Alexa Nisenson, who plays Charlie on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, talks about her character’s turmoil, filming her own stunts and the episode that changed her life.
Q: What interested you most about joining Fear the Walking Dead?
A: I loved that Fear was something so different than anything I had ever done. Right before joining, I just came off of two movies – one was a comedy and one was a kids’ movie. I was super anxious to play a character like Charlie, who is definitely complicated. This was just so perfect. Joining this universe was so exciting because there’s such a passionate fan base. I loved that I got to be a part of that.
Q: What about Charlie, specifically? Did anything stand out to you right away about the character?
A: I didn’t know much about her at all when I auditioned, but once I got the script for Episode 2, I could really start getting to know her and what she was about. I loved that she had layers to her. I also knew that she was a character that viewers were going to be angry at, and that was kind of cool for me. [Laughs] I’ve never gotten to play the villain before. I was super excited, but definitely a little nervous.
Q: Did learning about her backstory in Episode 10 change your perception?
A: With each episode, I got to learn a little bit more and how she came to be with Mel and Ennis and the Vultures. When I got the script for [Episode] 10, I had this really emotional experience. I cried my eyes out. By the end, it all made sense and I finally felt like I knew her on a deep level. I was so excited to work on this amazing episode.
Q: Episode 10 is a pretty huge episode from a production standpoint, too. Can you share some behind-the-scenes bits from shooting it?
A: The day we filmed the scene of me on the roof with the walker was really cool because I got to do my own stunts for that. It did involve me walking 12 feet up in the air with these huge fans and water coming at my face. I was hooked up to a rope so I couldn’t fall off the roof. It was so cool working with Brian, who was the walker in that scene. At one point, the water and wind was so strong that I couldn’t do the take because I couldn’t open my eyes! Most of this episode did involve water and I loved it. We spent most of the episode in wet suits under our clothes, which was great because it kept us warm but it was challenging because it made it really hard to move in the water. All of the basement scenes were filmed in this huge water training facility. It’s a place in Austin, Texas, that trains rescue divers. It was unbelievable. We have the best crew. Michael Satrazemis, who directed this episode, is just a genius.
Q: Charlie seems to be taken aback that a walker indirectly saves her from the flood. What does she make of that moment?
A: She’s definitely surprised and relieved. In the moment before that, she’s really ready to drown and die. She’s at peace with dying, which is a theme throughout this episode for her. I don’t think Charlie or Alicia ever expected to be saved at all in those final moments, especially by a walker. When they see it’s a walker – and the same walker that Charlie came face-to-face with earlier – it’s so completely unexpected for them. I do think Charlie is bright enough to know that the walker falling and breaking the door down was a miracle and definitely not some act of kindness. [Laughs] She’s learned enough at this point. She still needs to be careful, but she’ll definitely remember that walker for the rest of her life.
Q: Alicia believes that, although Charlie is a kid, she was aware of what she was doing when she killed Nick. What’s your take?
A: Charlie is a smart and very perceptive kid. She knew what she was doing, yes, but you do have to get into her mind in that moment to understand why she did what she did. Charlie lost her parents and she witnessed Ennis getting killed violently, who was her caretaker. She’s just a kid going through the unimaginable. She’s not even thinking about the consequences afterwards. She feels this is what she had to do. She’s angry and lost and she felt like she had no choice.
Q: What’s it like for Charlie to hear Alicia unleash all of her anger on her?
A: It was hard even for me in that scene. I think Charlie is feeling so many things… She doesn’t kill Nick because she’s a horrible person. She was in survival mode and now she has to face reality, but she’s still just a kid. Even though it’s hard for her to hear, she knows she owes it to Alicia to sit there and listen while Alicia speaks her mind. She realizes there’s no apology that will be good enough.
Q: How would you say their relationship changes by the end of the episode?
A: I would say that there’s an acceptance, to a degree. They’re definitely not best friends, but they’ve just been through something so extreme together. They both thought they were going to die. In a moment like that when all you have is a person in front of you during what could be your final moments, that can definitely bond two people together. If you think you’re about to breathe your last breath, things definitely change. Alicia got to confront her brother’s killer and it doesn’t bring Nick back, but it’s a moment she needed. Charlie tries – in the only way an 11-year-old knows how – to make peace by asking Alicia to kill her. It’s so intense and so real for the both of them. It sets the tone for some healing.
Q: How were you able to lean on Alycia Debnam-Carey for such an intense episode?
A: Before we started filming, I got the chance to sit down with Alycia and we talked through the episode and connected a little more. This episode changed my life and I’m so thankful for it. Alycia inspires me on and off screen… We didn’t have that many scenes together before this episode, but she was so present for me and so helpful, supportive and honest. All I needed to do was let myself be in those moments and trust her and it all just clicked.
Q: What would you miss the most in a real zombie apocalypse?
A: That’s a hard one! I would miss sushi way too much.
Read an interview with Alycia Debnam-Carey.
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