By Dalton Ross
August 21, 2015 at 04:19 PM EDT
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
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In the last in the series of our on-set interviews with the cast of Fear the Walking Dead (which debuts Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET on AMC), we speak with Mercedes Mason, who plays Ofelia — daughter of Rubén Blades’ Daniel Salazar. We chatted in between takes about the importance of an ethnically diversity cast, being a huge fan of the original Walking Dead, and having to play a little dumb when it comes to zombies.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I asked the producers about all the characters, but you probably have your own take on Ofelia. So tell me about your character.

MERCEDES MASON: She’s a musical theater star! No, I’m kidding. So Ofelia is very much a child of immigrant parents. She’s a little bit sheltered, a little bit naïve. She’s been very protected. However, she is unaware of this, so she thinks she’s protecting her immigrant parents who struggle a bit with the language at times — especially her mother Griselda doesn’t speak much English. So she feels protective. She needs to make sure that she can provide a good life for them so she’s started working and she’s helping them any way she can.

As things start progressing and the apocalypse starts coming in, the rules start reversing. She starts figuring out a lot more about her father that she was completely unaware of. Her mother and her father have a secret that she hasn’t been let in on, so she’s constantly feeling like an outsider, and eventually something happens that forces her to do a 180. It’s like fight or flight. Sometimes when something dire happens, you either crumble and die or you step up and become strong. I think Ofelia has a lot of strength in her but until this moment, until the apocalypse hit, she hasn’t really been able to exercise that. I think she’s now faced with all the demons of the world and she’s gotta step up. Or fade away and then I’m off the show.

This is a really diverse cast, which you don’t see everywhere on television, but it’s something the Walking Dead world seems intent on exploring.

One hundred percent. Our show specifically takes place in east LA, which is very much a diverse place. It’s like a bowl of colors, for lack of a better word. And yeah, I think if nothing else, not to get political, but you have things happening like the shooting at the church that recently happened, and we need to have more diversity on TV. We need to have everybody represented. It’s small thinking to have just the small group of people represented on TV. I really appreciate that they expand and are able to bring in a lot of cultures, a lot of beliefs, especially when you put it in the mindset of the apocalypse. It really forces people to view themselves and view each other, create families, create bonds that a lot of shows don’t have the ability to do.

“Family” is something I keep hearing about with this show. So it’s a zombie show, sure, but also more a show about these families dealing with a tragic situation that could be relatable in a lot of different ways.

To me, the walkers are more of a catalyst. They sort of represent humanity and our fears. They force everything to the surface immediately as opposed to a slow burn. When you’re faced with death, when your neighbor you had coffee with yesterday tries to eat your face off, you’re forced into this mindset of fight or flight, Lord of the Flies-type of concept, and I think it’s so apropos to have people forced into understanding what family is because it’s such a changing dynamic. The traditional mother-father-child is no longer the concept of a family. There’s so much more going on, and I love that they’re allowing us to go into that and reestablish what family even means, and break out of the traditional norms.

How familiar were you with the Walking Dead world when you signed up for this?

Huge fan. I lost my s— when I got this. They’re very secretive, but I sort of got wind of the fact that they were looking for this. I must’ve harassed my agents. I called them at home crying. [Laughs] I definitely pushed hard for it, and AMC is such a wonderful network to work for. We’re very lucky. I was a huge Walking Dead fan, and I sort of had all the same questions that I know all the other fans did: What happened to Rick Grimes before he woke up in the hospital? What was the world like? And we’re exploring all that now. It’s perfect.

It’s funny because your character doesn’t know what you as a fan of The Walking Dead know about zombies, so you have to play dumb a little bit.

I know! It’s really fascinating because some of the other actors, because of their own choices, didn’t want to watch the other show. I just happened to be a fan to begin with. The fan in me knows way more than Mercedes the actor and way more than Ofelia. With Ofelia, I almost have to use two different parts of my brain. Or just act dumb. Especially because none of our characters even know what this is. We think it’s just a riot, civil unrest. We have no idea what’s up against us. So it’s a fascinating study, if nothing else.

It’s tricky, though. You have to be careful because it’s exciting to show that, but you don’t want the characters to seem too dumb.

It’s very tricky. But I have to say, it goes back to the pressure about whether people are going to like the show. Personally, if we were going to come in and take the other show over or kick them out, I think there would be civil unrest. But the fact that we’re running parallel — and while you’re not watching one you’re watching the other — it’s perfect. You get a Walking Dead throughout the year, instead of taking these big hiatuses. I’m going to use all the five-dollar words I have, by the way. “Plethora!”

Was it cool when you started seeing zombie extras just kind of hanging out on set?

My dog lost his mind this morning. I took him here to just get out and we’ll sit in the sun whenever I can and I’m going through my sides or reading a book or whatever. We’re walking back and there’s a guy with a full hood, like something out of Halloween, and his face obviously scary as can be. I wasn’t paying attention. I looked up at the last second, he was standing there, and just out of normal human reaction cause I haven’t seen a lot of them, I squealed a little bit and my dog went bananas — like, assumed this guy’s here to kill his mommy, and he went after him. The guy’s like “Aah! Aah!’ It’s been amazing.

For more Fear the Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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