Fear The Walking Dead - Colman Domingo

Exclusive: Colman Domingo on Fear The Walking Dead S3 and 'peeling away' the layers of Strand

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Actor Colman Domingo is about to delve into a new chapter of his complex character Victor Strand on Fear The Walking Dead, beginning with tonight's two-hour Season 3 premiere on AMC at 9 p.m. ET. But first, he wants you to know one thing: Strand has a plan, as Domingo tells us in the exclusive interview below.

Last season Strand helped Madison, Alison and Travis escape the hotel, but stayed behind himself. Meanwhile, Nick and his group crossed over the U.S. border and were ambushed by unknown attackers. This season we'll meet new characters and new groups on both sides of the border, including the Militia. And we'll likely find out exactly what Strand's plan is.

Season 3 of Fear the Walking Dead will have 16 episodes, split into two sections. The series has already been renewed for a fourth season. 

Fear The Walking Dead - Colman Domingo

Domingo, a Tony and Olivier Award-nominated actor and award-winning playwright, talked with Syfy Wire about his role as the Lone Ranger in Timeless, Strand's journey so far on Fear the Walking Dead, and why he's thrilled we got to know Strand before we discovered he was gay.

Before we get into Fear The Walking Dead, great job on Timeless as the Lone Ranger.

I’m popping up everywhere, yeah. I’m like a jack-in-the-box. I'm popping up on your favorite TV shows. Hopefully movies, too.

It was such a cool bit of history, and an interesting and unexpected role to see you as the Lone Ranger, who the Timeless characters were surprised to discover was black.

I had such a good time with that. We were shooting, I mean, you saw those locations. There was no Hollywood studio for that. We were out in Vancouver in the cold, of course. You’re a little bit of wimp at times. You’re like, “Oh, my God, it’s so cold. But it’s going to look amazing!” That’s all I thought about. It’s going to look really good, so just settle down.

You got to do some horse riding too.

I did some horseback riding, as well, which I loved. I just learned it a couple years ago. I just love whenever I get on a horse, which is cool.

Fear The Walking Dead - Colman Domingo

So, let’s talk about Fear. Strand has been a real revelation.

Yeah, he’s like peeling away an onion.

He does have lots of layers. When you first read the script, what did you think initially about him?

It was the first script in a long time that I really thought, “Oh, this is fun, and I think it taps into a lot of skills that I have.” He’s a fun, enigmatic character. He’s mysterious. And the writing team, Dave Erickson, he didn’t give me a lot when it comes to background and just said, “He’s a self-made man. He is really smart and charismatic.” And that’s all he told me ... They leave a lot of room for you to create, for you to develop this character. It’s funny, because in my audition I wore a suit. He’s very wealthy. He’s got a great suit, and it’s like an electric blue Hugo Boss suit. It’s a color that no person really would wear anymore. But I wore this electric blue suit from Hugo Boss that I had.

Then at least they'd remember you as the guy in the blue suit.

Exactly. “Yeah, we like that guy, that guy with the blue suit. Yeah, he was fast-talking and he’s slippery. That’s what I like about him.” So that’s how I knew. And then the character starts to take off, and then I guess, you never know what goes on in the writers’ room, really, and in the minds of the creators of the show.

Strand is a survivor, quite obviously. We knew that from the moment we met him. But he has all these other levels. And he’s got a boyfriend, which I didn't see coming at all.

Which is what I enjoyed so much about it, because I love the way they set up this character. You understand his principles, how he operates, all of that, before you get to know the personal. ... He's revealed in different parts. I love that he’s revealed little by little, so then you have to just confront it when it’s revealed, you know what I mean? I think it's a smart way to reveal character, because hopefully what we're trying to do with television and entertainment is to reveal things about ourselves, of course, right. Maybe somebody had an issue with [him being gay] or maybe they don’t. I was like, oh, wow. If I knew that from the jump, maybe I would have put all these other things on him. But now, it’s like you can’t, actually. It’s dismantling what you may even think about someone in the same-sex relationship. So that’s what I thought was cool.

Fear The Walking Dead - Colman Domingo

There were so many revelations already in the series, and to find out he has a boyfriend that he loves very dearly, that was a surprise. He’s not just a survivor. And he’s not just a businessman and this complicated, interesting character. There’s more levels personally. But then also when the hacienda is burning down he comes back for Madison. That was a revelation to me, that he wasn't just thinking about saving himself. He risked his life to save Madison, and he didn't have to.

Yes, that's what I thought. I thought what’s been so beautiful about the way they’ve been writing Strand is that you can always look back. I like to look back at Strand now. Like, the person goes through Season 1 and Season 2. Now let me look at all the things Strand has done. Has he done it for himself, or was he always thinking about others? Or was he trying to make the most pragmatic decisions and not just relying on his heart? He built the strong bond with Madison when it comes to looking after one another.

He seems to respect her on a level he doesn’t with Travis.

Yes, absolutely. The thing with Strand is you have to earn it. Travis never earned that, in a way. The moment someone is just dead set against him, he’s got no use for them. He’s like, “Oh, that’s fine, if that’s your position then that’s where you need to be.” It always echoes who we are and our humanity, whether we see the other person’s point of view. I think Madison comes closer to doing that with Strand. They do that with each other.

I think he realizes, too, Madison’s a survivor.

I think that these are people who are really good at assessing others quickly. I think they sized each other up from the moment that they saw each other, trying to get out of that detention center, the holding center. I think that the moment they saw each other, they sized each other up and, “Oh, I get you. That suit is bulls**t. You’re actually more like me.” He’s like, “Okay, I see you. You’re more than just a mom. You are really strong. You’re really fierce. You’re really type A, okay.” And then they play these games with each other because they know each other. It’s almost chemical that they can sniff each other out.

I find their relationship fascinating and unexpected.

That’s what I love, what audiences put on to that relationship as well. Some people think we’ll see something romantic happening. What if it’s actually a bit more complicated? What if all relationships are a bit more complicated and instead of just, this is a relationship, because once again we’re in the apocalypse. And even the idea of relationship has changed and family has changed.

The other relationship I thought was really interesting was Strand and Nick. I thought there was almost a father-son sort of thing going on there, which was really interesting.

Absolutely, once again I think they're polar opposites. Like, you wouldn’t think that this businessman and this heroin addict would have anything in common, but they became like the buddy team. I would like to see what happens when they go on the road together.

Fear The Walking Dead - Colman Domingo

I don’t think he has a lot of value for Travis (laughs).

(Laughs) Travis has been so shut down to Strand, so then Strand has no use for him. It’s like, “Okay, either you accept my value in some way or then, okay, I guess we have no use for each other. We’ll stay apart as much as possible then.” But I think that he can see, I remember there was a scene that Travis and Strand had, it’s about being useful. He’s like, “Okay this is what you do. If you can fix things and take care of that then do that. But if you need a pat on the back it’s like, I don’t have time for that.” He was like, “Just do what you’re supposed to do but I guess you need a hug. And like, okay, here’s your hug, and now let’s move on. Let’s get the business taken care of. I love the idea because Travis has been revealed he’s such a strong character, as well. It’s just covered by his heart. He leads with his heart.

My guess is that Strand is most surprised by Alicia and what she’s done. She's had to grow up.

Quickly... Exactly, I love the moment where, I think it was just a few episodes prior, Strand was saying, “I know you’re not running on my deck on the boat,” like treating her as if she was five-years-old. But based on watching her, the way she would step up and make adult decisions, and make very pragmatic decisions, as well. He respects her. So once again, it’s about what you’re bringing. It’s like, Strand is not someone who I don’t even think he used the word love. It’s about what you do. Based on his own childhood that he expressed in one of the episodes, he didn’t grow up with a lot of love with his own parents. It’s about what you do and what your value is. And that’s how I respect you. So, he sees that young girl as an ally and the idea that she took care of him when he got that unfortunate stab from a grieving woman. And they have that very sincere moment of understanding each other. He sort of becomes a surrogate dad.

Well, even Strand would admit to loving one person... his boyfriend, Thomas Abigail.

Yeah, the thing is it’s a very interesting, complex thing. Because I love even the way with the relationship began... Even the way they came together, it was never a romance. It was a meeting of the minds and such respect and trust. And then it developed into something so deep that I think it even surpasses even in his mind what he thinks love is. Actors, we all have our own secrets, the way we like to play things. And I like to play at the highest stakes. The season has aired but I really tried to put out that Strand knew he was so deeply connected to this human. But he knew that he loved him right before he had to kill him. He absolutely knew, "This is what I have to do because I feel I loved him so much I will not let him turn." We create these relationships, because they are that complex in this world. It’s not cut and dry. I’m like, wow, that moment when he’s sitting on the bed right before he told Abigail that he would take the laced cracker with him. He said things like “No, I love him and I’m obligated to him and I must do this because that’s what you do when you love someone.” You don’t let them suffer that way. And so I thought, let’s build it that way. There’s that moment and you can go back to season two and see that. That’s the moment he knows I love him more than I even understand. So I must do this service to him. That’s what love is.

Fear The Walking Dead

What do we have to look forward to that you can tell us about this season?

We left season two with everyone sort of scattered... Strand stayed at the Rosarito Beach Hotel. They went on. Ofelia’s on her on own journey. And I think it’s going to be a journey to see whether or not these characters come back together or not, or how do they forge ahead with the lessons that they’ve learned... What I love about it is that we’re all still foreigners, right now. It’s a foreign scenario but now it’s even more foreign. And you have to adapt new skills, whether it’s language skills, whether it’s communications skills, you name it.

What’s been your biggest challenges as far as acting goes when it comes to the new season?

My biggest challenge, this is going to sound funny (laughs). Coming back into the show, you know I pride myself on being a very physical person, and I eat healthy, etc. But nothing prepares you for coming back on to a set for 14-hour days doing highly physical work and highly emotional work. It’s like your muscle has been a little soft. I’ve guest-starred on some things and did some work on other shows, but there’s a muscle that you have when you’re working so consistently, especially on our show, because you’re doing an epic film every eight days with different scenarios, the high stakes, high scenarios, high drama. We mostly pride ourselves on being a company of actors who do most of their own stunts. So when you see us in the water, that’s us in the water. If you see us jumping off something, that’s us jumping (laughs). So your body, after the first week, you’re like begging for the Epsom salt and a hot shower and a bath and sleep. So that’s the most taxing. But you go to bed and you’re like, wow, you know you did a good job if you are exhausted. You have an hour to possibly learn the lines for tomorrow and go to bed and begin your journey again. It’s just that, it can wear on you. But once you’re up to speed, hopefully after month or two, we’ll be in a good place.

Luckily it's not 22 episodes.

Oh, my God. If it was 22 episodes I think I would lose my mind. I have friends who are on shows that are 22 episodes and I thought, “Oh, my God, I couldn't do it.” But you know, these sixteen can really wear you out (laughs). I’m grateful there’s sixteen.

We left Strand at the hotel at the end of season two. I can't imagine the hotel people will be his number one fans.

His strongest allies (laughs)? You’re absolutely right. But I think what we’ll find with Strand is that he’s always someone with a plan.

He’s still recovering from the stab wound. So being on the road wouldn’t necessarily be conducive to healing.

Exactly, exactly. So I think that the skill-set that Strand has, I’ve always prided it that it’s his strongest asset, which is his mind. I’m sure that he can, whether he needs to help manipulate the situation, work it out with the people at the hotel for even another 24 hours. I have no idea. I can’t tell you that. Whether he negotiates something, he needs to do so so he can make the next step. So I think that he’s really wily in that way. At the end of the episode when he handed the gun to Madison and sent them on their way, he’s not someone who’s just going to do that and just give up. He’s got a plan.

He's like a chess player figuring things out.

Yes, he’s a few steps ahead even if it’s maybe a little daring. He’s got a plan at least. And that is his strongest weapon right now. Once again, we’re not superheroes. As of yet we don’t have a crossbow or a hammer or something. He got his wit right now. His good looks and charm (laughs). But I’m not sure if that’ll last too long. He’s going to have to get armored up at some point.

Fear The Walking Dead - Colman Domingo

I think he knows that without Madison there, the hotel people are not going to be around for long.

Yeah, I don’t think they’re going to be singing Kumbaya any day now, right (laughs).

What has surprised you most about the show so far in this role, the thing you weren’t expecting?

The thing I didn’t expect, honestly, and I think you just can’t expect it is the fandom. How passionate people are about the show. And let me tell you, our fans are the kindest, sweetest, most generous fans. I’ve been working for 25 years and the idea of people showing up to Comic Cons with something that they made for you or because they really value what you’re bringing. And also they show that they appreciate you. And it’s a different way of someone just being a fan and like, “Oh, I love what you do.” But they’re like, “I really appreciate what you’re bringing and what you’re putting out into the world.” They're appreciative, not only of Strand, but of Colman, and that’s kind of cool. So I find myself hugging a lot of people, which is nice. I didn’t expect that.

Welcome to fandom (laughs).

Yeah, exactly, right (laughs). It’s really good.

The more genre stuff you do, like Timeless, is going to become something fans will get excited about. As you go to conventions and as you go meet more of the sci-fi fans you’re going to find out they’re going to follow what you do. They’re going to follow your career. They’re going to know everything that you do.

Maybe then I’ll be wearing like a full prosthetic disguise of the Walking Dead (laughs).

Let me ask you this one last question. If someone has never tuned in to Fear, why should they catch up and then watch the show this season?

Because it’s an extension of this universe of The Walking Dead. I think what I love is that it’s really singular when it comes to its point of view. We’re not based on any comic book. It really is about character and story and family with a little gore in it, as well. So I think you get a lot of mini-genres, in a way. Basically it’s just about families trying to work it out and their relationships. And then the infected get in the way of that. You have this huge obstacle and that is just certainly trying to survive. So I think people are going to be really interested... there’s such strong characters. The thing that I’m very proud of is we have some of the strongest female characters on television.

It's true.

Whenever I have a scene with Kim and we’re fighting off some infected, and I’m like, “Why do you always hit the big guys that are coming after you and I get this tiny little person coming after me and I have a little crowbar, but you have like a hammer or something, or a gun.” But we have strong female characters. We have very complicated male characters. We have gallows humor. I think the humor that Strand has is really unique. A character like Strand is very unique in the television landscape.

There’s not a lot of humor in the show, but what there is is courtesy of Strand and Nick.

Exactly, it’s dark. It’s dark humor.

It’s pretty dark, yeah.

And also I think that people who always say, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t like gore. I don’t like zombies. I can’t watch that. It will give me nightmares.” They actually watch our show because our show is really a family drama with some zombies who get in the way. And I think there’s something there for everyone. Truly.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just that we’re having a great time so far, and we’ve added some new characters that are going to bring other complications. Once again, this universe, it just keeps expanding.

I can't wait to see what happens with the border people.

Yeah, that’s going to be interesting, because I think it’s also set a reflection of like humans, the idea of the border. The idea that were so ingrained in the border right now and all the complexities about it. About being a refugee in many ways.

It does reflect a little bit on the world today.

Yeah, just a little bit, just a little, yeah (laughs). Exactly, I think it’s helping us. It’s giving us a safe place to examine our own human crisis at the moment.