Spotlight: The Walking Dead: World Beyond Press Day Interviews - Day Two

The Walking Dead: World BeyondSunday, the newest addition to The Walking Dead universe, The World Beyond, premieres on AMC. In Nebraska, a community has been living behind walls in relative safety for the past ten years. The series follows a younger group of survivors who have grown up sheltered from the undead (or "empties" as they are called) during the apocalypse. Sisters Iris (Aliyah Royale) and Hope (Alexa Mansour) and their classmates Elton (Nicolas Cantu) and Silas (Hal Cumpston) leave safety and attempt to move beyond the walls.

Although the show focuses on the four teens, a few of the main characters are adults. Julia Ormond stars as Elizabeth, Lieutenant Colonel of the secretive Civic Republic Military. Nico Tororella plays the role of Felix, the head of security at the university, who has also been tasked as guardian over Iris and Hope until their father returns. Fellow security officer and his partner, Huck, is played by Annet Mahendru.

Stars Ormond, Tortorella, and Mahendru took part in a virtual press junket for the series, which SciFi Vision was able to be a part of.

The stars talked about how the show is different from the flagship series because it focuses on the teens. Ormond likes that fact. "What I really like about it, is it's a kind of fresh start, I think. I really like the way that this spin-off takes elements that I really relish in the others [series] and then adds its own fresh take. I like the fact that it's a new generation, and it kind of feels like it's more Gen Z. It's not so much about what the parents will do to protect the kids. It's about the kids' journey and the kids growing up. This next generation has grown up with it, and [it’s about] how they're going to define the world going forward. So, I kind of feel as if it has the opportunity to sort of start again and see how this group of people will do it."

The Walking Dead: World BeyondOrmond also added later in the interview that the show has a kind of "game on or game over vibe" that she enjoys. "This tension and dynamics between authority, parents, children, and the journey through it is really the kids growing up and evolving and taking over. I think that's where the hope lies, anyway."

According to Totorella, “We have three generations in [this] The Walking Dead. We’ve got boomers, we’ve got millennials, and we’ve got Gen Z; we're all here. We see this story through the youngest generation. We haven't seen this in previous series of The Walking Dead; we've seen younger people in relation to their older counterparts, but we've never seen this band of teenagers who are questioning authority from the top, from the beginning. I think as World Beyond begins, we start to deal with news on a national level, not just a local level. The other series was dealing with smaller communities who run into each other. We're getting big picture puzzle pieces, and it seems like the old versus the young and vice versa in a lot of ways, not just in age. It's definitely a through line of the series."

Mahendru added, "It's just been incredible characters and you getting to know them. We've really been focusing on character, because the world is there, but we have a new perspective, sort of a new jumping point into it…So that's been fun, to focus on these incredible storylines."

The actors also talked a little more about their characters.

Ormond told journalists that as the leader of the CRM, Elizabeth has power. "Maybe not from a character point of view, but from a personal point of view, I like the fact that Elizabeth as a character seems to have a certain level of power, but it also…feels like that needs to be kind of torn down or challenged or whatever…That does need to be challenged, and it does need to be particularly young people taking up the mantle of leading us into whatever the world beyond is and making it new."

Towards the beginning of the series, we see that Felix’s family had a hard time dealing with him being gay, which really affected the character. Totorella said, "I feel like Felix has a hard shell and a just raw, cut open inside, but when that even comes out, there's a roughness to it; there's a hardness to it."

He also talked about Felix’s relationship with Iris and Hope. "I would say they're my family. They are Felix's sisters; they are the closest thing to family that Felix knows at this point. Each one has a specific relationship with Felix, but even that bends and shifts as any relationship does."

According to Mahendru, "[Huck]’s got just this incredible attitude about survival, and she's having fun surviving, which is rare, in a way."

She later added that she thinks Huck is the least vulnerable of the group because, "she feels like she's gotten over [and] worked through her vulnerabilities and is on the other side. She's found the light."

She also said that Huck wants the others to have the same revelation, because it can help them come together as a group.
 
Morality on the series, as on the other two series, is never black and white. The actors talked about how their characters each feel about their decisions on the show.

Ormond explained, "I think with Elizabeth, she's definitely got more tunnel vision around the philosophy or the approach that they're taking, and she's very politically committed to it, but I think as they journey into it, I guess the nuance of the character, the humanity around it, means that it's not necessarily always a comfortable journey."

Mahendru told journalists, "Huck has, in a way, broken that barrier of right and wrong, because she's seen all of it, and she's seen people that she revered shift sides in an instant when the sky fell. She's been part of the National Guard, and she's had all of her loyalties, and ultimately, she realized she just has herself."

The Walking Dead: World BeyondShe said Huck isn’t preoccupied with whether the choices she makes are right or wrong. "She’s moving forward and asking people, sort of not teaching lessons, but asking them, 'What are you going to do? What are you going to do about it now? Yes, there's a lot of drama, but don't get caught up in your emotions. What are you going to do?' Right now is when you have to make decisions about making decisions and moving forward, and that's her thing."

Tortorella commented on the morality. "I think the world has always done a good job of showing us that morality is not black or white. I think it's a fine line depending on which side of the argument you stand and who you're rooting for. I think Matt Negrete has spoken on this in the past, that at the end of this series, we'll find out; some of our characters will become villains and some of our characters will become heroes, but that means different things to different people, and that is very apparent on the show "

For the full interview, read the transcript below, and don't forget to checkout the interviews from day one. Be sure to watch The Walking Dead: World Beyond on AMC on October 4th, following the season finale of The Walking Dead.
         

Zoom Call
The Walking Dead: World Beyond
Julia Ormond, Nico Tortorella, Annet Mahendru

September 23, 2020

QUESTION: 
What has been your favorite part of joining this universe?

NICO TORTORELLA:  Just how large the universe is. How much has gone into this universe for the last ten years while still at the same time, our cast stepping into it and forming our own family. We had to get so tight so fast in Richmond, and now the show is coming out, and The Walking Dead fan base is so massive. I don't think any of us really realize what's about to happen.

ANNET MAHENDRU:  My favorite part has been working with Julia and Nico.
 
[laughter]

ANNET MAHENDRU:  It's just been incredible characters and you getting to know them. We've really been focusing on character, because the world is there, but we have a new perspective, sort of a new jumping point into it, and so there's been a lot of work to be done in that alone and in keeping away from kind of everything else, because you got a lot on the plate. So that's been fun, to focus on these incredible storylines.

JULIA ORMOND:  I think what I really like, other than, of course, working with Annet and Nico, [which is] my favorite part too, what I really like about it, is it's a kind of fresh start, I think. I really like the way that this spin-off takes elements that I really relish in the others [series] and then adds its own fresh take. I like the fact that it's a new generation, and it kind of feels like it's more Gen Z. It's not so much about what the parents will do to protect the kids. It's about the kids' journey and the kids growing up. This next generation has grown up with it, and [it’s about] how they're going to define the world going forward. So, I kind of feel as if it has the opportunity to sort of start again and see how this group of people will do it. Then there's this kind of slightly odd thing going on that I think is also a part of it in terms of how it reflects on what's going on in the world now.

QUESTION:  Have you thought differently about your characters and the themes of this show now that we're living through a pandemic?

ANNET MAHENDRU:  Yeah. I've been so grateful to have played Huck, because she's got just this incredible attitude about survival, and she's having fun surviving, which is rare, in a way. And I've totally taken all of her tricks with me, and I'm very grateful and paying respect to her every single day these days.

JULIA ORMOND:  I wish I could say the same about Elizabeth.

ANNET MAHENDRU:  Elizabeth is like God, what have you got to worry about?

JULIA ORMOND:  Well, it depends how you think about God.

NICO TORTORELLA:  I would say there are no coincidences in this in this life, in this world, that I got to live through this story and this character for six months before this happened. I think this show is more so than the other series about killing the zombies that live inside of us, rather than the zombies that exist in the world. For the first time in a long time, we've all been given the opportunity just to sit down and self reflect and figure out who we are and what the future means to us. We don't have time to grieve anymore as a world, as a society; we've lost that. This has reminded us of that; we forgot that we lost it a long time ago. I'm grateful, and I think the medicine is here, is in us. It's in this conversation right now, and it's in this show, World Beyond, because that's what we're all looking for, like, what is the world beyond this moment? What is 2021? Normal is gone, but that's freedom.

The Walking Dead: World BeyondJULIA ORMOND:  Yeah, I think what I like, maybe not from a character point of view, but from a personal point of view, I like the fact that Elizabeth as a character seems to have a certain level of power, but it also feels as if it's not - I guess, from a personal point of view, it feels like that needs to be kind of torn down or challenged or whatever. I think there's something about our world today that is being challenged and the systems showing up to be flawed and out of date and not serving us and being particularly thought of for certain people. That does need to be challenged, and it does need to be particularly young people taking up the mantle of leading us into whatever the world beyond is and making it new. Just, I think, when everybody's so stressed for resources, you have to think very hard about, "Where do our resources now go?" And I think, "What is it? How is it that we shape, what's the new structure? What is it that we want to emerge with?"

QUESTION:  My question is about how there are two sets of generations in the World Beyond: one about people who have actually seen the zombie apocalypse and one about teens who are actually getting exposed to the outside real world after being in the confines of a community. So, what is the synergy like between the characters that we can expect going forward in the season?

NICO TORTORELLA:  I think we have three generations in [this] The Walking Dead. We’ve got boomers, we’ve got millennials, and we’ve got Gen Z; we're all here. We see this story through the youngest generation. We haven't seen this in previous series of The Walking Dead; we've seen younger people in relation to their older counterparts, but we've never seen this band of teenagers who are questioning authority from the top, from the beginning. I think as World Beyond begins, we start to deal with news on a national level, not just a local level. Like the other series was dealing with smaller communities who run into each other. We're getting big picture puzzle pieces, and it seems like the old versus the young, and vice versa, in a lot of ways, not just in age. And it's definitely a through line of the series.

ANNET MAHENDRU:  It's funny, what happens in the shows is what's happening now, too. The person in charge, that gravity, it has shifted in a way. When we're out there, the kids are leading Nico and I, and it constantly kind of shifts. Everyone is in charge, which is really, really wonderful. And that's how we meet, by acknowledging that we all have the same responsibility to share.

JULIA ORMOND:  Yeah, I like it; it's got a kind of "game on or game over" vibe that I like, that is this tension and dynamics between authority, parents, children, and the journey through it is really the kids growing up and evolving and taking over. I think that's where the hope lies, anyway.

QUESTION:  My question is to Julia. I think Elizabeth presented this really sophisticated, refined leadership, and I found it interesting that at the end of the first episode, she chooses to get her hands dirty and actually ask for the charger and kill the zombie, or empty in this case, herself. I thought it said something about the character, and I was wondering what you thought about it.

JULIA ORMOND:  Yeah, no, I think that's right. I mean, I think with supporting roles, I think in the writing they have to show a lot or a whole level of backstory. I think there's something about Elizabeth that they present in one way, but then I think at the end when you see Elizabeth [take] someone out, you can see that she's come up through the ranks, as it were.

SCIFI VISION:  There're a lot of really great effects in the show everywhere, as there are in the other series. Is there something, maybe empties or anything else, that either particularly grossed you out or that you were particularly really impressed with?

JULIA ORMOND:  I was just really impressed with the people who play the empties and the resilience. I would find it really claustrophobic to be in that all day long. So, there's an incredible sort of artfulness in terms of the art department and special effects department who are doing stuff, but for me - maybe that's just coming at it too much from the actor's perspective - I just find it incredibly impressive that people function within that under the circumstances of filming.

ANNET MAHENDRU:  Having lunch with them is really impressive. I can't get enough of them, watching them eat. They're not zombies, like full time zombies, and they love it. I mean, what is it like to eat food as a zombie? I love [it]; lunches are my favorite, because I just can't believe it.

JULIA ORMOND:  You're just relieved they're not eating you.

ANNET MAHENDRU:  Yeah, yeah. There's a zombie on the phone with his mom. Like, okay. [laughs]

NICO TORTORELLA:  I'm going to go deep, deeper into the actor's perspective. The special effects are incredible, but I feel like the scariest part of our show are some of the characters and the people and the way that they're written and even more so the way that they are performed. Y'all ain't seen nothing yet.

QUESTION:  Annet, everybody seems to have a backstory, and they carry a little bit of PTSD with them. We saw a little bit of a Nico story in episode two and his backstory, where he comes from. But with Huck, she seems really chill and laid back, like she kind of just rolls with the punches. Are we going to get to get more in depth in her character and where she comes from and what makes her tick?

The Walking Dead: World BeyondANNET MAHENDRU:  Yeah, absolutely. She's got that scar on her cheek, and she wears it with pride and might, and she's really used her experience to build a future, to just see a future for herself. A lot of the characters are really struggling with that trauma, and they've been in the safe environment, but they have to go out there and have new experiences and use what they have. They have to know that what they experience is their gift; it's their way to survive. And she's had that revelation, and she's dying for them to have it as well, because that's how they can ultimately come together as a group and make a change and construct as opposed to destruct. So, she's very optimistic in that way, and it's very refreshing to have this character who's like, "Yeah, it's bad out there, but I'm having a good time, because that's all I can do." That's the attitude to have, to move forward. Slowly by slowly she will unravel, and she's got her own demons that will shatter some of that optimism here and there, but she's determined.

QUESTION:  The Walking Dead universe is so good at showing us that morality isn't always black and white, and without giving too much away, I was just wondering if your characters think they're doing the right thing throughout this journey.

NICO TORTORELLA:  I think the world has always done a good job of showing us that morality is not black or white. I think it's a fine line depending on which side of the argument you stand and who you're rooting for. I think Matt Negrete has spoken on this in the past, that at the end of this series, we'll find out; some of our characters will become villains and some of our characters will become heroes, but that means different things to different people, and that is very apparent on the show.

ANNET MAHENDRU:  Huck has, in a way, broken that barrier of right and wrong, because she's seen all of it, and she's seen people that she revered shift sides in an instant when the sky fell. She's been part of the National Guard, and she's had all of her loyalties, and ultimately, she realized she just has herself.



QUESTION:  Do you think that your character thinks they're doing the right thing?

ANNET MAHENDRU:  She's not preoccupied with that. She's moving forward and asking people, sort of not teaching lessons, but asking them, "What are you going to do? What are you going to do about it now? Yes, there's a lot of drama, but don't get caught up in your emotions. What are you going to do?" Right now is when you have to make decisions about making decisions and moving forward, and that's her thing.

JULIA ORMOND:  I think with Elizabeth, she's definitely got more tunnel vision around the philosophy or the approach that they're taking, and she's very politically committed to it, but I think as they journey into it, I guess the nuance of the character, the humanity around it, means that it's not necessarily always a comfortable journey.

QUESTION:  The one thing that struck me watching the first two episodes, was the amount of vulnerability that a lot of the characters have, whether they're good or bad. Can you guys speak to how your characters use that vulnerability to either gain strength or to conform to the world around them?

JULIA ORMOND:  I think, in terms of Elizabeth, and I'm not sure that you are necessarily referring to her, but I think in terms of Elizabeth, it's her relationship to disassociation and being sort of responsible for the buck, their take, as sort of being from the CRM, is very much kind of the buck stops here. We don't have the indulgence of just protecting our family or our unit, as we have to take on the responsibility of protecting everyone. So, the vulnerability, really, I guess, lies in how isolated and lonely that is for them taking that on. Then where are the little windows where that can kind of seep out, or does it? Is it even real or is it fake when it comes out? Is it kind of reaching for something that's a bit lost?

ANNET MAHENDRU:  I feel like Huck's maybe the least vulnerable of all of them, because she feels like she's gotten over [and] worked through her vulnerabilities and is on the other side. She's found the light. So, you know, what her revelation will be.

NICO TORTORELLA:  I feel like Felix has a hard shell and a just raw, cut open inside, but when that even comes out, there's a roughness to it; there's a hardness to it. He doesn't fight it, but it is rooted, like all of our emotions are are rooted, somewhat, in our pasts and our histories, not just as individuals, but as communities and as members of lineages and deep ancestral trauma. Like, this isn't new; we all carry this with us. And Felix has the ability to open up to his family, to the people that are closest to him, and that continues.

The Walking Dead: World BeyondJULIA ORMOND:  I also wanted to add that you are talking to the sort of upper two generations, as Nico identified it. I might be even one further on, but there is this enormous vulnerability in terms of the coming of age that basically surrounds Iris and Hope. I think that's where everybody else's vulnerability falls away from. There are some beautiful moments in terms of these two girls, and they're very different approaches to what's going on and their very different personalities. There's vulnerability in that, and then also the other kids that are in this as well. Actually, their vulnerability is what gives them access and window to their moral compass and all the rest of it. So, it has got that sense of innocence and freshness, and the vulnerabilities always, to me, [are] kind of like those moments of windows into the hopefulness of it.

NICO TORTORELLA:  The boys, Elton and Silas, the performances, the vulnerabilities from those two as actors and characters, holy shit. We all got it on the show, for sure.

JULIA ORMOND:  Well, you might

NICO TORTORELLA:  That scene when you are drunk or pretending to be drunk, come on, Julia Ormond? She's got that all in her face all day.

JULIA ORMOND:  I've got that drunk bit down? Is that what you were going to say? [laughs] Well, thank you. How complimentary.

ANNET MAHENDRU:  Have a drink!

NICO TORTORELLA:  [unintelligible]...truth, you were just so captivating.

QUESTION: As you continue to delve in and explore these characters, was there anything you were surprised to learn about yourself as actors?

JULIA ORMOND:  Oh, good question.

ANNET MAHENDRU:  I think I learned that I do play pool a lot, maybe too much. This one does that too...I think you're masking things with bravado when you're mean. In a way, I think Huck is like a stand-up comedian; she's really dark, but, hey, life's good, life goes on, and I'm going to make some jokes about it and get you to loosen up. But ultimately, we all have a chip on our shoulders, and it's about coming out and being more honest and being okay to have lots of nothing to say and just to be.

JULIA ORMOND:  I think what I learned from this, in particular as an experience, is that there was this real - I don't know, I found it really challenging as an actor that a lot of my stuff felt quite separated from the journey that the rest of the cast were on. It just sort of made me realize the degree to which you're dependent on, whether or not, no matter how much of Walking Dead you watch, or how much you tap into the universe, your world is created by you and the rest of the cast that you're with. You bounce off from them; you feed [from them]. Everybody kind of works together. So, coming in and then stepping out and coming in, I found it a bit disorienting as an actor. It wasn't as anchoring to feel as if it's the same thing as when you're going on that journey with them. So, I don't know, I felt like that was something that I needed to work on as an actor.

NICO TORTORELLA:  I feel like I found my body in this job in ways that I hadn't known before. I spend a lot of my time out of body and living in other spaces, both as a person and as an actor. But because of the demand of physicality of this job, the fighting, the training, the long hours, I was put back into my body as an actor. I was reminded that it didn't all live right here [indicates his face], and that was beautiful. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

QUESTION:  Nico, I used to watch you on Younger. It was quite a departure just to see you say like, "I was gonna kill my parents." It was so dark. And yesterday, Alexa [it was actually Hal] said that you [say] you're the Rick Grimes of the show.

NICO TORTORELLA:  No, I feel like I'm the Rick Grimes.

QUESTION:  She said you're always saying that you're the Rick Grimes of this show.

The Walking Dead: World BeyondNICO TORTORELLA:  Close in age and gender. Is there a question in that or just a comment?

ANNET MAHENDRU:  Soak it up.

QUESTION:  Yes. It's a very dark transition for you. I know they show [your character in the past], and it's not you there, but your whole backstory is there, the brutalness of your parents kicking you out, and you show that one tear on your cheek. I'm curious how that affects you to have a departure from the romance stuff, you know, from MILF hunter to zombie hunter, right?

NICO TORTORELLA:  Well, I'm actually more familiar with this genre than I am with the rom com genre. I have been on Younger for a long time, but that's a 22-minute show with eight series regulars, and I only work maybe one day a week for a couple months out of the year. But like we're talking Scream, Odd Thomas, The Following; I'm more used to the darkness, and I think, as a person, I have no problem stepping into the darkness. I spend a lot of time there; I can face it quite regularly, and this actually feels like a more comfortable genre for me than the rom com. The rom com was a relief when it came, because I had been working in heavy material for so long. I was like, "I just need a rom com. I don't want to have to kill anyone, or I don't want to worry about being killed." Like, let me just go and be sweet and cute for a little bit. But as an actor, that only goes so far; I'm not really challenged on Younger. I'm playing a version of myself. It's fun; it's cute, but this, it's like, "Okay, I get to act again, for real." I get to step into the darkness, and that's somewhere where I'm actually comfortable.

QUESTION: 
So, how would you guys describe your relationship with Iris and Hope?



NICO TORTORELLA:  I would say they're my family. They are Felix's sisters; they are the closest thing to family that Felix knows at this point. Each one has a specific relationship with Felix, but even that bends and shifts as any relationship does. But yeah, family.

ANNET MAHENDRU:  Iris doesn't say anything to me for a while, and it's a funny one. [laughs] We're just kind of avoiding each other. It's been quite something, and we finally get to talk somewhere towards the end, not to spoil anything, and it's a really awesome conversation. I'm like, "Damn, we should have talked more."

As far as Hope goes, we chat a lot, and it's always kind of a riffraff. So, we have a good moment and a vulnerable moment together, but a lot of kind of getting there.

JULIA ORMOND:  ...I think Elizabeth has an agenda.

[laughter]

JULIA ORMOND:  I don't mean to be mysterious about it, but I think defining what she really feels about them isn't particularly helpful. You have to watch it, sorry. You have to watch it to make your own deductions about what her relationship is to Iris and Hope.

NICO TORTORELLA:  Well, I have no idea what is about to happen on this show.
 
SCIFI VISION:  I'm sure these roles can get quite physical and probably more so than we've seen so far in the first two episodes, but can you kind of talk about that physicality and any stunts or weapons training you had? Do you like it? Is it hard for you, that kind of thing?

NICO TORTORELLA:  I love it. I love it so much. It's like a dance; this is full-fledged choreography. And you're not just responsible for your own body; you are responsible for the person that you're acting with, and it needs to be memorized. There's a science to it. You can't exude all of your energy at the top; you got to hold on to some of it, especially when you're shooting in a house that's on fire in freezing cold temperatures. Shit, you're just put to the test; you can rely on that to bring the character to life. I want to be an action star for the rest of my life.

The Walking Dead: World BeyondANNET MAHENDRU:  The only problem is you've got so many weapons around your belt; you always feel like your pants are falling down. [laughs] So, it's like, "I'm this badass; let me pull my pants up."

QUESTION:  Both of the other shows, they have a big bad, one or two each season. In your opinion, who is the real villain in this series?

NICO TORTORELLA:  We can't tell you that! That was a really sly way to [ask] that question. Like it wasn't even trying to dig.

JULIA ORMOND:  The villain is the pandemic.

QUESTION:  I couldn't place [Huck’s] accent…What accent is that on the series?

ANNET MAHENDRU:  Oh, well, she grew up in Queens, and she's half Indian. So, there's an amalgamation of accents, and the other half shall be revealed, but, you know, she's been around; she's been in the woods and she's talking to herself a lot. [laughs]

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