Saturday, June 19, 2021

Aisha Tyler on Directing ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Season Finale: ‘I’m Always Looking at Everything’ [EUR Exclusive]

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Aisha Tyler /Getty

*Actress/director/comedian and television host Aisha Tyler is helming tonight’s (May 16) season finale episode of “Fear The Walking Dead,” and we caught up with the Hollywood veteran to dish about her vision and how her love of the show brought her to the “Walking Dead” universe. 

In tonight’s episode titled, “J.D.,” per comicbook.com, June Dorie (Jenna Elfman) reunites with Morgan (Lennie James) in the wake of Grace’s (Karen David) devastating loss, and the network had dropped a teaser of the opening scene, which you can watch below. When asked if her love of the show led to her being tapped direct the season six finale episode, Tyler tells EURweb.com, “Yes. I think that’s the short answer.”

I had a podcast for five years called Girl on Guy where I interviewed artists and other creatives. And I had had several people from the world on the show,” she continued. “I had have Robert Kirkman who created the books and created the show, and Greg Nicotero, who is the visionary behind the visual effects and all the special effects, all the monsters. And then I had had Steven Yeun on my show. So I just had a passion for the world as a fan,” she continued. “And then it was moving into more television directing and had a meeting at AMC and just told them how much I loved it. And they knew me because I had also been on Talking Dead several times, so they knew that I was really passionate and immersive fan of The Walking Dead universe. And I didn’t know that it was ever going to turn into an opportunity to direct the show, but it was great when they came back and approached me because I was super excited to be a part of it.”

Check out the rest of our Q&A with Aisha below.

READ MORE: Page Kennedy Talks New Role on Netflix Comedy ‘The Upshaws’ Starring Mike Epps [EUR Exclusive]

- Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 13 - Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC
– Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 13 – Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC

Are there a lot of challenges or nervousness that comes with being a newbie, joining this universe and a cast and crew of a show that’s been clicking for years, and making TV history together?

There’s always a little bit of nerves when you start a new directing job because you just want to do really extraordinary work. But I will admit that I wasn’t particularly nervous about this show because I just knew it and I loved it and I understood it. And so I was mostly just excited about being able to bring an episode of the show to life and really honoring a show that I loved, and trying to turn in just a really great episode of television. And I didn’t know anybody on that show, but Jenna. Jenna Elfman and I were friendly just because our paths have crossed so many times in the business. And so it was a thrill that this ended up being her anthological bottle episode and that we could really work closely together

In terms of your process as a director, is there a certain style you prefer to bring to a set to guarantee you get the best out of the talent you’re working with?

Yeah, because I’ve been on that side of the camera so much, I think I have an intuitive way that I approach the work and it’s really important to me to make the actors feel really safe and able to take risks, and giving them the time and the energy that they need to process properly. And I think intuitively, I’m the director that I would want to work with if I was an actor. And you’d have to ask the actors if they feel the same way about it. But I really try to be the kind of director that I would want when I’m acting. I definitely have an approach and a vision and a style that’s my own. I build a plan that to me has to both honor the look and the feel of the show as established, but also brings my own vision and my own take to the work. And a lot of that’s about camera angles and about shots, and about the way that we light things, the way that we frame things.

But the exciting thing about being an artist is that you’re always evolving and you’re always growing. So I think my style as a director is continuing to evolve and it will over the life of my directing career. But I was able to get things into the show that I was really excited about. And I think that’s the thing as a TV director that you want to do is you’ve got a couple of big concepts that you want to try to fold into the show in a way that honors your own vision, and also honors the vision of the show. And that’s a balancing act that you do when you direct television.

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Jenna Elfman as June – Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 13 – Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC

Speaking of the concepts that you envisioned, were these concepts ones you came up with once you were hired to direct the episode, and then you began brainstorming with the producers and the creative team? Or as a fan of the show, had you always been envisioning, “Man, if I got an opportunity to direct an episode, this is what I would do…”

Well, that’s a really good question. No, you really can’t figure out what you want to do and think of the script, right? It all starts there. And if it was a different script, it would have been a very different approach to the material. This episode was really a Western episode really in every way. And I think about episodes of television like a movie. So to me, this was a Western that we were shooting. And so I really leaned into the Western iconography as established in great Western films, and then my own spin on it. But yeah, you really can’t start to form a vision for the episode. And so you have the pages and you start to think about it, and you find the locations, all that stuff really forms in the process when you’re prepping the episode.

But I will say that as a director, as an artist, I’m always looking at everything. I’m thinking this is how I would do that, this is how I would have directed that. I mean that’s a big part of your constant evolution as an artist is watching other films and watching things you admire, or thinking about how you do those things differently. And none of my friends want to ever watch TV or a film with me because I’m always like, “Ugh, this is terrible. I would never do it this way.” Or I’m like, “This is so great.” And they’re like, “Can I just watch this movie?” So yeah, you’re always thinking like that as a director.

Is there a particular scene that you most enjoyed filming?

June is really on a hunt to try to figure out who these people are that have been attacking our heroes. And she is going around the wasteland looking for clues. And they blew up Tank Town, so she goes to Tank Town. And there’s a really cool scene with her and Dwight and Sherry in Tank Town that starts out very emotional and turns into a nice muscular action sequence, and that was really fun to shoot. It was also very challenging because on that day, we had a lightning storm and had to take shelter inside the Tank Town tunnel for a couple of hours that I could just see my day slipping away.

I mean not being able to finish the work that day, but we were able to get out there and it went from total rain to bright sun, and we were able to sprint out and shoot and get all the work done, and shoot a really beautiful scene that day. So that was really fun. And it was fun to go back to Tank Town, because I love the show. And so to be able to go to these locations that I’ve seen and get shooting them was a real blast.

As the episode airs tonight, will you follow hashtags related to the show to see what fans think of it?

I’m definitely going to let everybody know that it’s my episode and encourage them to watch it. I’m going to be doing an Instagram takeover for the Fear the Walking Dead channel on Sunday to give people an inside look at behind-the-scenes stuff that happened while we were filming. But I don’t know that I look on there to see what people thought because if I look to the internet to see if people liked me or not, I’d be under the bed with a bottle of whiskey because there are people that love you and there are people that hate you on the internet. You cannot go to the internet for reinforcement. But yeah, I mean I do like to have a conversation and I’ll probably do some live tweeting to let people in on little secrets about the filming experience.

And hopefully, people will enjoy it. I do know the response to the episode so far has been really positive and I’m happy because I’m really proud of this episode. I think it’s a really emotionally resonant episode for the characters. It’s a big episode for June and a really transformational one. And for the audience, we get to really go on that journey with her. And I think it’s really satisfying. So no matter what the internet thinks, people are pretty happy with the episode, and so am I.

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Lennie James as Morgan Jones – Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 13 – Photo Credit: Ryan Green/AMC

Are you still doing stand-up?

I did quit doing stand-up, but I took a hiatus. I took what I thought was going to be three-year hiatus that’s lasted 10 years, which was really just I was so busy with television, with my television jobs. I was getting up at five in the morning to go to set and then it was really impossible to stay up until midnight to do stand up. And so I had to let something go. So I just decided to take a hiatus and then I’ve just been so busy, I’ve never gone back. So I think it’s something I will do at some point, but really stand up, it’s like being a professional athlete. You can’t really just be dabbling in stand-up. You need to be doing it full-time. And so until I have that time on my hands, which is probably not going to be anytime in the near future, I’m just going to be on my little extended hiatus. I’m essentially directing television shows and films through the middle of next year, the middle of 2022.

So until I get a year off where I could just travel and do stand up and write a new hour, it’s probably just going to stay on the back burner for a while because my directing work is really what I’m super passionate about right now. And what’s been heating up and really been rewarding for me I think is not just being on stage by myself, but getting to be in an environment where I’m helping lots of other artists advance and also hopefully, through my own successes, making spaces for women and people of color to be creators and to be directing. So that’s really where I want to put my energy right now is just trying to make space for other creators of color.

Last question, do you find directing more rewarding or more therapeutic than acting?

Yes, I do. And I love acting. But yes. No, I always say to people when you’re an actor, you’re really essentially just taking care of yourself. You’re caring for yourself and maybe you’re caring for the person or people that you’re acting from. But when you are directing, you have to care for everyone. And your job is really to make everybody’s life better and to help amplify other artists and empower them to do their best work. And so to me, that’s the most invigorating work of my career so far is really the job of being a coach and a cheerleader and a mentor and an amplifier to all of the many artists and all the many craftspeople that come together to make a television show or to make a movie. And I find that to be immensely rewarding. So I do love acting, but man, I really love directing.

“Fear the Walking Dead” airs Sunday at 9pm/8pmC on AMC. Watch the opening minutes of tonight’s episode below. 

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is a screenwriter and freelance reporter from Chicago -- currently living in Los Angeles and covering A-list entertainment for various outlets, including Emmys.com. She has worked for: Miramax, MTV & VH1, The Jim Henson Company, Hallmark Channel, Paramount Pictures, and for iconic indie film producer Roger Corman.

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