Season 4 of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD introduced June, a woman constantly on the run — from the never-ending world of walkers, from threats of pain and loss, from people who counted on her — but mostly from her past and herself. In portraying June,managed to convey the aching need of a woman who only wished to be left alone, yet unable to resist falling for a man who only wanted to love her and care for her; and the delicate love story of John Dorie and June blossomed in the midst of a world gone wrong. In an exclusive interview, Jenna talked about what lies ahead for June as she tries to reclaim a piece of her humanity as she learns to let other people be a part of her journey in the long road of survival.
At this point, we know that you are playing a very complicated character who is going by three different names at different points: Laura, June, and Naomi. Which name do you think best describes her at this point?
JENNA: I think she’s June. I think the second half of this season is going to be her quest to navigate her way into owning that for herself and finding out who she is now — compared to what she’s gone through — because she can’t keep going the way she’s been going and she’s gonna go one way or the other. The second half of the season, episode 412, there’s gonna be a big turning point for her as she starts to navigate what her own constitution is going to be moving forward.
What was the appeal of portraying this character for you?
JENNA: I had really been craving having the opportunity to dig in deeper to the human condition — to lean into exploring that. I’ve lived so much life for myself and raising children, and have been with my husband for 28 years — I wanted to actually explore some of that and be able to stay in it and that was appealing to me.
What about June at this point do you find fascinating? June obviously has different layers to her, but what do you find interesting for you?
JENNA: What I find really interesting is that the vulnerability of when you’ve experienced so much and so much loss, and you’re in an environment that offers no comfort, how do you recover? How do you survive?You can stay alive. You can find a way to not get killed, but what’s the quality of life above that? And that’s what I find very interesting: watching this character navigate her identity through her experiences and figuring out those layers. I find that fascinating. Like what do people do and how do they manage when the necessity level to survive is so high? And what is the quality of that survival? Is it just survive? Or is there a better quality or a modifying quality to that survival? And what is that, and how do you get it? And that’s what I find intriguing to explore with her.
What do you think — obviously John (Garret Dillahunt) — but what’s her lifeline?
JENNA: I think she’s clinging the fact that she has encountered John Dorie. She does have that. She had it in episode 405. She brought that experience with her. I think that from the moment she met John Dorie, his unconditional love impinged on her in terms of the peeling affect. Whether she decided to cop to that or face it, is a different story. Does she think she deserves it? Does she think she can be in proximity to other people and not be harmful to them, because she’s come to the point where she thought herself to be harmful because of the fall of the FEMA center, and the collapse of her world with the death of her child.
June strikes me as a desperate woman just looking for something, a salvation almost.
JENNA: Yeah. And will she let herself be helped? Will she let herself be enhanced? Can she open up and rehabilitate within herself her basic goodness? Or has it all collapsed in on her from all of this loss and trauma and I think that’s what she has to reconcile within herself. She knows she just can’t continue in this pain and misery, but things aren’t the way they were and they never will be. So she has to reconcile for herself who is she now. And I think that’s where we’re going. I think that’s very interesting. I think John Dorie has a huge affect on that as well, possibly more.
Besides John Dorie, who does she really cling to? Who else does she gravitate towards in this little fragmented world?
JENNA: I think Morgan (Lennie James) is her other orientation point because he saved her life. He stepped in front of Alicia’s (Alycia) gun and saved her life. And he helped John Dorie. That’s a friend to me. He stepped in front of her gun and saved her life and that actually was the impetus of setting an example to her of how they need to be now. And that’s a standard. That’s courage. She needed to see that. She needed to experience that as an example that it can be that way. So, for her, Morgan and John Dorie are her two closest to a safe point.
It’s interesting she’s gravitating more towards men, and not towards women as the people she would feel the closest to. Even with Madison (Kim Dickens) she didn’t seem that close.
JENNA: Well, she was still trying to leave. It wasn’t til right at the very end of the stadium where she said, “I’m gonna stay. I’m gonna help. I’m gonna set up the infirmary.” And she actually finally committed to contributing and being part of the stadium. And right when she did that it started to fall. And that’s when she ran and gave up all hope and went with the Vultures. And so we end the last season around a campfire with except for Alicia, who she didn’t know, it’s just Alicia gave her a ride to the stadium to go get medical supplies for John Dorie. It’s this heightened experience. She hasn’t even gotten to know Alicia and Alicia and Luciana (Danay Garcia) were trying to kill her. So there isn’t a female yet that is safe for her exactly. But in this next episode, she is with Alicia because we went to explore what’s happening with the river and then the hurricane happened. So I actually am with a female coming up and you will see a very strong interesting story between two women.
You have been a fantastic addition to this season of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD. How does it feel to be jumping into the series at this juncture?
JENNA: I’m honored because it’s what I’ve been wanting to do. Like I said, we needed to explore the human condition on a deeper level and this show is definitely that, and it just landed in my lap and I am so grateful. When I found out I got the show, I watched all seasons of the show and was very excited to join the cast because I had so much respect for all the characters involved. And I’m just taking one episode at a time, and exploring what the possibilities are for my character and enjoying every minute of it.
It’s kind of a gritty show. It’s a show where you get in the muck and now June is in this storm situation. What are the challenges for you in the midst of all that craziness?
JENNA: Well, what’s great is the hurricane separates people and forces them into unexpected and unlikely pairings — and that experience forces them to further explore who they are and from that comes character development. So the story is gonna be a great catalyst in pushing each character’s story forward by throwing them into unlikely pairings.
What was it like for you to work in that storm?
JENNA: I felt like paid my “wet dues” in the first half of the season with the waterpark, with the oil tank. I luckily didn’t have to — we have the swamp van and I didn’t have to have any scenes where I’m completely drenched and I was really grateful for it.
It looks pretty messy. You’re not only surviving an apocalypse where there’s walkers and people who may not want to help you out there, but the weather is not helping in the situation.
JENNA: Most definitely not.
At this point what does June have to fear? Is it the walkers? Is it the world around her? What’s gonna be the things that she needs to be most wary of?
JENNA: Her own constitution.
Is that like her will to survive?
JENNA: That’s what’s gonna make or break her. Yeah. It’s her determining for herself who is she and what is her value to the world, and can she trust herself? Does she feel that she is worth being here? Can she trust herself and what is her reconciling for herself to herself who is she now? And can she maintain that? And what does that look like for her? Her own personal identity, and knowledge, and certainty of herself is what her biggest challenge and threat is coming up.
I think she’s a bit surprised by her capacity to survive.
JENNA: That’s a very good question. And, yes, I think at every turn she’s somehow amazed she’s still here.
She does have an instinct for it. Not everybody is born with that kind of survival instinct that really just helps you. Hers is very keen.
JENNA: I think that will evolve but, yeah. She was a nurse and she was a mother. And those are two very strong position to lean into life with, but they’re very very challenged at this point.
What would you like to tease about the big episode coming up? What would you like fans to look for?
JENNA: I think they’re going to enjoy seeing the exchange between Alicia and June. I think that they’re going to learn along with June what she is made of, what her demons are, what her capabilities are, what her strong suits are, what she thinks is going to break her may actually be the thing that becomes a beautiful quality. Can she accept it or not? I think they’re going to enjoy the exchange between Alicia and June and how they affect each other, and how they contribute and challenge each other’s survival on this next episode and the outcome of that. And what do they pull out of each other, and what do they threaten within each other.
Were you ever surprised by where the show has taken June’s story so far?
JENNA: I think you’d have to have some established expectations to then be surprised, and I just didn’t have one. I just took one episode at a time and tried to honor it the best I could and I knew what her backstory was I knew we were going to get to it eventually, and I was just really focused on trying to honor the mythology of universe, honor the truth of the character, honor of the truth of human emotion so that audience at home feels what I’m feeling, and make sure it’s aligned to those basic qualities we all share as humans. I was a series regular so I knew — it wasn’t like I was a guest star — so I wasn’t like surprised like, “oh, I’m a regular now?” Like I came in as a series regular so I knew there was a bit of a foundation to what I was doing, so I don’t think I had really any particular expectations that would then make me surprised. I think I’m just thrilled that the fans responded so favorably to the love story and I’m really happy to be part of a love story because I think love is so important both to have in your life — but also within mankind, which we explore a lot in the second half of this season. Love and health — what does that mean?
And in the dark world of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, they could all certainly use a bit more love. All new episodes of Season 4 air Sunday nights at 9:00 p.m. on AMC. You can follow the show on Twitter for sneak peeks and exclusive information @FearTWD. Then to see what adventures Jenna is up to as her career continues, you can follow her on Twitter @JennaElfman.
FEAR THE WALKING DEAD 412 preview: