I spoke with the awesome Mercedes Mason about her roles in Fear the Walking Dead and NCIS:LA and why she wants to be a violin playing ballerina Bond girl.
The interview took place on Sunday 22nd November 2015.
Hi Mercedes, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I like long walks on the beach, candlelit dinners … What could I tell about myself? I have the energy of a puppy that apparently lacks parental love. I don’t know why my parents raised me the way I am, but I’m a simpleton and I enjoy acting. I’m a huge animal advocate. I can’t take anything seriously, I pre-apologize.
You started off modeling and then got into acting. Tell us a little bit about the modeling and then the acting.
So modeling, when I first moved to the States from Sweden I was 13 years old and I had a scout discover me and my parents, immigrant parents that they are, were really nervous about it, eventually they let me do it because I begged and pleaded, and it was great experience. I’m not sure if I would ever want my kids to model because it did make me grow up fast. I was traveling to Milan on my own, and Japan, and New York on my own. I was living in Chicago at the time. It definitely makes you grow up fast, but I think it really created a work ethic and made me realize that I’m capable of doing a lot of things on my own. It made me very independent for lack of a better word. I definitely appreciate all the time that I spent modeling. The great thing is I think ultimately it gave me the confidence, that when I did want to go into acting, which was my childhood dream since I can remember, I had the confidence to go in there without fear and sort of throw caution to the wind and say, look, I’m gonna try this. If it happens, amazing, if not, at least when I’m 80 I don’t look back on my life with regret. I think luckily, that ill-fated or ill-conceived confidence sort of helped me get my foot in the door. I’m really, really appreciative.
Let’s talk a little bit about “Fear the Walking Dead”. Tell us a little bit about your character.
Ofelia, again, is very much like me, daughter of immigrant parents and a little bit naïve. When we first meet her in the second episode she’s very protective of her parents. None of our characters know what’s happening in this world. Ironically, the fans actually know far more than we do. We’re in the dark about everything, we think there might be a flu epidemic or some sort of riot going on. She has no idea how dire of a circumstance she and her family are in, so initially, you can see she’s very much sort of joking around with her Dad, and taking in these new people into her Dad’s barbershop. She has no clue what’s happening. Then as the world starts falling apart, Ofelia’s really forced to face her parents and recognize that maybe they’re protecting her more and maybe she’s far more sheltered than she’s ever imagined she would be. And she’s got to get along with these strangers who are sort of forced into a family setting with her and it makes her question everything she’s known, and as things progress, something happens between her and her father and her and her mother that again, makes her question everything she knows about her parents, herself, and what a family dynamic is. So she’s, just in these few episodes, really forced to grow up and change and learn to take care of herself.
What drew you to Ofelia?
Again, I saw a lot of myself in her. When I first read the script, of course I’m a huge fan of “The Walking Dead”, so I was immediately enthralled. Once I stopped screaming and could actually focus, I read the script and again, immediately I could see that there was an underlying strength with Ofelia. Again, I remember myself, when I first came to the States, it’s scary. You don’t really know the culture, you don’t know the language, and that’s sort of the world that Ofelia’s been thrown into. She’s not new to America, but she’s knew to this new apocalyptic world, so she’s trying to finagle her way through it and that’s exactly how I felt. I felt like a fish out of water when I first came to the States.
So I really connected with her and I, in a weird sense, wanted to protect her. Almost because of my own knowledge from my own life, I wanted to sort of instill that strength in her and watch her grow. So I was immediately enthralled and started offering gifts and puppies and all sorts of things just to get the role.
My agent’s were like, “Just maybe do a good audition, as simple as that.” Oh, okay, good. So I don’t have to give them my first born child? Great.
Did you do much training for the role of Ofelia?
You know, like I said, I felt so connected to her that I didn’t have to do a lot of character study. I did more research into the El Salvadorean civil war. I wanted to understand what her parents had left and what they saved her from and brought her out of. I needed to understand the war and the atrocities and, and again, a lot of that sort of psychology behind what people do and change and how they change when the world is falling apart. During the civil war there, it was the worst sort of horrible things in humanity came out and then you hear these amazing stories where others were saves and helped each other out and neighbor would save neighbor. Again, I really needed to get into that world and I needed to understand where her parents came from and what their fear was to understand Ofelia’s father and her mother better.
You’ve just started working on season 2. Is there anything you can tell us, a few hints maybe?
We literally, I’m not kidding you, we have no information. There’s been no scripts provided. We don’t even know where we’re picking up. Once you’ve seen the episode, the last episode of the season, the first season, I don’t want to give any spoilers away, there’s hinting at where we’re going to go. We still, as the actors, have not been told, “Okay, this is where we’re picking up.” They’re being very, sort of, vague about it and I think that they like to keep it that way. They did the same thing for season one. We would get our scripts at the table read the day before we shot.
So we read through it in a mad dash and then try to prepare so it feels very fresh when you’re actually on set. So, again, literally, I haven’t read a single script. We leave after Thanksgiving in the States and I imagine, hopefully, they’ll give us a script at that point, but thus far I have nothing. I could make up a storyline.
Why do you think shows like “Fear the Walking Dead” and “The Walking Dead” are so popular?
You know, somebody else asked me that and I think it’s a really good question. I think there’s something that brings humanity together. I don’t care what nationality you are, where you’re from, there’s something to do with, almost a morbid fascination with death I think and the fact that there is a lot of sorrow and sadness in the world. Seeing that play out on TV, for some reason it’s almost cathartic I imagine. Because, again, “The Walking Dead” is popular throughout the entire world. There’s something that collectively brings people together when it comes to death and when it comes to facing death. It think it’s just a natural human fascination I imagine. Maybe we’re all just a little bit morbid. Or maybe it’s because we’re so afraid to talk about death we almost want to see it exercised in safe ways like on TV.
Let’s talk about “NCIS LA”. You’ve been on the show a few times now. When you first got the role of Talia, did you think it was going to be as a semi-regular or was it just supposed to be a one-off.
No, initially they told me I was going to do 2 and so I said, “Great.” I read the character, she’s so much fun. Then I showed up on set because Daniela Ruah, who’s a regular on that show, was off on maternity leave, so I came in to stir the pot a little bit with Deeks, Eric Christian Olsen’s character. As as Daniela came back, she and I hit it off immediately. She came back at the end of the second episode that I was shooting. We hit it off immediately and to this day were’ friends. I see her constantly, I’m absolutely in love with her, she’s fantastic. Now when I come back on set, I’m surprised they even pay me to do it. It’s so much fun, all we do is goof off, as I’m sure, if you look at my Instagram you can see that none of that is staged, that’s random people tweeting photos of us acting like 2 year olds. All we do is laugh all day. Aside from “Fear”, it’s one of my most favorite sets because all I do is hang out with my friends and goof off. I’m really, really blessed that they always bring me back and we have so much fun. I definitely owe a great debt to “NCIS LA”.
So obviously with you doing “Fear the Walking Dead” again, I guess we’re not going to see you back for awhile?
Right, right, exactly. We actually sort of discussed the absence to the fans with this recent episode that just aired. A lot of fans are saying, “Please become a regular, become a regular,” and so Eric Christian Olsen actually commented and said, “Ah, yeah, she’s on this other little show, I don’t know if you’ve heard it, “Fear the Walking Dead”.” So hopefully, fans will want to watch Ofelia, the ones who are fans of Talia will come over if they haven’t tried “Fear” yet, so who knows. At the end of the day I’m pretty confident that hopefully they’ll bring me back as well here and there. It was so much fun.
Any thoughts on possibly the character going to “NCIS” or to “NCIS New Orleans”?
I don’t know. It’s completely different producers and directors, so I haven’t actually been on those shows. I was on “NCIS” years and years ago just for a one-off, but I’ve never been on New Orleans and I don’t know. I don’t know if they ever have crossover characters like that to be honest. So it would be a surprise to me.
You mentioned that you have a lot of fun on the set of “NCIS LA” and as I can see that from your Instagram page and Daniela’s Instagram page. Any funny stories you can share?
A couple of episodes ago that I’d done, it was Eric Christian Olsen’s birthday and I got some of the other crew guys and we blew up, I think it was over a hundred balloons, shoved them into his trailer, filled the whole thing with streamers to the point where you couldn’t walk into it and we moved his car. By the time he came back into his trailer after rehearsal, he couldn’t walk into it, we were all laughing at him. Poor guy, he couldn’t get to his wardrobe. We were dying. We were literally crying, I was laughing so hard I was crying. At the end of the day, we sort of let it go, we got him a cake, and afterwards, I just got this text from him and all he wrote was, “I hate you”. Because I know he couldn’t find his car. So again, I spend all day just laughing, again, like a 12 year old, because my emotional maturity is about that much. It was amazing.
Then he got me back really good the next day. He moved my car and put one of those, you know like a Betty Boop sort of fuzzy pink thing on my steering wheel that I could not get off for weeks. I could not. So I’m driving around in hot LA with this furry pink and Betty Boop all inside of my car. There were … I don’t even know what to call all of these things, but sunshades, and you can just imagine my entire car was just filled with. So, touche, touche. He just upped the game. The next time it will … I will have to do something 10 times worse. I feel bad for my “Fear the Walking Dead” cast members because I think I’m on my best behavior season 1, but come season 2 …..
So other than “Fear the Walking Dead”, what else are you working on at the moment or have recently completed?
This has sort of taken up all my time. As soon as we wrapped season 1 of “Fear” I came back on “NCIS LA” and we only had a very short break in between so I’m going back after these holidays and going back on “Fear”. I literally didn’t have much time in between to do anything else.
What’s your ideal role and if you could do any role, what is it?
Oh my. Growing up, the one way my Dad and I bonded in Sweden … My dad’s very stoic, he doesn’t show emotions, it’s very hard to sort of crack him. The 2 things we watched were football, European football where you actually use your foot, and James Bond. So I became a huge, huge fan of the James Bond series and even as a little girl, one of the initial dreams that I had was to become a Bond girl. From a very young age. I sort of always held on to that dream. If I could one day become a Bond girl, I would die. I would show up on set and then immediately have a cardiac arrest and die. So it would be useless, but at least I could say my childhood dream was fulfilled.
You say you’re very busy, so when you do actually get some downtime, what is it you like doing?
Oh God, you’re going to think I’m such a nerd. I literally, all I like doing is sitting in some sort of sunny area and reading a book. All I do is read all day. I have actually during this break tried to force myself out and to learn new things because it’s the first time I had a little bit of time on my own where I knew I couldn’t travel a while lot. So I tried picking up the violin, I involved myself in ballet lessons. All the sort of things that my parents should have done when I was 5 years old I provided for myself this time around. Now I’ve got a complete fascination with ballerinas and the violin is my absolute favorite instrument, so I’m hoping if I stick with it, eventually I can sound better than eee-eee-eee-eee-eeee. Hopefully, down the road. I just have to be hired as a Bond girl who does ballet and plays the violin. That’s not too much to ask for is it?
That sounds like a typical Bond girl. Thank you very much for your time today.
Oh, thank you.
FEAR THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON arrives on Blu-ray and DVD from 7th December 2015, courtesy of Entertainment One.