Few actors have had more arresting introductions to American television than Alycia Debnam-Carey.
“The 100” was already on its way to cult-favorite status when Debnam-Carey’s Lexa arrived partway through the second season. In a show packed with morally compromised characters, Lexa stood out; she led a tribe of Earth inhabitants named Grounders with a combination of deftness, intelligence and unhesitating ferocity. The most enduring image of Lexa is one of her sitting on a throne made of intertwined branches, her enigmatic eyes looking out from a face half-covered in elaborate war paint. She’s a character who does not suffer fools gladly, yet Debnam-Carey made Lexa’s vulnerability and her attraction to Clarke Griffin (Eliza Taylor) not just believable, but engrossing.
The Australian actress will return to “The 100” in the show’s third season, which arrives in early 2016, but as a guest star. She’s traded one apocalypse for another: Debnam-Carey is part of the core cast in one of the most eagerly anticipated spinoffs on the TV scene, AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead.”
In “Fear,” the resilience that Debnam-Carey so effortlessly exudes is also on display, though her character, Alicia, is in a much better place than Lexa when the AMC drama premiered on Aug. 23. Alicia’s life isn't without challenges: Her brother is a drug addict who’s resisted all manner of treatment, and she’s very keen to leave home and get on with her own life once she graduates from high school. The zombie invasion that is slowly taking shape in Los Angeles, however, interferes with her plans just a little.
In late July, I spoke to Debnam-Carey about the two post-apocalyptic scenarios she’s found herself in, what to expect from her “Fear” journey and her take on Lexa’s past and future.
Did you watch the original "Walking Dead"?
I hadn't watched it before, but once the [“Fear”] gig arrived, I was like, "I'd better investigate the world a little bit.” And then I became addicted to it, very quickly.
Is that the kind of thing you gravitate to usually?
No, I never thought this post-apocalyptic drama genre was something I was going to fall into, but it turns out, that's basically all I do now. [laughs] It's my niche. It's really fun. But I remember the phone call [about auditioning for "Fear the Walking Dead”]. "I don't know if that's really my thing -- the zombies, lots of blood and gore. I'm not good with that."
I'm such a wimp with gore.
Me too, I'll be covering my eyes. But on set, it is so fun. What "The Walking Dead" and "Fear the Walking Dead" do so well is they bring a very real world to life, it's very serious, but there's sort of a campiness about it too. I don't know if that's the right word to use.
It's theatrical, yes, that's perfect. Yes. Have you seen it?
I've seen the original show and two episodes of "Fear the Walking Dead."
Oh, I've only seen one. What did you think?
Well, I'm not really a horror/zombie fan as such, but I'm a big fan of character development, so I'm interested to see where they take the people and the families they've set up.
Yeah, it's a lot about that, which I think is great. I think you'll really care about the characters once they start having to make some difficult choices.
Can you talk about where your character goes? It seems like she's kind of cut off from her family emotionally, because her parents have split up and her brother's this wayward guy.
She starts in a difficult place, but I think she also starts in a much more hopeful place. She's a good kid, she does well in school. She's sort of had to compensate for what [her brother] Nick isn't good at. They share this huge experience of their father not being around, but Nick’s taken a path that is a lot more destructive.
She's very invested in moving on and moving out and being the good kid and getting over it. It is hard, because he takes all the attention. There's nothing worse -- I remember being a kid in school and you do all the work, but it's the kids that don't do anything and get in trouble that get all the attention. Obviously, she does feel cut off initially from her family, but she's also decided to make a choice for herself. "I'm going to move on, I've got to go, I've got this beautiful boyfriend. I've got plans." That's what makes the apocalypse so hard for her, she's going to fall hard and fast very quickly. Because [at the start] she's got hope.
Her dreams were her lifeline to get out of a difficult situation.
Exactly. Now she has nothing.
And she’s stuck with her family.
Yeah, she's really stuck. Hope turns into hopelessness, and that's an awful place to be.
I'll be honest, that's something I struggle with when it comes to "The Walking Dead." It can be quite hopeless, and so what's the endgame? Where does it go? As an actor, do you struggle with that?
I do, and it was really hard, actually. That was the hardest thing, I found, with Alicia. I felt a lot of the other characters, they have a very specific endgame. Frank has an addiction -- his goal is to get more drugs. It's a concrete direction. For Alicia, it's like, where do you go?
The characters don't have things put in front of them, they have things taken away.
And they're left with nothing. And I remember, though, that's what was so great about Carol's character in the original series. At first, when I watched that, she was such a hard character to relate to because you didn't know what she was going to do. She was just stuck. But it was so realistic.
Looking at her journey now -- she's mind-blowing. Where she's come from -- the journey is incredible. And that's what the writers do so well on this show, as well. They're very connected to a long-term journey and where you're going to go. It is one morsel at a time, which I really appreciate. So it was hard, but it is a slow burn, this first season, because we haven't really gotten to the apocalypse yet. No one really knows the full extent of what's happened.
I have to ask you about "The 100." Can you talk about that scene, the one where Lexa tells Clarke that she's breaking their alliance? What was it like to shoot that scene? Was it one of your more difficult moments on the show? Were you just tired and it was 2 a.m.?
It feels like a lot of that show, it is that -- "We're in the forest and it's raining and it's always 3 a.m." [laughs] But it was a hard day, and we had a lot to cover and there were 100 extras, all with weapons, and it was raining. There were a lot of stunts we had to cover and a lot of positions and parts to that scene.
But that moment, I think, was actually the relief of that whole day for me. It was a huge release. For me as an actor playing that character, it felt very honest, and it was open. And especially for Lexa, too. It's the first real time you get to see -- apart from the kissing -- this is a scene where she makes a really strong choice, but you can see that it's hard for her to do, and she does care. Eliza's so brilliant and she's so great to work with and between the two of us, we were just very connected with each other and made sure that that was the strong force of that scene.
Lexa has had to be very contained to protect her people and to also protect her own heart. So the kiss with Clarke was one form of release, but showing that she cared, even in that moment of betrayal -- that was like, "OK, finally I can be real."
Yeah, "This is who I am, I am not really going to change." She's very blunt. [laughs]
What can you say about Season 3? How many episodes will you be in?
I can't say. But I just read the first script, I'm very excited to go up and see everyone.
I'm sure Clarke will be excited to see Lexa. Won't that be a fun reunion?
Not so much. [laughs] Eliza and I will have a great time, but ... I think people will really enjoy it, the way it pans out. There's a great scene for Lexa's introduction [in Season 3].
In the first episode back, will Clarke and Lexa have a scene together?
I can't say. But there's a great [Lexa] scene in that episode.
Despite the history that Clarke and Lexa had, would Lexa's people always have come first?
Yes. That's in her blood. Her people are so close to her, that's what she's been groomed to be. She comes from a really harsh culture and she has huge responsibilities. I think she's very loyal to that. Maybe in a world where Clarke was able to assimilate to their culture as well and become more of a right-hand man, then maybe I think Lexa could -- then that would be a merger of two people. But no, I think she's brutal and she's a pragmatist, but not out of unkindness. It's all she's ever known.
And that's how she got to where she is.
Exactly. And why she is a good leader, as well, even though people might think she's ruthless.
I do think "The 100" is one of the most morally interesting shows out there. Psychologically, morally, emotionally, it's really tough.
Yeah. And they also don't shy away from showing the effects. Every character is brutally beaten down and affected by the elements and by each other and they really show it. I mean, obviously, they're all incredibly attractive human beings, but even then, in the makeup trailer, it's always, "I swear, I've had this cut for seven weeks. Can it go away, finally?" "Sorry, no."
Even the emotionally after-effects, they always show that. The knowledge of what they've done, both Clarke and Lexa, is not easy for them.
No. And that's why you shut off, as well. In Lexa's case, she becomes emotionally void to a lot of people.
Do you think that could change?
I'm not sure. That’s up to [executive producer] Jason [Rothenberg].
What about the fandom? Whenever I look at what they're up to on Tumblr and elsewhere, it's impressive.
It's incredible. I'm not great with social media -- I find it very overwhelming, honestly. But what a great medium to show the passion and talent people have. There's such creativity. They extend what we've made into their own world and I think that's perfect. Comic-Con was such an amazing experience, too. It was this great landscape of people making their own stuff.
I wasn't there this year, but I saw some pictures of Lexa cosplay.
That is so humbling and surreal, it's an amazing experience. I love it. I'm lucky they put me in such a badass costume and makeup. It's funny, we did a whole day of tests with that makeup. We were like, "Should we do this? Should we do tears? Should we do the bindi?"
Did you collaborate on it?
Yeah. We were emailing Jason. He had his opinion. We were like, "No, we like this one better." [laughs]
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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