The last two episodes of Fear The Walking Dead took viewers to the Abigail compound, a place run by Celia Flores, a woman who sees the apocalypse as a promising new phase of life. With Fear The Walking Dead now on break until August, Daily Dead had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Marlene Forte, the actress who plays Celia, about her actions in the Mid-Season 2 finale, her character's understanding of Nick and compassion for Daniel, and the potential question mark surrounding Celia's future. *Spoiler Warning*
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today, and congratulations on your phenomenal performance as Celia on Fear The Walking Dead.
Marlene Forte: Thank you. It was a phenomenally written character. We don't get too many of those for women on TV. It was a treat. It's amazing to work with female producers like Gale Anne Hurd, who has worked with super great characters like Sigourney Weaver's character on Aliens, and Linda Hamilton’s character from The Terminator. Those types of characters are long and far between.
Auditions for The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead tend to be very secretive. When you were auditioning for this role, did you know that you were auditioning for Celia, or was it kept a secret?
Marlene Forte: No, I didn't even know the name of the character. I played Carmen Ramos on Dallas [the revival series], and the character's name on my sides was Carmen. I remember thinking, "I have to call her Carmen? Oh, Jesus, I hope it's not another Carmen. I just got done playing a Carmen."
One of the scenes that I did audition with was the posole scene with Nick, played by Frank Dillane, who's a phenomenal actor. He is mercurial. If Johnny Depp and River Phoenix had a baby, that’s who he would be. He is just incredible to work with, incredible to watch.
I auditioned three times and I had a work session with [showrunner] David Erickson. In a way, they put you through the hoops. They make sure that when you show up on set, you know what you're doing.
Were you a fan of Fear The Walking Dead or The Walking Dead before joining the show, or was this completely new territory for you?
Marlene Forte: This is really funny, because I love scary movies. I love scary things. I love suspense. I love Alfred Hitchcock and The Sixth Sense. But I was not a fan, and I'll tell you why. When I was very, very young I saw the original Night of the Living Dead. I saw it on TV at 3:00 in the morning with commercials, but I was young. I was the only one up, and I'm flipping through the channels and then I'm watching this movie, and it scarred me for life.
I was like, "I don't want to know about zombies and dead things. I just don't. They creep me out. No, no." I booked this thing and of course I know about the show. You'd have to live under a rock not to know about The Walking Dead. The ironic thing is that when I told my 78-year-old dad, I was like, "Dad, I got this part on Fear The Walking Dead." I have been doing this for twenty years and I have never seen my dad so happy about me booking a show. I was like, "What do you think?" He goes, "Oh my God! Oh my God! You have no idea.
He watches Talking Dead, all of The Walking Dead. Now, I was like, "Dad, it's dead things." He's like, "It's not about the dead things! It's not about the zombies!" I'm like, "Okay. All right." He was thrilled. Now, the only thing I had seen was the first season of Fear The Walking Dead because Elizabeth Rodriguez, who played Liza, is a dear friend of mine. Of course I watched it for her, so I was aware of Fear The Walking Dead and those characters because I had seen that season.
I booked this thing and my dad was so happy. I've never seen him so happy—on his knees crying he's so happy. I'm like, "Oh my God. Dad, okay. It's not going to win me anything. It's just another job. Come on." He was like, "No, no, you don't understand. This is huge." Then I got to Mexico and I binge watched six seasons of The Walking Dead in three weeks.
I did it because I got hooked. I said, "Okay, I'm going to be living in this world and Celia is the keeper of the dead, and she needs to embrace this." I started watching The Walking Dead, and that first season I was like, "Oh my God. Dad, you were so right." Now I'm calling him from Mexico and we're talking about the seasons, and it has actually been an incredible bonding experience for me and my dad.
It’s a long way from that ten-year-old girl watching the original Night of the Living Dead on TV in black and white at night and shitting in her pants. I'm fifty now and I'm like, "Okay, I can deal with dead things now. I'm hooked." Oh, it's been a journey, and a lot of fun. It's been a roller coaster ride, even the response with the fans. It's amazing.
Celia is such a complex character, because she can seem like a sweet person, but if you don't follow her rules or beliefs, she's not afraid to show someone the door (or worse). How did you approach playing Celia and bringing out both sides of her?
Marlene Forte: The motherly part was so important for this character because otherwise she's a witch. That's why these writers are brilliant. They just go deeper, and it's so unusual on TV, which has many procedurals with formulas. Trust me, I've been doing it for twenty years. I make a living doing guest star work and this is special, the way it's written.
Going back to Celia, bad guys are the best things for actors, but bad guys never think they're bad. Everybody does things for a reason, and the best part of Celia is that she's a mother to Thomas, to her son [Luis], and to these villagers. In her mind, poisoning the wafers was a communion. It was moving to the next step. She didn't think she was doing anything wrong.
On the contrary, she was just moving nature along, and I really had to tap into that to make her human and to make her likable. The best thing is when you don't dislike this really bad person. Like Dexter. Everybody loves Dexter, yet he was a serial killer. You can root for him, or at least understand the very wrong choices they're making, but you get it.
Celia and Nick have a great understanding of each other. When she asked him to stay at the compound with her people, was she also trying to reach out and be a mother to Nick?
Marlene Forte: Oh, absolutely. From the minute that she walks in the room she knows that this boy's mother has failed him. Now, Celia’s not just the help to Thomas. Thomas' family shunned him, and in the backstory in my own head, it was because he was gay.
I brought him up. Nannies who run the house, they become surrogate mothers, and I run the Abigail estate. I don't work for the Abigails, I run that estate, and I know what's going on. So the minute Nick walks into that kitchen, I'm like, "Oh, another wounded soul," because I get it immediately. That goes back to that last moment when she looks at Madison and Madison closes the door on her. There's no fear.
It's almost like, "Well, there you go." For her it was a moment of Madison stepping up and doing anything for her children. I don't think Celia believed that Madison could be that strong in the beginning of the episode when Nick walks in. The truth is that Nick is a drug addict. He was a drug addict in the real world, but it's why he's so comfortable in this apocalypse, because he lived in this world.
He lived among the living dead. He lived in these crack houses, which is why he's so vulnerable. That’s why Strand told Madison that if you put a kid like that in this situation, of course he’s going to attach to Celia. That feeling to belong, immediately I get it. Boom. Come, I'm going to take care of you. I feed you. I understand you. I make you laugh. You laugh with me. There's a moment when he smiles, and that's a true smile.
Celia is able to gauge everyone. She has a pretty good read on people. She was never a big fan of Strand even before the apocalypse. Why do you think she was so distrustful of Strand?
Marlene Forte: He's a player. He's a hustler. The way they present him, he's in a tux in an apocalypse. The man is a player. He is a player with his big voice and all his muscles, and she just… boom! This woman knows people like this, and that's why I say part of this character is my mother. My mother can cut through the bullshit. There was no way you could like to my mother growing up.
We used to call it Mama Amelia's Boot Camp. No way. I've been an actor since the age of ten. I can lie, or believe my truth, as I would say as an actor, and I couldn't get away with shit with her. There are people like that. There are people that can see through the crap immediately. It's a sixth sense, it's a smell. Celia is like that. It's part of her strong belief and her fearlessness.
What I found interesting about Celia is that she was so willing to help Daniel even though he was a guy who didn't agree at all with what she was doing. Even though she did imprison him, it seemed like she was set on taking care of him. Why did she have that compassion for him?
Marlene Forte: That's her mother side. Again, you're dying, and I'm going to let you die and cross over and I will take care of you. You're going to be part of my family, and she takes him in. She takes him in. Daniel is another very wounded soul.
When his daughter, Sofia, says he's not a bad man, she says, "Of course not.” He's not a bad man, he's just wounded. He has a lot of wounds, and that's why she goes down there. It's like, "Please, come to terms with this so at least when you cross over you're not that angry. You can let go.
In this show, if you don't see someone's body, that means that person could still be alive. Do you think there's a chance that we haven't seen the last of Celia?
Marlene Forte: I was really hoping that would be the case, but once you show up on "In Memoriam" [on Talking Dead], it's hard. I was like, "Just let me come back. Am I coming back?" but Cliff [Curtis], who plays Travis, was wonderful and he said, "Sweetheart, unless we see you as a dead person with a bullet in your head, unless you've got something in your head, you could still come back again." Maybe she'll come back as a zombie. Who knows?
Looking back on the show, is there a particular favorite or funny experience that stands out to you from being on the set?
Marlene Forte: The first scene that I was shooting with them was when they all arrive at the compound. I got to meet the whole cast that day. My husband is a playwright, Oliver Mayer, and he had done a play with Colman Domingo, who plays Strand, years ago in New York when we were all starving.
He said, "You tell Colman that I say hello,” so I had that in the back of my head. I got on the set and the director said, "This is Marlene Forte. She's playing Celia. Hi, welcome to the set.” The first person I say “hi” to is Strand, and I say, "My husband Oliver Mayer says hello."
He lost his shit. He came over and picked me up. He is a tall man and I'm five-foot-one. He spun me around and everybody was looking at us like, "Who are you?" He's like, "Oh, my God! This woman's husband…" After that I was family. Kim [Dickens] was like, "Relax, drop her already. Drop her." It was such a wonderful, warm way to enter the cast and from there it just got better.
Following your performance as Celia, do you have any exciting projects on deck that you can tease?
Marlene Forte: I'm going to be doing some stage work here in Los Angeles. I've got an adaptation of [Federico García] Lorca's Blood Wedding. It's a modern adaptation. I seem to do a lot of those. I've done two, Oedipus El Rey and Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, and this one's called Blood Match, a blood wedding. That's going to be in the fall here in Los Angeles, and I also do a couple of voices in an ongoing animated series called La Golda, with Judy Reyes and Roselyn Sanchez, who have helped create this wonderful animation series for fundraising for kids in orphanages.
I also have a recurring role on The Fosters. I play opposite Tony Plana as Cierra Ramirez's grandmother in the show. It's very sweet and very different from Fear The Walking Dead. The Fosters and Fear The Walking Dead are on opposite sides of the spectrum.
I'm going to say it and put it out into the universe because I think words are very powerful: I would just love to do more of this type of stuff now, more scary stuff, more zombie stuff. I'm just so in it now. I'm in this brave new apocalypse world and I want to live in it a little bit.