On Syfy's 'Z Nation,' Pisay Pao Joins the Ranks of the Walking Dead

In a zombie apocalypse, everyone must learn to adapt or die. However, some are forced to adapt a lot more than others.

Take Cassandra, for instance. Played by Pisay Pao on Syfy’s post-apocalyptic drama “Z Nation,” she’s a former member of a cannibal group who joined the survivors heading to California in hopes of finding a cure for the undead epidemic. But in the Season 1 finale, human-zombie hybrid Murphy (Keith Allen) bit the terminally ill Cassandra to save her life.

The gambit worked, but now she’s slowly transforming into what she most fears: a zombie.

Ahead of tonight’s Season 2 premiere of “Z Nation,” SPINOFF spoke with Pao about zombie makeovers, Cassandra’s humanity, and what lies ahead.

Spinoff Online: At the end of Season 1, Cassandra didn't leave with the rest of the group at the military hospital. Were you concerned that was the end of your character?

Pisay Pao: Yes and no. In this industry, nothing is guaranteed. I try not to get my hopes up or have expectations about things. But no one said that she was dead for sure, and everyone was so excited about the turn of events. I couldn't imagine them writing an additional storyline for her. No, I was excited because I knew it was sort of the beginning of who she was going to be. She held back a lot. I just knew there was something else coming up for her.

One of the big cliffhangers in the finale was nuclear missiles were heading your way. Where does Season 2 pick up?

Season 2 picks up exactly where Season 1 left off. It makes me so excited to say that. When I watch shows myself, you're in suspense; you are waiting to see what happens. You watch the show and it starts somewhere else. You're like, "What is going on?" You are waiting for all these answers, so I think the audience will be really happy. We just hit the ground running. We start exactly where we left off. I feel like for the most part, everyone's questions about who is dead, who is alive and what's going on are answered very quickly.

Do you feel a zombie could survive a nuclear attack?

Zombies are like cockroaches: They can survive just about everything. No spoilers, but you said nuclear attack. You said zombies. Put the two together and you might have something.

Murphy (Keith Allan) bit Cassandra to save her life. What does she think of that development? It seems to be both a blessing and a curse.

I personally didn't have time to think about that act on a more emotional/intellectual level. That's a fascinating question, because Murphy is Murphy. It's hard to love him and hard to hate him. I don't think Cassandra knew what was happening when it was happening. I don't think she had a moment to really judge it. Now, she doesn't question where her loyalties lie. He gave her life.

Cassandra demonstrated some quasi-zombie abilities. How are those going to further progress? Is she going to evolve more or regress into a mindless zombie?

That is the question of the season. That is Cassandra's big journey for Season 2. Where is she going? Is she becoming more zombie? Is there still human in her? How much human is in her? That's the big thing for Cassandra.

How much does she believe in the mission to get Murphy to California and possibly find a cure?

Murphy is more important to her than ever. I'll leave it at that.

Are we going to see their relationship evolve or does she just see Murphy as a means to an end?

We will definitely see more of a relationship between them. What's fun is that there are so many different kinds of relationships. I don't want too much weight to be put on the word "relationship." It's going to be really interesting how people interpret it.

Audiences have wondered whether Cassandra was going to turn out the same as Murphy. Is she going to shed skin? How different are they?

I see them as totally different. Murphy is this messiah, and Cassandra is an extension of that. He was fully alive when he was given the vaccination and bitten. She was lying on her death bed and she didn't get a vaccination. She got a bite from him. She's connected to him in a lot of different ways, but I don't think they are similar. At this point, they are two completely different creatures in my opinion.

Patient Zero was also introduced in the finale. In what ways are they exploring more about the cure, the virus and its origin?

So far, in what we've been filming, it's us trying to get Murphy's ass to California. He's definitely a rebel and a wild one. At this point, we haven't explored that quite yet. That doesn't mean it's not coming up. Murphy is quite a lot to handle this season. He's getting himself and the group into all kinds of situations.

What does the group make of Cassandra now?

It's different for everyone. There's the same care, thoughtfulness and love that Addy [Anastasia Baranova] and Cassandra have always had. Doc [Russell Hodkinson] gets along with everyone, so I experience that as well. The most interesting relationships will be between Cassandra and Murphy, as well as Cassandra and 10K [Nat Zang].

Cassandra and 10K seem to have this thing going on.

What do you mean [laughter]? What are you talking about? Elaborate on "thing" for me.

There's some obvious chemistry between them. How does her condition complicate that blossoming romance?

Deeply. She's slowly becoming more and more zombie. 10K's mission is to kill 10,000 zombies. It affects them deeply.

Lastly, can you talk about the whole makeup process and how the transition helps you get into character?

To be quite honest, it's really boring. It's two hours of just sitting in one place. From an acting standpoint, it's definitely a practice in being present. I sit next to Keith Allan; he's hilarious. He's always got some story or something to share. He's a little bit older – I didn't say that – than some of us, so he's always quizzing us about pop culture.

It's a long process, but not as long for me as it is for others, so I try not to complain. I'm about an hour and a half. We have some amazing different zombies for this season. There are people sitting in the make-up chair for four or five hours. Our Patient Zero was in the makeup chair for 11 hours. I definitely love where they went with Cassandra's look. The contacts totally make her. The bite and even the hair are great. All the different elements coming together have been a really beautiful process.

“Z Nation” returns tonight at 10 ET/PT on Syfy.

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