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Wingman Wednesday

Khary Payton

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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

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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Wingman Wednesday

Michael Mosley

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Photo By: Riker Brothers Photography

Regardless of the genre, Michael Mosley owns every scene he’s in. The Iowa native can deliver laughs with ease, as made apparent in shows like “Sirens” and “Scrubs,” or he can drop a major dramatic anvil on the heads of viewers, which he’s doing with his latest string of projects, including “Ozark” and “Seven Seconds,” a pair of high-profile Netflix shows. He is versatile, relatable, and in the opinion of this publication, one of the most underrated actors working in the business today.

We recently sat down with Mosley to discuss the emotional heaviness of his recent roles, his approach towards comedic performance, and how his 12-year-old self would have been super psyched about getting to kiss Margot Robbie.

TrunkSpace: We have some unrealistic expectations for this interview because you’re one of our favorite people to watch onscreen, so we’re expecting nothing but insightful responses and wittiness. (Laughter)
Mosley:: (Laughter) Okay. Well here we go. Just throw a pitch and I’ll knock it out of the park.

TrunkSpace: Your new Netflix series “Ozark” is some dark storytelling and your character has gone through some heavy life stuff. When you’re performing in a character-driven, emotionally drenched project like this, does the material trickle into your own headspace? Does it become a heavier job when the material itself is heavier?
Mosley: Yeah, it definitely does. And the world is heavier, so it all kind of feeds into itself. The last couple of years… I was on “Sirens” and I was telling dick jokes in an ambulance, so to come to this and have everything be so heavy and weighted, I was really very nervous about it. I haven’t done heavy shit like that in awhile. When I was on “Castle” playing this killer, that stuff would get a little thick at times, but this guy was a victim. He’s often kind of high on his horse about where he saw himself spiritually and where he saw others spiritually and stuff like that, but he was not a bad guy or anything. This is happening to him and he was just kind of navigating through it.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how you haven’t done this type of heavy work for awhile. Did you put yourself in a position to step away from comedy after “Sirens” in order to distance yourself from being seen in that light?
Mosley:: Not at all. When I first started out, I was kind of the serious actor. One of the first gigs I got was for a drama on NBC where it was this really heavy show, and then I started getting these comedies. Bill Lawrence picked me up to do a pilot for him and then he put me in his last season of “Scrubs” and then all of a sudden I was this funny guy, which is great. It’s so much fun. It’s a fun way to make a living because you’re just on set with your friends busting each others’ balls all day and they roll the cameras and you try to crack each other up. I don’t know what happened. I shot a comedy pilot last year that didn’t go, and then I got in this movie with Rob Reiner coming out called “LBJ” with Woody Harrelson, and that was heavy. Then I don’t know… this year has been a heavy year. I don’t know why. With “Ozark,” and then the next thing I’m doing “Seven Seconds,” which is on Netflix and we already shot… that thing’s fucking dark, man.

TrunkSpace: Not only dark, but it’s also very politically and socially timely, right?
Mosley:: Absolutely. I guess that’s the darkness of that conversation in our lives right now is that it is very real, very poignant, and yes, it’s definitely the backdrop of what we’re doing on “Seven Seconds” in Jersey City.

TrunkSpace: You said you started out as the “serious actor” and then things veered into the comedy lane. From our standpoint, comedy is either a “get it” or you “don’t get it” situation because those beats and the timing can be difficult. Did you find that it just came natural to you?
Mosley:: I think with anything, you’re as good as the guy in front of you or the girl in front of you. With “Sirens,” me, Kevin Daniels, and Kevin Bigley were a little rock band. We all had our instruments and we knew how to play, and by the second season, they were just letting us rip and go to town and go crazy. Timing to me is with another person. It’s like the timing that the two people or three people or four people have is kind of unique to them. That’s as far as I can speak to it because I don’t really know why some of that stuff works. I’ll go in for something and they’re not laughing at me at all as I’m auditioning. Sometimes I’m flat, and then sometimes somebody gets it.

TrunkSpace: Regardless of how a project is ultimately received by viewers, do you view each one as a success based on the experience you had working on it and what you learned about yourself as an actor?
Mosley:: Yeah, for sure. “Ozark” was fun. And it was weird as hell and unique. We’re down in Atlanta out in the woods floating around in lakes and shit. It was really great. I didn’t really know what was going on in the show very much. Watching the show, there’s 20 storylines going on all the time… different people and different things. There were so many trailers on set and Mason, my character, never knew what was going on outside of it. We all had our own worlds and Bateman was kind of stringing it all together.

Working with Bateman was a blast. He’s really good in the show because he’s such a good actor, and I don’t think we’ve seen him like this… when he’s pleading for his life in the pilot, it’s unreal. He also has this kind of natural likeness about him as we’ve always known him to have. So it was really wild getting to act with him and doing this really intense, epic stuff, and then they call “cut” and he’d be cracking jokes and busting balls with the crew. The more I’m in this business, you kind of run into these people who are effortlessly in control of themselves… folks that have an ease and you trust them. They’re like a good quarterback.

TrunkSpace: “Seven Seconds” is based on a Russian movie. It seems like a bad time to be involved in anything Russian.
Mosley:: (Laughter) Yeah, right?

TrunkSpace: In all seriousness, the show is very topical as we previously mentioned. Did that put extra pressure on everybody involved to make sure the show hits the right tone and point of view knowing that it’s meant to say something specific about what is going on in our society today?
Mosley:: Absolutely. We were so careful, and I hope we did it. With something like “Seven Seconds,” we just want to make sure at every point we’re not taking anything for granted… not making any assumptions and that nobody’s opinion is coming out in a way that’s not there to encourage discussion and discourse and to protect those that aren’t being currently protected right now.

TrunkSpace: Both “Ozark” and “Seven Seconds” are Netflix shows, which means they’re rolled out, per season, all at once. For an actor, how does that experience differ for you than something like “Sirens,” which took a more traditional approach?
Mosley:: Well, a couple of things. When you’re doing a network broadcast, you kind of have to beg people to show up to the party. You’re on Twitter saying, “Hey, please watch my show. It’s on Tuesday at 8:00.” With the streaming, you don’t have to do that. It just kind of lands. I haven’t been on any social media begging anybody to watch “Ozark” or anything. It’s just there.

Photo By: Riker Brothers Photography

Also it’s a premium subscription, so their pedigree is just a little bit different. They’re not afraid of anything over there that I can see, so that’s great. You get to do kind of crazy stuff.

TrunkSpace: Well, and like you mentioned previously with “Ozark,” there are so many storylines going on at once that being able to stream it all at once helps keep everything tight for the viewer.
Mosley:: Yeah, there’s that too. Also, with network broadcast TV, they’ll change the show as it’s airing based on how well it’s doing or how well the show next to it is doing. So as you’re shooting episode 6 on a broadcast network television show, episode 1 is airing and if episode 2’s numbers drop, they’re going to go into the writers’ room and episode 8 is going to be completely different and now the show’s completely different. They have to get in there and tinker with it, whereas on Netflix, there’s none of that. They let creators take the ball and run with it.

It’s great because it allows creators to find their sea legs and figure things out and it lets the cast get comfortable with themselves, lets the crew get tight, and everybody becomes completely cohesive by the end of the process. The real vision gets to be honored, which is kind of difficult in broadcast television.

TrunkSpace: What aspect of your career would 15-year-old you be most impressed with? Is there a particular project or somebody that you worked with that young Michael would be super psyched about?
Mosley: I don’t know. Getting to kiss Margot Robbie on “Pan Am” was pretty cool. (Laughter)

You know, you play cops and robbers and you get to fly an airplane… you get to do all this crazy shit that you never expect to do. That stuff is just super crazy, like going out to Jersey City and spending a week hanging out with the homicide detectives and having dinner with them, talking to them, listening to their stories, and cracking jokes with them. And meeting the homicide detectives and vice detectives and cops in Manhattan and having dinner with them. These are crazy, wild things that you never would expect that you get to do. Or when I was in “Pan Am,” we went to a flight simulator and I was flying a plane with Mike Vogel. Not a real plane, but a computer plane that moved and stuff. Or going to Mozambique, shaving my head, and hanging out with a bunch of marines. This is the stuff that’s just kind of crazy and wild and fun about the job. Hitting your mark and saying your lines is one thing, but where the plane takes you is bizarre.

“Ozark” is available now on Netflix.

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