Fear the Walking Dead Q&A – Jenna Elfman on June’s Game-Changing Decision
Jenna Elfman, who plays June on Fear the Walking Dead, talks about how her character has changed, why June didn't kill Virginia, and why she tries to convince John to stay when he so clearly wants to leave.
Q: When you first joined the show, June seemed so scared and always on the verge of running. How do you think she's changed since then?
A: I think she's been fortunate enough to have Morgan and John come into her life to protect, lead, and give her space and love. That's given her an opportunity to heal and find who she is now. They created a space for her to recover and find who she is moving forward, because at a certain point you can't keep running. You can't not be with people. You have to sort it out by necessity.
Finding love with John Dorie, it's like the ultimate buddy system. That has really given her a new start on life within this harrowing apocalyptic existence, and she's rehabilitated herself and her worth in terms of nursing. As a nurse, she has value and can contribute to the betterment of the world, even though the world has fallen apart. I think that's where she's come to now. She's realized her original purpose and it's tied to what she was doing before the apocalypse — helping others, becoming a nurse, and rising up to become a trauma nurse. It's an offering in this new world that gives her stability, confidence, worth, and purpose. Even in a non-apocalyptic world, if you don't have purpose, you struggle, so rekindling her purpose in life and seeing that it still has so much value in this current setting, has reoriented her.
Q: How do you go about showing that change on the screen? Is it in the writing? Is it played up by your fellow actors?
A: I think it's everything. You look at someone and you can see if they're having a good day or a bad day. You can feel their space. You see it on their face. When your emotions change, it affects your endocrine system, your adrenal system, all the systems of your body. So I think, as an actor, when you put a character in a certain head space, it manifests physically and kinetically. So for me, I'm using all of the physical nuances that occur within a person as they move through different emotions of fear, of terror, of doubt, to love and confidence.
When you see someone who finally finds love, they dress differently, they look different, their eyes look different. I've used all of that to help tell her story. Of course the writing offers scenarios with John Dorie. How I'm relating to him, how I'm holding my position in space in a scene, how my stance has changed -- all of these things tell a story to the audience. They show emotion, where someone is at in their mind, in their life, and how other characters respond. So, I think it's a collection of all of the above.
Q: Can you talk about the moment when June is reunited with John in Episode 4?
A: I think, for June, it had a quick emotional curve. It was a huge relief to finally see his face and be in his arms, and then a huge quick left turn into "he's not right, something's not right with him." June sees change in his face, the way his eyes are, the energy coming out of his skin. It's just not right, and she can see he's in pain. He's in physical pain. He's in emotional pain. He's not totally present, and that gives June concern because she doesn't know what's going on. He's aloof and distant, and it's totally not the reaction June was expecting. I mean, at all! I think those swift turns in life are the ones that really impact you emotionally. Those quick changes tend to affect us more deeply.
Q: Is June always thinking about the greater good? Is that why she's reluctant when John talks about running away?
A: Yes, she's thinking about the greater good, but I don't think it's solely that. I do think that's a big factor, because she has to make a choice at a certain point. I think she's always thinking about the greater good, but there's a bit of denial that he could actually be in that state of mind. She doesn't want to see it. She's trying to get him to talk so she can understand it and sort it out. She probably feels that they can sort it out if they just talk about it. She has confidence that he's a stable person, so I think she probably thinks this is a fleeting thing. She assumes it's probably not that bad. It's temporary. It's a mood.
In her mind it's understandable that in Virginia's environment there may be things that would pain him, but she can't get the story out of him. She doesn't know how dark it is for him, how bad it is, and how deeply it pushes at his absolute button of a moral code. He won't tell her. So she can't get the information. She would assume nothing would be that bad for John.
Q: Why does June seem to have no qualms about defying Virginia's orders?
A: When it comes to the well-being of others, with regard to her job in life and taking care of people, I think her integrity is very high. To do the right thing no matter what the cost, will always in the long term be the better thing to do. Her integrity to herself and her integrity to others is more important than kowtowing to an enemy.
Q: After being forced to be somewhat helpless for so much of the season, was it satisfying to play the scene where Virginia's life is in June's hands?
A: Oh, it was very satisfying! Especially when your expertise and knowledge is the leverage. It's a very powerful place to stand and she knows it—and she knows Virginia knows it too. When I was playing that, I had a moment where I really let myself enjoy seeing her vulnerable, "I can let her die right now or I can not." And the action of just recognizing that moment was powerful and satisfying. For the first time in a long time, that leverage and that power over evil. It's a watershed moment, for real.
[She] had to very quickly make a decision on how [her] decision would impact a lot of people. That was a really big moment for the greater good—it was in [her] hands. I think June feels confident in that leverage, having observed how Virginia works and knowing that she's valuable to Virginia already. She knows what the most powerful choice is at this time, to let her live in exchange for a hospital and the ability to serve and help more people.
Q: Do you feel that June is naïve for thinking that Virginia will follow through on the promise of a hospital?
A: It's always a challenge to know exactly because these decisions are being made in the moment. To have mercy for Virginia, to use it as an opportunity to have leverage, and keep that leverage in June's back pocket—[she] can always say "You're alive because of me." So, I don't think that it's naïve. I just think it seemed like the optimum choice... You just have to stick with that because it's valuable to Virginia, so it feels like there's enough alignment to Virginia's goals that it wouldn't be naïve to think that she would follow through with that.
Q: Does June not fully understand how much pain John is in? Is that why she tried to convince John that the hospital is worth staying for?
A: June thinks it's such good news that it might lift John up, because she still doesn't know how deep his problem is... When you have a partner in life, you're usually excited for each other's accomplishments, and John is interested in helping others as well -- their purposes are in alignment with each other. I think June's saying, "Hey look, this is some good news," and maybe it'll motivate him and give him hope that she made the right choice. I think June feels proud of herself in that moment, and she's sharing that moment with him, hoping it'll lift him up as well.
Q: Can you talk about the amazing chemistry that you and Garret Dillahunt created for your characters?
A: You know, it just is. We don't do anything. We just have that chemistry. And it's been one of the highlights for me, working with Garret. It's so special to me what we've created with these two characters, and how perfect the fit is between us. Really, it's so easy working together. It's just like a glove... and it's a very, very, very special experience.
Before we filmed Episode 405, I'd never even met him! I walked past him while he was in a wardrobe fitting. The door was open. He was putting on a shirt or taking a shirt off, and I was like, "Oh hey!" and then they closed the door and that was it. And then we shot Episode 405 and it was instant. It felt like little kids that are best friends. When I was growing up, I had a best friend, a boy that lived across the street. We lived in a cul-de-sac, and there were four boys that lived across the street. One of them was my very, very best friend and we just played together all day every day for years. We were just best friends and that sort of joyous comfort of friendship, it's kind of what it feels like with Garret. I just feel like we're playmates.
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