Lead actor Cliff Curtis talks “FEAR THE WALKING DEAD”


Actor Cliff Curtis is originally from New Zealand, but is often cast as Hispanic characters in films and TV series such as BLOW, RUNAWAY JURY and GANG RELATED. His FEAR THE WALKING DEAD character Travis was originally written that way as well, but when Curtis was cast, the producers gave the role a Maori background to match the actor.

In FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, which airs Sundays at 9 p.m./8 Central on AMC, Curtis’ Travis Manawa is a Los Angeles high-school English teacher dealing with family issues. He lives with his girlfriend Madison (Kim Dickens), the school’s guidance counselor, and her two troubled teens, isolated daughter Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and drug-addicted Nick (Frank Dillane), while trying to reconnect with his angry adolescent son Chris (Lorenzo James Henry), who is living with Travis’ fed-up ex-wife Liza (Elizabeth Rodriguez). With all this going on, neither Travis nor anyone he knows is remotely attuned to the possibility of the dead rising to attack the living.

Though Curtis has a heavy horror/fantasy background, with credits including DEEP RISING, VIRUS, THE FOUNTAIN, SUNSHINE, 10,000 B.C., PUSH and THE LAST AIRBENDER, he admits to Fango, during a Television Critics Association press event, that the original WALKING DEAD wasn’t part of his viewing diet before he became involved in the spinoff. “I was very aware of it, but I didn’t follow it,” he says. “So I was introduced to that show through this show, but I’ve since become a fan.”

Whether heroic or villainous or somewhere in between, most of Curtis’ screen characters are men of action. FEAR, however, sees him playing a guy who, despite all his family pressure, can be described as laid-back when we first meet him—and for a good while afterward. The actor couldn’t be happier about this: “I’m loving it. He doesn’t just start that way, he stays that way for as long as possible. He’s not a fierce character at all.”

Travis is exactly the kind of role Curtis was looking for, he adds. “I’ve been turning over rocks for a while. If you look at the last three TV shows I’ve done, I was a medic [in TRAUMA], then a CIA agent [in MISSING], and in the last one [GANG RELATED], I was kind of a gangster. I thought I was actually going to be playing a cop [in FEAR]—it’s a complicated story. So yeah, I have been seeking [a softer character]; it’s so refreshing to play someone who is a human being.”


In THE WALKING DEAD, many of the characters we met up front (Andrew Lincoln’s Rick, Norman Reedus’ Daryl) were cops or survivalists, whereas most of the protagonists in FEAR have never touched a gun or threatened anyone with lethal force. It’s not part of their world, and Curtis says that’s the point. “The whole premise is based on just not knowing what’s about to happen. That was great. All I had to be was completely unprepared. My focus was on Travis being who he was, the qualities of the man, what his strengths were and then counting those. He’s a high-school teacher who loves his job and loves his family. Really, I just focused on the idea that he’s in a tough situation. He’s dealing with teenagers—[his girlfriend’s] kids and his own estranged son. That’s his world. The whole idea of the apocalypse is completely weird. And also, they don’t even know it’s an apocalypse. ‘It’s a flu, it’s a virus. I’ve got reports I’ve got to do, I’ve got to get to work on time, I’ve got to organize [a lesson plan].’ ”

Curtis adds that he didn’t have to do any research into his onscreen profession. “I’ve done a bit of teaching, and I love that world. It could be an alternate possibility if acting doesn’t work out.” Given Curtis’ impressive résumé, this doesn’t seem likely, but he maintains, “I don’t know. I’m not far away from the big 5-0, and it could be an option.”

Meanwhile, he says he’s more comfortable in scenes where Travis is at odds with the women in his life than those in which he’s trying to be romantic with them, though he loves working with both Dickens and Rodriguez. “I’m more comfortable negotiating the known,” he explains. “I’m not necessarily as comfortable with wooing scenes. That’s just me, personally. There’s more work for me [in romantic moments] than it is for me to deal with a known quantity. But they’re both so lovely.”

In conclusion, Curtis says that what he’d most like people to know about FEAR THE WALKING DEAD is simply this: “I’m proud of the work we’ve done. I think it’s a good show.”

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