Exclusive: Pisay Pao on Her Return to Z Nation

Pisay PaoLast week Syfy premiered season three of its quirky zombie series Z Nation. The first episode moved away from the normal format with a "flashback movie" episode. The episode brought back Cassandra, played by Pisay Pao, who had previously been bitten by Murphy (Keith Allan) and more recently killed by 10K (Nat Zang).

Pao recently talked to SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview about returning for the season premiere.




SCIFI VISION: Before we get into specifics about the episode, are there any plans for your character to come back again, or was this just a one-time thing?

Pisay PaoPISAY PAO: That's a question that I can't answer, believe it or not. They're leaving it open ended.

But if you do come back it will be another flashback I'm guessing? I assume they aren't going to bring you back from the dead again. [laughs]

That I don't know either. I really don't, and here's why. There're a lot of players involved in this. There's not just one person making a decision. And so I will say this, I know that Karl [Schaefer], the showrunner and one of the creators of Z Nation, he has a really firm belief that once a character is dead, they are dead. That's it. And that's a big reason why Garnett (Tom Everett Scott) hasn't ever come back, and Mack (Michael Welch) didn't come back - yet. [laughs]

And I love and respect that. And for him, the reasoning is that he wants people to respect the show to some degree. Yes, it is fun and campy, and there's some outrageous stuff, but for him, once a character who is dead [comes back], for him it loses some of its legitimacy, and I don't mean to speak for him, but this is what he has told me, or I've heard him say personally.

But he doesn't get the final say on everything. I know sometimes the studio will step in and say, "Hey, we really want to see this character again, or we want to see that character again, and sometimes those characters are already gone, for example as Cassandra, and sometimes those characters are still alive. And I didn't think I was going to come back, even as a flashback. I didn't think I was going to come back, because we had that. In season two you may remember when we did a flashback with 10K, Doc (Russell Hodgkinson), and with Mack and Addy (Anastasia Baranova). So I just thought the flashback train had left the station for Cassandra.

And so when they called me and asked me about coming back, it was like, "Hell yeah, of course!"

But I was just really shocked. And so, I feel like if I give you a final answer, I would be lying! I have no idea. I have no idea.

I was going to ask you about finding out about it, which you already partially answered. They contacted you out of the blue?

I'm trying to remember when it was. Yes, I got an email out of the blue about it, saying they were thinking about doing a flashback episode, and how would I feel about coming back for two episodes, not knowing at the time that they were going to make it into a movie.

And of course I was really excited about it, and then I decided to read the script and read about all the characters and all the different plot twists and the relationship twists. I was just sort of like, 'Okay, you know, back in the saddle again.' I had other things going on, so that was fine too.

How long did you have to wait before you could tell people you were coming back? Because I saw you tweeted a photo from on set at one point with Nat.

That was, I'll be honest, a confusing part, because in May, I was in Chicago; I went to Walker Stalker Chicago, and I guess Karl had done an interview with somebody and said "We're doing a flashback; Cassandra's going to be back." I did not know this. And my PR team and I, we all sort of had this plan that we were going to follow: pictures we were going to post and like teasers to sort of just get people excited about the show and Cassandra's return.

And I'm sitting there during the Question and Answer session, and Keith Allan, who plays Murphy - who does have a big mouth in real life, by the way, in case anyone is curious! [laughs] He's the one who says, "Oh yeah, Cassandra's coming back." And everybody, not just me, but everyone on that panel from Russell and Anastasia to Nat and I, were just like, "Did you just drop a bomb on these people and not even confer with the group? Like this is so Murphy right now." And he was just kind of like, "Well, Karl said it, so I thought I could too." [laughs]

And so I guess the bomb got dropped a lot sooner than I expected. And, you know, honestly, after that happened, I wasn't really sure what I could say and when I could say it, but I really felt comfortable a week before the premiere, because I had been following them and noticing that they didn't post anything up about 10K really either, so I was like, 'Okay, I'm going to keep my lips sealed until maybe a week before.'

So as soon as I saw things up about 10K and Red Girl (Natalie Jongjaroenlarp), then I started posting things about Cassandra, but there wasn't like a specific time, it was more waiting to see, just observing their next move. Because they're busy; they're running around, and the last thing they're going to do is call me and say, "Hey, Plan Cassandra is good to go."

Yes and you don't want to get yelled at for saying something you're not supposed to reveal.

Exactly. Better safe than sorry, I suppose.

For the premiere, do you have a favorite scene that you were in?

Pisay PaoYou know, I love Cassandra's relationship with 10K, and not just because it drives the fans crazy, and we get asked a lot about our personal relationship and whatnot. I just think that it's a really complicated, complex relationship.

So one of my favorite scenes, and it didn't get cut completely, but it sort of had gotten edited in a way I didn't expect, was the very end where Cassandra goes to stop 10K from running after Red, and I don't know, essentially, maybe, saving his life from all those zombies. That was a scene I really enjoyed shooting, that I enjoyed the whole idea when I read the script. I enjoyed playing it. There were odd little moments that didn't get added in.

Nat did such an amazing job, and I think at the end of the night, his voice was out, because he was screaming so loudly. He's a theater actor, and I'm very much like method, so when we work together, neither of us are afraid to get in the dirt, to fall down. Like as an example, with Cassandra's death, we were both just like, 'Okay, let's do it. We don't need any pads; we're just going to go for it.'

So I always love working with him in that respect, and that was my favorite scene for Cassandra.

But also, for like the whole premiere, that opening with every character as like a comic hero, that hands down was really, really cool.

That was a great opening. You said the scene with 10K was partially cut. Was there anything interesting taken out, or was it just shortened?...

Well, obviously Cassandra is under Murphy's spell, so we sort of had to talk about what happens before she runs after 10K. Is she looking to Murphy to get the go ahead? Does she not even care at this point? Is there an aspect there of 'this is Cassandra; she doesn't need Murphy's permission anymore?' And so I feel like watching it - it's been a few days since I've seen it, forgive me - I feel like we didn't see any of that going on between Cassandra and Murphy, or just with Cassandra in general. We didn't see like 'this is a difficult choice,' or we didn't even see her make the decision, we just sort of see 10K take off and she jumps out.

So that was a part of the story that got taken out for whatever reason it may have been. But that was one of my favorites - again, I love it because it's so complex. There's no easy decision in relationships; there's no easy decisions in the apocalypse. And I love that kind of stuff. So it got cut out.

Was there a scene that you found particularly difficult?

Yes, there were a lot of difficult scenes. The opening scene where Cassandra takes a bite out of that guy and turns around and spits it out, that was difficult from a technical stand point. I had to be eating this weird stuff. I don't even know what it is they have us eat; it's definitely syrupy. I had blood all over my face, and then I'm chewing a weird waxy thing and then spitting it out. We had to do that a couple times just in terms of like getting the angle and the lighting, and everything has to fall into place, so that was really difficult.

The same thing with the scene where Cassandra runs after 10K. He's such a fast runner, like Nat is really fast. And I'm really fast too, but I'm running in boots and heels, and we’re running on gravel, and it was just the way that I had to banana out, which is a technical thing. Those are the shots that are like, you know, when you can get them, it's great, but they may be my least favorite, because it's all technical stuff. It's not like acting necessarily, but more like hitting you mark. But that was really tough, because we were losing light, and it's like, 'Hey, let's shoot this,' and then it starts raining, and it's like, 'Okay, now we really have to go,' and it's like, 'No pressure' don't anybody freak out.' But that was really a difficult one.

And then the breastfeeding scene was a bit difficult for me.

Everyone wants me to ask you about that. [laughs]

If it was me I wouldn't have been able to quit laughing. It was hilarious. Shocking, but hilarious.

I love hearing that. I'll tell you a story related to that. I got a text from the lovely Keith Allan, and he said, "Welcome back, baby!" I'm like, "Great," you know, "Thank you. I can't wait!" And he's like, "Oh my God, something something something; you're going to be breast feeding!" And I'm like, "What?!" He goes, "Yeah, have you not read the script?" And I'm thinking, 'I read the script, did I miss something?' And sure enough, I read it, and I'm like, 'Oh my God; I'm breast feeding!'

[laughs] I don't know, I think because I was in it - you know, when you're in it, it's hard to find the joke, which is good, because obviously, you never want to play the joke, but I didn't think it was hilarious and funny. I was just like, "Uh, so how much of my breast is going to be out? Are we going to have a closed set?" I was sort of a diva about it; I was a little bit uptight about it, which is weird, because I love nudity [laughs] I think it's a beautiful thing. [laughs] just not when I'm dressed up as a half zombie and breastfeeding a baby! And I totally have nothing against women breast feeding their babies; it was just, I don't know; I don't know what it was. I guess the joke was on me. It was like, 'Ah, no. This is not funny.'

But I love that everyone else enjoyed it and at a certain point, I did kind of get into it, and I'd seen Nat created this beautiful thing for me. I have to pull it up or post it. He made one of those, you know, like the Mexican Catholic candles, where they all have their saints? So he took the Cassandra photo of her breastfeeding, and he kind of made her into a saint. [laughs] I have to share that.

[laughs] Yeah, you do.

I thought the whole thing with was the baby was funny. First of all, she's in the cooler, which is weird to begin with, like when Cassandra kept closing the lid [laughs]...

You know what nobody saw, is because we were saying the same thing, we were like, 'You can't put a baby in a cooler!' We actually drilled holes in the top of the cooler, so just in case anybody was worried about that, about our fake zombie baby not having any fresh air, the cooler actually literally had holes drilled into it, because we thought at any point if people saw it there was some realism to it.

Well I didn't notice the holes, but that helps, because I was like, 'Doesn't she need to breathe?' But then, she's part zombie, so maybe she doesn't. [laughs]

No, it needs air; it needs air, but yeah, I love that moment. That was really fun too to play that moment where Cassandra's like, 'What do I do with this thing?! [laughs] Do I rock it? Do I growl at it? Like what the heck?!' That was really fun.

Now a different question, but as the zombified version of Cassandra, sometimes you grunt, but now she's pretty much silent for the most part. Is that hard to do, not talk? Or is it just another part of the role and doesn't make a difference?

Oh wow, that's a really great question, actually. I think that it is hard to do. It is hard to just kind of grunt. But I think that this season I feel like I really got into Cassandra, just because I've done her before, and just watching my own personal work on screen is like, 'Oh, okay, she was moving around a lot more.' And we've heard this a billion times, but there's so much in body language, and I just felt like her body language said a lot. And I saw that a lot on on the screen. And so it wasn't that hard, because I was still doing and thinking a lot.

And if you get no lines, you don't have to memorize anything; there's no like need to. Although there were times when I wanted to say like "Tommy" or 10K," or something to Murphy, that was hard in that instance, but other times not so much.

Can you think of anything else about the episode that you think would be interesting to put in the article?

I guess - I don't think we really saw this much, but first of all, I love 5K (Holden Goyette), and I love Red Girl, and I really loved they were kind of trying to have a love triangle - not a love triangle, but like an awkwardness between 10K, Cassandra, and Red Girl, which I thought was really interesting, because I think it's always fun when a guy is caught between two girls! [laughs] And like what does he do?

Pisay PaoBut I just love Red's character, and it always amazes me, the way Z Nation does it, that they're constantly adding strong female characters in leading roles, but I don't feel like they do it in a way where it's like, 'Look at us; we're doing this.' It's like they just do it, because it somehow comes natural to them. Half the writing room is women, which is amazing. So I really love that. I love all the like feminine and masculine energy that gets played out.

Regardless of whether you're coming back or not, I'm not sure if you've seen other episodes or not, but there is anything that you have seen or know about that you could tease about either the next episode or just in general with the show?

I kind of did talking about female lead characters, [laughs] and I guess, just be ready for that, for some new characters, for some badass women.

What else can I tease?...Everyone's been asking if 10K's coming back, and I don't know if I can say if he is or he isn't, but I can say that if [he does], he'll be different.

Do you have any other projects you want to talk about?

I'm not working on anything at the moment, other than comic conventions. Now that the show's come out, I'm really excited about going to Walker Stalker in Philadelphia. We've got Alamo City. Philadelphia is the first weekend in October, first and second, Alamo City is the very last weekend, which is holiday weekend, and I'm seriously considering dressing up as Cassandra as my Halloween costume. I thought it'd just be so much fun. And then I got a comic convention in December in North Carolina. So I'm really excited about those, just because other than these interviews, I don't get to talk to many other fans to get their take on stuff.

I am also currently working on a short film, which I'm really excited about. Totally different from Z Nation, but more relationship based. And that should be coming out within the next year as well.

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