Friday, December 5, 2014

'Z Nation' Season Finale Chat With Cast and Co-Creator Craig Engler

I had the pleasure of joining in on a Roundtable Conference call with Series Co- Creator 
Craig Engler
Keith Allan (Murphy)
Kellita Smith (Roberta)
Pisay Pao(Cassandra aka Sunshine) to discuss tonight's season one finale.

Q: Craig, what can you tease about the finale?

Craig: I was hoping I wouldn’t get that question because it’s so hard. The finale is awesome and I think it will go in a direction that no one is anticipating. I think one of the hallmarks of Z Nation is that people are always saying, “Oh, I wasn’t expecting that!” and I’m thinking that people will be saying “I wasn’t expecting that” times ten.

Keith: I would say that Murphy has reached his boiling point.

Craig : I think that after this episode, things aren’t going to be the same for anyone.

Q: What sorts of lessons do you guys hope to take from Season One going into Season Two?

Craig: I think what we have learned is that people like what we’re doing. We have taken a different path from any other show in this realm. What we’ve heard from viewers is, “We really love the unpredictable stuff, the crazy stuff, but we also really like the dramatic stuff, the character stuff.”

So we want to continue what we’re doing, times five. We’ll see how many zombie animals, different kinds of interesting zombies, character storylines, and “deep” storylines we can do.

Kellita: I agree!

Craig: This is a story where the leader is an incredibly wonderful, strong, black woman and I don’t think we get enough credit for that. People were upset when we killed Harold [Perrineau] in the first episode, and they were saying, “I can’t believe they killed off the black guy right away.” And I was thinking, just wait until Episode 6!

Pisay: There are not a lot of strong black females leading a group like this on TV. I love that it’s different from what you see going on in other TV shows.

Kellita: The lesson is to continue to celebrate this opportunity we have to play the way we get to play. Great writing only inspires an actor to play.

Keith: One thing I hear from fans is that they’re really loving the balance we have of the drama and the comedy that goes into this show. We’re not afraid to have a laugh at the genre, the zombies, and at ourselves. When I watch horror, I want to be grossed out, I want to be scared, and I want to laugh at the same time.

Q: Citizen Z is one of my favorite characters. Will he ever get to reunite with the rest of the group?

Craig: That would be such a total and utter spoiler one way or the other. I’ll say that many things have been discussed and many things will be discussed surrounding Citizen Z, and I’m not at liberty to divulge that.

Keith: He does not play well with others. Let’s just say that.

Q: Keith, is your character Murphy at all similar to you?

Kellita: Yes!

Keith: Yes, there certainly are similarities to me. I’m not quite such a dick in real life. There are aspects of me that are in Murphy. I do have a very snarky quality to me. But it’s all about amplifying those aspects, when you’re playing a character like that. You hit on certain qualities that you would not in daily life. I wouldn’t use these qualities, but I certainly have them.

Nat: Keith is definitely not a dick!

Keliita: Actually, he’s a very, very, very lovely gentleman. Only if he’s hungry, he’s a little bit like Murphy. But the beautiful thing about Murphy is that the life that Keith breathes into the character.

Pisay: I find it interesting that Keith is often the leader of our group off-set. He’s always planning events for us! Murphy would not do that.


Q: I’m loving that the show is an ensemble. For each actor: do you have a favorite character moment or something that has surprised you about your character?

Nat: My favorite moment for my character [10K] is in Episode 10 when we’re at the nuclear reactor and I have to once again kill a father figure…but actually I didn’t kill him. I wanted to, but I couldn’t.

Pisay: I have two favorite moments. The first was in, I think, Episode 4 or 5. This is my favorite moment for us as a group: when we think Doc is a zombie and we shoot him. I think it’s the first scene when all of us are standing around and we’re just beaming and we’re so excited. My second would be from Episode 13, which I can’t talk about.

Keith: I have a lot of favorite moments. One thing that I’m really loving is the moments between Kellita and myself, because we have such a love-hate relationship – mostly hate. But as the show progresses, we’ve found respect for each other. And I think those moments are very telling for a couple of characters who have been through a lot and seen a lot. We’re cutting each other some slack, digging deeper, and finding an emotional commonality with each other.

Craig: One of my favorite character moments for Warren and Murphy is in Episode 10, when Keith is going to take off in the plane and they possibly might not see each other again and they have this great little moment. I wouldn’t say it was warm and fuzzy, but I do think it was a great moment.

Kellita: I have a few moments. I would have to take it back to what Keith has said. The moments that come off the page are what an ensemble is all about – the moments where people connect. Like when I get to call Nat “baby boy” and “young eyes.” And Mack and Addy, for my character, are “little brother” and “little sister.” And Cassandra is the “young beauty,” in my mind. And Doc, I call “New Orleans.” He’s not from anywhere, but he’s from somewhere. He is New Orleans.

It’s being able to connect in ways that are hopefully resonating on screen. But…hands down, it would have to be all the action I get to do.

Craig: In terms of Mack and Addy, I think what happens is that they live happily ever after in the survival compound and then they find a cure for the plague. …I can’t say a word about Mack and Addy.


Q: I know the chances of getting a straight answer from Craig on this are slim, so actors: Do you have a mental wishlist of things you’d like to see for your character or for future episodes?

Keith: I would love to have some flashback moments to Murphy’s life before the apocalypse – aside from my Nexium commercial.

Craig: [laughs] That is one of my favorite parts of watching the show live. My friends always ask, “Is that Murphy?” I tell them it’s Murphy pre-Z.

Keith: I would love to find out about Murphy’s backstory. Like everyone else, he’s lost everything. I don’t think you start out being an asshole, I think it’s an acquired set of circumstances. I think that’s fascinating to find out about.

Kellita: First of all, I need a new outfit. [laughs] I am pleasantly surprised by this role. I just want to continue having the balance of leadership and sensitivity, but I want to allow my femininity to breathe a little bit more. Usually at the table read, I don’t say much—I’m good.

Pisay: I would love to do a flashback to Cassandra’s life too. I know we did kind of do a backstory before, where you see where she was before she joined the group. I love flashbacks. I think they add so much depth to a character’s story. I think it’s a great way to keep the audience in suspense, too. I would love it.

Nat: I’m excited to see where Murphy is going, actually. As we saw in the last episode, he’s starting to get these powers – I want to see where that goes. And I just want to see where the story goes, it’s really exciting.

10K is kind of growing up in this apocalypse and I think it’s interesting to see how he forms into a person, living in this crazy world. One of the things I’ve tried to bring to this character is that even though the world is messed up, he’s still going through the things regular kids go through.

Pisay: Just a regular kid in the apocalypse.

Keith: You don’t think 10K should get laid? [laughs]

Craig: I will say something about Season Two. There are two cool things I’m hoping we can do, no idea if we can. I have to talk about it with Karl [Schaefer]. One cool character, and one cool event. Is that cryptic enough?

Q: What would be your dream weapon to fight zombies with?

Kellita: I think I’m already carrying my weapons of choice – it would not just be one. Definitely a sword or a machete, or a more faster, rounded kind of firearm. A sexy little automatic pistol. Something sleek. But definitely more than one weapon.

Pisay: One of Cassandra’s weapons is her body – no, not in that way! She’s small and really quick, and running away from zombies is key. And I would love a small, really strong pike. Something quick. Just pike ‘em in the head and be on my way.

Keith: I’m gonna go with mind control. Who needs a pike when you’ve got mind control? My backup weapon would be other people that can fight for me.

Nat: I think we should all just get Z-whackers. They seem to be really effective. I think we need one for the whole team, a stockpile of Z-whackers.

Q: Where would you like to see your characters go in Season Two?

Kellita: Great question. We should both ask Craig.

Craig: I have some plans for Roberta. We have to run everything by Karl.

Kellita: This whole journey has been a surprise – we don’t get to know a lot about the scripts ahead of time. But whatever they give me, I welcome it.

Q: I love that Murphy kind of has control over zombies and humans. What is he evolving into, and what else is he going to be able to do?

Craig: He’s evolving into something, and what that is I can’t say. Karl and I have had very interesting discussions about the endgame for Murphy. But hopefully that’s very far down the road!

Keith: Thank you!

Craig: Murphy is this great character, and we haven’t seen his character before in this realm – he has a lot of evolving to do. And we’re trying to do some interesting stuff in Season Two that we don’t think has been seen before in the world of zombies.

Q: In regards to the deaths in the family, so to speak. Craig, if you have someone that’s going to be written out, do you tell them early on? And actors, do you get worried about being called into the office for that conversation?

Keith: You gotta be prepared for anything. They set that early on, with killing off Harold in the first episode. You gotta be prepared to file your unemployment early on.

Craig: Harold knew his role was a single episode. Tom [Everett Scott] knew he was there for a limited engagement, that was planned.

But all the deaths and departures in the show have to be meaningful. We don’t kill anyone off for no reason. It has to build the story and tell the stories of our world – and one of those stories is that no one is ever safe. I think we demonstrated that with Tom’s character.

With Addy—not all our characters are as invested in this mission as you might think. And she realized, “This might not be the best thing for the world, but it’s the best thing for me.” And her decision leads to Mack making his decision. All the decisions should come out of the characters. When Addy left the show, we had lots of discussions about what happens to groups over time: everyone has that one friend who drifted out of their group.

And Tom’s character died for a real reason, too: to save Murphy. And Harold’s died because he made a mistake – everyone makes mistakes, even in the zombie apocalypse.

Q: How would you want to be killed off?

Nat: if I were going to be killed off, I would want it to be the ten-thousandth zombie that I have to kill.

Craig: If you died at 9,998, that would be worse than death.

Pisay: If Cassandra goes, I want 10K  to be the one to take her out. I think that everyone has an opinion about that relationship—some think she’s too old for him, some think that there is a relationship. Whatever it is, I think they have a real bond. And if you’re gonna go out, you want it to be the one closest to you who gives you mercy.

Keith: I would like it to be an epic battle. I would love it to be an amazing, insurmountable fight scene, where Murphy gets to be a badass for once.

Craig: I would like to be in the writer’s room, and then a zombie apocalypse really happens, and I die.

Last Q: Any Parting thoughts?

Keith: I’ve had a blast working on this show. It’s been a joy showing up on set every day. We work our asses off, too! We shoot these episodes in 6 days, which is very fast for TV. I have to saw that our crew and cast have really stepped up and met the challenge of doing a show this involved, to really make something that is a lot of fun and very special.

Pisay: Can I say something about the finale? I know a lot of people have been telling me that they have a lot of anxiety about it—but I’m equally really excited about it. Be excited.

Craig: My parting thought: We are so super thankful to the fans who have embraced the show, talked about the show, told their friends about the show. We had our highest 18-49 rating on Episode 11, which is amazing. It’s amazing to have a high note three-quarters of the way through the season.

We are tremendously thankful to the fans for watching the show. They have just been fantastic, and we want to thank everyone for that.

Kellita: Fan response has been amazing. In Los Angeles for Halloween, there were a couple of people walking around as Murphy and Warren. That was amazing.

*Don't miss the Season One Finale tonight on Syfy at 10e/9c* 

Sneak Peek at tonight's Season 1 Finale:

                                       *Interview was edited for time and content*

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