Mercedes Mason, who plays Ofelia Salazar on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, talks about revealing Ofelia’s past and what her character is running towards… or from.
Q: When we first spoke to you, you joked about Ofelia being the first to die. Are you surprised she’s made it thus far?
A: [Laughs] I think in a strange twist of fate, she ultimately developed that strength by losing her parents. She was so determined to remain a good girl and remain respectful of her parents that she didn’t really stand up for herself and now that there’s no one to answer to, I think it’s given her a strange sense of confidence. She has nothing else to lose. And when you have nothing left to lose, you can go “balls to the wall!” That’s a direct quote. [Laughs] I love that we’re entering this time where women are seen as warriors and superheroes. We have the Wonder Women out there and we don’t need to rely just on the male superheroes anymore. I love the idea of this new version of Ofelia going from a mouse to a lioness. I think that would be a really cool arc for her.
Q: Talk a little about the flashback scenes in Episode 12 where we learn Ofelia was engaged before the apocalypse. What else did you learn about her backstory? Did any of it inform how you played her in the present?
A: 100 percent. She absolutely is her father’s daughter and her mother’s daughter. She has the morality and sweetness of Griselda, but she’s got that tough aspect of Daniel’s. Initially when I met her, I thought, “Oh god. This girl is going to fade away,” and then I started seeing these little flashes into her past. She’s a woman of her own! She put on a little girl front for the sake of her parents because I think she knows how much they sacrificed to give her the life she has. She wanted to maintain that respect, which I think a lot of immigrant kids do. You come into America and you have this new culture that you’re very excited about and want to ingratiate yourself into, and yet you don’t want to disrespect your parents who are so old school. You play this fine line of maintaining respect for them while still wanting to spread your wings. I think we see her secretly spread her wings.
Q: She also seems to have chosen her parents over love. Does she regret that now?
A: I think it’s one of her biggest regrets and is something that haunts her. You see in Episode 12 that she ventures off on her own to see what she could find. I think she either wants to close that chapter in her life or to see what she can find out about herself so that she’s not haunted by that concept. I get why she did what she did, though. Your parents are your parents, and love will come and go. There are always more fish in the sea. [Laughs] That sounds really unromantic, but your parents are your everything. You want to be seen as respectful in their eyes and at that time, she didn’t know how to stand up to them yet. Her biggest regret is that she didn’t think, “I found a good man and there’s nothing wrong with this.” She had to live a lie and she should have had more faith that her parents would have been accepting.
Q: When she clutches her rosary beads and says she “understands” now, what is it she understands?
A: I think what she’s saying is that she understands all the sacrifices her parents made for her. I think the reason they were so harsh and tried to keep her sheltered is because they were protecting her from the world. When she has those flashbacks and she sees what the world has become, she finally understands what their love meant. It wasn’t some form of strange punishment where they wouldn’t let their kid out the house; it was all for her. Everything they did was for her. You have these moments where you look at your parents as humans instead of your parents, you know? That’s that moment for her.
Q: What was your reaction to her telling Alicia they weren’t going to make it?
A: As a feminist, I thought, “Buck up, lady! Are you crazy?” [Laughs] But I understand that this is her rock bottom. She’s lost her faith and doesn’t see any point in carrying on from place to place. She’s at rock bottom, but instead of crumbling and jumping over that balcony – which she could have easily done – she takes her life into her own hands. She had to hit that rock bottom to have that realization.
Q: Do you think Ofelia is running towards something or away from something?
A: She’s absolutely running towards something because she could easily just continue on with the group as a wallflower and see what happens, or she can stand up on her own and discover herself. I think you have to run towards what you know. That’s exactly why she goes to the places that she went with Will. There’s comfort there. How do you close a chapter of a book? You read it again until you feel satisfied and then you can put it away. That’s what she’s doing.
Q: What was it like filming in that huge, luxurious hotel anyway? Was it a nice change from the boat?
A: It was weird because a lot of cast members stay at that hotel. The boat does have its difficulties because it gets really windy and it got pretty cold, so it was nice to be indoors where you can control lighting and sound better. I didn’t have to spend two hours in ADR [Automated Dialogue Replacement] trying to figure out what I was mumbling. [Laughs]
Read an interview with Karen Bethzabe, who plays Elena.
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