Actress Pisay Pao has her hands full. As a survivor of a zombie apocalypse (is there any other kind these days?) on the show Z Nation, Pao fights for her life, eats her way through other survivors, and keeps her secrets close.
I think you’re the fourth woman I’ve talked to lately who is on a show about zombies. Why do you think this genre has such staying power?
No kidding! That’s so funny. I think it goes to a deeper level of our thinking. I think we live in a time where we’re constantly thinking about the ‘what if.’ Honestly, I was afraid to audition for the show because I’m afraid of zombies. I think it could be a thing that happens. Maybe not to the same extent, but there could be a virus or something that breaks out and infects everyone. Like the Ebola scare. It’s not unrealistic. The more movies and shows that come out about it, the easier it is to believe in. I think people relate to the realism about the relationships and interactions between people when it occurs. It’s not outlandish.
Remember the guy who was high on bath salts and ate a man’s face?
Oh my god, yes! Exactly.
I like that all the women on these zombie shows aren’t just the girls who trip and fall and are murdered immediately.
[laughs] All my favourite movies always have a sexy, half-naked woman who falls in the first five seconds and is killed. They can’t stand, they can’t run and they can’t keep their clothes on! With the shows now, they add to the realism by having badass women in them. I’m surrounded by cool women who climb mountains, ride motorcycles and fight in a ring. Why wouldn’t they be fighting in the apocalypse too?
My mom is a great example of that. My parents were both refugees who escaped a war. They went through deadly borders to get to safety. They told me that they had to muddy my mom’s face because she was too pretty. I wouldn’t call her a badass, but when I think about what she had to endure, there’s no reason not to call her one.
What was the preparation for the physicality of the role?
I put my body through a lot. I started training two or three months ahead of time. I was trained by a fighter and we practiced fighting while remaining agile. But, funny enough, I was injured before we started filming. I couldn’t do anything for three weeks and had to find other ways of moving. Dance was a big one for me, being on the floor moving around. I had to relax my body and let it move however it felt that day.
Your character Cassandra has been through a lot.
She has a tough backstory, I guess. She belongs to a cult of people who are basically canibals. She was forced to join them and act as a prostitute to lure in guys for drugs and for dinner. So I get to play a fighter, a prostitute, a cannibal and an apocalypse survivor all in one show. We know what happened to her, but we don’t know who she is. She holds her thoughts and feelings close to her heart, which I love.
How has she changed from season one to season two?
She becomes a lot more physical and inhibits a primal, instinctual part of herself. For the first season, I took a really intellectual approach and read a lot about cults. Season two has been all about body work. I’ve been practicing my reacting a lot more. For a few minutes every day, I tried acting out with only my face.
Now, on to zombie questions: Do you think you’d survive a zombie apocalypse?
Who would you enlist to be part of your zombie fighting posse?
Oh my god. Wow. Okay, I would pick my parents because they survived a war. I’m going to throw Bruce Willis in there because he survives everything. Linda Hamilton, she’s one of the originals; her and Sigourney Weaver. Maybe Jennifer Lawrence too. She’s got a fierceness to her. She’s not a willowy small thing. She’s strong.
What would your weapon of choice be?
Samurai sword. You don’t have to worry about bullets or carry anything too heavy. And it just looks so badass.
Let’s say you got caught, you’re a zombie now…what’s the first thing you do?
The human in me would find the tallest cliff to jump off of so I wouldn’t hurt anyone. It’s not interesting, but I would!
That’s nice of you. I’d find all my friends and turn them into zombies too.
You don’t want to be alone. Misery loves company! Here I am trying to not hurt anyone. You’re already dead, it’s not a sacrifice.