FX viewers in the USA have been enjoying the second season of Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Strain’ and thus far we’ve learned that Eph has a new Allie in the form of Councilwoman Justine Faraldo who is helping in the battle against The Master and his undead soldiers.
Last week we were lucky enough to be a part of a conference call with Samantha Mathis who plays the Councilwoman. During our time with the actress we gained a little insight into how Mathis handles the role and learn about some of the background research that Mathis did in order to portray a conviction politician.
Below are some of the best bits from our time with Mathis.
SFP: How much of what goes on within Councilwoman Justine Faraldo is driven by her lust for power or need for power, and how much is just keeping her people safe?
Samantha Mathis: I think that that’s a really excellent question. I mean, this is a woman who certainly has a past. She lost a brother and a husband in 9/11.
Certainly, Staten Island has received sometimes less than stellar treatment from New York City. So, I think that she is very protective of her people, and she’s very dedicated to her people, but there’s always potential, when you’re in a position of power, to be corrupted by it. I think that her intentions are really true to protect her people, but that was one of the aspects that intrigued me about playing this character.
It’s never black-and-white. I love that in a character, that it’s not black-and-white because human beings aren’t black-and-white. Certainly, when it comes to being given a certain amount of power, the question is what do you do with that power? With power comes great responsibility and we’re getting to see that Justine’s getting a little more power, and what will she do with it?
SFP: did you take any inspiration from any real-life politicians for the character?
Samantha Mathis: I had a very brief conversation when I was brought on to play Justine. I watched some footage of Geraldine Ferraro. I really tried to draw from what Staten Island is like today and looked at footage from some council people from Staten Island. I live in New York City, so there’s no shortage of access to that. In fact, our NY1 news station on Time Warner is incredible in terms of covering Staten Island news.
I was striving to really create someone who felt authentically Staten Island and what that entails. As I was saying earlier, I think that there, in my experience, is an element for Staten Island natives, that they haven’t always been done right by New York City. There’s a healthy level of skepticism in terms of how the mayor deals with Staten Island. I think that was really the most important thing to me.
SFP: Justine is a very take-no-prisoners heartless kind of gal and I love that. With her 9/11 background, is this, in her mind, kind of another terrorist threat, or does she really have any kind of handle on exactly what she’s dealing with?
Samantha Mathis: I don’t think she really has a handle on what she’s dealing with, but once again, she’s seen the mayor’s office bungling the situation, not coming at it and taking care of its citizens in the way certainly that she sees fit. I love that first scene as her introduction; sort of coming in guns-a-blazing, but not without good reason.
After the hurricane that wiped out large regions of Staten Island, the mayor continued with the New York City Marathon just a few days later. That was in an original monologue when I was approached about the part, and I thought that was so exemplary of who she is that the mayor doesn’t have everyone’s back, and certainly not Staten Island’s. I think I just got a little off track from your question, but I think that she is very motivated by having not been taken care of by the city of New York.
And, she’s very dedicated to the people. You know, my own personal experience is my boyfriend is a firefighter, and there’s a tribe. When you’re in a tribe of people that are civil servants, that work in the fire department and the police department, there’s a great deal of pride and a great deal of family.
You have each each other’s back. Justine lost two firefighters, and her nephew is a policeman, so she’s got a great deal of pride, and Staten Island is home to a tremendous amount of first responders that work in New York City and died during 9/11. So she’s protecting her people. She’s being a good politician.
SFP: Will we see her intersect with the other family that we’ve been following since Season 1? Will there be a point where those characters finally do realize that they’re both working to the same end?
Samantha Mathis: I think that all roads will be colliding.
SFP: Do you have a favorite moment or favorite episode you can tease that’s coming up later in the season without, of course, giving away any big spoilers?
Samantha Mathis: Well, there will be a point where a gun ends up in Justine’s hands, and while I’m very much a, let me put it this way, it’ll be a lot of fun to be that character and getting a gun into her hands and getting into protecting herself. That was a lot of fun.
SFP: There are so many movies and television shows out there that I feel have affected how people kind of go about their daily lives. I mean if you look at movies like Psycho, it makes people scared of showers, and Jaws for going out into the water.
For The Strain, I feel like it kind of induces paranoia and makes you a little more of a germophobe. What was that film or television show that affected how you went about your daily life growing up?
Samantha Mathis: Oh, wow. I remember going back to being five or six years old and sitting in my father’s living room in the summertime, in Brooklyn at night, sort of cuddled between him and my stepmother watching Dracula movies. To see those movies, maybe I wasn’t five or six, maybe I was seven or eight, but those, just the really old Bella Lugosi movies, they terrified me. I think that that sort of continued thematically through several horror movies. Things that go bump in the night. That sort of evil lurking outside your window has always been something that terrified me.
SFP: So how do you feel about Guillermo del Toro’s and Carlton Cuse’s take on vampires? Do you like the way that they handled it?
Samantha Mathis: They’re really horrifying. I think they took it to the next level, and it’s almost zombie meets vampire. I’m a little bit of a wuss. I’m not going to lie to you. On the opening episode, when that scene happened and the one elder vomited all those forms into the other one, I was just like oh God, oh Jesus, oh wow, that’s… oh my gosh. It grosses me out, but in a really fun way.
The reason we’re attracted to something like The Strain is the same reason we want to get on a roller coaster. It’s that adrenaline rush, and we love being afraid and being freaked out. There’s a great sort of practical use for it as a human being. I think we love it.
SFP: How did you get involved in the project? Were you already a fan of the show?
Samantha Mathis: I had seen the posters for the show. Living in New York City, I had seen them all over the city last summer. I was thoroughly freaked out and disgusted by them – as I think most people were.
The worm in the eyeball was an incredible ad campaign. I have to say just a mad shout out to the FX, not a plug but I just have to say it anyway, I think that the people who were doing the advertising campaigns for the show are phenomenal. I love the art that they’re coming up with.
They really captured my attention in that regard. Then, obviously, I’ve known Guillermo’s work for a long time. I hadn’t seen the show, but I was a huge fan of his work. He’s such an artist. He’s such a visionary.
And, then Carlton obviously has a tremendous track record in television and creating really compelling television. Then, on top of that, I am a huge fan of Corey Stoll’s work. So all of those things combined immediately drew me in, and then I got the role the same way that anyone else gets a role. You audition. So, I just went in, and I went on tape, and they responded to what I did.
SFP: You first got a taste of the makeup effects in a recent episode with the unveiling of the dead vampires. I was wondering, what was it like on set seeing that for the first time?
Samantha Mathis: Really disgusting and disturbing. Disturbing. There’s nothing subtle about what the character Justine was showing to the world in that scene. They were strung up.
It was pretty gross and pretty graphic, and I think really speaks to who she is. She’s got a message, and she’s shouting it from the rafters. She’s got a zero tolerance, and she means business.
As a person, and as an actor, as a human being, it’s pretty disgusting, and I think that they do graphic makeup effects and visual effects on the show tremendously well. As a person, it’s sort of disgusting. As an artist, I have tremendous respect and awe for what they accomplish.
SFP: I just wanted to bring this up, because we already touched on it a little bit, but I found that moment where Justine reveals the hanging vampires, I just found it to be an incredibly striking signal to put out there in public. There is so much growing for the character left to be done.
Do you feel this is kind of a defining moment for audiences to really have an understanding of where she’s coming from and what she’s willing to do. Can you maybe tell us how that scene came about? What it’s like filming it with the disgusting effects? Anything like that?
Samantha Mathis: I am working with people who are tremendous visionaries and had conceived of, certainly, that part of the show far before I came along. What I really appreciate is a visual that is so strong and shows the depths of her seriousness of the situation and I think also her anger. And that she will do anything to protect her people.
As I spoke about earlier, I think you’re all hearing everything so as I was speaking about earlier, having a history of feeling that Staten Island hasn’t been protected, and that she’s very dedicated. Her constituents, who are predominantly first responders, make up a huge part of the citizens of Staten Island. She is not messing around.
I just got on board. I’m along for their creative ride, but I thought that it spoke wonders as to how strong she is and brash, one could say, perhaps a little brazen, not the most subtle of politicians. But when you’re playing with the big boys in New York City, you can’t be timid. Justine’s a lot of things. She ain’t timid.
SFP: In recent years you were both with The Strain and Under the Dome, which I really enjoyed your performance in that series as well. You’ve had some great source material with the books, both Stephen King’s and now del Toro’s and Chuck Hogan’s.
What’s that experience been like to be immersed in these projects where you have that source material to go back to? Have you been able to dig into the books at all, or just go back to that when you want to?
Samantha Mathis: Well, ironically, in both situations, yes, I did start to dig into the books and then quickly realized that both characters were not in the books. Neither Justine nor the character that I played in Under the Dome were in fact original creations of the authors. That said, it’s always invaluable to have source material.
You get a sense of the texture and tone in the semantics of what these writers are creating. That’s invaluable. In getting involved in a Guillermo del Toro project, you know that aesthetically and thematically what you’re getting into. Even without the books, I felt pretty clear what I was joining, the show I was joining.
But absolutely it’s lovely to have source material. I’ve worked on Stephen King’s material on several occasions now, and he’s just such a master of character. It’s always, as an actor you just want as much as you can have to draw from to inform and help you build the character. In both circumstances, even though the characters weren’t there, the worlds were there, and that just gives you so much to play with.
SFP: You seem to have built up a bit of a reputation for playing rather strong women, from what I can tell from going through some of your acting credits and having seen you in a number of shows and films. I’m just wondering, is there any traits with Justine in The Strain, that you’d really like to have in real life that you’d find very useful?
Samantha Mathis: That’s an interesting observation. I would actually say that’s what’s been so refreshing for me on The Strain is that my experience, at least in the last ten years of my work, has been that, I wouldn’t say that I played pushovers, but a lot of the characters that I’ve played have been defined by being someone’s wife, or someone’s mother, or someone’s partner in some way.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but as a woman, I have to say that what’s been really exciting for me in playing Justine Faraldo is that I am, in fact, there as a woman who’s standing on her own two feet, who has a history and a past and is very strong.
So that’s really actually been really refreshing for me. In fact, when I first started, I thought what feels different? Oh wait, I’m not playing someone’s wife or mother. I’m a politician, and I’m there to be a strong woman and to be unapologetic strong and calling bullshit on all the bureaucracy and hypocrisy that she sees.
That has actually been incredibly new and refreshing for me. I would say with every character that I try to find my commonalities with them, as well as my differences to see where I can pull immediately from my own experience. It’s a universal theme, but I think that we all have loved ones that we would do anything for. I don’t know that I would go to the extremes that Justine does, but I have family and friends that I love very much, and I would want to protect them if something happened.
In that very sort of universal human theme, I can relate to that. Then, as a woman, or generally speaking as a human being, in this political climate, there are myriad, there are no shortage of injustices in the world to be outraged and indignant by. So, certainly in that first scene… it was a lot of fun for me to come in and think about various politicians I might like to have words with and channel some of that energy.
SFP: I’ve also noticed you’ve done a quite a lot of science fiction and horror work. Would you say that you’re quite attracted to that kind of work, or is it just something that sort of happened by accident?
Samantha Mathis: It just completely happened by accident, but I have to say that what I’m finding in the sci-fi sort of genre world, because it isn’t actually a world that I was drawn to when I was younger, and it is something that sort of developed. I mean, obviously, there is great interest in those spaces these days. I think there is sort of a renewed fervor for sci-fi and genre and horror.
What I’m learning about the genre is how rich they are with metaphor about society, and that it’s talking about things greater than just what you see on the surface. Not only in circumstances but in human beings. The templates that are being created are really rich.
I’m seeing really rich, interesting characterization. As an actor, that’s all you could hope for. So, it’s interesting, it’s not by design at all, but I seem to be becoming someone who works in genre a lot, and I’m really enjoying it a lot, and the special effects are fun too.
You can watch Samantha Mathis along with the rest of the cast in ‘The Strain’, which airs every Sunday on FX. Look out for more coverage on ‘The Strain’ in the weeks to come.