Elizabeth Rodriguez on Her Role in ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ & Surviving a Real-Life Zombie Apocalypse

Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

In the new TV series prequel Fear the Walking Dead, which was created as a companion piece to AMC’s hit show The Walking Dead, actress Elizabeth Rodriguez (Orange is the New Black) stars as Liza Ortiz, one of the millions of Angelenos experiencing the opening stages of what will soon become a zombie apocalypse. With a strong spirit and desire to start fresh after her recent divorce, Liza will do anything it takes to survive the epidemic and keep her teenage son Chris from danger. Ahead of the premiere, we spoke to Rodriguez about the new show and what it was like to play a character that was not necessarily written for a Latina actress.

What resonated with you about this new prequel?

Seeing what is going on across the country in a city like Los Angeles during the events of The Walking Dead, I think, is the most exciting part of the show. I also like that the cast is multicultural and are working-class families. I like that the fans of The Walking Dead are going to be one step ahead of us. They know what happens. But we’re left in complete darkness, with shades of gray. There’s fear in the unknown. I believe [Fear the Walking Dead] stands on its own as a show.

How do you think adding a Latino family to this prequel changes the dynamic of The Walking Dead universe?

My character was not originally written as a Latina. The writers and producers wanted to work with the actors they wanted, instead of trying to find someone to fit the original concept of a character. There’s a Latino storyline that is very specific to the immigrant story, but for me, I’m part of a story where I just happen to be a Latin American. And why not? That’s the America I live in and know. I think it’s going to be important to have a Latino family just because there are so many fans in Latin America. I think a lot of people will relate to them. It’s definitely honest to the story we’re telling and the fact that it’s set in Los Angeles.

Photo: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
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Is it more gratifying to land a role that is not necessarily written for a Latina?

Absolutely. That’s a huge step forward for me. It’s only happened two other times in all my years doing this. It’s one thing to have Latino characters, but it’s another thing to just come in and play a human being. I’m playing a single mother who is a nursing student and is trying to protect her son. It doesn’t matter if I am Latina or Caucasian or anything else. My character is a human being, a woman, and a mother – in that order.

When you started in this business, did you ever think about changing your name so you wouldn’t be cast only in Latino-specific roles? So many actors do that these days.

I did think about it when I first started acting because Rodriguez is so popular. I thought about taking my mother’s maiden name. But the first film I landed was the day of my father’s funeral. My father is the one who raised me with my paternal grandmother. There was no way I could change my name. It was one of those moments in my life – a crossroad. As much as I wanted to change it, I had to honor my father.

If you found yourself in the middle of a real zombie apocalypse, how do you think you’d fare? Would you survive or be one of the first ones eaten?

I think I would probably go into a full-on emotional breakdown. I think I’d do a lot of running and a lot of fighting and then a lot of crying.

Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.