The character of Victor Strand was introduced near the end of Fear The Walking Dead’s first season, but he made an indelible impression. The scene in which the unflappable charmer addressed Nick (Frank Dillane), a recovering drug addict, felt like a hallucination. After all, who could keep their wits (and cuff links) about them when the world was going to hell? But Strand practically strolled out of the army facility with his new friend. He even seemed to have a pretty good plan for waiting out the apocalypse—head to open water in a luxury yacht, complete with desalination equipment.
For all his people skills, Strand hasn’t revealed much about himself, but it’s not just the surrounding mystery that’s captured the attention of viewers. Colman Domingo, the Tony-nominated actor who plays Strand on the show, believes his character is a man who actually thrives in adversity, who views this increasingly undead world as another place in which to rebuild his life. Not that he hasn’t been knocked for a loop—Strand lost his longtime lover, Thomas Abigail, just before the midseason break. With the back half of season two kicking off last Sunday, The A.V. Club spoke with Domingo about Strand’s motivations and, in the parlance of the character and his wealthy lover, obligations.
The A.V. Club: At the end of the first half, the Angelenos finally find their way down to Mexico, only to see that safe haven go up in flames. The original group then split up: A disillusioned Nick left his family, while Travis set off with only Chris in an effort to save his son’s life (and probably everyone else’s). Even though they’ve never really seen eye to eye, Madison and Strand have teamed up to keep Alicia and Ofelia safe. What’s the new dynamic between these two? Are they really capable of working together in the long run?
Colman Domingo: Well, this time around, I think we’re now seeing these two formidable personalities. Finally, we’re starting to come together, forming a possible friendship unbeknownst to either one of them. I guess we’re all finding in this new world that they need each other in some way, that there are skills that each other has, that are necessary for the group’s survival, or for surviving outside of the group. It’s like they’ve all, in a short period of time, come a long way. And I think that’s interesting and exciting and challenging both to grow in another way. I think that’s cool.
AVC: Is their relationship leaning toward a friendship? They established an alliance last season, but is their arrangement now borne of mutual trust as much as convenience?
CD: I think it’s less about convenience and more about need. I think that even from the very beginning, there was something that attracted them to one another, whatever that is in this universe. And there was something that turned each other off at the same time. [Laughs.] I think the issues we end up having with another are things we recognize within ourselves. They’re holding a mirror to one another. I think Strand absolutely sees something in Madison. It’s so outside of him to need someone else, but I think that with the fall of the compound, and [the loss of Thomas] Abigail, that [Strand’s] in a very vulnerable place, and he needs someone.
AVC: It’s unusual to see him in that position, because he has, up until this point, seemed like the guy with all the answers. He had the means—the money, the boat—and the end (the Abigail compound). Now though, he finds himself on equal footing with everybody else. How’s he going to handle that?
CD: I look at Victor Strand as being a symbol of the Western world/civilization. I think that he’s been stripped [of] everything, whether it’s his Ralph Lauren suit, money, all the things that he held in high esteem. [Here’s] someone who was a climber, an opportunist, and now he’s in this place where he has to become a bit more human and find out what really matters, and that’s challenging for him.
I look at personalities like that, people who [cultivated] their exteriors because there’s a lack of something on the inside. They want love. I think they want love, they want caring, they want understanding. But they’ve been jilted by the world, so they go after the external, and now the external’s gone, so he’s in this very precarious, vulnerable place. It’s something that can either build him up or destroy him.
AVC: That’s a question for all of these characters, whether these frightening conditions have exposed them for who they really are, or if their less defensible actions are just the result of being backed into a corner. What about Strand? Is he finally cracking under the pressure, or is he just getting warmed up?
CD: I think he’s been exposed for who he really is, to be honest. The steely veneer was one of the many things he possessed, and they’re all gone. He believed that he was a self-made man, and when that’s all stripped away, you’re forced. People can see the underpinnings. Being that exposed, that raw, we’ll see actually what makes him tick and how he operates. He’s been under scrutiny, whether he’s been a good guy or a bad guy. I’ve always said, look at the things Victor Strand has done, and you’ll see who he really is. Look beyond just the way he’s done it.
AVC: On FTWD, heroics are almost discouraged because they come at high personal cost. Strand’s noted that while also taking in multiple strangers. That’s part of his plan to “obligate” them to him, but that moral ambiguity also seems to have resonated with viewers. That’s hardly a surprise, that people would like a complex character, but he’s so unambiguously gray, if that makes sense.
CD: I think so as well. Because that’s what we truly are as human beings. We can see ourselves in Victor Strand. Because his moral compass, you’re not exactly sure where it’s dialed in on. I think that’s seductive. I think even when it comes to his value system, they’re all a little gray, and they keep changing. I think that’s why people are really drawn to him—they’re drawn to his strength as well, his strength of character. He’s someone who seems to be intelligent, aware, confident, and that’s sexy.
AVC: Which seems to be in keeping with a moment in season 2B, in which he describes himself as a “seducer of people.” We’ve seen Strand glean what people want from him, then oblige them (or not).
CD: He’s obtained some skills. I don’t know if they came to him naturally. He understands what human beings want, whether it’s good or bad. I think, in a strange way, he’s a cousin to Frank Underwood in House Of Cards. I think he understands the commerce and the value in what human beings want. And everything has an exchange. It’s all a seduction. Anything you want.
AVC: Strand mostly seems unruffled by all the death and destruction. He definitely gives the impression that it’s not the game that’s changed, but the players.
CD: Absolutely. But also, that’s part of his survival. That’s the way he’s been able to be exactly who he is and survive in the world.
AVC: Now more than ever, the characters are sorting out just how well they can cope in this new world—and it definitely feels like a new one to them, one they don’t understand. Now that they’re in Mexico, though, they’ve met people (like Celia) who feel like they understand what’s going on. The Angelenos (except Nick) are seen to be hanging on to the past, whereas the Mexicans they’ve encountered believe that death is just the next step in life.
CD: Yeah, you know what it is? Now that we’re in Mexico, we see that they have a very different relationship to death than we do as Americans. In Mexican culture, there’s Day Of The Dead, where they thrive on honoring their dead and feel that their dead walk among us. So we’re [the Angelenos] out of our comfort zones—our cultures colliding—and we’re challenging our beliefs. So that’s what’s really cool about that. We’re actually becoming—you know, we’re definitely across the border. It’s a border story, but the Americans are foreigners now. So we have to look at everything through a whole new lens.
AVC: Victor Strand’s played a lot of things close to the vest, but he did finally share what motivated him to break out of the detention center and head to Mexico. We learn that Victor and Tom are/were lovers. When you previously discussed their relationship, you described the reveal as very matter of fact. Can you speak to that? As an out gay man, one who’s been recognized by GLAAD for your one-man autobiographical play A Boy and His Soul, did you have any input?
CD: When I met with the showrunner and the writer’s room, they talked about the Strand and Abigail relationship, I thought “great.” There was no extra thinking about it; that’s what it is. What I thought was interesting was that anyone would consider it a big reveal. It just shows us who we are in our culture and what we think about same-sex relationships, that that’s a big reveal. I’m like, actually, it’s not. This is just something else that you learn, that explains his actions and why he was doing what he was doing to get back to Mexico. He had someone who he was involved with.
Victor’s such a complicated and complex character. I think he has a very different system of values. He did love Thomas Abigail, but he also felt an obligation to look after him [for not turning him into the cops back in New Orleans]. To focus on the relationship is, I think, to not see the whole picture. Because if we see that it’s a meeting of ideas and of mind—and obligation—then it’s a bit more complicated and complex. It just so happens to be that he’s in a relationship with Thomas Abigail. But there’s so much more there, which gives us more to play with in the future.
AVC: It certainly was a nice moment, but it was just treated as part of his backstory. It didn’t become this “Very Special Episode,” with capital letters.
CD: Exactly. [Laughs.]
AVC: As we’ve already mentioned, having something or someone to lose can cost you your life. Strand no longer seems to be in that position with Tom gone. Is there something we’re missing? Does he have anything to lose going forward?
CD: I think that Strand is in a very precarious position, honestly. He doesn’t exactly know where he is in the world. I think that he’s been thrown for such a loop. He doesn’t know where north is anymore in his own life. He’s been someone whose value has been building and moving forward and forward and rebuilding, redefining, and now there’s nothing to rebuild. The game has changed so much, he has nothing really that he’s striving for. He’s out there in the wind this season, so we’ll just have to see where that goes.