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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

Karen Strassman

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Photo By: Paul Smith

There was a time when Karen Strassman didn’t think she was good enough to be an actress. Thankfully she found her on-screen confidence and we, the audience, are better for it. The versatile performer and voice talent has enhanced the viewing experience of shows like “Silicon Valley,” “Weeds,” and most recently, “Preacher,” bringing dimension to her characters and helping to flesh out the fictional worlds they inhabit.

We recently sat down with Strassman to discuss the wild reality of “Preacher,” blending into a sea of over-the-top characters, and how her career in voice work started as a happy accident.

TrunkSpace: You recently appeared on AMC’s “explosive” new season of “Preacher.” It’s not every show that you can watch an undead cowboy, Hitler and the Devil all in the same episode. What was it like stepping on set with such a unique cast of characters?
Strassman: Working on “Preacher” was delightful and exhilarating. No matter how crazy and “out there” the world of this show might be, and how “charactery” most characters are, it’s done so well that it still feels so deeply real, human, and actually strangely grounded within its own wild reality. As I watched the series, I just completely bought the whole world and everyone’s humanity within it. I got truly involved in the lives of all the characters, finding myself really caring about almost all of them. As I was preparing for my episodes, it was exciting to create a character that was really fun, quirky, and out there, but also wanted her to feel as real and believable as all the other characters on the show. That’s such fun stuff for an actor.

TrunkSpace: Were you a fan of the show and/or comic book before becoming a part of what many consider, one of the riskiest and original shows in the television realm?
Strassman: I had never watched the show before, and when I got the audition, I started binge-watching it and just couldn’t stop. I was momentarily shocked, offended, and confused during the first episode, and then by the end of it, I was like – this is brilliant! The story, it’s implications, the gorgeous artistic photography, the acting, the wardrobe, the lighting, the music… everything! I don’t know how this show wasn’t up for a ton of Emmys. It should have been.

TrunkSpace: You play Dr. Lois Slotnick on the series. Though she is highly intelligent, we wouldn’t exactly want her as our primary care physician! How did you prepare for your role of the Doctor? Was it daunting to create such a character among the other over-the-top characters?
Strassman: Yes, it was daunting! Like I mentioned, I think the most challenging part was to walk the line of letting her be very out there while keeping her as real and grounded as possible, so she would come off like a real person, and not a caricature or too broad to be compelling or interesting. It really helped me to imagine the backstory of such a character and how she became who she is. I was very drawn to the evil German scientist in “Wonder Woman,” and wished I could have played that role. I still think about her and what her backstory must have been, how she got to be wounded and vengeful. Interestingly, when I auditioned for Dr. Slotnick, she wasn’t actually written the way I play her at all. She was supposed to be kind of a passionate, geeky, excitable scientist with no particular accent. I did one take kind of like that, but then, just for fun, I went ahead and did another take with a German accent, making her darker than she was originally written. I’m grateful that the show’s creatives took a chance on what I did and hired me for the role!

TrunkSpace: Many of your scenes are with Tyson Ritter who plays Humperdoo. What was it like performing with Ritter?
Strassman: It’s so funny that you are asking about Tyson. I just saw the new movie, “Peppermint” this weekend, and I sent Tyson a tweet to tell him how wonderful he was. He played a very interesting homeless man in the film. And in “Lodge 49,” which I sometimes do ADR on, he plays another really interesting character. He’s really brilliant. He’s a no holds barred kind of actor, and just dives into the character like a kid. Here he is this incredibly handsome rock star, and once he’s all decked out as the Humperdoo, with his fake nose, fake teeth and disturbing contact lens in one eye, he is unrecognizable. He will totally go there, wherever his character needs to go. The sounds and stuff he was doing on set when I was there – it was so disturbing and funny I had to work really hard not to laugh. Brilliant!

TrunkSpace: Beyond “Preacher,” are there any additional comic book worlds and/or characters you would like to take on?
Strassman: Well, as I mentioned, I would love to play the evil scientist in “Wonder Woman,” if they were to ever re-cast the part, or do a new “Wonder Woman” television series. I really find the disturbed villains so fascinating. I think there are such moving backstories that go into making them who they are. Like The Joker, for instance, and I thought Betty Buckley was beyond superb in the role of Grandma in “Preacher.” I learned so much from watching her. Her work was so multi-dimensional. Another animated project I would love to be a part of one day is an anime series I actually starred in a few years ago. It’s called “Monster,” and it’s my favorite anime I’ve ever done or even seen. It’s quite disturbing and real, but absolutely brilliant. Guillermo Del Toro was said to have bought the movie rights for this project, and was talking about directing it. I’m too old to play the character I voiced in the series (Anna/Nina), but I would love to be a part of this project in any way I could if Del Toro or anyone else ever made it happen.

TrunkSpace: You have done a ton of voice acting throughout the course of your career. Was that always part of your personal plan or did that portion of your career happen as a happy accident?
Strassman: It happened as a happy accident when I was living in Paris when I was 20 years old. Someone offered me a job doing voices for a cassette tape that went with a magazine to help teach French kids English. I had never done it before, so I just jumped in blindly like a kid, and it turned out I was pretty good at it. That little job led to some jobs dubbing big French films into English, which led to a whole world of animation that opened up to me, and then video games, and anime commercials. I was the English voice for Air France for a while and things like voice-guided tours of The Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay. I was the English voice for French actresses like Juliet Binoche, Emmanuelle Béart, and Vanessa Paradis. I lived in France for 16 years doing TV, Film, Theatre and Voiceover work. I was just really, really lucky. To be honest, I was very self-conscious about what I looked like when I was younger, and felt I wasn’t pretty enough to be an actress. So, voiceover was really freeing for me because I got to play so many different roles, regardless of what I looked like. It was indeed an amazing happy accident and a gift.

Photo By: Paul Smith

TrunkSpace: Air France and The Louvre! Is it surreal to think that more people have probably heard your voice than some of the biggest “stars” of today?
Strassman: (Laughter) Yes it is.

TrunkSpace: Obviously it seems like anything can happen in “Preacher,” but when it comes to animation, that truly is the case. There are no budgetary limitations when storytelling for animation, which must put you in some very unique circumstances by way of the characters you inhabit. With that being said, what is one of the more unusual scenes you’ve ever found yourself performing in?
Strassman: Well, one of my favorite characters is in a series called “Persona.” I play a robot named Aigis who is an amazing fighter and machine, but all she wants is to become human and experience what it is to love. She ends up giving up a lot of her powers so she can experience what it is to have emotions and feel love. I play an endearing gnome-like character named Chromie in “World of Warcraft” who can travel in time and turn into a badass dragon. That’s pretty cool!

TrunkSpace: Do you approach inhabiting a character in animation the same way that you do with on-screen work? Where are the similarities and where are the differences?
Strassman: Yes, in many ways the process is very similar. It’s sometimes tempting to cut corners in voiceover and just “do a voice,” but in the long run, just doing a voice comes out as two-dimensional, and never ends up being that compelling to an audience. It’s not until you really have a feel for your character – where they came from, what they want, some intimate details about their life – that they really come to life. It’s much more fun and fulfilling to work that way.

TrunkSpace: Your resume is vast and very diverse. That being said, what is something you still hope to accomplish that you have yet to tackle? What is on your creative bucket list?
Strassman: Ahhh, there are so many characters I’d love to explore. I played Helen Keller when I was a younger girl, and I’d love to play her as an older woman. I love playing characters who have handicaps or challenges to overcome, whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. I’d also love to settle in to a juicy regular role on a compelling TV series with a wonderful cast and crew for a while. There is something so magical about being able to stay with a show over a certain period of time and evolve with the everyone in it, like being part of a moving circus or being on a tour with an ensemble. You become a family and can really dive into your characters and the storyline together. That’s definitely high on my creative bucket list.

Preacher” is available for streaming at AMC.com.

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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

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

Mishel Prada

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Photo By: Louis Oberlander

In a post-apocalyptic world, being a survivor is not always a good thing, particularly for those attempting to outlast a zombie-geddon. Mishel Prada knows all too well about weathering that flesh-eating storm after being cast as a lead in the “Fear the Walking Dead” companion web series “Passage” where she portrays Gabi, one of the last hopes for humanity.

We recently sat down with Prada to discuss Emmy praise, her surprise casting, and immersing herself into the physicality of the role.

TrunkSpace: First we just have to say that it is extremely cool to see a genre series like “Passage” get recognized by the Emmy folks.
Prada: I know. It is really cool. I think the coolest part about it is that it’s part of this new media that’s coming out. I feel like new media is like this new generation’s rap music. People are like, “What is that rap music?” and then it ends up actually changing the game. I think new media and the online market, online web series and magazines, is the future. There’s an interesting change that is happening. It’s really cool to be a part of that.

TrunkSpace: Did you put more pressure on yourself as an actor stepping into something like “Passage” where you’re basically being folded into this massive universe/franchise that already has a huge fanbase?
Prada: I didn’t even know what I was getting into. (Laughter) I auditioned for it not knowing what it was at all and then didn’t realize what it was until the fitting. And then I didn’t realize that I was meant to be one of the leads of it until I got the script. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Wow. That’s a pleasant surprise!
Prada: I was like, “Oh, me and Kelsey are carrying this whole thing? Awesome!”

TrunkSpace: Discovering unexpectedly that you’re a lead in a high profile gig related to “The Walking Dead” seems like it might bring on a sudden panic attack. (Laughter)
Prada: (Laughter) Yeah, but it’s also exciting because as an actor, it’s fun to get to just dig into these stories. In addition to obviously being part of this big franchise, Lauren Signorino and Mike Zunic did an incredible job of writing a story that I felt really connected to. On set Kelsey and I really felt strongly about that, which was women coming together, doing their damn thing, and just surviving. In addition to being part of the franchise, it was this beautiful icing on the cake to get to also be part of telling stories that I think are very poignant for this time.

TrunkSpace: And from what we learned in talking with Kelsey, you guys got to do your own stunts as well, which must have made for some post-apocalyptic fun?
Prada: 100 percent. We had stunt people, but you kind of just get so deep into the characters that it almost doesn’t make sense to let somebody else take the fall or to feel the pain or whatever it is. In the moment, it was really just all-immersive. And then afterward, Kelsey and I went and had a margarita and we were sitting there just going, “Well, what was that?” (Laughter) We were all bruised and we went and had a spa day.

TrunkSpace: Much of the series looks claustrophobic. Did the shoot itself have that feel?
Prada: It wasn’t claustrophobic in the sense that you feel trapped, but it was definitely close quarters. The smoke and the dust and everything was very real. In between takes, we were having to wear these breathing masks. Just trying to also stay in it, which is the biggest thing because a lot of times an actor, you can kind of step away from the environment, but there’s also a beauty to sitting in the uncomfortableness of it because that is reality for the character. So there was a sense of making sure that you’re still honoring that.

TrunkSpace: Humans are always scarier than the zombies in “The Walking Dead” universe, but was it kind of weird to see the zombies standing near the crafty table in-between takes sipping a latte or whatever? (Laughter)
Prada: (Laughter) The makeup is amazing. The effects department does a really great job. They cast these characters with these really beautiful, interesting faces so that they kind of accentuate the angles. Yeah, it is a really cool thing to be a part of and see.

TrunkSpace: What’s amazing is that a lot of times these companion shorts/web series can sometimes feel like they’re shot on the cheap and not fully immersed in the umbrella of the universe, but with “Passage,” it seemed like they pulled no punches to make it look and feel just like what fans of “The Walking Dead” or “Fear the Walking Dead” have grown accustom to.
Prada: Yeah, the cinematography was incredible. They did a really great job. I remember seeing a lot of the stills and just thinking how beautiful it looked. We weren’t really wearing a lot of makeup and it wasn’t really about the women looking beautiful or looking poised. A lot of it was just about whatever the action was that was going on and the beauty of the sets, which was really cool.

TrunkSpace: When you learned that you would be one of the leads in “Passage,” did it feel like it could open more doors in your career?
Prada: As with anything in life, it’s always good to just experience what you’re experiencing right at the moment. I suppose that is the luxury of not knowing what the future is with the project. All that you know is just that moment and all of us could kind of take a lesson in that… just to really focus on what’s in front of you and whatever you’re feeling and tend to that.

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

TrunkSpace: Since it aired, have you felt the reach of “The Walking Dead” fanbase?
Prada: Yeah, the fanbase has been really cool. I have a friend that’s on “The Walking Dead,” Alanna Masterson. I’ve seen what has happened with her being on the show. It never really occurred to me when we were shooting it that it would be something that would carry over in that way.

I think what’s cool about “Fear the Walking Dead” is that it really embraces a lot of diversity with the way the Latin community looks at death in a different way. Whereas, in Mexico and most of Latin American, death is celebrated. It is feared to some extent, but it’s just a transition. There’s a compassion in a way.

TrunkSpace: It’s almost more of an acceptance of death and not fighting against it.
Prada: Exactly, and having to live with that death as opposed to being able to bury it away and forget about it.

TrunkSpace: Earlier in our conversation you mentioned that it is cool to be a part of this new media generation. Do you think the various platforms that are now available to viewers has enabled content creators to take a more creative approach to storytelling and tell the story they want to tell?
Prada: Oh yeah, 100 percent. That’s why it’s so incredible that there is this place that just eliminates the excuses of, “Oh well, a studio’s not giving me money so…” Even if you only have an iPhone, you can tell a story and put it up, and people might resonate with it.

Watch “Passage” here.

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Wingman Wednesday

Julie Ann Emery

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Photo By: Ryan West

As Betsy Kettleman on AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” Julie Ann Emery solidified herself as one of the more versatile actresses working in television today. Her performance as the headstrong wife and mother of the Kettleman clan became the most memorable of the series, which is impressive considering it is an entire show built around memorable performances. Now the Tennessee native is back at AMC stealing scenes in “Preacher” as the zealot Featherstone, a role she calls one of her favorites.

We recently sat down with Emery to discuss how “Preacher” is speaking directly to its audience, how in many ways the series feels lifted directly from the pages of the comic, and why Betsy Kettleman’s wardrobe meant so much to who the character was.

TrunkSpace: You joined “Preacher” in its second season and you also had an incredible run on “Better Call Saul” with AMC being the common thread that ties both of them together. It really seems like there’s no better place to be in terms of quality, character-driven content than AMC these days.
Julie Ann Emery: Thank you AMC for handing me two of my favorite roles of my entire career! I’m absolutely thrilled to be back at the network and thrilled to be on “Preacher” with Sam Catlin who was of “The Breaking Bad” world before he was of “Preacher” and I feel very at home and very challenged by my character, which is a lot to say as a woman in the business. To actually have two characters like that, who are so incredibly challenging to play and challenging to get into the headspace of, it’s a real gift as an actor.

TrunkSpace: And obviously there’s more content now than ever before, but at the same time, quality has not been overlooked for quantity. In fact, the quality of TV just keeps getting better.
Julie Ann Emery: The thing is, it was four main networks and HBO before everybody else jumped in. And HBO was doing really interesting niche stuff, but when you’re trying to appeal to the broadest possible audience, the characterization in the stories kind of gets watered down. But with so much programming happening, I feel like we have really embraced more niche programming, which “Preacher” definitely falls into. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You hear so much about how shows need to be “grounded in reality” in order to get on the air, but what we love about “Preacher” is that in a lot of ways it says to hell with reality and just does its own thing. Does that make the performance aspect of the show more appealing because anything can and does happen?
Julie Ann Emery: I was a fan of season 1 of “Preacher” before I ever got the audition for season 2 and what intrigued me about it was how far it pushed the envelope, but them how grounded the acting was. So, “Preacher” is definitely wacky and it definitely lives in its own universe… the violence is kind of Tarantinoesque and always has a sense of humor… but there is always something grounded and relatable about the characters walking around. And that as a viewer is definitely my sweet spot. To really push the envelope in terms of circumstance, but to still have the interesting, complex, relatable characters doing grounded work inside of that, it’s both challenging as an actor and a thrill.

TrunkSpace: The series also just looks different than most of the other shows on TV, which is another refreshing aspect of it as a whole. In many ways, it feels like they just brought the comic book to life.
Julie Ann Emery: We just had the premiere at the Ace Hotel in LA and watching it on a big screen, there were moments that literally looked lifted straight from Steve Dillon’s art in the comics. They’ve really found a way to honor what they’re doing with the comic book series and still keep some kind of real life going on. It’s really interesting to watch and it struck me how much of the tone of the show happens in post with the choice of music and the visual editing style and the production design by Dave Blass. It’s so brilliantly done. It’s so grounded in reality, but it also honors the comics in such a huge way and takes such risks visually with colors.

It’s a really thrilling thing because when the artistic work on a show is so high across the board and when everyone is so excited to dive into something so unique, it’s a really nice spot to be in as an artist.

TrunkSpace: If everybody is giving 100 percent and there are excited faces all around you, it’s hard not to go to work with an equal level of excitement every day.
Julie Ann Emery: Agreed and I’ve had the great fortune to be in that circumstance both on “Fargo” and “Better Call Saul” and now “Preacher.” Everyone is there every day trying to raise the level of what’s going on… trying to elevate the work. It’s really exciting when that happens across the board like that.

To be inspired by a costume or a set piece or a new set they just built… with a show like “Preacher” you can draw inspiration from such a variety of places. It’s great.

Julie Ann Emery in “Preacher”

TrunkSpace: For those who haven’t read the comic, where does your character Featherstone fall into things?
Julie Ann Emery: So Featherstone is a member of an organization called The Grail. It’s described as a pseudo-fascist religious organization bent on world domination. And they are. Featherstone has a very strong faith. She really believes the world has gone to hell and she is working to save it and she will blow it up if she has to in order to save it. She’s very dedicated. She could be described as a zealot. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do to accomplish her mission or serve the cause.

There’s a transformation aspect to Featherstone that I think lends itself to the “there’s nothing that she wouldn’t do.”

TrunkSpace: Will viewers get to see that transformation and the origin story of how she finds her way?
Julie Ann Emery: I’m not going to get into story spoilers. (Laughter) But, I think you will definitely see that the Featherstone from the comics is very much honored but there are dimensions of her on the show that have taken her further. And those dimensions are such a thrill as an actor to play. They really have rounded her out in a really beautiful way.

She’s definitely a bad ass. Even more so than in the comics. She’s Type A and a woman in a man’s world. I’m surrounded by men a lot in The Grail, but she is always the most capable person in the room, save maybe for Herr Starr. She is super, super dedicated and has no life outside of The Grail and her mission and she likes it that way.

TrunkSpace: Comic fans are so rabid when it comes to their favorite properties and characters. You mentioned that there are new dimensions to Featherstone that may not be familiar to readers of the comic. Was there a discussion about how those changes or additions would be perceived by fans of the source material?
Julie Ann Emery: I auditioned for the role, so it was something that was added already when I came on board, but I think it is something that they spoke about quite a lot in the development of her. I know that when I auditioned they had already rewritten the character a few times, even throughout the audition process. The bones of Featherstone, what I like to call Featherstone proper where she’s in her Grail uniform and being herself, is very much from the comic. When she goes undercover or lays a trap for someone and there’s this transformational aspect of her and how far she’s willing to go with that, that’s a new element. So it’s not like they diverted from the Featherstone of the comic, it’s just that they have taken her further.

I am a fan of the comics. I had not read them before I started the show and now I’m very deep into them. I recognize her completely from the comics and I think fans of the comics will recognize her as well, but there are other dimensions to her that round her out.

TrunkSpace: Is this your first time playing in the fanboy/comic world sandbox and are you prepared for the feedback that follows?
Julie Ann Emery: I don’t know if there’s preparation for that.

I worked on “Better Call Saul” and the “Breaking Bad” fandom is very intense and very intelligent. They will notice something on a shelf behind you that is barely in focus and then they will have a discussion about it. I’m used to that side of it, but as much of a sci-fi/fantasy fan that I am, I’ve never done anything from a comic or that’s sci-fi related.

Well, that’s not true. I did Steven Spielberg’s “Taken” for the SyFy channel years and years ago, but that was before social media took over the world. (Laughter)

I’m excited about it because I am a fan like that of things. I’m a huge “Star Wars” fan. I’m big fan of “Wonder Woman” and I like to go online and chat with people about stuff, but I have not been on the receiving end of that nerd out, so I guess that’s a journey I have to see play out. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: As a character, Betsy Kettleman is one of the best to ever grace the small screen. She was someone we all know in real life, but at the same time, was completely original in the TV world. She had so many great layers to her and we’re curious where you ventured to in order to discover her?
Julie Ann Emery: The development of the Kettlemans was incredibly collaborative from the top down. Vince Gilligan directed our first episode and he and Peter Gould were on set the first day of shooting and we spent an enormous amount of time doing character development and talking about the Kettlemans and who they are and defining them. That never happens on a TV schedule. We had extra time to shoot the first episode from Sony and AMC, otherwise it might not have happened. And they changed what happened to the Kettlemans after we shot that first episode. The writers became kind of fascinated with what happened out of that collaboration on set and some of the things we talked about, which also never happens on television because they have to turn the scripts over so fast that they’re not very often able or willing to go back in. But they did in this case and it turned out as something, I think, incredibly special.

I love to play characters who are different than who I am. I like to step into someone’s shoes that I don’t necessarily understand. And Featherstone falls into that category in a lot of ways. I always say that a lot of times the character might think differently than I do, but Betsy’s brain works differently than mine does. She was a huge gift for sure and I love that on the outside she does look like someone who is probably walking around your neighborhood and then what you discover about her is something entirely different.

Saul Goodman on “Breaking Bad” was the wacky, out there character. The Kettlemans are that on “Better Call Saul.” In some ways they’re so wacky and out there, but they love each other so much that it always comes back to something grounded and relatable. There are a lot of us who would do almost anything for our families and Betsy definitely falls into that category in a meta, uber way. (Laughter)

Julie Ann Emery in “Better Call Saul”

TrunkSpace: Often times actors will say that getting into wardrobe helped them discover who a character was, particularly in period pieces of science fiction. But Betsy had this amazing wardrobe that was also so not amazing at the same time. Did her style help you with who she was?
Julie Ann Emery: I discovered a lot along every step of the way with Betsy and wardrobe had a lot to do with it. In some ways her wardrobe is very plain and something you would see somebody walking around in, but then at the end of the first episode she puts on this lime green skirt suit that’s a little ill-fitting. It was a little big on me and I asked them not to alter it. At the heart of it, I wanted her to have money but have no idea what to do with it. Like, she saw some politician’s wife wearing skirt suits, so she needed a skirt suit, but she went and picked a lime green one. And then she went and picked a burnt orange one. She is figuring out what the world is and getting it wrong sometimes, but she thinks she’s getting it right. And then as the show went on, the clothes started to fit more and the colors were still off, but she was getting more of a handle on it, which was something that I thought no one but the costume designer and I would ever realize. Good on you, man! (Laughter)

Preacher” airs Mondays on AMC.

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