Alycia Debnam-Carey on Making Her Directorial Debut in ‘Fear The Walking Dead’

Alycia Debnam-Carey
Spoiler Alert
Lauren "Lo" Smith/AMC

[WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Fear The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 11, “Ofelia.”]

After seven seasons of playing Alicia Clark on Fear The Walking Dead, Alycia Debnam-Carey has stepped into a new role: director.

Debnam-Carey talked to TV Insider about which scene she was most excited (and most nervous) to shoot, how she felt about putting Luciana (Danay Garcia) front and center in her episode, and — as a bonus! — we’ve included an excellent question that fellow Fear actor Omid Abtahi asked her during Fear’s preview junket.

fear the walking dead, ruben blades as daniel

Lauren “Lo” Smith/AMC

During the preview junket, you said you were excited to direct on Fear because you know the show like the back of your hand. How did your longevity on the series play into the choices you made behind the camera?

Alycia Debnam-Carey: Because I’ve been on Fear for so long, it weaved its way into my choices without me knowing in so many ways. Because I’ve been a part of this for so long. Because I know it like the back of my hand. Because my character knows these characters, because I’ve worked with the actors for so long, because I’ve seen each iteration of the show when we changed locations, changed storylines, changed character arcs. There’s so much interwoven in my experience — not just the character’s experience and actor’s experience, but personal life experience — that you can’t help but have that translate behind the camera.

So, in a way, there’s so much that went into the choices I made, the ideas I had, the way I wanted to tell the story that it was almost, in a way, subconscious and conscious at the same time. Inherently, there was always going to be a level of understanding the show that probably is unique to me. There’s not a lot of other people on this who’ve been on Fear for the same amount of time. So, even being able to work with Danay and Rubén [Blades], the fact that I’ve known their characters since the first season and seen their relationship evolve and develop, I was able to have so much more of a dialogue with them and them being able to trust me, because we’ve all seen this grow and change together.

I was in a really lucky position in that I was able to make choices and have opinions that I had the ground to stand on. And I had the respect and support and encouragement behind me…. It is so special to be able to get an opportunity to direct on a show that you’ve been on for a really, really long time, and to have that as your first experience. In a way, it’s a bit of a safety net.

fear the walking dead, danay garcia as luciana

Lauren “Lo” Smith/AMC

Many Fear fans had been calling for Luciana to have an expanded role for quite some time. Something exactly like this episode. Was it nice to be able to put her at the forefront and give her a larger story here?

Oh, yeah! I’ll tell you what — that was my first thought when I got this episode. I called her and I said, “Danay, I’ve got this episode. You’re front and center, and I’m going to make sure the story is for you and about Luciana.” As much as it is about Daniel [Rubén Blades], too, I wanted to make sure we got to showcase Danay’s talent and her character that I have known for such a long time. I really made a point of making sure that I crafted this around her in many ways. I really did. Because, yeah, that’s a character that has been on this show for a long time that I also wanted to see more of. I felt really grateful that I got to have this episode and do that.

And then Danay and I were able to work really closely to carve out a really good relationship story with Daniel. A lot of that episode, for me, came down to performance-based storytelling. That’s the facet of film and TV I understand best, as an actor. I was learning a lot of the other skills on the fly and learning from the people around me in terms of the camera, and lighting, and framing, and how to properly tell a story. But with her and Rubén and Colby (Hollman), I wanted to focus in on that. And with Danay, especially.

fear the walking dead, danay garcia as luciana, ruben blades as daniel

Lauren “Lo” Smith/AMC

When you first got that script, what scene were you most excited to shoot?

Oh, God. When I got the script, I was like, “You did not give me an easy episode, did you?” [laughs] I think it was actually [Fear’s production manager] Frank Hildebrand who came up and said, “Ooh, they did not give you an easy episode, did they?” And I was like, “What? What do you know?” He was like, “It’s pretty big!” So I found out about it before I even got it, and then when I got it, I was like, “Oh, my God.” There were the whole gangplanks, and it’s elevated above ground, there’s this cage, there’s all these gnarly deaths. At first, I was like, “Wow, this is a big script.” I don’t know if I was excited at first — it was more like straight-up panic! [laughs] It was like, “Oh God, how am I going to do this?” And I think that was really the cage. For me, the first thing I was like was, “How am I going to make the cage work?” How do we build the cage, how do we put the cage up, how do we get them in the cage, how do we bring them up and down in the cage? I became quite fixated on it. I knew that was going to be hard.

The scenes I was most excited about were probably the intimate scenes with Luciana and Daniel. When we see Rubén emerge under this huge tree and see this walker that’s been melted to this playground equipment, that was a scene I was excited to shoot because I could see it really clearly in my head. And then one of our final scenes, when Luciana betrays Daniel. That, I had a far more emotional connection with the characters and a really clear idea of how I wanted to shoot that. I wanted to be able to play with Rubén and Danay and get into that with them, as actors. I was excited, as well, about being able to film in a completely new environment and set. That whole set was designed just for this episode. There was so much that was so awesome and so exciting, and it was also the most intimidating thing when I first got that script.

fear the walking dead, danay garcia as luciana

Lauren “Lo” Smith/AMC

How would Alicia feel about Luciana’s controversial decision at the end of this episode to deceive Daniel?

Good question. I don’t think she’d feel too good about it, to be honest. I think she’d be wary of that choice that Luciana has made. I think she’d think that’s a dangerous decision, that she has made.

It reminded me of a Madison-type decision back from Season 3 that Alicia would’ve disagreed with.

Yeah, it’s very ruthless. I do think that she’s come around to believing that you do have to do certain things that you don’t want to do to get by, but I also think the idea of manipulating someone who isn’t alright and all there at the moment is dangerous. And that’s my two cents.

fear the walking dead, colby hollman as wes

Lauren “Lo” Smith/AMC

BONUS: During the Fear 7B preview junket, Omid Abtahi, who plays Howard, asked you: “Do you feel like you’re more vulnerable showing something as a performer or as a director?” What’s your response?

I’m so naïve as a director because it’s so new. I’m probably more vulnerable as an actor, I suppose, because I know how much I’ve grown and how much it’s a part of me and I’m judging every moment and all the minutiae of it. It’s been a part of my life for so long, and I know the nuance of it really well. Directing was such a “throw paint on the wall and call it art” and, like, “let me see if people like it!” [laughs]

A lot of it was so supported by so many people, so I did feel really protected. I will also say there’s the director’s cut and the production cut, and the production cut is a version that is a little more crafted for commercial TV. It’s a bit different. So, I’m quite excited for people to see. I’m sure I’ll be really vulnerable when it comes out, and I feel really nervous about it. I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve in a completely different way and making choices that are completely new. But I will say you’re protected by such a format and such a style of show that it is a little different from me going, “Here’s a short film that is entirely mine.” You’re already supported by all these other elements, and your job is to direct it as best as you see fit and lean into what your taste is. That’s all you can do. But yes, probably the night it comes out I will be so stressed and so vulnerable. But I’m excited.

Fear The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC