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Samantha Mathis Talks Joining The Strain, Her Character’s Motives, Working in the Genre, and Lots More!

So far, Sason 2 of “The Strain” has taken everything good about Season 1 and amped it up tenfold, including adding Samantha Mathis as no-nonsense City Councilwoman Justine Feraldo.  In tonight’s Episode 2.04,” entitled “The Silver Angel,” Dutch and Setrakian set off for Staten Island to question Fitzwilliam, Palmer’s former bodyguard. Staten Island is also where Feraldo is; will their paths cross?

Mathis recently chatted with us roundtable style, and that exact question came up along with several others. Here are the highlights to help get you ready for tonight’s events.

THE STRAIN -- "Fort Defiance" -- Episode 203 (Airs July 26, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: (l-r) Samantha Mathis as Justine Feraldo, Ron Canada as Mayor George Lyle. CR: Michael Gibson/FX

Pictured: (l-r) Samantha Mathis as Justine Feraldo, Ron Canada as Mayor George Lyle.
CR: Michael Gibson/FX

Q:  We don’t know much about Justine. How much of what goes on within her is driven by her lust for power or need for power, and how much is just keeping her people safe?

Samantha Mathis:  Well, I think that’s a really excellent question. I mean, this is a woman who certainly has a past, as exemplified from the episode just this last Sunday night. She lost a brother and a husband in 9/11. Certainly, Staten Island has received sometimes less than stellar treatment from New York City.  So I think that she is very protective of her people, and she’s very dedicated to her people, but there’s always a potential, when you’re in a position of power, to be corrupted by it. I think that her intentions are really true to protect her people, but that was one of the aspects that intrigued me about playing this character.

It’s never black-and-white. I love that in a character, that it’s not black-and-white, because human beings aren’t black-and-white. Certainly, when it comes to being given a certain amount of power, the question is: What do you do with that power? With power comes great responsibility, and we’re getting to see that Justine’s getting a little more power, and what will she do with it?

She’s got a message, and she’s shouting it from the rafters. She’s got a zero tolerance, and she means business. She is not messing around… she is [strong] and brash, one could say, perhaps a little brazen, not the most subtle of politicians. But when you’re playing with the big boys in New York City, you can’t be timid. Justine’s a lot of things. She ain’t timid.

Q: Did you take any inspiration from any real-life politicians for the character?  Her name certainly seems familiar!

SM:  I had a very brief conversation when I was brought on to play Justine. I mean, I watched some footage of Geraldine Ferraro… I thought about other politicians and the way that they’ve behaved publicly versus what they may be like privately, but I just got a real strong feel from the material that they gave me… I really tried to draw from what Staten Island is like today and looked at footage from some Councilpeople from Staten Island. I live in New York City, so there’s no shortage of access to that. In fact, our NY1 news station on Time Warner is incredible in terms of covering Staten Island news… I could hear their accents and sort of feel out the speech patterns…

Look, I had one audition scene, and they gave me a very strong monologue, and it told me so much of what I needed to know about who this woman was, where she came from, and what was her modus operandi. I was striving to really create someone who felt authentically “Staten Island” and what that entails… [As I said before], I think that there, in my experience, is an element for Staten Island natives that they haven’t always been done right by New York City. There’s a healthy level of skepticism in terms of how the Mayor deals with Staten Island. I think that was really the most important thing to me.

Q:  Justine is a very take-no-prisoners, heartless kind of gal. With her 9/11 background, is this, in her mind, another terrorist threat, or does she really have any kind of handle on exactly what she’s dealing with?

SM:  I don’t think she really has a handle on what she’s dealing with, but once again, she’s seen the Mayor’s office bungling the situation, not coming at it and taking care of its citizens in the way certainly that she sees fit. I love that first scene as her introduction – sort of coming in guns-a-blazing, but not without good reason.

After the hurricane that wiped out large regions of Staten Island, the Mayor continued with the New York City Marathon just a few days later. That was in an original monologue when I was approached about the part, and I thought that was so exemplary of who she is that the Mayor doesn’t have everyone’s back, and certainly not Staten Island’s. I think I just got a little off track from your question, but I think that she is very motivated by having not been taken care of by the City of New York.

And she’s very dedicated to the people. You know, my own personal experience is my boyfriend is a firefighter, and there’s a tribe. When you’re in a tribe of people that are civil servants, that work in the Fire Department and the Police Department, there’s a great deal of pride and a great deal of family. You have each other’s back. Justine lost two firefighters, and her nephew is a policeman, so she’s got a great deal of pride, and Staten Island is home to a tremendous amount of first responders that work in New York City and that died during 9/11.  So she’s protecting her people. She’s being a good politician.

Q:  Will we see her intersect with the other people that we’ve been following since Season 1? Will there be a point where those characters finally do realize that they’re both working to the same end?  What about Reggie Fitzwilliam, from last season, who just ended up on Staten Island?  Can you give us any teasers on whether there’s going to be any interaction between those two?  Because he actually does know quite a bit of what’s going on.

SM:  I think that all roads will be colliding… [Reggie] certainly does know quite a bit of what’s going on, and I’m really not supposed to give much away. I can only say that my character, at this point, is rather isolated, but I will be crossing paths with more characters.

Q:  Can you maybe tell us your favorite moment that’s coming up later in the season without, of course, giving away any spoilers?

SM:  Well, there will be a point where a gun ends up in Justine’s hands, and… let me put it this way: It’ll be a lot of fun to be that character and getting a gun into her hands and getting into protecting herself. That was a lot of fun.

Q:  Shows like “The Strain” can induce paranoia and make you a little more of a germophobe. Was there a film or television show that affected how you went about your daily life growing up?

SM:  Oh, wow. I remember going back to being five or six years old and sitting in my father’s living room in the summertime, in Brooklyn at night, sort of cuddled between him and my stepmother, watching Dracula movies. To see those movies, maybe I wasn’t five or six, maybe I was seven or eight, but those, just the really old Bela Lugosi movies, they terrified me. I think that sort of continued thematically through several horror movies. Things that go bump in the night. That sort of evil lurking outside your window has always been something that terrified me.

Q:  And now?  How do you feel about Guillermo del Toro and Carlton Cuse’s take on vampires?  Do you like the way they’ve handled it?

SM:  They’re really horrifying. I think they took it to the next level, and it’s almost zombie meets vampire. I’m a little bit of a wuss. I’m not going to lie to you. [In] the opening episode, when that scene happened and the one elder vomited all those forms into the other one, I was just like, “Oh God, oh Jesus, oh wow, that’s… oh my gosh.” It grosses me out, but in a really fun way. The reason we’re attracted to something like “The Strain” is the same reason we want to get on a roller coaster. It’s that adrenaline rush, and we love being afraid and being freaked out. There’s a great sort of practical use for it as a human being. I think we love it…

[The unveiling of the dead vampires was] really disgusting and disturbing.  Disturbing.  There’s nothing subtle about what the character Justine was showing to the world in that scene.  They were strung up.  It was pretty gross and pretty graphic, and I think really speaks to who she is.  She’s got a message, and she’s shouting it from the rafters.  She’s got a zero tolerance, and she means business.  As a person and as an actor, as a human being, it’s pretty disgusting, and I think that they do graphic makeup effects and visual effects on the show tremendously well.  As a person, it’s sort of disgusting.  As an artist, I have tremendous respect and awe for what they accomplish.

Q:  In last Sunday’s episode, Justine agreed to leave Staten Island to help eradicate the vampire virus in New York City. How do you think her presence there is going to affect the story now?

SM:  Well, you’ll have to tune in and see. The mayor has now asked her to come in and participate in helping Manhattan rid itself. I can say that she will start to take some steps in that direction, but there’s a lot of Manhattan to cover. Don’t be fooled. She won’t be getting rid of the vampires anytime soon.

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Q:  Are there any traits of Justine’s that you find very useful and would like to have in real life?  Has the part presented any particular challenges to you?

SM:  I would actually say that what’s been so refreshing for me on “The Strain” is that my experience, at least in the last ten years of my work, has been that, I wouldn’t say that I played pushovers, but a lot of the characters that I’ve played have been defined by being someone’s wife or someone’s mother or someone’s partner in some way. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as a woman, I have to say that what’s been really exciting for me in playing Justine Faraldo is that I am, in fact, there as a woman who’s standing on her own two feet, who has a history and a past and is very strong… In addition to that, she has a lot of chutzpah, as it were. I haven’t had characters where I exemplify a lot of anger. I haven’t had that opportunity, and I certainly enjoyed it a lot. It isn’t something that I’ve been asked to call upon on a regular basis. I found that challenging, digging into those wells, and just getting comfortable with being a woman in the boys’ boardroom and really taking that space. It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s also totally foreign for me. It’s been a great part of the challenge of Justine for me…

So that’s really actually been really refreshing for me. In fact, when I first started, I thought, “What feels different? Oh wait, I’m not playing someone’s wife or mother. I’m a politician, and I’m there to be a strong woman and to be unapologetically strong and calling bullshit on all the bureaucracy and hypocrisy that she sees. I have to say that has actually been incredibly new and refreshing for me. I would say with every character that I try to find my commonalities with them, as well as my differences, to see where I can pull immediately from my own experience. It’s a universal theme, but I think that we all have loved ones that we would do anything for. I don’t know that I would go to the extremes that Justine does, but I have family and friends that I love very much, and I would want to protect them if something happened.

In that very sort of universal human theme, I can relate to that. Then, as a woman, or generally speaking as a human being, in this political climate, there are myriad… there [is] no shortage of injustices in the world to be outraged and indignant by. So, certainly in that first scene… it was a lot of fun for me to come in and think about various politicians I might like to have words with and channel some of that energy.

Q:  You’ve doing a quite a lot of science fiction and horror projects. Would you say that you’re attracted to that kind of work, or is it just something that sort of happened by accident?

SM:  It just completely happened by accident… because it isn’t actually a world that I was drawn to when I was younger, and it is something that sort of developed. I mean, obviously, there is great interest in those spaces these days. I think there’s sort of a renewed fervor for sci-fi and genre and horror… What I’m learning about the genre is how rich they are with metaphor about society, and that it’s talking about things greater than just what you see on the surface. Not only in circumstances but in human beings. The templates that are being created are really rich. I’m seeing really rich, interesting characterization. As an actor, that’s all you could hope for. So it’s interesting; it’s not by design at all, but I seem to be becoming someone who works in genre a lot, and I’m really enjoying it a lot, and the special effects are fun too.

“The Strain” Episode 2.04 – “The Silver Angel” (airs 8/2/15)
Eph (Corey Stoll) and Nora (Mia Maestro) finally see their lethal virus in action. Fet (Kevin Durand) takes the security of Red Hook into his own hands while Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas) and Setrakian (David Bradley) set off for Staten Island to question Fitzwilliam (Roger Cross), Palmer’s former bodyguard.

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