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7 Questions with…. Karen David: Fear the Walking Dead Star 'proud' of baby loss portrayal
Fear the Walking Dead’s Karen David talks exclusively to BT.com about her emotional episode at the end of season 6, and what fans can expect from season 7.
Karen David’s Grace has become one of the most popular characters from AMC’s Fear The Walking Dead.
The hard-hitting In Dreams episode at the end of season 6, which focused on Grace, was praised for both the way it portrayed the sensitive subject of baby loss and Karen’s emotional performance.
As the hugely popular series returns for a seventh season, we spoke to the actor on how she prepared for those big scenes and how she is quite literally close to co-star Lennie James.
1. What can Fear The Walking Dead fans expect from season 7 and from Grace in particular?
Well, season 7 on the whole will continue with the anthology style that we started in season 6. So the lens is very much going to be focused on each of our individual characters and how each of us navigate through this nuclear fallout.
For Grace in particular, we're seeing her in the throes of her postpartum depression and seeing her navigate through her grief after the loss of her baby in season 6 and how that affects how she moves forwards, the decisions she makes, her relationship with Morgan and the rest of the group.
It's a bit of a handful at the moment, emotionally, for Grace. She's going through all the stages of grief and questioning her purpose. If anyone out of the group knows the severity and the ramifications of this nuclear fallout and what that means for everyone, it's Grace. So it's this battle of navigating through her grief and at the same time having to deal with this overwhelming sense of responsibility that she feels for everyone with their safety moving forward into the apocalypse.
2. You had a huge, emotional episode at the end of season 6. How did you handle that as an actor? Did you feel a responsibility to be as authentic as possible and talk to people who’d been through similar experiences?
Absolutely. I knew it was a very delicate and sensitive subject, and I was really proud of our show for delving into this subject of infancy loss. I know it's a subject that culturally is a little taboo. People don't know quite how to address such a sensitive subject, and I'm really glad that we were able to bring more awareness within our universe.
I had the luxury of time to be the homework girl and to do lots of research - going on forums, support groups, different organisations that talk about infancy loss, watching numerous amounts of videos from families who are so brave and courageous enough to talk about their experiences of either stillbirth or miscarriage.
I had to pause many videos in between and just take a deep breath because it was just so much to absorb, both what the mother and the father went through and families as a whole together in their grieving process. There's no one way of grieving. Everyone had their own different ways of grieving.
I'm glad that I had that luxury of time because we were filming season 6 and then we had the pandemic, and everything came to a standstill. So I had all this time, and for me it was so incredibly important – and I know for our showrunners too and our writers - to make sure that we got the tone right. It was really important for me to make sure that the voices of these families, [that] I could put that into Grace's story, in Grace's voice.
I know our writer Nazrin Choudhury, she's a fellow Brit as well, she had a similar experience happen to her mother. And I know my mum’s been through infancy loss too. It was very close to home. And speaking to so many of my friends who have had miscarriages, a lot of women have been through this.
October is Infancy Loss Awareness Month. It was something that I was I was really, really proud of that we're delving into. When the episode came out, I was receiving a lot of messages from a lot of families saying thank you. They felt seen. They felt heard. I think it was just a sense that they didn’t feel like they were alone in their grieving.
3. In season 7, Grace is still processing all this, struggling with postnatal depression - and she's got this unique situation where herself and Morgan are parenting another baby, going through what all parents go through. How did you prepare for that?
I love that in this grim new reality of this nuclear fallout, there is something so humanising and so relatable that a lot of new parents can relate to, is to see a couple trying to navigate their way through parenthood for the first time together as a unit whilst quarantining in a submarine. So art mimicking life, life mimicking art, in some way!
It was very endearing to see how Morgan and Grace are having to deal with this. Baby Mo is very much this kryptonite for Grace, because she represents everything that Grace has lost and what she doesn't have and what should have been. And to see Morgan step up to the plate, this is an opportunity in his mind for them to have that family that they both wanted so much.
In the opening sequence, as it starts, to hear a baby crying is a reminder that no matter where you are, this life continues and here's a baby that needs to be looked after. It kind of grounds them. It certainly brings them together. It also brings a lot of tension between them too, for all the reasons and all the qualities about Morgan that Grace loves. With his optimism, his eternal sense of hope and seeing the good in everyone and always finding a way out is something that Grace, definitively, her mindset is not there at all as she navigates through her grief - and also being the pragmatic, factual, methodical person that she is as a nuclear scientist. She knows the implications of what's to come. The afterlife was always going to be far better than this reality that they're going to have to navigate through and with the baby too at the same time.
It's been a thrilling adventure and I feel so grateful to such safe hands. Michael Satrazemis, he was directing In Dreams back in season 6, and he was directing episode 7/02 as well. I just felt in a safe environment where I could allow myself to go into these dark places with Grace and then come up for air and light in between takes, because it is it is a very dark journey for Grace.
As an actor, for me it's been so thrilling because I'm doing things that I've never done before - but at the same time, we are going to very dark places so when you're in a safe environment in the safest care of hands and working with the likes of dearest Lennie James, you know that you’re in a safe space so that you can allow yourself to really just go to those places.
4. You've got to look after your own mental health when you're going into those dark places – did you feel comfortable in getting support on set?
Always, I think right from pre-production I’d have members of the crew that read the script and they would come and give me a big hug saying, "Hey, just know that we're cheering you on. We’re so excited because this is a big episode for Grace and the subject line, and we're just so excited and proud to be doing this episode".
Just having that sense of family love amongst the crew just meant the world to me. Mikey, the director, we sat down a lot and had many meetings and talked about what we wanted to achieve and what we hoped for. I always felt supported throughout all of it.
I also was lucky enough that my husband was here in Austin [Texas] and my dog! So coming home at night after a really full-on one day, just having all the cuddles and kisses from my dog! And my husband read the script so he knew what I was going through too. Just being home and having that sense of normality and groundedness - I'd come home and be there cooking, and Mylo would be there with the cuddles and all just felt right. If anything it just gave me a deeper sense of gratitude that I had all this love and support. That was sort of my light, my yin and yang, in between.
It’s like walking on this fine tightrope, getting that balance right for Grace and for that storyline, and especially how we see her now in season 7, navigating through that grief as well. It's a very delicate balance.
We're always forever communicating with each other, with Mikey and Lennie, as we navigate through the storylines. I'm really proud of what we’ve done.
5. Did you expect Grace to have survived this long in the series?
It's that the nature of the show that you literally don't know. You could read a script and you're like, "Oh, OK, that's that!". We're always wondering if it's going to be the end of our characters or something happens. So it keeps us on our toes, but perhaps living from moment to moment, especially during this pandemic.
6. Have you built a bond with your co-stars? Was socialising affected by Covid rules?
We've been very blessed in a sense because we have such strict Covid protocols. So we are essentially in this bubble, and everyone's always looking out for each other – we are like a family. Lennie, ironically, is my neighbour! He lives literally over that way! Him and his wife Giselle and my husband, we take the dogs out for walks. We do so much together.
Certainly with the rest of the cast, because we're in this bubble, we’re able to at least have each other to socialise with and have some sense of normality, especially when under lockdown. I'm really grateful for that. I love that we all look out for each other and we’re all very neighbourly. So it's been wonderful.
Ironically, in the lockdown and being at home, or being in this bubble, it made me feel even more present and just appreciating every little thing. I think the first time I was able to hug was [with] Lennie when we were shooting in back in season 6 in the second half. I got to hug him when Grace finally is reunited with Morgan. They said "cut" and I said, "Can we just stay here a little longer? Because you're the first person I'm hugging other than my husband and my dog!" We both had a laugh.
Those little things that mean so much to you, ironically, we can carry into this apocalyptic world that we live in. The stakes are so much higher, the backdrop is far more dangerous, so where there's light, you grab on to it and you hold on to it for dear life for as long as you can.
I'm really excited, especially for episode 7/02, because you will see moments - I think that's the wonderful magic about our show is that there are moments of light and hope. And then there's darkness as well.
But I'm really excited for fans to really get an in-depth sort of focus lens on each of the characters and seeing these mini movies. I had to pinch myself numerous amounts of times on set as these smoke bombs and effects were going off. I was just like, "Oh, my gosh, this is so epic!"
I felt that from the moment when Grace climbs down from the submarine, taking in the scope of the nuclear fallout for the first time. It just felt so monumentally big. I was so giddy with the excitement inside. I'm just excited for all of guys to see it.
7. Grace has become a popular character with fans – why do you think that is?
It means so much to me. From the moment that I stepped into this universe, the fandom, they just embraced me, they embraced Grace. There's always that challenge, that first day of school nerves. I always use that analogy when you're playing double Dutch and there's an existing rhythm and you're jumping into something that's so well established. And the fans just took took to Grace.
I'd like to think maybe because she's just very real. She tells things like it is. It's always been a challenge between the heart and the mind for Grace. And Morgan is such a beloved character, and I think the fans were so thrilled to see Morgan open his heart up again after losing Jenny and Duane, for him to move forwards and take that big step in opening his heart up to Grace and trying to find some happiness again.
I think the fans were really happy for him and for Grace, and how they have so much in common where they are trying to make up for all the past mistakes and choices and decisions that they made. So they’re unified in their grief, they’re unified in their regrets as well. They put everyone first and foremost and put themselves last. It was nice to see them allow themselves this opportunity to find love and friendship and companionship and now a family. I'd like to think that's what makes the fans smile.
It's always so tough for both of them. It would be nice to see them get a bit of a break! But we’ll see - this is the apocalypse, so you never know.
Fear The Walking Dead season 7 premieres on Monday, October 18, at 2am and 9pm on AMC – exclusive to BT TV customers on channel 332 or 381 HD.