Tonya Pinkins, who plays Martha on AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, talks about Martha’s mission and the joys of eating lunch with walkers.
Q: What drew you to the world of Fear?
A: I’m a horror person. That’s my favorite genre and I love zombies! They’re the perfect metaphor for social problems. Social problems aren’t people. I feel like that’s what zombies can stand in for. Also, I happen to be a “dead head” as I like to say. I don’t think there’s a zombie show I haven’t seen. If I haven’t heard of it, I go watch it as soon as I hear about it. Sometimes zombies can be really funny, so I love the humor that can come out of it… For me – and I think Fear does this a lot – it’s an antidote to the anti-hero story. In The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, you have people trying to be good in a bad situation. I’m really compelled by that as a viewer. It’s excited to watch the drama of some vicious, deceitful person, but I like to see people try to be good and make the best of a bad situation.
Q: What appealed to you about playing the antagonist this season?
A: She was probably the most complex person I’ve ever gotten the opportunity to play on the screen. That was a great privilege. I’ve been doing TV for over 30 years… I usually come in as a supporting person and say all my lines really fast because the reaction shots are going to go to the heroes. This was a time for me where her importance to the show required that I get set up with the same time and energy and focus that you would give to a hero of a show.
Q: Before Episode 414, were you aware of Martha’s backstory? Did it further help inform the character?
A: I wasn’t aware of it until I saw the script… I shot that episode with [Director] Lou Diamond Phillips and it was the best kind of workout. It was fun to get to work that hard. In her way of dealing with her grief, I think she’s had to rationalize this way [of life] and I’m sure there was something that happened for her when she killed her second zombie, which was her husband.
Q: What are your thoughts on Martha using pet walkers to kill others who need help, instead of being the one to kill them?
A: The aspect of that that was interesting to me – which you don’t usually see in zombie shows – is you get to know the people before they become zombies and then you actually spend time with them as zombies. Usually, you see zombies for a minute and then they’re dead. Here, you live with them as zombies. Martha relates to them as people. They’re her friends. They’re carrying out a mission together. She’s created a very personal relationship with them
Q: Being such a huge horror fan, what was it like handling so many walkers on set?
A: This is like my heaven. [Laughs] I would go into the lunchroom and there’s a dozen zombies. When I met and sat down with my agent for the first time, I told them, “Anything zombie, I want it!”
Q: Why do you suppose Martha is particularly drawn to Morgan and making sure he’s not “weak”? Does she see any of herself in him?
A: I think she definitely connects to him as a black man. I think that connection is very real and she can see his pain. She wants to help him as much as he wants to help her.
Q: We don’t know too much about Martha when she’s first introduced. How have you enjoyed peeling back those layers as the season goes on?
A: I was surprised at the press saying she’s a villain. That surprised me because, for me, I thought she was someone who had a mission and point of view that was very specific. In her mind, she’s doing a good deed. She’s doing good. Even in the voice-over, she just sounds like a really friendly person. [Laughs] She’ll catch you by surprise.
Read an interview with Daryl Mitchell, who plays Wendell.
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