The Walking Dead: World Beyond Q&A -- Nico Tortorella (Felix)
Nico Tortorella, who plays Felix on The Walking Dead: World Beyond, talks about how significant it is to be playing a queer character, what fight training's like and how important Felix, Hope and Iris are to each other.
Q: How would you describe Felix and his place in this post-apocalyptic world?
A: The first thing that I always go to when I think of Felix is just loyal. He's loyal to not only the people around him and the people that he cares about, but he's loyal to himself and who he is and what he stands for, and it's been a long time coming for him to come to that realization. He's been through a lot before the sky fell, and then obviously the world changed and he landed in this community within these walls, this campus community that has been safe for the most part and fully self-sustaining. And Felix has been put in a position of authority from the girls' father who, long story short, took Felix in in a time of need and soon adopted Felix, so Felix is chosen family to the girls and to the girls' dad. And he is one of the heads of security on campus and so he's had more experience with the walkers than the majority of the people that live inside. And his arc of the season is just trying to figure out how to put himself first. I think it's incredible that he takes care of everyone around him, but at what cost?
Q: Felix's backstory is heartbreaking. Is it important for you to be playing an LGBTQ character on this show?
A: Yes, for sure. I mean, that was the only thing that I knew about Felix when the job came to the table. I got on the phone with Matt [Negrete] and Scott [Gimple] and I had a conversation around Felix and the world and why it's important to revamp The Walking Dead [for] 2019, 2020, especially right around the election with everything that's happening in our country, like why now and why Felix? And Scott said something really poignant to me that stuck. He said the only binary that exists within our universe is dead and alive; everything else kind of disappears. And that's like this incredible utopian dream that I strive for in present day. So much of my world is dedicated to the collapsing binaries and divisions, and playing a queer superhero has always been a dream of mine... He may not have superpowers, but he definitely is a superhero in this world -- and the fact that he owns his identity and it doesn't define Felix on the show.
He's so much more than who he loves and what that means, and rarely do we get to see that in television or in any media. For so long, the queer characters that we see on television are always in relation to the violence that they experience because they're queer. Yes, Felix experiences a ton of violence, but it is nothing to do, present day, with his sexuality. I mean, in the past, yeah absolutely, and this is like a classic queer story of modern day. His dad found something, accused him of being gay, threw him out of the house... and he was on the streets, and unfortunately that's something that happens every single day in this country and around the world. As a queer person myself, I'm very lucky that I did not have that experience, but to be able to bring this storyline to not only television but to The Walking Dead Universe as a leading character is and was really important to me in making a decision around my involvement.
Q: Does your portrayal of Felix and his relationship with the other characters reflect his backstory?
A: Yeah, of course it has to. I think, on a conscious level for sure, there are decisions that I made to lean into Felix's characteristics. But I think, on a subconscious level too, that backstory, once it's in your head, it finds a way to give life to this character in ways that you don't even know.
Q: Can you talk about some of those conscious decisions you made?
A: There is a fierceness to Felix. There is a stoicism to his outer shell that is this protective quality, and he plays it with everyone around him -- it's like hyper-masculinity. But I think, when push comes to shove, Felix's heart is explosive and he's extremely emotional and it is like a button away from him being able to either open his arms and have someone collapse in them or vice versa. And that split is really important, for me at least, and definitely relies on his past.
Q: What's it been like forming a duo with Annet Mahendru?
A: Annet is one of the most special humans I've met in a really long time. Her outlook on life and the energy that she walks through it with is special. I mean, that is just the word. And she takes her job very seriously and the craft very seriously and that is a breath of fresh air. Side note -- this is like the first time that I've been one of the oldest people on set. I'm so used to being one of the younger ones. Everything that I've learned about being an actor has been from older, established actors. And I got to be that person. Annet and I got to be those people to the cast of younger adults, and Annet stepped up to the plate in ways that surprised me every day. It was a learning experience for everyone, one that I'm just so grateful for.
Watch: Nico on Felix and Huck's Bond:
Q: Your character seems to be the show's resident expert on killing empties. What kind of training did you get for that?
A: I was on a work vacation in Indonesia for two-and-a-half weeks before I got to Richmond, and I wasn't really training at all, just in terms of physicality, or even working out while I was gone, and I get back and they're like, "Yeah, we're going to do fight training." I wasn't in poor shape, but I wasn't in optimal shape to be able to step right into it, and day one it was just like, go go go -- and I fell in love with it immediately. I've never had proper fight training that rigorously on a regular basis. There's an art to being able to fight and being able to kill, and I went back and watched a ton of old Walking Dead episodes and the characters and how they performed kills and facial expressions because there's so much that goes into it on the day. People forget that we have to shoot a kill from six different setups and make sure that the angle is right on each side and you've just got to land it and also act at the same time and make sure that the person that you're working with is safe. There's a lot that goes into it, and it just proved to me that I just want to be doing this type of work for the rest of my life. I love it.
Q: How do you characterize the relationship between Felix and the Bennett family?
A: Felix was living on the streets and dad's a professor at the school and forms a relationship with Felix, starts showing up for him... and they form this bond and immediately they become this chosen family to Felix, the girls included. He is for sure like an older brother [for Hope and Iris] but he's definitely like a paternal figure as well and, when dad decided to take the job elsewhere, he puts Felix in charge of the girls' well-being and Felix takes that job very seriously.
You know, Hope and Felix are ice and fire. They're probably more alike than we would like to admit at the beginning of the show, but I think because of Felix's position and this power dynamic -- he has to step up to the plate and really play dad and he takes it seriously -- she's a little asshole to him and he quite literally puts her in jail. With Iris, you know, I think that there's always been a super soft spot between Felix and Iris. Iris is a hard, hard worker and takes her life very seriously, which is something that Felix can obviously relate to. But, more than anything, it's just family.
Q: Why do you think Felix agrees to let Iris and Hope continue on their journey to find their father?
A: Ultimately, he doesn't really a choice. They don't really give him much of a choice, and it's four against two. But I think that every step of the way Felix begins to believe that they can do it and that this is an important evolution just for who they are and and for who Felix is, for that matter.
Q: What can you tease about the journey ahead for Felix and Huck and Iris and her crew?
A: I would say, in true Walking Dead fashion, you may think that we're in the clear, but every step of the way brings on a new challenge and, in our case, in ways that you may never expect.
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