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HEAD SHOTS, BLACK HELICOPTERS, AND ESSENTIAL GEAR IN THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH NICOLAS CANTU ON 'THE WALKING DEAD: WORLD BEYOND'

Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
June 10, 2021

The third television series in The Walking Dead's sprawling universe, World Beyond follows a group of young survivors in their cross country trek to a mysterious facility that may hold many of the answers to the zombie apocalypse that have ravaged humanity. Determined to reunite with their scientist father, sisters Iris (Aliyah Royale) and Hope (Alexa Mansour) team up with friends Elton (Nicolas Cantu) and Silas (Hal Cumpston) to support one another in the perilous journey, as they face threats from both the dead and the Civic Republic Military, a shadowy military organization looking to rebuild from the ashes of society.

When we first met Nicolas Cantu, he was a young voice actor promoting his lead role on the Disney XD series LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures, in which he played one of three eponymous siblings making their way in a galaxy existing between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. He has lent his voice to a number of other performances, including the title character in Cartoon Network's The Amazing World of Gumball, and has since branched out into live action--The Walking Dead: World Beyond represents one such project, where he plays the thoughtful and resourceful Elton Ortiz.

In this exclusive interview, Nicolas talks about his experiences with the first season of World Beyond and reflects on his time with The Freemaker Adventures.

Season one of The Walking Dead: World Beyond is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from RLJE Films.




RadioFree.com: To what extent were you familiar with the universe of The Walking Dead, and the zombie apocalypse genre in general, before landing the role of Elton on World Beyond?

NICOLAS: I was, I would say, very well-versed in the zombie universe. I had watched the first two seasons of The Walking Dead when they first came out, I would play a bunch of zombie video games, I would watch "fact videos" about The Walking Dead and little secrets that you can find in the show. I was a big fan.

With all of that familiarity, did you have to do a lot of "unlearning" when it came to dealing with zombies, given that Elton and his friends aren't nearly as seasoned as other survivors we're accustomed to watching as viewers?

Yeah, I definitely had to unlearn a lot about the process of killing them, because when we go about the show, Elton and all the other characters aren't that well-versed, as you said. So there's one scene where the character Iris is fighting a zombie, and she can't quite seem to hit the head correctly. And as the character, I'm like, [haplessly] "Oh man, this is really not going our way!" But then the zombie fan in me, I'm like, "Just hit the head, it's the brain--it's right there, come on, come on!"

I would imagine that as a fan, you're anxious to uncover all of the mysteries set up on The Walking Dead, particularly the whole situation with the black helicopters and the whereabouts of Rick Grimes. Are you privy to all of those details well in advance, or are you basically kept in the dark until it comes time to film something?

They do keep us in the dark about most of the things in the show, especially with the CRM. So we just kind of find out as the scripts come out, or as we film it. But I also, believe or not, don't ask that many questions. I feel like I just want to be along for the ride with the fans on knowing secrets and stuff. There's probably a bunch of stuff I could ask [series creators Matthew Negrete or Scott M. Gimple], but I bet they would still be, like, keeping the curtain closed and shutting me down. [laughs]



What are you looking forward to exploring in the upcoming season two?

I feel like fans are really going to be excited to see this almost new world that we've crafted. Season one was very quest-based in its structure. And it kind of keeps that same feeling in season two, but it's very different--things just kind of ramp up very quickly. It's such a fun ride, and the scale is pushed even bigger than it was before.

How do you think World Beyond's focus on younger survivors distinguishes it from the other shows in the universe of The Walking Dead?

I think one of the strongest aspects of our show is that new perspective. The main Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead have a different lens from ours. And ours, as a narrative storytelling device, shows itself in a lot of different ways. The environments are, I guess, more exaggerated--the walkers are more of a threat. And you get to kind of see this teenage perspective to the apocalypse, which is something we haven't really seen that much of before in the other shows in the universe. So it's a very interesting new lens to see the world through.

In a hypothetical crossover, how do you suppose young characters from the other shows would fit in with Elton, Iris, Hope, and Silas?

Dude! With our group...We definitely think that we have it all together, but man, Rick's daughter [Judith] would run things--you know, she would definitely keep us all in line with that big katana she has. She would definitely be the new leader and we would all just look to her for guidance. [laughs]



Elton wears a corduroy suit that is resistant to zombie bites, which seems both resourceful and cumbersome. Is that outfit as uncomfortably hot as it looks?

Probably hotter! We've been filming in Richmond, and season one, we were filming right in the middle of summer, which was just awesome [for] a three piece suit made of corduroy. And it was a battle, I'm going to be honest. But it looks cool in the show, and it's bite-proof, and it does all things it needs to. It just put me into a state of, like, arrest a couple times. [laughs] Richmond does get humid on top of its heat. I mean, they really just choose the most humid, hot places to film the show. Which works because our characters are supposed to be sweaty and hardened from battle. So good job on production for making it real! [laughs]

Elton has a lot of gear that is important to him. Are you pretty method with carrying all of that stuff while filming? If we were to open up his pack, would we find all of his possessions in there, or just something like a rock to give it weight?

[laughs] A rock would be funny! Sometimes I think they put blankets in there to simulate that it's full for some other characters. But Elton's backpack is like a suitcase, so they don't really have to fill it with anything to make it look like it's full of stuff. But on the outside, you see it's dangling with pots and pans. He does have his manuscript. He also has a camera. He carries his pocket fisherman. We actually did have a segment, I think, for the press of season one, where all the characters kind of went through what was in their bag. And Elton pulled out a bunch of items like that. So yeah, he's very well-equipped.

Between the equipment and costume, it's like you're hiking on a mini boot camp...

Oh yeah! We got these big boots, got the weather. The sets are very large. It's very fun, though. I cannot lie. As hard as it gets, it's still an adventure and super fun.

The show's fifth episode ("Madman Across the Water") reveals a lot of Elton's backstory through flashbacks. How was your own performance informed by watching those scenes interpreted by other actors, and seeing someone else play a younger version of Elton?

I'd never really been a part of a project before where two people play the same character at different times, and so having that new experience was incredible. And the way that Roger [Dale Floyd] did little Elton and all the trauma that he faced...He did such a great job--he really killed it, and he added a lot of depth to the character. And with this trauma that he faced, I was able to kind of use his performance to fuel mine when I'm under the boat facing that fear. It was an incredible experience.



We first met you for the animated series LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures. Are you interested in continuing with voice acting, even though you've recently been working on live action projects?

Yeah, I would love to stay in the voiceover world. That's kind of where I grew up, you know? Going from like ages 7 to 14, I was going to voiceover booths in the mornings and skipping school for them. So it's very much like a second home. And those projects are always so much fun. I mean, getting to voice act for The Freemaker Adventures, that was so great. Everybody there was awesome. Working on The Amazing World of Gumball for Cartoon Network was such a blast. And just all these other voiceover projects that I've done have definitely been highlights in my career, and I want to keep doing them. It's a world that I very much enjoy, and everybody involved in that space is so nice, and they're great people. So I would definitely love to continue working in that medium.

Disney has obviously been very successful at perpetuating and expanding franchises. What are your thoughts on the possibility of revisiting the Freemakers? And are you still able to do the voice of your character Rowan?

If they bring Rowan back, I would assume that they would probably age him up, because if not, I do not think I would be able to do it again. [laughs] I was like 11 or 12 when we were filming that. And even directly after, like at 13, I could notice my voice changing a little bit. But if they were to bring Rowan back, I would absolutely love to play him again. A little older, of course. Or they could just make him sound older with no explanation! I think that would be funny also. [laughs]

Do you think the story of the Freemakers was pretty much wrapped up in the show's two seasons, or were there storylines you would have liked to explore further?

I feel like it wrapped up pretty nicely. All the characters had great arcs, and you really get to see Rowan's journey as a Jedi. But I feel like maybe you could have seen more of that, you know? Rowan was only really beginning his study of the Force, and using the Force to build things and create ships like the Arrowhead. I think seeing him become more, I guess, enamored with that side of his powers would be awesome. But I think it wrapped up pretty nicely, and we did see the Freemakers in another LEGO Star Wars shorts series. They did a bunch of shorts and they even covered [stories] before the Freemakers--we got to see the Freemakers' parents. I thought that was really, really cool. It definitely showed that LEGO and Lucasfilm had a lot of love for these characters. So if they want to keep spreading the love and showing more stories with them, I would love to see it.

Nicolas, it's been great catching up with you today and talking about Star Wars and The Walking Dead. Thanks for your time!

Yes, this has been awesome! What a surprise to hear [from] you again. Thank you so much.


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