Justin Rain, who plays Crazy Dog on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, talks about shedding light on his character’s tough exterior, filming with rats and the joy of headbutting an Infected.
Q: With a name like Crazy Dog, what were you expecting your character to be like? Was the reality any different?
A: When I first came onboard, I didn’t read for Crazy Dog… I read for Walker who was supposed to be mid to late 40s and leader of the Nation, and I saw that and was like, “No way! I don’t look that old yet!” The writing was so good, so I thought I’d have some fun with it anyway. They went another direction and asked if I wanted to come in as the right-hand to Walker. With the name Crazy Dog, my first assumption was, “OK, bring on the crazy!” [Laughs] …I thought it was cool that it was me that took down the chopper in the opening of the season. When I joined the show, I asked if Cliff Curtis was around because I’m a big fan of his work and then I found out that it was my bullets that took him out. Oops!
Q: You find yourself in a lot of the action on the show. Is that something you seek out when auditioning for a part?
A: Definitely. I’m not opposed to a good workout on a set. I don’t go to the gym as much as I like to, so running around and killing zombies for a living is not so bad. When the barricade we created breaks down [in Episode 12] and the zombies come through and all hell breaks loose, that was a lot of choreography and then it turned into a free-for-all each take. It was like, “OK, now do it again and make stuff up!” I’m not the best when it comes to improvisation but as soon as I got out to Mexico, I asked if anyone had ever killed a zombie with a headbutt. I picked the biggest guy in the crowd, and I killed him with two headbutts. I was happy about that! I’m claiming it. Maybe it will start a trend.
Q: How would you describe the dynamic between your character and Walker? What was your experience working with Michael Greyeyes to create it?
A: I knew about Michael before I even met him, and he knew about me. The Native American film industry circle is not a large one, so we all know each other. When I first came down to Mexico and met him, we were really excited. He’s a great guy. I think there’s a history there between Walker and Crazy Dog… Crazy Dog really doesn’t say much unless he’s spoken to, and I can appreciate that. I enjoyed hanging out for the first half of the show and taking things in. It was a little hard when Mercedes [Mason] was around because she’s such a jokester! It’s hard to stay focused when you’re crawling around in a tunnel and pretending to be half dead, and she’s cracking jokes.
Q: Some of Crazy Dog’s backstory is revealed in Episode 13, with him mentioning his son and history in Iraq. Were you aware of those details or was it new information to you as well?
A: The information comes as it’s written. I was excited when I read the script. There was humility being brought to that character and backstory is always nice to create an empathy for a character with such a hard exterior… I was happy with how it turned out. It was a challenge to be in a confined space like that, and it turned out really cool.
Q: How do you imagine his history informs him in the present?
A: I can’t begin to imagine what it would feel like to know that you may have been responsible for the death of your family and how it’d affect a person. There’s a lot of stuff built up inside of Crazy Dog. He hides it well, but there are hints that surface along the way. I love that about his journey. We’re getting to know him, and we’re starting to care about him. He’s a person and he’s gone through some stuff, too. Everyone has their own unique journey and they adapt accordingly.
Q: What was it like shooting those scenes in the tight quarters of the vent? Did it feel just as claustrophobic as it appeared to be on-screen?
A: One of the first questions I was asked by the stunts team was if I get claustrophobic. When they first described the tunnel to me, right away, I was like, “Am I going to be like Bishop from Aliens?” Since my reference point was that, it was luxurious once I got to the vent. There was some difficulty getting the rats to beeline past us and they were peeing while walking by us, so it got a little smelly. [Laughs] Mercedes couldn’t stop playing with them. They were like kittens to her! I actually did start hyperventilating and seeing stars at one point, so we had to stop for a bit, but that kind of stuff is just a part of the work. Overall, it was a lot of fun.
Q: Now that the ranch is decimated, is there anywhere truly safe in the apocalypse?
A: Everything that happened was because of humans. If Troy hadn’t done what he did for us to exile him, would any of that had happened? There’s a definite segregation on the ranch when we arrive, but there are plenty of black seeds in there that made the castle crumble. It was a nice safe haven and it’s unfortunate what happened, but I feel like it was completely human error. We did that to ourselves. I’m excited to see what’s next.
Q: At the end of the episode, what remains of the group is heading towards the dam. How do you imagine it lands on Crazy Dog to be uniting with some of the very same people he was against?
A: At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to survive. There’s not a whole lot of trust, so the guard is always up but who knows? Anything can happen, especially at the dam, which is a dangerous place run by another sociopath. Sociopaths everywhere! I feel like the apocalypse is just inspiration for people to show their true colors.
Q: What did the storyline this season mean to you, personally?
A: It’s a great thing that Native American characters are turning up everywhere. I’m really happy to be a part of that. We all support each other and it’s a great time for us in film and television.
Read a Q&A with Sam Underwood, who plays Jake.
Watch full episodes of Fear the Walking Dead on amc.com and AMC apps for mobile, Fire TV, Xbox One, Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast.
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