Actor Jenna Elfman is in Los Angeles when we connect with her, and while the visit allows her to grill the showrunners of Fear The Walking Dead for more info, it’s mostly about the kids. “I’m parenting,” she tells MyMBuzz’s Matt Chapman, which immediately begs the question: is her general cleanliness and appearance on the upside or the downside today? In short, is it easier to fight zombies or parent? “It’s actually way easier to fight zombies and kill walkers than it is to parent!” she says with a hearty laugh. “That might be my all-time favourite question I’ve been asked, so thank you for that.”
If that sounds a bit harsh on the kids, it’s them she has in mind when discussing how she’d survive an outbreak in the real world.
“I’d survive much better now after working on this show. You know several episodes ago in The Walking Dead when that woman came and did the barter system with Maggie and she wanted records in exchange for a book about medieval times. It was genius! I loved it, it was so smart. So if there was an apocalypse you’ve got to know how stuff works in the real world.
“It gave me thought about how we’ve become so dependent upon electronics and as a parent I think we have to make sure we’re educating our children in the ways of the real world and to never stop teaching children how to survive and function without being dependent on those devices. You know how you have to know the rules before you can break them? I think you need to know how to survive in the real world before you abandon it for the world of electronics, otherwise you’re just going to become a marshmallow of a human being. So it’s important to know skills. That was my takeaway – medieval times skills.”
Fear The Walking Dead airs Mondays at 9pm on AMC on BT TV in the UK.
You’re joining a show with a long history. Were you already a fan of The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead?
I became one. I hadn’t seen much of it at all and now I’ve seen everything of both shows. So I’m a fan and it makes it more fun to be a fan of the universe you are working in. I’m a fan of it as a fan, but just working on Fear and everything they’ve done to revamp the show I have a really deep appreciation for. Now having seen everything of both shows, I really understand what they’re doing with this revamp and I am in full agreement and support. I think everyone’s going to love it because it’s very dynamic. Even with the new cinematographers you can see visually the dynamics in it between the first two episodes and how visually with time you get these two sort of timelines and how they look different cinematically. And all of the dynamics between the characters and how these characters got from Mexico to Texas and how Morgan gets to Texas, the timelines, and how these characters are going to affect each other as they come into contact with each other – it’s dynamic. And they create change within each other and I think fans are really going to enjoy these first eight episodes. There’s some quiet stuff too, which is intimate. There are quieter, more intimate episodes and then there are some high voltage, high action episodes as well. So it’s an amazing first half of this season.
You were joining an established group of actors. But given those changes did it feel that or did it feel like joining a new show?
I think it was a transition for them as well because they are coming into a brand new aesthetic umbrella. So then having all these new characters coming on made it a transition for everybody. I used it to my advantage because my character is this outsider, coming in in a very uncomfortable way. It wasn’t uncomfortable for me as Jenna because everyone was so lovely but creatively it was awkward to say, ‘Hello everyone,’ while they’re all going through their transition time too. It was a big dramatic change, I think, for everybody. And that had its own little learning curve which we all used to our advantage in terms of performance. It was very organic in that way because everyone was just using this transition that we were all going through and putting it into the characters and the work. It all works very well.
What was your integration into the cast like? Do you meet everyone at reads or just on set?
I didn’t have a read. And we filmed a little out of sequence at first so it was unique. So because of the timelines you’re not always working with everyone at the same time. And when you have a bigger cast like that you come and go – I’ll see people at a wardrobe fitting, not on set, you know what I mean? So it was a little bit piecemeal at first in terms of who was working at what time together. And then when the whole cast got together and had dinner I was out of town, so I wasn’t part of that. Then I went to dinner with some other people and some of the others were out of town so we were all moving and morphing. Eventually we all found our way.
This show can be pretty messy. What’s been the grossest day of filming for you?
There’s been many. That oil scene in episode 402 in the tank was pretty messy and pretty intense. And also everything gets very heavy when you get it wet like that. The backpack, the coat, the layers, the boots, the wetsuit I was wearing underneath – so it was unbelievably heavy to move my body around with all of that. Which was good because that just added more struggle to it and I liked that because I could use it to my benefit in the scene. I’ve gotten very bloodied and sometimes if it’s been a long day filming you’re excited to get home to a warm bed. You try to clean all the blood off and sometimes I’ll forget that maybe I didn’t quite get it all and I’ll go back to the hotel and head to the front desk to mail out a package. You’ll be talking to them at the front desk and then get up to your room and realise my hands have blood and dirt on them and there’s blood on my ear and neck. I’m like, ‘Oh my God! I hope they know I’m filming this show.’
I also went out to dinner with Garrett [Dillahunt] and we both had blood on us, which we only realised afterwards. We were these two bloody people eating dinner in a nice restaurant, which is really odd. It’s one of the liabilities of this show. You know those under the nails brushes? Even that doesn’t get out what I have under my nails and in my cuticles. But I get so used to it that it’s kinda nice because I don’t have to be glam and worry about every little thing. Although when I go out in life I forget that you’re supposed to have clean fingernails and not gross stuff in my cuticles.
When they watch the show they’ll understand…
Then they’ll be asking me all these questions trying to get information about plots.
These shows have an incredibly high death count. When you sign on to a show like this, what do they say to you?
They don’t say anything. I have many emails and phone calls, and since I’ve been in LA I went and met with the showrunners here, pulling as much information as I can. Because I like where my character is going so it helps me with performance on how I plot out emotional beats and how I’m playing scenes. If I know where I’m going I can manipulate my emotional journey and I can help contribute to the best storytelling possible. So you have to be willing to be on the show for five years or get killed off in four episodes. I’m a series regular not a guest star but it’s one of those things like living in the Hollywood Hills. If you get a cat and it’s going to go outside, you have to know that you may have that cat for years or it may get attacked by a coyote and die. Mother Nature might happen. And that’s the same analogy for this show. I might be on it for five years or I might be killed, I don’t know. I’m just happy to be doing it and you just have to be willing to experience anything.
How far in advance do you get the scripts, so you can see what’s actually coming up for your character? Are they OK with releasing that kind of information?
They’re very helpful – they like answering my questions. I do not censor myself with my questions and I try to get as much information as I can.
You say you’d want to learn skills to survive the apocalypse. Would that now makeup part of your zombie plan: hit the library rather than simply stockpile the goods?
The goods will run out so you have to know how to survive. I was looking at those people who are survival trained, and that’s smart. I have a friend who is an actor but as a hobby he’s a survivalist so he knows this stuff and could survive in the wilderness with nothing. That’s kind of brilliant so I may have to give him a call and get some tips.
How you do think Dharma would handle the zombie apocalypse?
I don’t think she would enjoy having to kill. I think that’d be hard for her. I don’t think it would be something she could easily reconcile for herself. It goes back to season one and two of The Walking Dead, when Hershel has all the walkers in the barn and he thinks they’re still human or something. He doesn’t want to kill them because he feels this is his whole family. I think Dharma would have similar problems. Greg would find it easier to stick a knife in a walker’s head.
And while we’re looking back at previous roles, would you rather hang out with zombies or Looney Tunes characters?
Mmmmmm. Depends on how much coffee I’ve had that day. And how much sleep I’ve had. If I’m underslept it’s much easier to hang out with zombies because you don’t have to maintain any kind of social decorum or good conversation. But if I’m feeling rather witty and well rested and on-point then the Looney Tunes, because you can have some real good riffing with them. They’re pretty funny.
We think the Looney Tunes characters would do rather well in the zombie apocalypse…
I think that would be a hysterical spoof, actually.