Fear the Walking Dead Q&A — Maya Eshet on How Shrike's Past Informs Her Mission At PADRE

Maya Eshet plays Shrike, the ruthless leader of PADRE, on Fear the Walking Dead. In this Q&A with amc.com, she talks about the challenge of playing a younger Shrike in flashbacks, how much she liked interacting on screen with most of the cast, and the coat she loved wearing.
Q: Shrike is the first new character we meet when Season 8 begins. We don't know a lot about her right away except that she's in a position of authority and is quietly ruthless. What drew you to Fear the Walking Dead in particular? Was it the role? Or joining The Walking Dead Universe?
A: Well, there were several things that drew me to it. Yes, I love fantasy worlds and the idea of being in a post-apocalyptic zombie world was very exciting for me, so that is one thing that I was really excited about. The second thing was the character. It's like you said, she's quietly ruthless because I think she has many levels. We don't know much about her yet, but she comes across as a villain or the bad guy, and that's something that to me was very interesting to do. This is a world that's existed for so many years and just the idea of being a part of such a big world that's across different shows, games, and comics —  for me that's huge. Just being a part of this massive world was very exciting! 
Q: What was it like joining this show in its final season? I hope everyone was nice to you!
A: Yes, everyone was very nice! It's always weird to join in the middle because everyone knows each other already, but everyone was very sweet and very welcoming. I think a lot of people were also emotional because it was the last season. They've been on it for so long and because of that, it was a special season to join. In a way it was kind of nice as well because I am an outsider to the main cast. Another thing that was interesting is that all the characters, they split off and have their own separate stories on the show. A lot of the actors, they said, "We hardly see each other on set and so even we don't get to interact a lot." That was cool to hear because I got to see a little bit of almost everyone because I’m the one who's chasing everyone down! So even though Shrike is quietly ruthless, I did feel like I was in a way a link or a connection point to everyone else.  
Q: It would have been easy to turn Shrike into a mustache-twirling villain. But you've done something more subtle, and we can sometimes see expressions of pain flitting over your face. What was the inspiration for your portrayal of her? Did you model her after anyone in particular or was it in the writing?
A: I think it was very much the writing, even in the audition process. I feel it was already very much in the audition scene, which was not part of the show. They sent a separate piece. Even there, there's a moment where she mentioned her father and the building of a business ­— I didn't know what it was at the time — that she had taken over. I could feel — and the writers later talked to me about it — that she's not motivated by a want to hurt. It's almost the other way around. The motivation is maybe coming from her own hurt in her past, but the want is to maintain something important, something that can help, and for me that was a very strong through line. You asked why I took the role, and that was part of what I liked about it. It was very important to me not to fall into just a bad, mean villain because I think most people have so many motivations to do what they do and it's very rarely just to hurt someone for no reason. That’s why I didn't want it to be a caricature of a villain and rather a person that has hurt. That was very accurate of you to see someone that's pained inside.
Q: In Episode 2, Shrike has a walker head bite Finch. She also has June's trigger finger cut off. How did you feel about some of the things that Shrike has to do?
A: I think that she has a very, very strong ideology. Everything that Shrike is doing is for an end goal that is bigger than everyone else. It's bigger than herself. It's bigger than June. It's bigger than Morgan. It's bigger than everyone. In that sense, her actions, in her mind, are justified because you have to look at the bigger picture and you may have to make some sacrifices along the way. You may call those bad or hurtful or ruthless or vicious, but they are just the means to an end. I mean, if you ask me, Maya the actress, it's horrible. I don't want all of this to happen! But I very much identified with the idea of doing it for something bigger, of having an end goal. You have to make some sacrifices and you can't make everyone happy along the way. In Shrike's case, it's very painful especially because, as an audience, we've been with these characters for so long and seeing them suffer is very hard for us. It's harder to see a bigger reason behind it. But that's also what I liked about the show because we understand that the world is impossible, and the conditions are really hard. To deal with that and to try to survive and to try to make something better, almost all of the characters have to make sacrifices and hurt someone else on the way.
Q: You played Shrike at different ages. Episode 3 was striking because it seemed to humanize her, not least because we learn she had to watch her father get eaten by walkers. Not only did you have to look younger, but you had to act like someone who didn't yet have the heavy responsibility of PADRE on her shoulders. At the beginning of the episode, you even got to smile and joke around! How did you approach playing a version of Shrike who was 12 years younger? 
A: The time that we see of her younger, it's scary. She lost her mom. The world is coming to an end. It's a very scary stressful time, but she had a supportive family unit. I wouldn't say she felt safe, but safe enough to be a child. She was still naive. She was hopeful. And there was someone protecting her. She had a father that was protecting her. When she lost that, the idea of facing the whole world was so overwhelming. So when playing her, I tried to really draw on my own childhood a little bit. I thought of remembering that feeling of what it is to feel protected, to have someone that really loves you, cares for you, and you feel safe with them. It was mostly that. And then a little bit of the goofiness of a child, but goofiness comes from that, from a feeling of safety and being a little naive. I also thought actually of working with Finch [Gavin Warren]. Finch is adorable! He's such a funny kid and he is so fun to work with. We were goofing around a lot, him and I! Just seeing him and how he is on set and the youthful childhood spirit — that's what I tried to have earlier on with Shrike. Those are the things that I drew on. I really enjoyed that. Being able to play one character in two points of her life and to see how much a person can change due to circumstance for me was brilliant. Just seeing yourself that way, even just the physicality. All of a sudden, there were bright colors and makeup. They even gave me a little mouthpiece to lift my cheeks so that I looked a little bit younger. 
In the episode before [Episode 2] where I'm holding the head over Finch, in my mind Shrike really does care about the children because she was one of these children. That's what we see before [in the flashback]. She was one of them. She was naive. She was playful. She felt secure. The moment she lost all of that, it was so shocking and so painful that she's almost trying to shake it off these kids very early. Now with Finch, it's not just shaking it up. It's actually using him for research, hoping not to take his life but being willing to take the risk. I think it's even more painful for her because she does care, but she forces herself to really just make her heart stone and do what is necessary for all the children and for all the people and not just what would make her satisfied. 
Q: You're right that Shrike does care about the kids because she and her brother explain they're just trying to protect the kids from being hurt at all, even though Shrike's means are questionable. But ultimately, it's about protecting these kids and hoping they can figure out how to cure these bites so that kids can actually have families again like they used to.
A: Exactly. Because if we manage to make the world a safe place again, then they could have the beautiful childhood. But if not, they will have pain all the time and that's what I'm trying to prevent.
Q: There are two big reveals in Episode 3. One, that Shrike is PADRE's daughter. And two, that she and her brother have taken on the mantle of PADRE like their father wanted them to. Did you know this backstory when you took the role? Or was it revealed to you as you read the scripts each week?
A: It was revealed as I read the scripts. But I got most of the scripts right away, which was very helpful because it would have been very hard to have, like you said, those pained expressions every once in a while, in between vicious acts, if I didn't know her past. Knowing her past really helped me understand her motives and who she is. So, I didn't know it when I took the role, but I knew it right when I got it and got most of the scripts.
Q: By the way, the scene with the reveal of Shrike's brother behind the mirror reminded me of The Wizard of Oz, when the Wizard is revealed to be just a man behind the curtain.
A: Yeah, very true. It's exactly that. You have this grand idea of a villain or something that is a little bit out of this world. And then you find out it's just a young man like all of us.
Q: You seem to have an easy, familial rapport with both Daniel Rashid and Michael B. Silver, who play Shrike's brother and father. How did you develop that rapport? Was it instant or something that the three of you worked at?
A: I think we were lucky because it was very instant. They're just so sweet. They really are. They're just very caring and pleasant and really care about the work, so they showed up really open and willing, and I hope that I did too. Very quickly we just felt very comfortable together. We all wanted each other to do well, and I think for that we immediately had this familial feeling. It's not always like that. But we all wanted to do a really good job and support each other in it. All three of us just started this season, so I think we did feel like a little group of the new people, like "That's us now! We're a family!"
Q: Can you talk a little bit about Shrike's costuming? I'm a big fan of the military-style coat with the buttons down the back.
A: That was one of the most exciting things for me on the show! It sounds so vain, but I just felt so badass in that jacket. I tried it on and was like, "Oh my God, this is like a dream outfit!" We were shooting over the course of a few months, so we did have days where it was crazy hot and humid because we were filming in Georgia, so it was like 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity or something crazy like that. I had to wear a long sleeve shirt and this jacket and boots and black jeans, so that was a challenge at times. But then we had evenings that would be pretty chilly and then I was really grateful for the jacket. Regardless of weather, I was very grateful for the jacket because I think it looks amazing and it changes the way you feel as an actor. At least for me, what I wear makes a huge difference. If they put Shrike in any other thing, even just a black tough shirt, it wouldn't have been the same. But it gave me an immediate feeling of authority. You cannot slouch in this jacket. You just can't! You have to have good posture and stand up straight. Otherwise, It just doesn't feel right.
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