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Wingman Wednesday

Zach McGowan

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On your mark. Get set. Let’s go!

We’re celebrating the release of “Death Race: Beyond Anarchy” – available today on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand – chatting with the individuals responsible for revving our blood-fueled engines. This time out we’re sitting down with star Zach McGowan to discuss the double-edged sword that is present when joining an existing franchise, the reason his inner 10-year-old was “losing his shit” every day on set, and why “The Walking Dead” fans better get used to seeing his face.

TrunkSpace: “Death Race” is a popular franchise with fans. As an actor, when you’re going into a new project, is it exciting knowing that there’s already a built-in audience for you on the other side?
McGowan: Always. You look at it both ways. You’re like, “Sweet! There’s already people who love these movies!” And then you’re also like, “Wow, I hope they embrace me.” That’s the double-edged sword of it. I hope I did the fans proud.

TrunkSpace: For those long-term fans who have been following the franchise since the ’70s, what are they going to dig most about this one in particular? What does it do best, in your opinion?
McGowan: Well, for the people who have been involved with the franchise since its inception, basically like me – I started watching them in the ’80s with my brothers, probably too early. (Laughter) When I was like a little, tiny kid, my brothers would play them, and I’d be like, totally desensitized. I think to those fans, I think they’re the ones who will embrace it the most.

That was the whole goal of it, was to make it in the vein of those older pictures. When I read the character I was like, “Oh, this is like Kurt Russell in ‘Escape from New York’ or something.” That was what I saw. Don (Michael Paul) explained to me that they were actually building the cars and they were going to do everything practical and not rely upon the visual effects and all that. That’s when I knew it was going to be awesome, or at least I hoped that it could be. I’ve seen it, and I think that really shines through, so I think the original fans will dig those elements of it.

TrunkSpace: It does seem like a love letter to the fans who have been with the franchise for years, but at the same time, it could just as easily serve as a jumping on point for newbies.
McGowan: Yeah. For sure. I think it holds true to the genre. If you watch it and you have no idea what “Death Race” is, you would still know. It’s accessible on different levels in that way.

TrunkSpace: We already talked about what the fans will dig, but what did you dig about the experience? What did you take from the production that you’ll carry with you?
McGowan: When I first got there, I think what initially just jumped out was, I got to see all the cars that had been built. Literally, while we were doing pre-production for this, while I was in fight camp, the Oscars were happening. This was in 2016 when we shot it. The Oscars were happening, and I was running on a treadmill in the middle of the night, and I was watching the Oscars. That year, obviously, “Mad Max” cleaned house at the Oscars. The original ones were like the Australian remake of the “Death Race” movies back then. It was one of these weird confluences when I was sitting there watching that all happening.

TrunkSpace: And like you said, it has to be wild showing up on set and seeing those cars, especially growing up watching the original. 10-year-old you must have been pysched!
McGowan: Oh yeah! 10-year-old me was just losing his shit all the time.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked with Don before. Was that a coincidence or was there some sort of professional connection that you guys made that carried forward beyond just the one film?
McGowan: Well, we actually shot “Death Race” before “The Scorpion King.” I met Don on “Death Race.” Before I took it, I watched a bunch of his movies. His first movie is called “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man.” If you haven’t seen it, it’s just awesome. People should go back and check it out.

I was excited to just inhabit that world with him. Since then, we’ve done two movies together. I love Don. He’s got to be one of my favorite guys and, as I always said, he’s the smartest director in Hollywood because he cast me as the lead in his action film. (Laughter)

McGowan with Danny Glover in “Death Race: Beyond Anarchy.”

TrunkSpace: So going into “The Scorpion King,” with already having that comfort level of working together, you must have been able to just sort of hit the ground running?
McGowan: Yeah. In fact, actually on “The Scorpion King,” my schedule before it was pretty tight. Because of that, the fight training period had to be made smaller, because I was in the middle of shooting a period drama for USA at the time. But it was like we were ahead of things. We knew how each other worked, so it just all worked out. I look forward to making many films with him in the future.

TrunkSpace: Going back to 10-year-old Zach for a second… you grew up in New York City. If someone said back in the day, “Zach, eventually you’re going to be in one of these big franchises that you’re watching now as a kid.” Would you say they were crazy or was this always your path? Not necessarily this specific film, but acting in general?
McGowan: I decided early that this was something that I wanted to do for sure. As far as seeing myself now, I think 10-year-old me would be proud more than surprised. I had parents who always, always told us that the sky’s the limit and that you can do amazing things. “You can do anything if you just work hard enough at it.” If I ever had faith in anything, it was that. That hard work and dedication will lead to success in the end. I mean, the path’s not over, but I’m glad to have gotten as far as I’ve gotten thus far.

TrunkSpace: Finally, Zach, we know you can’t say much about it, but you’re due to join “The Walking Dead” this season. Just to tie it to “Death Race,” is your character Justin… is he in the same zone of badassery as Connor from “Death Race?”
McGowan: I think that every character’s different. Justin is definitely not the same guy as Connor, but does he do some badass things? I think anyone who’s lived to this point in “The Walking Dead,” who’s a human and is alive, has obviously been through quite a bit in order to have made it that far through the apocalypse. So, yeah, you get to see some stuff for sure. I got to have some fun on the show, and I hope you like it.

Death Race: Beyond Anarchy” is available today on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand.

Next up, Don Michael Paul directs “The Scorpion King: Book of Souls,” due October 23.

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Wingman Wednesday

James Chen

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Photo By: David Zheng

This is shaping up to be a defining year for James Chen’s career. Outside of his ongoing work on “The Walking Dead,” where he plays Hilltop resident Kal, the Yale School of Drama graduate also joined the Marvel Universe as Sam Chung in Season 2 of “Iron Fist” for Netflix and will be recurring as Ian Lentz in the new Dick Wolf-produced drama series “FBI,” which premieres September 25 on CBS.

And somehow that’s still just the tip of the iceberg.

We recently sat down with Chen to discuss how “The Walking Dead” prepared him for his super future, why the introduction of Blindspot is so topical, and the reason on-screen Asian stereotypes may finally be a thing of the past.

TrunkSpace: As far as Septembers go, yours looks like it will be one for the history books!
Chen: (Laughter) My man, it’s been an amazing year, I’m not gonna lie. You’re correct, September has been very busy and productive, and we just recently added another gig… I’ll be playing a billionaire race car driver on “Madam Secretary.” So yeah, I’m very grateful. It’s been very awesome. It’s the product of a lot of hard work and not giving up.

TrunkSpace: With so much of that hard work being released into the world this month, is there a different type of personal excitement at this stage of a project as opposed to your first day on a set?
Chen: Oh, it is, it is. Yeah, that’s a good distinction. I think like any first day – of school, first day at work, first day at a TV show – there’s excitement. I guess you could say it’s nerves, but I just like to call it excitement, because you’re meeting a lot of new people and going into a new space. Invariably it’s always wonderful, because everyone’s extremely collaborative, and at the end of the day we’re just playing. So that kind of thing facilitates just sinking into a good ease. There’s also a lot of technical things you’re doing in addition to meeting a bunch of people. You’re kind of just getting the lay of the land, and having conversations with the director about the scene structure, and stuff like that. But, something like the past couple weeks, “Iron Fist” being released last Friday, “FBI” coming out next week… yeah, you’re still working hard, having conversations with great people like you, just to basically tell your stories about what it was like on set.

TrunkSpace: When you joined the Marvel Universe for “Iron Fist,” obviously it must have been an exciting thing, but at the same time you kind of have to keep that excitement in check . Marvel projects are so shrouded in plot point secrecy that you’re really in a conversational holding pattern about it until it’s released.
Chen
: That’s right. I got to be honest though, I’ve been on “The Walking Dead” for four years, and they’ve got the best secret police game going on. They put the fear in you with those NDAs and stuff. (Laughter) So I was kind of trained and had some experience with that. But, it was tough, because you’d be gone for a while, and  I would run into my co-workers from set outside of work with other people, and it was like we’d be catching up and we’d have to kind of shield the conversation from people who are not in the know. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: With a show like “Iron Fist,” which releases all at once, that must help ease that loose lips sink ships vibe, because once it’s out, everything is fair game. If the audience is willing to put in the work, they could view the entire season in one sitting.
Chen: That’s right, yeah. I like that idea though, that the viewer has to put in the work too, but it’s true. That wasn’t around four years ago… five years ago. I like it, personally, I guess from a sharing point of view, because we can talk about bigger picture stuff, like arcs, or how different parts from different episodes connected or didn’t connect, or what it means. I like that part of the conversation as opposed to it being drawn out over several months from installation broadcast. I like people having the full context of Sam Chung, talking about “Iron Fist,” to see how he and Colleen work in a bunch of different scenarios.

TrunkSpace: While the viewers understand the full context of Sam Chung, those who read the comic know that there’s so much story to tell there, should Netflix choose to go down that road.
Chen: Right. We know for sure that there’s just tremendous, exciting, tremendous, one more tremendous, potential in the development of Blindspot and his back story. And it’s so topical these days, illegal immigrant, right? Also, it’s extremely topical with him being an Asian male character, an Asian male superhero. I mean, after Asian August, with “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Searching,” “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Awkwafina is getting her show green lit – it’s time!

TrunkSpace: And to be a part of this moment in pop culture, influencing the next generation, it has to be an amazing feeling.
Chen: It is, yeah. It’s so true. It’s interesting also, because growing up and initially my first phase in the biz, that wasn’t around, so it’s almost like… it’s hard to describe what it’s like. A part of me almost can’t believe it’s happening, because the stereotypes have been and are really awful, and degrading, and they’ve been so solid for such a long time, so it’s so refreshing. It’s so invigorating. And, kind of like what you said about as far as the next generation, I mean, you really feel like you’re making a meaningful contribution to the image of your people, which is so satisfying. It’s not like I’m selling soap for a commercial.

Photo By: David Zheng

TrunkSpace: The path of actors as a whole seems to has changed as well. If we went back 10 years, it would be a rarity for an actor to be talking about so many different television projects at once. It just seems like there’s more freedom to spread your wings and be involved in more projects than there used to be.
Chen: Right. I think with so much programming out there, there’s a lot of opportunity. I’ve seen an increase in both the quality and quantity of auditions in my particular demographic, for Asian men, which is kind of what I see as far as the auditions that come down the pike. But, it’s been encouraging and exciting too to see that they’re opening up casting and auditions for roles that aren’t specifically written to be Asian. There were a few of those back in the day, like a couple a year, but now it’s like we’re getting closer to that place where ethnicity doesn’t have to define who you are. You’re a person and you happen to be of a certain ethnicity.

TrunkSpace: Jumping back to Sam as a character, what was it about him in the early stages, the audition days, that you liked on the page?
Chen: Well, I loved kind of how Sam’s dialogue was very… this is going to sound weird, but it’s very casual and conversational. It was very everyday. He’s just simply having a conversation with someone, as opposed to… he’s not talking about something super Asian or stereotypically something or other, if that makes any sense. He’s just having a conversation with another person who happens to be Asian as well. There’s no commentary on the fact that we’re both Asian. Colleen is Asian and I’m Asian and we’re just talking about helping her solve a problem. So I love that aspect of the fact that we don’t need to comment on it, it just is.

I love how there is history in that opening scene in Season 2/Episode 2 of “Iron Fist,” when we first meet Sam. There’s just some great history, and backstory, and rapport between Sam and Colleen. It’s not heavy, but you can tell that they’ve worked together for a while. They’ve got great rapport. They tease each other. I’m fishing a little bit, and they share a little bit about their private lives and what they’re doing, just some teasing. So that’s exciting, and I think you can see that in the series. Obviously certain plot emergencies come through that maybe don’t make it a priority, but it’s one of the layers of their relationship, which I think is great.

TrunkSpace: And that is one of the things that Marvel Studios is so great at, which is building out the world so that the viewer feels like they’re a part it as opposed to being on the outside looking in.
Chen: Right. And I like that idea, because Sam has more of a management, supervisory responsibility for the community center and it shows, because I know where everything is and what’s going on. I feel like I have an ear to the ground and a hand on the pulse of what’s happening in the community, because the community center is like a hub, more or less. So I thought that was pretty exciting to kind of be right at the brain of the nervous system of what’s happening in Chinatown, or in our community. I thought it was great how the community center became a hub for us to meet a whole bunch of other characters who also happen to be Asian, like Mrs. Yang, or Danny’s boss at the moving company, played by my buddy James Lai.

So I thought that was great, the inclusion of more Asian faces, and culture, and depth in the series.

Chen in “The Walking Dead.”

TrunkSpace: From TV superheros to superheroes of TV, your next project is Dick Wolf’s “FBI.” Obviously Marvel is a big brand, but in the world of television, Dick Wolf is a brand unto his own.
Chen: Sure, it is. That man is a genius. He’s kind of like the Stan Lee of procedurals. (Laughter)

This is not a joke. I grew up and “Law & Order: SVU” was my favorite show on TV. God, man, everything about that, from just the “dun dun,” it was so just clicked for me. I loved it. I loved Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni. Then I actually got a chance to play a recurring character on SVU for Dick’s show a few years ago, CSU Adrian “Andy” Sung, and I got to meet and work with Mariska, and Chris, and Ice, and it was just fantastic. A lot of the directors on that show are repeat directors, so it was just awesome to build the rapport, to be on that set, to work on a show that I loved so much for so long. That said, I kind of feel like I’m returning home in a way. Maybe like the same family/different house, kind of feeling. You’ve got the feel of all the same things, and obviously, Dick’s running the ship, it’s just with a twist… an FBI twist.

Iron Fist” is available now on Netflix.

FBI” premieres Tuesday on CBS.

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Wingman Wednesday

Cooper Andrews

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Whenever established shows attempt to introduce new characters well into the life of a series, generally it feels like sharks are being jumped. But when meeting new characters is ingrained in the very premise of a show, such as “The Walking Dead,” the audience is more accepting of a revolving door and even anticipates first-time faces, often while simultaneously having to say goodbye to longtime favorites.

Few characters in the history of “The Walking Dead” have brought synchronous smiles to the faces of the fandom more so than Jerry, King Ezekiel’s ax wielding, peace sign flashing right-hand man. Portrayed by Cooper Andrews with a jovial perfection, the affable resident of the Kingdom offers hope in a world where it, much like their resources, is becoming increasingly scarce.

Landing a memorable role in one of the most popular shows in all of television has a tendency to impact a career, and for Andrews, the after-effects have been no exception. Later this week the New York native will appear in the crime drama “Den of Thieves” opposite Gerard Butler and 50 Cent, and as it has been reported, he is set to star as Victor Vasquez in the highly anticipated “Shazam!,” due in theaters April 5, 2019.

We recently sat down with Andrews to discuss the fandom’s acceptance of Jerry, building a backstory for his undersized chest pad, and how he went full circle on “The Walking Dead,” from boom operator to star.

TrunkSpace: Not every job in the world has the power to change someone’s life, but we have to imagine that landing a role in “The Walking Dead” is one of those gigs where you can sort of feel the crackle in the air of things to come?
Andrews: Yes. Once I started on the show, I didn’t have a clue how people would respond to him (Jerry), but it’s been going well. I’ve been getting some cool opportunities from the show, just getting to go around the country and getting to go to other countries now. Just as an actor, working with all those performers, it gave me a confidence that I didn’t have as an actor before, I don’t think.

TrunkSpace: And from what we read, things moved pretty quickly. You auditioned, and then you knew within a couple of days that you were going to Georgia. Did the fact that it happened so quickly allow you to not overthink it?
Andrews: Yeah, pretty much. From me finding out to me leaving was just a few hours. I was with my friend shooting a fight sequence, and I got the phone call. I was sitting with all of this camera gear in a swimming pool. So yeah, I really didn’t have time to process it.

TrunkSpace: How soon did you feel the reach of “The Walking Dead” fandom and their acceptance of both Jerry as a character and you as a performer?
Andrews: The day after it aired I was already bumping into people who were like, “Hey, are you…” You know, with that kind of surprise, “Are you that guy?” But to the point where people just say my name now, that’s weird.

TrunkSpace: We mentioned this to Khary Payton recently as well, but with all of those from the Kingdom, the characters have made such a big impact, but in the grand scheme of things, you guys haven’t been around that long. For fans, it feels like folks like Jerry and King Ezekiel have been around for many seasons.
Andrews: And honestly when I was watching it, it does feel that way. I do a yearly binge of the show. I’m on Season 4 right now, and it was just one of those things where I’m like, “Man, I forgot how much I love this show.” I never forgot that, but with just how much story happens before we even get there, I’m like, “Wow, I feel like we’ve been on here forever, but it has not been that long.”

TrunkSpace: Jerry’s comic relief is often injected into the series at times where it feels like, as an audience, we need it. Do you feel like Jerry and other characters who offer those playful moments are important to the success of the series – a sort of balance of light and darkness?
Andrews: I don’t know how Jerry affects any of the series, but as far as I feel how I try to make him effective is, and I think when they gave me all the cool writing stuff, all these awesome one-liners, I think it’s important for people to remember that there is something other than fighting. And Jerry, I think, is a big part of that. He’s an optimist. For me, that’s an awesome thing to be on a show like that. And I think the other characters on the show kind of need that optimism. So yeah, I definitely think that the show needs it, too.

TrunkSpace: We know fans love to obsess about backstory, but one of the things that we love is that we can take a character like Jerry and try to read between the lines and dissect who he is and why he is. Like with Jerry’s affable nature, a part of that, for us, feels like perhaps it’s a bit of a coping mechanism for him in this new world. Maybe it’s how he gets through all of the darkness, by being the light.
Andrews: Yeah. I definitely feel that. I feel like Jerry’s whole goal is to move forward. And I had this… there’s this joke about me and the chest plate. I like Jerry not having a backstory. I like that idea, because Jerry is a very forward person. He thinks about the future. He thinks about what’s to come. But when I wear that chest pad, it’s so tight and so small that I always wonder, “Huh, I wonder if this was always my chest pad?” I’ve had that thought recently, or since Season 8 I’ve had that thought, I should say. I just always thought, maybe if there was a backstory, I wondered if there was a kid involved or something that he had, and he tried to set the example for his kid. But that’s just a thought. Maybe there’s nothing to do with it, and they just don’t make my size. (Laughter)

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TrunkSpace: Another item that became synonymous with your character was the ax. In the episode “Some Guy,” you lose that item, which got us to wondering, from a performance standpoint, did you approach Jerry differently after that? As if, by losing the ax, it altered the way he carried himself?
Andrews: I played it like this… when Jerry loses the ax, and he’s like, “Shit balls,” I definitely had more of a, “It’s just an ax” mentality about it. The reason I was upset is that, “Oh, I kind of needed this weapon right now to go through all of these things. This stick might not handle it.” I think a very big thing about the Kingdom is that they’re all spirit. Even right now, everyone has run from the Kingdom, but they’re still the Kingdom. They don’t need the Kingdom to be the Kingdom. I don’t need my ax to be complete. It’s just an extension of what we can do. So that’s how I played it.

TrunkSpace: In that same “Some Guy” episode, there was this really great, powerful moment for your character that we felt you played perfectly. At some point, and we’re paraphrasing here, but you call Ezekiel, “Your Majesty” and he says, “You don’t need to call me that.” And you respond with, very seriously, “Yes, I do.” That was such a great moment for Jerry and the season as a whole because we suddenly saw the character’s vulnerable side.
Andrews: Yeah. Jerry’s very much clinging on to everything that he had at that moment. Like if there was one more thing that happens, I’m gonna freaking lose it. “Yes, I do have to call you that, like more than ever right now.” Yeah, that was… I love that line.

TrunkSpace: It’s an exciting time for you because not only are you dealing with all out war in “The Walking Dead,” but you also have a film due out this week called “Den of Thieves” and it was recently announced that you’ll be starring in “Shazam!,” which is due out next year. People are always talking about “overnight successes,” but nobody’s an overnight success. Most people are always working towards a goal.
Andrews: First off it’s fun, but it’s one of those things where I’m like, “Huh, is this my life now? Is this what’s happening, or is this just a moment?” So I try not to get my head into that space too much because then I’m afraid I’ll try to give myself an expectation. But I do set goals for myself every year film-wise, working in the industry-wise. It’s always silly things. Last year my New Year’s resolution was to be in a movie. And then like four days later I was cast in “Den of Thieves,” and I was like, “Oh, sweet.”

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) It’s good to get those resolutions out of the way very early.
Andrews: (Laughter) Yeah. I was wanting to clear it.

TrunkSpace: And not only did “Den of Thieves” help you achieve that resolution, but it must have been a great experience because that cast is stacked.
Andrews: It was such a great experience. I love movies because we can really take our time to just focus on doing like two or three pages a day. When we’re shooting the show, we’re shooting maybe eight and nine pages a day and going through it quickly. We all put our best in, but we have to keep to a schedule, so it’s like we don’t get to take that extra time that a film gets to.

TrunkSpace: When we started our chat we talked about what a game changer “The Walking Dead” was, but fast forward about a year from now and “Shazam!” could change things for you again in a single opening day weekend.
Andrews: The biggest thing I’m excited about is, I’m a DC guy over Marvel. I was raised on Superman, reading his comics for like over a decade. I knew about Shazam, but I didn’t know the details about everything. I always read when he crossed over into Superman’s world or things like “Kingdom Come,” but the idea of Shazam I thought was always incredible. Just his honesty, just his pureness to be given the ability to shape the world, in a sense, is exciting. Getting to play this character is gonna be a lot of fun.

TrunkSpace: And I think a lot of the comic-loving population feels the same way you do. We knew of Shazam as a character, but we didn’t know every single detail about him, which may actually lead to the film being one of DC’s biggest cinematic successes… much like “Guardians of the Galaxy” was for Marvel.
Andrews: Oh for sure. I don’t know if you remember, but back when “Batman Begins” came out, everyone was like, “Michael Keaton is Batman! Michael Keaton is Batman! There was no other Batman!” I love Michael Keaton, don’t get me wrong. I loved it. But I was like, “I could see a new Batman.” And then Christian Bale happened. And then it was so funny because when Ben Affleck was announced, I then was reading, “Christian Bale is the only real Batman!” (Laughter) It’s just funny how that works.

With Shazam, there isn’t gonna be, “This is the only true Shazam!”

TrunkSpace: Maybe in 20 years from now people will be like, “This is not Victor Vasquez! Cooper Andrews is the only Victor Vasquez!” And it will come full circle!
Andrews: (Laughter) Yes!

I had an awesome full circle moment on that last episode of “The Walking Dead” that we did. So two or three years ago, Season 5, I was doing second unit boom operating. And so that means we do a section of a scene from this episode, then a section of a scene from another episode, throughout the season, because they’re just trying to cover everything. And there’s this scene where Andy Lincoln is behind the wheel of this car. I’m on the radio with my mixer, and I’m like, “All right, I’m just gonna get perspective from the camera side. I don’t think anything’s happening here.” And then Andy just starts yelling in the car. He’s like, “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” I was like. “Whoa. Okay. I’m gonna move the microphone inside the car, and we’re gonna see what happens.” I put the mic in and then I hear, “And action.” And it goes quiet. And then nothing. And then I hear, “And cut.” And I was like, “I don’t know what just happened, but we got whatever that was.”

And it was him just yelling at himself to get into that moment, because it’s hard when you do these pickup shots. You have to get your head in there quick, and you can’t do like two pages of dialogue to build up an emotion, so he just yells it out. And with this last episode that aired, when you see me in the car at the beginning, I did that same exact thing like 50 yards away from when he originally did it – the same exact shot. It was the camera outside the car looking in, and it was just on my face and me having to go intense. And I was thinking, “Man, what do I… Oh, yeah!” And I just did it. And I was like, “This happened, full circle, 50 yards away.”

Den of Thieves” arrives in theaters this Friday.

The Walking Dead” returns February 25 on AMC.

Shazam!” is is due in theaters April 5, 2019.

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Wingman Wednesday

Khary Payton

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*This feature originally ran 11/17/17.

So often we hear about “the look” of those who work in film and television, but it’s their impact – an ability to draw the viewer in and take them on a journey – that should receive the “the” attention. One of those individuals with an exceptional impact is Khary Payton.

It came as a great surprise to us that the Georgia native has starred in, thus far, only nine episodes of “The Walking Dead.” As King Ezekiel, the spirited leader of The Kingdom, his character’s reach seems to have extended well beyond that which he has physically appeared, moving the fandom in ways that make a single digit episode count seem improbable. Yes, the character is noteworthy to “The Walking Dead” universe, but Payton’s performance is what makes the royal thespian memorable. It’s his “the impact” that makes an impact.

We recently sat down with Payton to discuss how he approached the character’s public persona, how voice acting played a pivotal role in establishing Ezekiel’s private persona, and why he feels like a proud papa when it comes to Cyborg, a character he has been voicing for nearly two decades.

TrunkSpace: One of the things that shocked us as we prepared for this interview is that you have only physically appeared in nine episodes of “The Walking Dead” thus far, but what you bring to the series seems to have existed for 90 episodes. That says something about your impact on not only the series but the fandom because you have really left your mark on “The Walking Dead” world in a very short period of time.
Payton: You know, I feel really a part of the production as well, and I feel invested with the cast and the crew. I think it’s just a testament to the way that this show is run and the people around it. It also helps that they give you a kingdom and a tiger. (Laughter) I’ve been lucky enough that they’ve taken a couple of episodes out to really focus on our community, so I think that helps to kind of cement ourselves into the fabric of the show. But yeah, people ask, “How do I feel about 100 episodes?” but I’m like, “I’m barely reaching double digits at this point.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: As King Ezekiel, you’re playing a character who himself is playing a character. Do you view both King Ezekiel, who the people of The Kingdom know, and Ezekiel, the more vulnerable man he shared with Carol, as the same character? Are you playing two different people?
Payton: No. I was viewing it as a guy who has a job to do and you don’t act the same way in your living room as you do in your work a lot of times. It just so happens that this guy has to bring his work home a lot more than most. (Laughter) It’s kind of two sides of the same person. I think of it like… a public figure has a certain way of dealing with the public versus how they are when they’re more relaxed. With Ezekiel, it just so happens to be that his work persona has started to infiltrate to his more relaxed state because he really doesn’t have much time to relax. And I took a little bit of a cue from Lennie James and Andy Lincoln on the show. They’re British, but they kind of stay in their accent the entire time that they’re on set, and sometimes it takes them awhile to turn it off. I feel like I’m using the same kind of device with Ezekiel, that he’s talking that way so often and so much, that to turn it off, he needs kind of a conscious switch to tell himself to turn it back on or off. So it’s not something that he falls out of so easily.

People say, “I can’t believe he stayed in character through all of that.” The thing is, once you’re in character, it’s kind of hard to fall out of it.

TrunkSpace: So much of King Ezekiel’s persona is about theatrics and appearing larger than life. When it came to those tender moments where he discussed his past with Carol, what is a more subtle choice you made with the character that you’re particularly proud of?
Payton: Oh gosh. What I’m most proud of I think, especially in that first moment with Carol in the garden, was that there was no mention in the script or even in the comic about his voice changing. It was just that his physicality changed, that he was holding himself like a regular guy instead of a king or like royalty. When I first read it, the first thing I thought was that his voice had to change. I had done all of this voiceover and all of this Shakespeare over the last 20 years and I just think that’s where my mind and my heart went, in that where you really feel the difference is vocally with him. I felt really good about that.

TrunkSpace: It’s so interesting to hear your perspective on that because when you listen to that change happen in the character, it really brings the walls down, and as a viewer, you’re instantly drawn to him, much in the same way that Carol is.
Payton: Yeah. There was this slight thing I did in that talk with Carol. I said, “People see a guy with a tiger…” and I meant to say “shit,” but I just said “shoot.” I added that because I felt the vocal quality changed kind of subtly at that point, because he’s kind of quiet about it, and so I think that “shoot” was the moment that people really heard that his voice had changed.

Photo by Gene Page/AMC – © 2016 AMC Film Holdings LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TrunkSpace: So often you hear actors talk about how they apply their on-screen experience to voice acting, but here you took what you learned at a microphone in a booth and applied it to your live action performance.
Payton: I think with all of it, one hand washes the other. The beauty of the job is that it’s always new and it’s always different. You can constantly explore. I’ve been able to play so many different characters and in so many different genres of acting, that I think it helps lend itself to making each part that I deal with a little more unique.

TrunkSpace: The introduction of Ezekiel came at a very important time within the ongoing story of “The Walking Dead” universe. With so much despair surrounding all things Negan, in a lot of ways he became humanity’s light at the end of the tunnel. For every ounce of bad in the world, there’s an ounce of good to balance it out. With that being said, is there more to Ezekiel than just a character? Does he represent something else – a sort of universal idea that there can’t be darkness without light?
Payton: Yeah. I think a lot of our job in The Kingdom was to bring some light and some hope back into a hopeless situation. But I also think that there are a lot of similarities as far as Negan and Ezekiel are concerned. They’re both very theatrical guys who are kind of about “the show.” Negan doesn’t just want to kill somebody, he wants to make a production out of it. And in that way, I think he feels he’s protecting himself. They both use theatrics to very different ends.

TrunkSpace: “The Walking Dead” fandom is far-reaching. Most of the actors aren’t too far removed physically from their on-screen persona, but there’s a bit of distance between real-world Khary and undead world Ezekiel thanks in large part to hair, makeup, and wardrobe. Does that physical separation allow you to have a bit more anonymity than perhaps some of the other actors?
Payton: Yeah, I would say I’m not as recognizable as Norman or Josh McDermitt, who plays Eugene. I mean, that mullet is hard to miss. (Laughter)

It’s getting a little harder to walk around without being noticed. The first nine months of this whole thing, I could walk down the street and not worry about it too much, but once the show’s back on, and especially after I do “The Talking Dead,” I start to realize people say hello just about everywhere I go. But it’s usually not a mob. It’s one or two people here or there and everybody’s really polite. I have to say, my life, although it has changed drastically, at the end of the day, it hasn’t changed that much. I go to work, when I get back home I take my girls to school and take out the trash – I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. But the work is really gratifying and it’s really cool to be able to go to these conventions and meet people who are really affected by the show.

TrunkSpace: And as we touched on at the start of conversation, to have been in nine episodes of a series thus far and have affected so many people in such a profound way, there’s something really special about that. That’s the reason you get into acting, right?
Payton: Absolutely! It’s the absolute reason why you get into it, or at least, it’s why I think you get into it for the right reasons. I always say, “We’re in the hope business.” People turn on their televisions or they go into a dark theater to find some entertainment, but beyond that, I think hope and inspiration. If you’re doing it right then some incredible things can happen.

© 2014 WB Animation/DC

TrunkSpace: You have voiced nearly 200 episodes of Teen Titans Go!,” which is a mind boggling number of episodes in television, but especially animation. Do you think you’ll ever be as close to another character as you are Cyborg, if for no other reason, just because of the volume?
Payton: (Laughter) Well, volume-wise, maybe not, but you never know. If I play my cards right, maybe I’ll somehow dodge the walkers and the bullets. (Laughter) But that’s going to be a more difficult proposition.

Cyborg was my first voiceover job and my first voiceover audition. I feel like that character is probably closer to me just because there have been so many iterations of Cyborg since then, but the first one, they kind of tailored him to me. I know there were Cyborgs before, but he really kind of blew up in that first “Teen Titans” show in the early 2000s, and so I feel kind of like a proud papa when it comes to that character in that we were able to kind of launch him into the larger fandom of comic book characters.

TrunkSpace: Your version of Cyborg has kind of become the character for so many people, so when they read comics with the character now, they’re probably reading him in their heads as you. That’s pretty cool.
Payton: Yeah, it’s kind of cool, man! (Laughter) I kind of liken it to Scooby-Doo. When I was a kid, I felt like Scooby-Doo was always around, even though it hadn’t been around, probably even when I was born. There are kids growing up now and Cyborg has been around as long as they have been alive, which is kind of crazy. As far as they know, Cyborg has always been around. Except for a few instances, I’m pretty much the voice. Of course there’s a new Cyborg now in the “Justice League” movie, but still, I feel like we gave birth to that being a thing.

TrunkSpace: You’re also voicing the new “Big Hero 6” series, bringing life to fan-favorite character Wasabi-no-Ginger. Is it a different experience for you finding a character who existed fairly recently through another actor?
Payton: They really were open to me just kind of giving my own take and not trying to do an impression, so it felt very organic, finding Wasabi’s character. I didn’t feel like I was having to put on too much. I was just able to bring myself to it, and so that made it easier. Plus, Wasabi being such a, literally animated character, he reminds me a lot of Cyborg, so I kind of just brought a little bit of that to it.

The Walking Dead” airs Sundays on AMC.

Big Hero 6: The Series” premieres November 20 on Disney XD.

The 200th episode of “Teen Titans Go!” airs November 24 on Cartoon Network.

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Wingman Wednesday

Alicia Witt

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Photo: Alicia Witt Credit: Copyright 2017 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Kailey Schwerman

Once you’ve trimmed the turkey, got stuffed on stuffing, and crammed yourself with cranberry, take some time to relax with “The Mistletoe Inn,” the latest offering from Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas programming event. Starring one of our favorite multi-hyphenates, Alicia Witt, the movie debuts Thanksgiving night, making it the perfect final course for those looking to kick off the holiday season with a full heart… and stomach.

We recently sat down with Witt to discuss the strength of the Hallmark fandom, why she could relate to her character’s quest for creative confidence, and how she makes her music accessible for all listeners.

TrunkSpace: You’ve had a really diverse year, from “The Mistletoe Inn,” to “The Exorcist,” to “Twin Peaks,” and “Supernatural.” Has that always been the dream, to be able to do as many different types of roles and genres as possible?
Witt: Yes, that was always my reason for wanting to be an actor, is to play characters that are different from me, and play as many different kinds of roles as possible. I feel like I really get to do that at this point. I think it keeps me busy, and it keeps me on my toes. I get bored if I play the same role over and over again. I think about the last couple of years in particular, but really the entire time I’ve been doing this, there have been so many different kinds of roles that I think I’ve kept it challenging for myself.

TrunkSpace: Many of those television shows mentioned have massive fandoms, but truth be told, Hallmark’s fandom easily rivals them.
Witt: Most definitely. The interesting thing is that, for example, when I was on “The Walking Dead,” I did a lot of the conventions around that show, and I was so pleasantly surprised and thrilled to find that almost every other person that would come up to me, they were happy to have seen me on “The Walking Dead,” but they were most excited to talk to me because of the Hallmark movies. So, there’s actually a really big crossover audience as well, particularly for the Christmas films, because people who might watch something different during the rest of the year, pretty much everyone tunes in to Hallmark at Christmas because it’s such great family programming, and such great holiday programming.

TrunkSpace: You can’t have darkness without light, so for fans of “The Walking Dead,” tuning in to Hallmark Channel is a nice balance.
Witt: That’s exactly the thing. They’re both equally valid sides, and I try to live my day-to-day life more like the characters that I play in the Hallmark movies – more positive and more light. But I love exploring the darker side of things, too, because that is a very real element of the world in which we’re living. Yeah, you can’t have the darkness without the light, that’s so true. The job I’m working on right now, “The Exorcist,” which I actually just wrapped, is also a great example of that. It explores that side of us that we don’t talk about all that often, but it’s in there. I feel like these Hallmark Christmas movies celebrate all that’s special about the holiday season, and the coming together of families, and sometimes what’s challenging about that, but also what’s so important, and why it is the warmest time of the year.

TrunkSpace: It must feel extra special to have “The Mistletoe Inn” premiering on Thanksgiving, a night when so many families are already together?
Witt: I was so excited when I found out that was the night we’d be premiering. My movie last year, “The Christmas List,” also premiered on Thanksgiving and this makes me very happy and proud, and I know families are already together on that night. My family and friends in Nashville will all be together. We’re having a big joint dinner that we’re making together, and we’ll all be watching the movie for the first time together when it airs, and then I’ll be live tweeting and sharing that with the viewers for the very first time. I’m seriously so excited to see it. I’m not very big on watching my own work for the sake of watching my own work, but I love sharing these movies with people because they are so much fun, and I’m gonna be laughing as hard as anyone when we watch it.

TrunkSpace: Television moves at a breakneck pace as far as production is concerned. Because things happen so quickly on a movie like this, does that force you to come to set even more prepared in terms of knowing and connecting with your character, in this case, aspiring romance writer Kim?
Witt: This applies to everything that I do, but I tend to just absorb the script and think about the character while I’m working out or listening to music. The character just starts to find me and I figure out who she is and how she’d react to things. But it’s not so much a logical process as more of an intuitive one. When it comes to the lines, I actually learn those on the day. I happen to be really fast at learning lines, and I find that they’re a lot fresher if I don’t think about them too much. So, I let the character sink in for a few weeks beforehand, and then the lines themselves I don’t think too much about.

TrunkSpace: Was there something about Kim from a performance standpoint that you have yet to do with a character in the past? What was it that drew you to her?
Witt: She reminded me a lot of myself when I was starting out as a singer/songwriter. Because I could relate to her sense that she had this talent that, on one level she knows that she’s good at writing, and she knows that she could do it seriously and have a book deal and all of that, but because she’s a grown up living in the real world, with a real job and all of that, she needs that extra boost to get the confidence to start doing it in earnest. And at the beginning of the movie she doesn’t quite have that yet, and it’s not being helped at all by the fact that she’s been dating this real piece of work, known as Garth, who I just love that character so much in the movie. He takes himself way too seriously and believes that his work is more important than Kim’s and actually dumps her within the first five minutes because he’s decided he needs to date a more serious writer, and his career’s moving up and hers isn’t. I actually dated a singer/songwriter very similar to Garth when I was just starting out as a singer/songwriter. I had wrote a song called “About Me,” that I’ve released, that I actually wrote after that guy broke up with me.

TrunkSpace: So there was a real connection to the character as far as her journey was concerned.
Witt: Oh, I totally related. For me, it was quite a few years ago, but it kept bringing me back. I kept having flashbacks of this guy that I had dated. There was a lot that… like when Zeke (played by David Alpay) is giving Kim feedback on her writing, I could relate to that vulnerability of receiving feedback for the first time on my songwriting, or my performances. When you’re first starting out it feels like such a rejection that, if every song you write isn’t a potential hit, then you should just quit and not write songs anymore. And that’s not the way it works, you have to write hundreds of songs before you start becoming a good songwriter. Many of those songs nobody will ever hear, and it’s the same way with writing. You have to be willing to make mistakes, and write something that isn’t perfect to get to the point where you are good. So I felt like that was a real parallel and something that I could relate to in Kim.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned having a similar experience hearing feedback on your songwriting for the first time. Do you write primarily from a personal space, or do you take a more storyteller’s approach?
Witt: I have done that, the latter, but most of the time it is personal experiences and things that I am feeling. And it can be just a moment, it could be a passing feeling that I have for someone or for a situation, and you turn it into a song. If you were to tell that person, “This song’s about you,” they might be confused, and they might not get it. But, people can inspire a song without the entire story of the song being 100 percent accurate to what the real scenario is. It’s all over the place, and some of the songs I’ve written are about some of the things that have happened to people I know, and sometimes just things that I’m imagining.

TrunkSpace: So can criticism and feedback be more difficult to hear because you tend to write from such a personal space?
Witt: I think it was in the beginning. Now, I don’t take it personally because it really isn’t. I mean, to make a song something that other people, who haven’t had your specific experience, can relate to and apply to their own lives, you do need to adjust them sometimes. Sometimes it’s not good to have them be too specific. Other times you need the opposite – you need to make it more specific. 
There are moments when you put something into a song that didn’t happen at all, that’s got nothing to do with what your true experience was with it, but sometimes that’s gonna make for a better song that more people can access.

TrunkSpace: And that’s the beauty of music, an entire group of people can each find something different in a single song and relate to it in a different way.
Witt: Yes, completely. That’s what I love most about music.

TrunkSpace: And you have a new EP in the works, correct?
Witt: It’s due out soon. I did this Kickstarter campaign, which just was such an honor, and the album is done and it’s ready, and I’m just trying to figure out how best to release it because it’s produced by Jacquire King, who has an extraordinary track record. And it’s safe to say they’re the best recordings I’ve ever been part of, and I just want to do the best that I can by them and figure out if they’re going to be distributed by a label, or if I self-release again, or what. So far, my music career has pretty much been self-generated, though I’m trying to explore the possibility of finding the right person to help me with it, but if that doesn’t happen I will just self-release it again, and book a tour, and get going with it. I can’t wait to share it with everyone, though.

TrunkSpace: Finally, Alicia, as people plan to gather around with family and watch the premiere of “The Mistletoe Inn” tomorrow night, what do you believe it is that continues to draw people to Christmas movies like this one?
Witt: I think that at this point, when you tune into Hallmark Channel, especially at Christmas time, you know that you’re going to see programming that will make you smile, make you feel good no matter what’s going on in the wold, or in the news, or in your own family. And at this time of year, even though it is the time for families to get together, and in theory it’s all warm and fuzzy, there’s sometimes a lot of tension. You have family members who don’t see each other all year long and then they get together and they may not get along the way that we would like, but Hallmark can actually help make that better. I hear this a lot from people who come up to me all year long and tell me that my movies have helped their families to grow closer at the holidays. And it’s just a great channel to leave on and help you get in the mood. At least the ones that I’m a part of, I try to find some kind of offbeat humor in every one of them. And there’s a few moments that I’ve seen in this one that especially make me smile. They let me be a little bit goofy and silly, and I have as much fun making them as I do watching them. I’m really proud to be on yet another one this year.

The Mistletoe Inn” premieres Thanksgiving night on Hallmark Channel.

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Wingman Wednesday

Benjamin Papac

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Photo By: Diana Mantis

Benjamin Papac has the talent, look, and mindset to be a force in the entertainment industry. Only three years into his career, the Georgia-raised actor with the art-friendly eye (check out his Instagram!) is making bold choices with the roles he takes on and the life he breathes into them, which is currently on display in the Netflix drama series “Greenhouse Academy” where he portrays Max Miller.

We recently sat down with Papac to discuss how he turns the lemons of his craft into lemonade, why “Greenhouse Academy” is different from other teen-focused shows, and the reason he has yet to receive any grief over taking a bite out of Bob in “The Walking Dead.”

TrunkSpace: You’re still in midst of a somewhat early portion of your career. What does it mean, at this stage, to be involved with a company like Netflix and a series like “Greenhouse Academy?”
Papac: Netflix is this powerhouse in the entertainment industry. Digital shows is where entertainment is going. To be three years into my career and a series regular on a Netflix show – my jaw dropped when I booked that role, dude. I was overwhelmed by getting to be a part of something so cool, so early. Acting careers are chaotic. You’ll go from feeling like you’re on top of the world one week, to feeling like you’ve got a long road ahead the next. I’m super grateful to have gotten to be a part of something so cool. I know that there’s a lot of work to do. I’m ready to do it.

TrunkSpace: So much of the career of an actor is based on the actions or reactions of other people. So much of it is out of your control.
Papac: Yes, it really is. The one thing that I can always do is work on my art and do the best work I possibly can with whatever role that I’m getting. I’m not the one who decides whether or not I work on a job. There are so many things that don’t have to do with the ability of the actor, that decide whether or not you book. Like, is your hair a shade too dark? Are you an inch too tall or too short? Things like that really do go into the casting process. It’s really frustrating at times. I’ll get really passionate about a role and I’ll be so excited to work on it. The director and I work really well together in the room. Something else out of my control influences whether or not I book.

TrunkSpace: And from what we understand, an actor’s social media following can actually play into that these days?
Papac: Yes, that’s absolutely true. It’s not true for every job. Even as early as my first year in the industry, back in 2014, there were jobs where the breakdowns would come out and they would say, specifically, “Social media influencers.” It’s not every job, but some jobs, yes, your social media following is considered. That’s part of the teaching landscape for actors. I was really resistant towards it for a long time. I was really shy about being active on social media at all. What got me excited about it was a moment when I saw a buddy of mine’s Instagram page. His name is Dallas Hart and he’s also in the cast. I was just going on Instagram one time. I saw a shot that was really cool. Then, I clicked onto his feed. His feed was gorgeous. He had turned his Instagram page into art, at least on a certain level.

TrunkSpace: We actually just saw yours and the cool live action/animation mashups you’re doing.
Papac: Yes, dude! Turning my Instagram page into art came from this moment when I realized, “Oh, I don’t have to make this; ‘Oh, look at me. I’m Benjamin. I’m so cool and I’m an actor.’” I can be, “Let’s make art on Instagram. Let people interact with it. Let my following build from there.” That way, it’s still genuine and it’s something I believe in.

TrunkSpace: It becomes another tool in your toolbox.
Papac: Exactly. Instead of it being something that I’m intimidated by, it’s another way I get to be an artist. That whole mixed media series that I did over the past couple of weeks, that came out of that. My buddy Chris Labadie took the photos. When I told him my idea – I wanted to use bold colors and interesting objects – he said, “Whoa, dude, what if we imagine the objects and we have somebody draw them in?” I got so jacked by that.

We’ve got a couple other ideas for mixed media that we may throw out on Instagram and see where they go. I’m hoping to do more cool projects along those lines.

TrunkSpace: Jumping into “Greenhouse Academy,” we know that Netflix has been promoting it as a “new kind of teen series.” From your perspective, what is the series doing differently that other shows have yet to attempt?
Papac: When the whole cast first booked the show, we were talking to the show creator (Giora Chamizer) and he was telling us how the objective of “Greenhouse Academy” was to bring a higher quality form of storytelling to a younger audience. He felt that in younger audience television there’s a lot of comedy, there’s a lot of fun stuff out there, but that the depth of complex relationships and things not always working out the way you want and having to grow and become more complex as you get older was kind of missing.

“Greenhouse Academy” Photo By: Ronen Akerman /Netflix

TrunkSpace: That’s certainly true. Usually things are very rosy and everything works out in the end.
Papac: Exactly. Giora took a lot of inspiration from Harry Potter and how well that series of stories brought humanity to a young audience. That was what he was trying to do. I think we did a really solid job of that. The way the characters grow in their relationships is really interesting to watch. It draws the audience in. We don’t patronize the audience. What’s cool about that is an 11 year old can watch the show and love every minute of it, and an 18 year old can watch the show and love every minute of it, and a 24 year old can love every minute. Even a parent who is sitting down with their kid to watch the show, they’re like, “All right, here we go. Here’s another kid show my kid’s obsessed with.” Then, they watch a few minutes and suddenly they’re just as invested. That’s what I’m really happy with about the show.

TrunkSpace: It’s kind of like watching a Pixar movie. Different demographics can take different things from the viewing experience.
Papac: Yes, dude! I’m so happy you said Pixar. I love Pixar. That’s what I love most about the show – that we can do that and that audiences of any age can find something valuable in it.

TrunkSpace: What did the character Max allow you to do on-screen that you have yet to be able to do in a project before?
Papac: From a craft perspective, this was the first opportunity I got to consistently work on the same character for an extended period of time. Before that project, I worked mostly in television and when I shot a guest star, I would get the material, do the audition the next day, book it a couple days down the line. Then, I would work on the show, maybe for a week. There were a couple of exceptions. When I shot Bale for “Into the Badlands,” there was a lot of time involved, but there wasn’t a whole lot of material. Then, when I shot “Saving the Human Race” for CW Seed, I did get to do more, but again, it was like six short episodes. I got to spend a lot of time, but there wasn’t as much material to go over.

“Greenhouse Academy” let me work. We shot Season 1 and 2 at the same time. I did 24 30-minute episodes over three months. I got to work really hard on this one character for a long time. As an actor, that’s pretty challenging. It’s like you have to flesh out a full complete human being who is dynamic from one scene to the next. You’ve got to do that for 100 scenes.

TrunkSpace: 24 episodes over the course of three months sounds intense!
Papac: Oh, it was. It was incredible. It was like a huge growth experience. Super stressful. We were constantly working. To put it into perspective, we did the same number of episodes as a network sitcom or a procedural, but we did it in half the time. That was a huge experience. The next time I’m on a show, it’s going to be so much less stressful for me because I’ll be used to having to handle so much. That was really cool.

TrunkSpace: “Into the Badlands.” “Saving the Human Race.” “The Walking Dead.” That’s some serious post-apocalyptic street cred! Is that a purposeful career direction or something that has just sort of happened by chance?
Papac: (Laughter) No, it just sort of happened. It’s like Sean Bean and all of his death scenes – it’s just how my career has started forming. I made a joke one time that I think my sweet spot genre is going to end up being the Zom-Com. (Laughter) I’m always shooting these post-apocalyptic scenarios. Honestly, I would love for that to continue. I have so much fun. One of my favorite genres to work in is epic-level sci-fi. Post-apocalypse is all over that.

Photo By: Diana Mantis

TrunkSpace: All the on-screen experience could lead to real-life knowledge should society ever crumble. You could be one of the only survivors!
Papac: Yes! If ever the apocalypse comes early, I’m ready. (Laughter)

I actually have occasionally considered what I would do in those scenarios. Stay away from the main road, get some simple tools, canned foods, water filter, and a couple other things. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Staying with the idea of post-apocalyptic worlds, has “The Walking Dead” fandom let you live down eating Bob yet?
Papac: (Laughter) I never got any hate for that. I actually get the most fan mail from people about that role on “The Walking Dead.” People love that show so much. I still get letters from my Atlanta agent. Every few months they’ll send me a packet. People are like, “Dude, I’m such a huge fan of ‘The Walking Dead.’ I loved your portrayal of Albert. This was the line you said and it was so cool. Can you please send me a headshot?”

It’s awesome. “The Walking Dead family” is just nothing but love. It’s one of the best fan bases I’ve ever encountered. The cool thing about “The Walking Dead” is it was my first professional job as an actor.

TrunkSpace: Not a bad first job to have!
Papac: I know! I was so jacked. I booked it right when I graduated college. I’m on campus, getting ready to walk into my ceremony, and my agent calls and says, “Congratulations. You just booked a job on ‘The Walking Dead.’ You’re going to be filming in two weeks.” It mostly films in Senoia, Georgia, or did at the time that I was working on it. To put that in perspective, that’s 15 minutes from my hometown. I grew up taking trips to Senoia every now and then to go to the local diners on the main street. It was such a cool job to have as my first job because it was in my hometown and a show that I had thought was so freaking cool. I remember watching the pilot my freshman year. That whole world of acting felt so far away when I watched the pilot. Four years later, that was my first job.

TrunkSpace: And then to go full circle when Rick Grimes puts a bullet in your head!
Papac: (Laughter) Yes! When we were filming, they were originally planning to have me be one of the people they hatcheted. Then, after I booked, they were like, “We can’t do that to the little teenager guy. It’s too brutal.” So, they switched me over to getting shot in the back of the head. But, yes, full circle, all the way.

Season 1 of “Greenhouse Academy” is available now on Netflix. Season 2 arrives in early 2018.

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Wingman Wednesday

Danay Garcia

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Photo by: Louis Rodiger

Fans of “Fear the Walking Dead” know Danay Garcia as Luciana, one of the few survivors of the zombie apocalypse. Eagle-eyed SPN Family members may also recognize her from season 8 of “Supernatural” where she guested in a memorable episode called “Trial and Error.” Now the Cuban-born actress is adding another fandom notch to her belt as she’s set to star in the latest installment of the Sniper franchise, “Sniper: Ultimate Kill,” available today on digital, Blu-ray, and DVD.

Garcia, who says she grew up surrounded by pink and trained as a ballet dancer throughout her early years, found it both humorous and exhilarating that she was running around in military fatigues with gun in hand, hunting down bad guys. And while the exciting action scenes were one of the elements that initially drew her to the role of Kate Estrada, a DEA agent tasked with bringing down a Columbian drug trafficker, it was the strength she discovered in the character that she bonded to most.

We recently sat down with Garcia to discuss honoring strong women on screen, how she likes to add her slice to the overall performance pie, and why she didn’t have time to consider the enormity of her “Fear the Walking Dead” role when first cast.

TrunkSpace: Outside of the action, what drew you to Kate from a performance standpoint?
Garcia: I really loved working and developing her as a woman that is in charge and in control of herself mentally and physically. She’s a woman who uses her physical strength and her mind strength to survive. She’s very in control of her emotions, but she’s not afraid to let go either. She knows herself – physically and mentally, because she’s a leader and she’s a fighter too. I really had a great time discovering that balance in her. She can grab a gun and shoot, order around the place, and then the next day we can see her crying in an elevator.

I’m very grateful to have one of the best directors that I’ve worked with in Claudio Fäh. He just gave me so much with the role, and not just to perform, but to create ahead of time with him. We would Skype and go down page-by-page, beat-by-beat, and it really helped me so much to have the freedom to let myself go and be confident.

TrunkSpace: And she is a character that could have easily gone in a more predictable direction.
Garcia: It could be this predictable character – a kind of cartoonish character, which we avoided at all times. It could have been like, “Oh this is Wonder Woman and she doesn’t feel anything.” I just think this is a very specific time in history, in life, for women, every time we portray a character, we have to be very honest about it and honor that, because whatever is out there will be out there forever. The flaws. The good and the bad. And the things that are great about a woman in power – a woman in charge.

Garcia with Chad Michael Collins in Sniper: Ultimate Kill

TrunkSpace: Sniper is an established franchise and you came into the universe after many of the actors had already solidified themselves within the world. What were your thoughts about coming into an established film franchise that had already built up a fan base?
Garcia: You know, it came out of surprise. I remembered “Sniper” and when I was little, like a teenager, I remember watching them. We all love action movies. They’re going to live forever. You need them. They’re entertaining. When I auditioned, I just really loved the character. I never focus on the potential of the entire monster because I just feel like we’re a team. I focus on adding a little piece of the pie. This one is my piece and I just want to give you the best piece of the entire pie. If it tastes bad, it will not be my piece. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You also star in “Fear the Walking Dead,” which is known for its body count. The Sniper films also have their share of on-screen deaths. Does “Sniper: Ultimate Kill” live up to the body count of “Fear the Walking Dead?”
Garcia: I mean, they’re different, but the one thing that they have in common is the action and the surprise and the mystery of it all. You can’t really compare the two, but the ride is a similar ride. It’s like, “Oh my God, what’s gonna happen?” You just feel that inside of you.

TrunkSpace: With “Sniper: Ultimate Kill” you know where your character Kate is going start to finish. In something like “Fear the Walking Dead,” you not only don’t know where her story will end, but you don’t know when it will end either. From a performance standpoint, do you make different choices for a character when you can see their arc laid out in front of you?
Garcia: That’s a good question. When it comes to specifically “Fear the Walking Dead,” I think the only difference between one and the other in terms of the journey is that in Fear, you’re never relaxed. You’re constantly in an apocalypse. You’re constantly in danger. Anybody can kill you at any time. So, I always feel like there’s this speed in the way I talk and the way I walk. I’m always aware of my surroundings. I’m very focused, ready for a fight or ready for anything. You would never see Luciana or any character smelling the roses. It’s impossible. It’s not right.

But in the movie, I feel like there’s a space for the character within the storyline to really have a second to think and then to act. There’s a time to think, readjust, and attack. I feel like that art is more defined in a movie than in a television show. Obviously when it comes to Fear, it’s more in your face because we’re talking about an apocalypse. You can’t afford to relax.

Photo by Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC – © 2017 AMC Film Holdings LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TrunkSpace: We talked about coming into the Sniper franchise after it was already up and running, but what was that experience like when you came into “Fear the Walking Dead,” a franchise that is easily the biggest television has seen in over a decade?
Garcia: When I started there I didn’t think about, “Oh my God, this has a huge following.” First of all, I never had time to think about that. I auditioned on a Wednesday, I knew I got the job on a Friday – meaning I was traveling to Mexico on a Friday – and on Monday I was on set. I couldn’t think of anything. (Laughter)

I was just more focused on this character and this situation and how I could understand her more because I had no information, at all, whatsoever, other than that she knows how to kill zombies and she has this guy. Other than that, I had no idea. And I was pretty focused the entire season to do my absolute best job to create this woman and give her lot of layers of life and to make her real to that specific time in an apocalyptic world.

So that was my goal. I couldn’t think of about it being a franchise or about Comicon or, you know, action figures. I was more like, “How can I get my day done well to the best of my abilities.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Obviously “Fear the Walking Dead” has a huge following. The Sniper franchise continues to build its fan base. And then if we look a little further back in your career we’ll find a show that you guested on that really has a massive fan following in “Supernatural.” It has become a show where so many young actors have gotten their start, and from what we’ve been told by others, it is a set that welcomes newcomers with open arms.
Garcia: Yeah. It’s a show that, the moment you get to set – literally the moment you get to set – the one thing you do is you meet Jensen and Jared. And the moment you meet those two guys together, you understand why the show has been on for so many years, and why the show has been so successful for so many years. You understand it because those two, they are like brothers. They really are. They’re both Texans, they both started together in “Supernatural,” and they both get it. And they’re so humble. It’s this beautiful connection of brotherhood and friendship and, it just makes you want to stay, you know? It’s weird. It makes you want to stay. It makes you support them. It makes you give your best to the show.

Sniper: Ultimate Kill” is available today on digital, Blu-ray, and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

“Fear the Walking Dead” airs Sundays on AMC.

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Wingman Wednesday

Lisandra Tena

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Photo By: Marc Cartwright

In the world of zombie apocalypse shows, the undead usually get the most attention. It’s not their performance that wows audiences, but the creative blood and gore associated with their death and eventual reanimation. It’s that very “what are we going to see next” that has become a staple of “The Walking Dead” small screen universe, which also includes the spinoff “Fear the Walking Dead,” currently in its third season.

While we revel in what the special effects makeup crew are capable of achieving in both of the ongoing series, it is the performances of the talented cast that compels us to care. On the surface we eat up everything that the walkers are eating (which is usually someone as oppose to something), but at the core we continue to tune in because of the human element and the more relatable villain, survival.

Lisandra Tena is one of the reasons we have been drawn to the latest season of “Fear the Walking Dead.” As Lola, the Water Queen, the New Mexico native has brought a new dynamic and apocalyptic point of view to the AMC series, and with only a few episodes remaining, she promises a big change is coming for her character.

We recently sat down with Tena to discuss how it took some time for the enormity of the job to hit her, what keeps her character alive, and why it’s important not to get too invested in Lola’s long-term possibilities.

TrunkSpace: You’re now a part of one of the most popular franchises in modern pop culture. How long after being cast did that hit you?
Tena: It didn’t actually hit me until after I was done shooting. (Laughter) And it didn’t hit me until I got my first fan mail. I thought that was pretty cool.

It’s a really incredible opportunity, I have to say that. I feel really, really fortunate to have landed this role. I’ve been getting a lot of mail, social media mail, and I think now it’s becoming more apparent. I had friends tell me, “Do you know how big this is?” and I was like, “Yeah, I do know how big this is.” But really, it didn’t hit me until after.

TrunkSpace: Is there anything that someone can do to even prepare mentally for that kind of life-changing career experience?
Tena: I feel really, really great and really guided when it comes to having a manager, and starting to learn about publicity, and stylists, and interviews, and talk shows, and things like that. I feel really good about having a team now, because otherwise, I would be freaking out – and I kind of was. (Laughter) I kind of was at first because you get all these new experiences, and I’m learning all these new things – all these different aspects about what’s next.

So it’s really fun, but I don’t think you can really prepare for it. I think one of the most important things to have is a solid team of people working with you, like an agent and a manager. Those are the people that are going to guide you and lead the way, and be like, “Okay, so we’re gonna do this, and this is next.”

TrunkSpace: And it must be nice to be on an ensemble show that already existed when you came into it because in a lot of ways, you can always fall back on your castmates because they have all gone through the same experience?
Tena: Yeah, that’s true. And there’s that pressure right away – this sense of pressure when you’re coming into something that’s already been established. The group is a family, the cast is a family, and they’ve been working with each other and you think, “Well, how are they going to take me?” I was very surprised because everyone was welcoming, and the overwhelming feeling that I had definitely just put me at ease because everyone was so welcoming, and really professional, and nice, and the cast was really warm towards me. They were really great. That made it really easy and then I could focus on other things, like my lines. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: It is probably really important for a set like “Fear the Walking Dead” to be welcoming because they have a pretty high turnover on account of all of the character deaths. (Laughter)
Tena: Exactly. They’re like, “Let’s just be friends now because who knows how long this is gonna last!” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Nearly all of the characters within the universe, both in Fear and the regular “The Walking Dead” are all strong in their own way, hence their ability to survive. From your perspective, what are Lola’s strengths and what will keep her alive as things sort of continue to deteriorate, as they always do in this world?
Tena: Well, I think one of her strengths is servitude, having this innate servitude of wanting to help others and not caring so much of the self, but caring for other people. I think we definitely need more of that in the show, to honestly care for another person. I think that comes genuinely to her more so because she’s been at the dam basically her entire time in this existence, and that’s her life now. That’s where she works. That’s where she lives. And so I think in turn, that also may be a weakness because she doesn’t know what the outside world is like at this time, in the apocalypse, and how people actually become – how they turn and how easy it is to make a bad choice or bad decision.

I think what will help her survive is her getting on that train quickly when it comes to taking, for example, Daniel’s advice, and really making some decisions that will be for the benefit of this thing that she has, which is the dam. It is very valuable and I think she’s starting to understand that. But in a world like this, you can’t be soft. You’ve got to be a little tougher and more realistic. You need to have some sense of grit. She’s not a violent person, so I think it’s a little tough for her.

TrunkSpace: And in a lot of ways, surviving in this world means not showing other people your weaknesses, right?
Tena: Yeah, exactly, because the only people here running the dam now is just Lola with Daniel at her side, and Efrain. I think that the people have this view of what the dam is like and the people that are running it, and they probably, in their mind, are thinking it’s being ran the same way as Dante was running it. So they’re becoming aggressive, and they’re frustrated and angry, and she’s like, “No, no, no, this is different. I’m a different person. We’re gonna run things differently now.”

TrunkSpace: So within all of that complicated, human nature conflict that the character is tied to, what for you has been your favorite aspect of Lola performance-wise?
Tena: That’s a good question. I haven’t been asked that question.

I can’t say what it is, because it hasn’t aired yet, but what I can say is that I definitely didn’t see it coming in the last episode of this season. What’s gonna happen, and the change that happens in her, is actually really, really nice to see in Lola. There is a huge change in her in the last two episodes, and I’m really happy with it.

TrunkSpace: Is it a change that you didn’t anticipate with the character when you received the first script?
Tena: Yes, exactly. When I got the sides, I did see a range in this character, which actually was what really attracted me to the role. We saw a sensitive side. We saw a strong side. We saw a variation – a playful side. What we see in the last two episodes is a drastic kind of extreme of her personality, something we maybe will not have expected.

TrunkSpace: So in a show where your character can become zombie food at any moment, does a part of you have to work at not being too invested in her long-term possibilities?
Tena: Correct, you have to be in the moment and that’s all you got to focus on. We don’t even get the scripts – we don’t get other episodes ahead of time. We get them the week of sometimes and it’s like, “Okay, this is what we’re shooting and this is what’s happening.” And that’s the way the world is too. In the apocalypse, you got to think in the now – where are we going today, maybe tomorrow, and we got to be listening to what’s going on. We got to be present, in the moment, because anything can happen. If you make plans, the universe changes those plans.

“Fear the Walking Dead” airs Sundays on AMC.

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Wingman Wednesday

Kelsey Scott

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Many young people with aspirations of becoming a professional actor dream of one day having their talents recognized with an Emmy nomination. Not many of those future award ceremony scenarios involve zombies.

The “Fear the Walking Dead” companion web series “Passage” was recently nominated for an Emmy in the new Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series category. Even more amazing than a genre show being recognized is that series star Kelsey Scott was also nominated in the Outstanding Actress in a Short Form Comedy or Drama Series category, a well-deserved nod for a performance that will hopefully create a change in the way horror and science fiction performances are viewed on a critical level.

 


We recently sat down with Scott to discuss her “Passage” experience, her writer grandmother, and what she’d develop in Hollywood if presented with a blank check.

TrunkSpace: Did you ever think you’d receive an Emmy nod for working alongside of zombies?
Scott: (Laughter) I think you just take the ride. I can’t imagine that anyone would ever anticipate that, so you just go with it.

TrunkSpace: In all seriousness though, it must be nice to have your work and the format recognized. It’s great to see these short form projects getting critical attention, especially at this stage when they play like mini-movies.
Scott: Oh, absolutely. I said to someone at some point that short form has been like a pioneer of different stories of different narratives of different perspectives. It is now much simpler to produce in terms of content, so you get a lot of voices that maybe would not have been heard before because now they can actually get recognition. Now they can actually get their content distributed in some way. I think short form has become particularly important to an overall narrative for the industry.

TrunkSpace: And for a series like “Fear the Walking Dead,” these companion pieces are also a great way to build out the universe even further.
Scott: Exactly. Any number of people have seen a character on a show or even in film and wondered about their backstory or wished there was more to view with that particular character. This gives a chance to explore that type of stuff. It’s kind of a litmus test, I think, also for the larger brand in that they get to see what the fan reaction is to a certain type of character and then they can make some decisions about how much more to show in the actual long form.

TrunkSpace: What does the production schedule on something like “Passage” look like?
Scott: We spent three days in Santa Clarita and shot the entire 16 episodes in three days.

TrunkSpace: Wow.
Scott: Oh yeah! And we got bumped and bruised and scarred. It was so much fun.

TrunkSpace: Is it a situation where you get to spend three days with a character and then head home and wish you had more time with her?
Scott: Yeah, but it was great. I think the kind of compressed shooting schedule also just allows you to completely immerse yourself because it’s like, “All right, we’re just going to go hard for three days. Just get in there and do it.” It was great. One of the stories that Mishel and I talk about a lot is that on the third day, they brought in stunt doubles. We were like, “We’ve been doing all the stunts. Why do we have stunt doubles at the end?” (Laughter) We were like, “No, we’re good. We’ve already bled for this, so we’re okay.”

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) They bring them in right at the end to do a wide on the characters looking off into the sunset.
Scott: (Laughter) Right! “We’ve got this from here.”

Kelsey Scott as Sierra, Mishel Prada as Gabi – Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 2, Passage – Photo Credit: Ron Jaffe/AMC

That was a lot of fun though because you don’t often get to do that kind of thing, especially as a woman. The opportunities to do action and to get all dirty and wield weapons and kick butt doesn’t come along as often as we would like. It’s nice to not worry about whether or not your mascara is running or just to get in there and really, truly, literally and figuratively, get your hands dirty.

TrunkSpace: After getting in there and getting your hands dirty, was it a pleasant surprise when you learned about the Emmy nominations?
Scott: It was. It was a very pleasant surprise. You know that you’re on the ballot, so you know there’s a possibility, but there are a lot of people on the ballot. (Laughter) You hope that you are one of the people that gets chosen for that select spot. Yeah, it was really, really nice.

TrunkSpace: And you don’t often see genre pieces getting recognized in that way, so it speaks to how views are changing.
Scott: Yeah, I think they’re getting much more character-based than anyone anticipated. They can no longer be dismissed in terms of their story, so I think people are latching on to that.

TrunkSpace: You are a director and writer as well. When you’re focusing on a project strictly from an acting standpoint, is it hard for you to take off those other hats and not think like a director or think like a writer?
Scott: Not really. I think that it’s most difficult to separate those individual specialties when I’m writing, because when I’m writing, I’m writing as a writer, as an actor and a director. When you’re in front of the camera, then I think it’s really about delving into the character. I always think so highly of actor/directors who can direct themselves. How do you step outside of yourself when you’re on camera? I have the utmost respect for people who can do that. No, when I’m acting, I’m all in it.

TrunkSpace: Where did the bug bite you first?
Scott: It was definitely in the acting. From my first step on stage, though it was to sing not to act when I was three years old, so I’ve been doing the performing thing for awhile. My mother was very happy to refocus my energy out of her hair. (Laughter) She was just like, “Could you please do something with all of this energy that’s productive?”

I started on stage in Atlanta when I was just a child and then it grew from there. It was definitely acting, but my grandmother was a writer. That’s actually where I got the writing bug to begin with, when I was six years old.

TrunkSpace: That’s really cool.
Scott: She wasn’t a writer by profession, it’s something she loved to do. After she would write something, she’d let me read it, and sometimes I would actually go and perform her pieces around the community. She really sparked that in me, and then I kept going with it professionally.

TrunkSpace: It was great to have that focus so early in your upbringing because nowadays it seems more important than ever for actors to diversify and be able to create, write, and direct.
Scott: I could never have imagined the gift she gave me in sparking that interest in me because, absolutely, like I said, there are so many more opportunities to tell so many stories now, so you also need to be able to tell those stories. You can’t just depend on being in front of the camera, you have to be able to wield the pen. And that’s obviously a metaphor because nobody really writes out longhand anymore. (Laughter) You have to be able to figuratively wield the pen.

Then, if you’ve got even more skill sets in terms of the directing or the editing then that puts you in an even better position. The more you can do in-house, then I think the better the advantage you have.

TrunkSpace: Does being a writer/director also help you be a better actor and vice versa?
Scott: I think they all complement each other. Everybody talks about how theater is collaborative. That’s on somebody’s bumper sticker. I don’t know that people emphasize that as much in film and television, but it’s the exact same thing. None of this can be done on an island, so the more you know about the different aspects of the process, I think it just strengthens you in another area.

TrunkSpace: So if a studio came to you tomorrow and handed you a blank check to develop any kind of project that you wanted, what would it be?
Scott: Wow! A blank check? I’ve only ever seen those in movies!

Well, interestingly enough, because I am also a writer, I do have projects that are in different stages of development. You give me a blank check, and all of a sudden I’m financing a whole bunch of stuff. Oh yeah, I’d have so much fun with a blank check. Now you’ve got me dreaming!

TrunkSpace: So instead of putting it all into one project, you’d spread the wealth across multiple projects?
Scott: You did say blank check! (Laughter)

Watch “Passage” here.

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