Cliff Curtis, who plays Travis on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, talks about fighting a horde of Infected, how the apocalypse is changing humanity and shooting the helicopter scene in Season 3 Episode 2.
Q: What was it like shooting the fateful helicopter scene in Episode 2?
A: It’s very stressful, the apocalypse. You have to worry about zombies eating you and eating the people you love. [Laughs] It was fun, but it was very, very loud. It was a very functional thing and most of the emotional work really had to be done by Alycia [Debnam-Carey].
Q: How did you and Alycia prepare for such a pivotal moment, especially after your characters spent so much time apart last season?
A: I was just going through the functional part of trying to get out of the helicopter. She had to do all that work on her own. It was a tough scene for her, I’m sure. There wasn’t really much I could do for her aside from focus on getting out of the helicopter. In Season 2… Travis didn’t really connect with Alicia, Madison or Nick. He didn’t really get on with Strand and he kind of started to develop a begrudging respect for Salazar, but Travis never really got on with anybody. He was a good guy, but he was so labored by his sense of ethics and values and what’s right. Being a good man is not good for you in the apocalypse. It’s kind of a problem in this world.
Q: Were you surprised that Travis is felled by human means, not the Infected?
A: I think one of the themes on the show is that the people are more dangerous than the zombies. The real danger in this world is how distorted humanity becomes when it’s solely focused on survival. Morality, values and ethics all go out the window. It’s about how you can survive the next 10 minutes and protect the people that are going to help protect you because you can’t survive alone. You need people around you who are going to protect you. You can’t think about whether it’s the right thing to do. Maybe it’s the wrong thing to do, but if it’s going to help you survive another ten minutes in this world, you just have to do it.
Q: How has Travis changed over the course of the show?
A: At the opening of Season 3, Travis is all there. He’s completely ready to be in the apocalypse. He’s numbed out from the loss of his son, having to kill his ex-wife, and now he’s a murderer. He killed two kids who killed his son and he doesn’t feel remorse or grief. He doesn’t even feel grief for his son, I don’t think, because his son had turned into a monster and had become someone unrecognizable that he didn’t think was possible. He’s numb and has a singular mission in his life right now and that is to save his other son because he does love Madison and Nick and Alicia.
He’s kind of a numb character at the opening of Season 3, which gives him some calm and the ability to think outside of his old sense of morals and ethics and values. He puts that all to the side and says, “OK, how am I going to get Nick out of this situation alive and reunite with his mother alive?” That’s all he has to think about. He doesn’t have to think about what’s right or what’s wrong or, “should I kill this person?” Just kill them. If they’re in front of you and they’re between you and what you want, you kill that person. That’s it. It’s very simple. I think that gives him some peace in the apocalypse that Travis never had before.
Q: Talk about shooting that scene in Episode 1 when Travis has to fight his way out of the pit at the military compound. You were surrounded by quite a lot of Infected!
A: That’s my second favorite scene of the whole show! My number one most favorite scene of the whole show is when I jump out of the helicopter. My second most favorite scene of the whole show is fighting in a pit with a horde of zombies. These are serious fighting machines that are in that pit. You’ve got mixed martial artists, world judo champions, jiu-jitsu champions – these were all guys dressed up like zombies in the pit and they’re fantastic to work with. I like a bit of martial arts myself and I talked the ear off of [Dave] Erickson when I signed onto the show about how I love martial arts and that I’d love to develop a character that gets to be a fighter. From being an English teacher to being a guy who can fight… It was great. I was pretty raw, but it was a lot of fun and I had a great time with the stunt guys.
Q: Travis’s Maori culture is referenced in Episode 1. What was that like to play?
A: I love being Maori. I love my heritage and my ethnicity. I’m very, very proud to have that as part of a character on a show. It was really great that AMC was open to that and Erickson championed that. I was really grateful to have that because otherwise what would they make me? I don’t know. [Laughs] In our culture, we’re renowned for our warrior culture. I think in Season 2, there were some references to our culture and our view. We have a lot of similarities to the Native Americans in terms of cosmology and our view of how the universe works.
Q: How do you imagine Travis’ death will shift the story going forward?
A: Well, I think Madison is going to hook up with Strand! I mean, what a great couple. Come on, you can’t fight the chemistry. Just let it be. It’s the apocalypse!
Q: Anything you want to say to the fans?
A: Thanks for supporting the show. It was a great ride and I had a great time. I loved everybody that I worked with. I think Season 3 is going to be the best season yet. It’s going to be a really strong season and I wish everybody well. I hope the audience continues to enjoy the show.