Tales of the Walking Dead features six original life-or-death, high-stakes stories of survival with an all-star cast of both new and familiar characters set against the undead apocalypse. In Episode 5, we meet Davon, an outsider who’s found himself injured and taken in by a two sisters, Amanda and Nora, and their unusual community. In this interview with amc.com, we speak with Embeth Davidtz about Amanda’s true motivations in helping Davon, why she’d do anything to protect her family, and how joining TWDU made her feel young again.
Q: We start the episode by meeting our unreliable protagonist — and Davon’s fractured memories make it so that we're just as confused as he is. When you first read the script and learned about Amanda and her secrets, were you hooked immediately?
A: Yes, I totally was, when I read it the first time. I really was hooked. I'd seen probably the first six seasons of the original Walking Dead so I knew that world, but this was different. The language and the way they spoke, it felt almost medieval or something, right? So, I thought to myself, "Are we in a period thing? What is their world?" And then with Davon’s flashbacks I really didn’t know what was going on. I thought my character was going to end up being the good guy. I thought that she looked fierce and stern, but then had a heart of gold. [Laughs] So I really was hooked and the twists and turns of the script were surprising too, because often that doesn't happen when you're reading a script.
Q: You mentioned that you were familiar with The Walking Dead before you joined the project. But like you said we're not exactly sure of the timing of this story in the larger Walking Dead Universe. What is clear is that this is a very specific group of Acadian survivors and they seem to always have been isolated from the outside world.
A: Right. Which is very cool! One of the best things about the Universe is that it can keep finding the pockets of people in the world that have all been tucked away — they become a new discovery. When talking to Loan [Chabanol], who played Nora, I said to her, "What did Michael [Satrazemis] say? When the heck was this? When did this happen?" And she said she thinks it's around 15 years after the entire apocalypse happened. I loved the way that Michael put us in those strange clothes that could have been from the Inquisition times. He said basically they're leftover cloth scraps that they use to make things. You're in a fairly modern sort of house, it was built in the '90's or something, but then the characters are wearing these strange, non-period placing clothing. So, it felt like with their clothing and even with their language, there’s this almost medieval quality to it, so it could have taken place at any time. I also felt like with their secretive world that adheres to this pack mentality, there's something even more alarming about it all because it feels ancient and yet feels like “oh it could be today” as well.
Q: You’re so right that the clothing does help to set the scene and it does look almost like the clothing that early settlers would be wearing.
A: Yes. When I saw them, I was like, "Oh this is so great, that he's done this." I didn't know, you know are we going to be wearing old track pants or whatever? But the costuming added to this weird, eerie quality of almost Salem witch trial energy. I felt like the costumes really added to it. And we were wearing things like tough woolen socks under those strange skirts. I don't even remember seeing a picture of myself in costume, but I just remember putting that stuff on and it felt industrial yet ancient at the same time.
Q: For such an insular community, it was quite surprising that Amanda and Nora decided to help Davon and take him in, especially when Amanda and Arnaud are already up to no good. What did you know about Amanda's backstory and why do you think she was okay with allowing a stranger into her home?
A: I wondered about that. I think when it comes down to it, you have to think about what's the hook for viewers, how do you find it relatable for yourself? For me, I think of my own sister. Even though Amanda is so strict and has her own world that she needs to protect, she has so much love for her sister. She knows that Nora is isolated, alone, and filled with longing. So, Amanda’s probably the one who has doubts and probably thinks, "Let's get this guy going and send him on his way." But the pull, the sort of romantic pull that Nora has is probably the thing that keeps him there longer. Amanda recognizes their connection, and she wants to help fulfill some longing that her sister has, in their isolation. It's not even a romanticism. Amanda has lost her husband, and her kid almost died. So, she’s much more steely, but she’s been there and done that and lived that experience and Nora hasn't, so maybe there's just a tiny little corner of Amanda's heart where she really does love Nora and she thinks, "I'll do this because she's asking for it." And maybe this guy would end up staying and being her husband. I don't know. That was my thinking. It was a gift of "let me do this for Nora," but a huge error on her part.
Q: The psychological ramifications of the apocalypse and trauma in general are always evident in the journeys of the characters that we meet in The Walking Dead Universe. Like you said, Amanda's obviously been traumatized by the loss of her husband, and almost losing her son. Can you talk a bit about her desperation to really keep what little family she has left intact? Because obviously it leads her to do some pretty horrible stuff.
A: Horrific, right? This was the heart of the matter for me. I felt like “how do I justify what she's doing?” And for an actor or for anybody finding their way down a labyrinth of how do you make something work and make it real, it's always great to have a little hook that hits home or that's real for me. The idea of family and the idea of protecting family at all costs was the hook for me. It’s that primitive, powerful part of oneself. Moms that can turn a car over if it’s fallen on their child, that sort of thing and it really does make sense. I guess ultimately if everything was at risk for my family, in a most primitive, primitive way, I would do anything to protect them. I hope I never get the call to do that for either of my children, but I can understand it.
Q: The other really interesting thing about this episode is I don't think audiences will be totally surprised to see Nora and her community turn on Davon so dramatically once she thinks he killed Amanda and the missing children. Do you think that this behavior was a result of the desperation that comes from a post-apocalyptic world or was this behavior that was already ingrained in the group?
A: So, it's interesting. I don't know about you, but doesn't the world feel so heightened right now? It feels almost like there's a relatable quality to the extremity of the whole Walking Dead world right now. When we were shooting this it became a world I delved into after it felt like our real world world fell apart. So it feels to me somewhat relatable in a weird way, especially the mob type of mentality. I think the fact that Nora opened her heart up to Davon created a double pain of both betrayal and lust. These people are standing their ground and defending themselves, so there were weird ripples and echoes that made me ask what does a society do to both protect itself and survive? I think it's the pressure of a post-apocalyptic world, but I also think it's innate in mankind, the Lord of the Flies-ish within us. It feels like it's a human thing that somehow when the stakes get so high it makes sense that this could happen.
Q: As an actor, what was the most exciting thing about entering the world of The Walking Dead Universe, if only for this one chapter?
A: So, this is so nerdy, but it was actually just the idea of the fantasy of playing this melting, otherworldly thing! I did a tiny film called Army of Darkness years ago where I was first discovered, because I'd only done theater and stuff when I first arrived in America. That was the first big job that I had here 30-something years ago, and it was all the special effects that made me so excited. For The Walking Dead Universe it’s all about these amazing people getting transformed and turned into zombies. For my episode of Tales, I loved the physicality of the fight scene. I felt young again! I felt tough that I could do this action sequence. It wasn't challenging as an actor, but it had felt like a little part of me that had been locked away sort of came alive again for those two days that we were shooting that stuff.
I think it was also exciting to be in the unraveling of something, to be at the part of the story where you ask, well where do you start? You start with someone with lots of secrets and then you slowly peel the pieces away, and you choose what you show along the way. Like, Amanda’s very practical. She’s folding laundry or she's cooking, but then where's the split? And it comes with her kid. So, the exciting thing for me is where do you start to show those parts of the character? How do you differentiate it from, say, another character that you've played? To me, this was an entirely different universe.
They're a well-oiled machine. They know their stuff so well. These guys have all worked together for so long, so stepping into that and just being a part of something that's so incredibly well put together was amazing. Can I tell you how great that was? It was so nice to just slide into something where the bigger picture was already there. It gave me the freedom to play with these quirks of character, and then also just play and play again! It was also great fun to wear the melted mask and put it in that green slime. We had to do slime tests and stuff like that. Literally this job, as much as it's a serious world for the people watching it, it was just so much fun for me. I got to be a young, fun, playful actor again, and it was so damn liberating because life has been so hard over the last couple of years.
New episodes of Tales of the Walking Dead air on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. Full episodes are available to stream on amc.com (with a cable provider login), the AMC apps for mobile and devices, and a week early on AMC+. AMC+ is available at amcplus.com or through the new AMC+ app available on iPhone, iPad, Android, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku. AMC+ can also be accessed through a variety of providers, including AppleTV, Prime Video Channels, DirectTV, Dish, Roku Channel, Sling, and Xfinity. Sign up for AMC+ now.