Karen Bethzabe, who plays Elena on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, talks about leading the Infected off the pier and how she got used to her ax.
Q: What did you find interesting about Elena?
A: The thing that stood out for me the most was the kind of woman Elena is. She rises up in the hotel industry in a small town where there is classism and very little education. Nothing keeps her down. A woman in power in Mexico – it takes a lot of work to get there – so I was just very attracted to the fact that she was a strong woman and how she’d deal with everything when it falls apart.
Q: In Episode 10, we see Elena locking the wedding guests inside the banquet hall of the hotel to contain the disease. What were your thoughts when you read that in the script?
A: As a human being, I was shocked! And as an actress, I was excited. [Laughs] These are the kinds of characters we love – complex characters. In one moment, she’s serving these people and helping them have a great time. She spends her life trying to invite people into her hotel and then, when the apocalypse hits, she locks them in a room to be eaten by the Infected. For me, when I read that, I thought, “What would make me make that decision? Why would I do such a thing?” As an actor, I always like to think the character is not so separate from me and I try to find connections. Ultimately, I think it came down to sacrificing a few to save many… It’s sad and tragic, but in the long run you hope to save more. In this case, Elena didn’t.
Q: The notion of what’s right and wrong has certainly been changing…
A: In the world we live in now, we can be so picky and we have so many choices, but in the [apocalypse] world, you go back to the basics. You want to be alive, you want to have some type of family, you want to have food and some shelter. That’s it. Those are the basics – and we don’t always have a choice. You’re confronted with situations and you have to make a decision right away.
Q: Were you surprised Elena and the wedding guests end up joining forces in Episode 11 to clear the hotel, considering her actions? In this world, do you have to put aside grudges?
A: You have to because otherwise, you’re dead. It’s awkward and weird at the dinner table because Elena is sitting with the people she locked in and now they’re helping each other so they can eat. [Laughs]
Q: How long did it take to film the scene leading the Infected off the pier?
A: It took close to three days to have the whole thing orchestrated. All kudos go to the director because she orchestrated in such a way that it moved really fast and she knew what she wanted. For other characters, there were more challenging things, like for Alicia, Madison and Hector who were in the water. I was not in those scenes – I was able to watch them as a fan – but it was all very complex. It was almost like a dance. It was definitely a cool thing to watch and a cool thing to be a part of.
Q: Madison goes to bat for Elena pretty quickly after they meet… Is that a smart move?
A: Once again, Elena doesn’t have a choice. She doesn’t have the key of the hotel, they don’t have food or power, and there are still Infected ones. Madison is the only person who no one has a grudge against. The guests don’t know her or hate her, and Elena doesn’t have anything against her. So, Madison is the best person to take the lead and fix things.
Q: Was that a fake ax you were swinging around on set? Did you have to practice to make it look real?
A: They gave me a real ax in my very first scene but that lasted about two takes because it was too heavy and dangerous, and I would either chop someone’s head off or hurt myself. I’m glad that I ended up using the fake one so that I didn’t end up in jail. [Laughs] They trained me to pretend like it was heavy. So, I held the real one in-between takes so I could get used to it in a safe environment, and then I went back in with the fake one. I was very excited when I knew that my weapon of choice was an ax. It was the coolest thing ever!
Q: Does a hotel strike you as a safe place to be during an apocalypse?
A: For a moment, it can be. It’s a big hotel, you can see what’s coming and it’s almost like those castles in the past. But in reality, in this world, you have to keep moving. You’re going to find a place and settle down for a little bit, but you have to be able to let it go. I think that’s one of the hardest things for Elena because this has been her home base. She needs to be ready to let it go.
Q: What’s your number one tip when it comes to survival?
A: Go with your gut. Always go with your instinct when making a decision and it will be a good decision.
Read an interview with Kelly Blatz, who plays Brandon.
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