Fear the Walking Dead: Jenna Elfman shares backstory on 'broken' Naomi
SPOILER ALERT: Read on only after watching Sunday’s “Another Day in the Diamond” episode of Fear the Walking Dead.
Another week, another new face on Fear the Walking Dead. Last week, we met Garret Dillahunt’s John Dorie and Maggie Grace’s Althea, while also welcoming Lennie James’ Morgan into the mix. This week, we were introduced to a clearly traumatized loner by the name of Naomi (played by Jenna Elfman).
Living alone by the oil tanks, Naomi attempted to steal Madison’s wheels before fighting side by side with her against a batch of super gnarly oil zombies. She finally trusted the Clark clan enough to return with them to the seeming safety of their baseball stadium fortress, but can they trust Naomi? What’s this stranger’s story? We checked in with Elfman from the set to get her thoughts on joining the show, her take on this enigmatic character, and a tease as far as what to expect coming up next. (Also make sure to read our episode Q&A with showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off tell me about how you landed the part and ended up in this world.
JENNA ELFMAN: Yeah, it’s been quite an exciting several months since November. So I got a call from my agent saying they’re calling to bring you on as a new series regular. They’re doing this whole crossover from Walking Dead and a whole kind of reinvention of the characters that are there, and they’re bringing on four new characters with the crossover. They were just sort of walking me through it and I was like, “Okay.” I had been wanting to have the opportunity to do some drama, and I really wanted to dig into the struggle of humanity and just dive into the human condition. This is really about the nature of the human condition with regards to survival and so I did this Skype call with [franchise overseer] Scott Gimple. He walked me through the ideas, and the character, and her backstory, and it was everything that I had been wanting to dive into. So I thought, that sounds really fun. Let’s do it. So it’s been quite a journey.
What was it like being dropped in as the new girl in this episode because Maggie Grace, Garret Dillahunt, and Lennie James at least got to sort of all work together as newbies, but you were working immediately with the returning cast?
I just used it, because this character, she’s not a fan of being in a group and is very, very skittish about that for very specific reasons. It’s echoing Morgan’s journey of isolation versus community and that trauma and loss does to people. You hit a watershed moment where you are going to go one way or the other, and what are the determining factors that influence the one direction or the other? That’s what this journey for my character will be.
We just learn snippets of Naomi’s past — she doesn’t have a kid, she’s not from there, she was a nurse. Are we going to be learning more about that past as the season unfolds?
[Laughs] Oh, yes. There is a not very subtle backstory of what is determining her condition at this time.
I was talking to your showrunners, and Andrew Chambliss mentioned that scene that you have with Madison in the baseball stadium stands and how you had this tricky balancing act of conveying the longing for a connection while also having your walls up at the same time. Tell me about that scene and the push and pull of all those conflicting emotions in your character.
Well, having been on your own for a long time in this apocalyptic environment, it’s not a therapeutic environment obviously, to say the least. So when you do have decency within you — and maybe this is just a more feminine reaction — but if I’m rather upset or having a bad day, and someone looks at me sweetly, it kind of brings out the emotion than you’re holding down. That warmth or that kindness suddenly feels safe, but it happens before you can even handle it, and all that emotion comes out.
I feel like that’s kind of what is right under the surface for her, and Madison risked her own life to save Naomi and was so kind to bring me back there that you can’t help but have a social response to that because it’s therapeutic. Help is therapeutic and that world out there is not therapeutic. But her experiences have shown her that while that community could be therapeutic, it can also be the source of problems. She’s got big reasons why this is the last place she wants to be. But at the same, it’s therapeutic and that’s the problem.
When you say this is the last place she wants to be, do you mean being around so many other people?
Yeah, she doesn’t want to be in this established kind of community situation. She’s excited about the hot water though! [Laughs] Hot showers would be really, really awesome right about now.
So tell me about the conversation when they told you that you were going to be dropped into a giant vat of oil. How did that go?
[Laughs] They’re like, “Oh, we’ll have a wetsuit for you.” I was like, “Okay.” I don’t really know what the wetsuit did for me because I was in it for so long filming, and on top of it is the coat, the backpack, the boots, and the wetsuit. All of that is wet, it’s so heavy, and that was my first stunt walker kill scene, and I could hardly move because with the wetness everything was so heavy and I was having to learn all that stunt choreography. I’m pretty good physically. I’m good with stunts because I was a dancer, but there’s so much choreography to learn. There’s rules of the apocalypse to learn and then feeling like you weigh 500 pounds on top of it was quite challenging and intimidating, but ultimately really fun. It looks really cool.
That’s a really awesome first walker scene to get into there. You get to pull off one of the ears and everything!
Yeah, but just place yourself into this reality. You can’t have to pee. I mean, I drink a lot of water and I had to not drink water for six hours because there was no way. [Laughs] That was one of my biggest challenges was not being able to drink because I was soaking wet and it would have been impossible to go to the bathroom. These are just the little things that you may not think about.
But as we see in that scene, Naomi may be emotionally damaged, but she can also take care of herself, right?
Yes, she can survive. She’s broken, but strong. I mean, she is a human being and she does have a heart, and she has a lot of will. But she’s very broken at the moment.
What it was like filming in the baseball stadium?
I couldn’t believe we actually got to film in a baseball stadium because number one, our family is a huge fan of baseball. My kids play baseball. My husband coaches Little League and plays on a fast-pitch team. I throw first pitches at Dodgers games. We’re baseball, so it was extra cool for me because I’m a huge fan of that sport and it’s in my life so much. My kids came out and visited and they got to go the baseball diamond, which won me a lot of points. My kids got to go in to the batting cage and got a whole tour. They thought it was so cool.
What can you say in terms of what’s coming up next for Naomi?
With each episode, more bits of information about Naomi will roll out. I can say that, and there’s just really awesome surprises in store for my character and how they play with time. I can say that. Then you just have to freaking wait, y’all!
Also make sue to check out our episode Q&A with showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg. And for more Fear scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
Fear the Walking Dead