring about when the idea for this show came up?
Robert Kirkman: It really kind of sprung about with the idea of doing another show. When AMC came to me asking about the possibility of, would I be interested in doing a companion show to “The Walking Dead,” my mind went into the mode of, “I created ‘The Walking Dead’ when I was 23.” I was 34 or 35 at the time we started developing this. I would be in competition was myself. I wanted to see if I could come up with something cooler or more unique. What does old, tired, sad Kirkman think about the apocalypse as opposed to the young, energetic version that did the first comic? It turns out that old, sad, tired Robert Kirkman needed the help of Dave Erickson. So, working with Dave, he and I came up with all these characters and created this world, this Los Angeles version of “Walking Dead.” There are no leftovers or B-sides. These aren’t people that didn’t fit into “Walking Dead” or the comic or anything like that. This is an all-new cast, created specifically for the show.
When you were initially coming up with the idea of the show and putting it into action, what was the idea for how you were going to visualize it? Is it going to emulate a lot of the visual style from the original series or are we in for something a little bit different?
One of the things that was really important to us, from day one, was that this show stand alone, story-wise and character-wise. We wanted it to have its own corner of the universe. All of that extended to what our visual take on this show would be.
I have to say, a big portion of that came from Adam Davidson, our director for the pilot, “Fear the Walking Dead.” He’s going to be directing a fair amount of episodes of the show moving forward. He was able to come in with just a unique vision of Los Angeles as a city, but also bring a very different flavor. It’s much more of — I’m not a director, so I can’t really verbalize it as well as he probably could. Suffice to say that when you watch “Fear the Walking Dead,” it’s going to look very visually different than the way that the “Walking Dead” looks. For one, we’re not shooting on 16 millimeter; this is actually shot digitally. There’s just going to be a very different feel to this show, which is really exciting and I can’t wait for people to see it.
How is the narrative going to differ? What might be surprising to fans of “The Walking Dead,” and how are you keeping it fresh?
I think the most surprising thing about this show for fans is, we’ll be pointing out all the things that we glossed over on the other show. I think having Rick wake up in this coma was certainly a fun dynamic and a great way to open the original show. But actually watching civilization crumble around these people and getting to experience them learning how to adapt in a much faster way, and with much more danger and much more uncertainty, is going to make this show very different. One thing that this show is going to provide is a very unique experience for people, even if they have watched the first five seasons of “The Walking Dead.” It’s going to be pretty cool.
I’m getting the sense that the series will play more on paranoia and psychological horror than outright blood and guts. Will actual walkers and zombie-related mayhem play a lesser role in the show given that this is the start of the outbreak?
We’re definitely going to have a different look to the zombies, because this is much earlier in the outbreak. They are not going to be as decayed. They are going to be as monstrous, which to me is going to make the violence in the show and the different things that happen, that much more startling. We’re going to be dealing with a much more human walker. So, while there is going to be a tremendous amount of paranoia and psychological trauma, I think there’s not going to be any loss of zombie action or excitement in this show. We’ll be bringing in the best of both worlds.
In terms of the actual action of the show, this is going to be set in L.A. We’re going to be able to take a different look, out of the Atlanta area. Should we expect there to be more action and there to be possibly bigger, grander-scale set pieces than we might see on “The Walking Dead?”
At times, yeah. I think, because we’re in a metropolitan setting and because it’s a pretty epic surrounding that the characters are in, there will be some cooler things like that. As far as scale and scope, both shows will stand on pretty equal footing when it comes to epic things. I know what we have planned for Season Six of “The Walking Dead” is pretty epic. In all honesty, I haven’t really considered the competition that the two shows will be in as far as grandeur and that kind of thing. I don’t think “Walking Dead” itself has ever lacked for any big, crazy set pieces. But, having the show set in Los Angeles, I think there’s probably going to be more chaos, especially in the first season and then moving into our second season. We are watching civilization crumble. There is a tremendous amount going on and the story is going to move very quickly. I would expect it to be a little more hectic than the first season of The Walking Dead was.
As a writer, how much involvement do you have as far as casting and directing and how that works once filming begins?
I’m one of many producers on the show, so I have a voice. I work with Gale [Anne Hurd] and David Alpert and Dave Erickson and Greg Nicotero. We’re a tight-knit team. It helps figure out all the directors and producers and actors. One of the cool things is, Greg and Gale and David Alpert and I all perform the same function on “The Walking Dead.” We’re able to use all of our experience for making that show and use that to help us bring in the best directors and best actors.
How much will you reveal about the origin of the outbreak?
Next to nothing. I still maintain that’s not an important aspect of the story. I think watching “Fear the Walking Dead,” you’ll get a bigger picture of the world and there will currently be aspects of watching civilization crumble. It will give you a better insight into what is happening here. As far as digging down to actually find the smoking gun and realizing what that causes, it’s really just unimportant to the overall story. You’ll see when you start watching the show. If we were to do a spinoff of “The Walking Dead” and it was about a bunch of scientists who were working to find the cure and finding out the origin, that would bore me to tears. I don’t really know where that show goes.
So far, the character breakdowns have surrounded the Cabreras and Tompkins. What’s interesting about playing with these family dynamics as opposed to a group of individuals or strangers?
We have a lot of individuals and strangers in “Walking Dead.” One of the things we’re trying to play with as much as the tight-knit family unit in “Fear the Walking Dead,” is this concept of an extended, unique family. What we have is Madison and her family. We have Travis and his family. They are building a relationship. They are getting ready to be married. Civilization is crumbling around them. They both have kids from separate marriages. It’s just an interesting family dynamic to deal with in any story. But, having all of the intricacies and struggles that come from that kind of family dynamic, and setting it against the fall of civilization and in the face of the zombie apocalypse, just makes things that more interesting. There’s a tremendous amount of unique family dynamics that we are going to be delving into in “Fear the Walking Dead” that have yet to be explored in “The Walking Dead.” That’s one of the many things that lends to these two shows being different and being able to exist together without any kind of overlap.
Could you talk about these actors that you have chosen for the show and what makes them the perfect choice for the roles that you’ve created?
Kim Dickens has been so great in “Gone Girl,” “Deadwood” and “Sons of Anarchy.” She’s an actress that we’ve wanted to work with for a long time. There’s a strength to Madison that is something that is inherent in pretty much every role that she’s done. She exudes this confidence and strength of character that is kind of embodied in the character of Madison.
Curtis in the role of Travis — this is a guy that, you’ve seen him in a billion different things. He’s a fantastic actor. To me, he’s such an Everyman. He has the strength to be this action hero if he wanted to be, but he has such a softness, such a kindness to him, that I think I’ve seen the way Travis and Madison work together as a team. One of the things I’m really excited about is Madison and Travis, these are two characters that are very much in love. Too often in cable, television, shows deal with the breakdown in relationships and infidelity and people not getting along and people getting torn apart.
This is a show that’s very much about two people that are a team, first and foremost. They back each other up. They respect each other. They love each other. Watching these two people survive in this world together and watching how they lean on each other, it sometimes pulls them apart, but often brings them together closer. As they continue to survive together, it is really going to be the core of the show.
With the television landscape being as it is, and so many networks looking at event series and limited-run series, is there a chance we might explore other areas of “The Walking Dead” via a limited event series? Or, if the possibility opens up to looking elsewhere in the world, would you pursue something a little more long-term like “Fear the Walking Dead?”
There’s always a possibility. I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out even though I currently have no plans to do that right now. Everybody is working really hard on “Fear the Walking Dead” and trying to make it the best thing it can be. I’m very happy to report that I think everybody is doing an amazing job on that. I’m really excited for the show to debut in August and for people to see, first what we’ve done, but we’re not in a hurry to continue expanding the world of “The Walking Dead.” It’s not until we’re going into our sixth season that we’re taking this step. We’re not going to be focused on too many different things right now. Let’s see how “Fear the Walking Dead” does first, and then we’ll have nine spinoffs — and that will be great.
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