Z Nation quietly came onto the cable television scene by offering viewers a great blend of horror, action, comedy and zombies. The show offered up stories and characters that served a purpose, while at the same time never taking itself too seriously or becoming bogged down in melodrama. Early on (and occasionally today) the show has been criticized and often ridiculed for its hokey special effects and ham-fisted acting. However, as the show has continued to develop and mature, so too has the writing, directing and acting.
Like many shows, Z Nation boasts a fun and exciting cast ensemble filled with talent from many diverse backgrounds. Kellita Smith anchors the main group as Lt. Roberta Warren (Fun Fact: She also played Sgt. Roberta Warren in Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!) and the ensemble is rounded out with many unique characters. This group of offbeat characters are skillfully portrayed by talented actors and actresses who make them all multi-dimensional.
New characters come and go on a weekly basis but few stay for the long run or are woven into the main story in such a way that they influence it in any permanent manner - until the introduction of The Man. While he's been in several movies (Thor, Star Trek Into Darkness), actor Joseph Gatt is no stranger to Hollywood television, playing many reoccurring roles on shows such as, Game of Thrones, Stan Lee's Lucky Man and an exceptionally chilling performance as Albino in Banshee. The Man could've been a standard (and boring) antagonist with a mysterious background but Gatt gave the character life, making him a unique, near unstoppable, force to hassle and bedevil the group.
We recently had a chance to speak with Gatt about The Man, his time on season 3 of Z Nation and what might possibly be in store for his character going into season 4.
The Man, as a character, has been a pleasant and refreshing addition the main cast this season. I've described him as having a "cold charisma". How much of his personality was written and how much of it did you add yourself?
JOSEPH GATT: Great question. From the get go it was already an interesting character. When I read the first script ("No Mercy") I loved the character’s cold, neat, methodical, businesslike approach to his job and the situation at hand. To me he felt like a cross between an apocalyptic "James Bond" and “The Transporter.” All efficient and businesslike… but he’s human and sometimes culpable to human emotions which can cause problems. All that was needed from me was to give him a bit of a backstory (which developed through the season,) and to make sure that everything he did was realistic and truthful… well, as much as could be in the Z Nation world. Here’s the thing. There are other shows out there where characters make dumb choices. Kind of like a '70s or '80s horror movie. I wanted this character to be the opposite of that. I wanted people to watch him and be scared, because he was making all the logical, correct, tactical choices to survive this apocalypse AND get his job done.
You made quite a splash in the season 3 premiere dressed in a sharp suit, then eventually a suit literally made of plastic wrap (hopefully someone will cosplay that at San Diego Comic-Con next year), but as the season moved forward your character dressed less "Brooks Brothers" and more badass biker. Fans assumed that was to better show off your muscular build, but was that a conscious decision by the wardrobe department, or did you help craft The Man's appearance?
JOSEPH GATT: Again, this was a bit of everyone throwing in their ideas and reasons for certain things. There were many discussions before filming began between Karl Schaefer (writer/creator,) Abram Cox (writer and director of several episodes,) and of course the amazing Ashley Russell (our awesomely talented costume designer,) and myself, and we all had things that we wanted to do and see… images, styles, energy, etc., which we put together to create the whole look. The suit and flip flops thing was very much a Karl and Abram thing. I fought them on that for ages because I hate flip flops, and because (I argued) a trained, tactical person would NEVER wear such impractical footwear in such conditions. But they argued that that was the whole point. This guy is so chilled and professional and in control, he can get away with wearing such an impractical outfit as a pressed suit and flip flops. In the end, I give it to them, they were correct. The imagery of the juxtaposition worked perfectly to make everyone think, “What the **** is going on with this guy?!?!” It was almost unnerving. The fans loved the flip flops and ended up nicknaming The Man as Mr. Flip Flops! Then we decided he should have a different look for when action required it, which was a combo of the suit (keeping the vest) combined with the tactical pants and boots. He’s ready for action, but still maintains a sense of dignity, efficiency and grace. So, that look was totally for practicality. Ashley did an amazing job putting that all together. We were supposed to go back to the suits more later in the season, (and she had some great ones lined up,) but that didn’t work out with the way the scripts were written. I think it also demonstrated that the more he tangled with our core group, the more he focused on the task at hand and maintaining practical clothes to be able to deal with all situations. They actually forced him out of his sweet spot and into the tactical pants again. That hadn’t happened to him in a while. BTW, I would LMAO if I saw someone cosplaying as The Man in Saran wrap! Actually, The Man is a great cosplay character!!
You've played a bad guy before as The Albino in Banshee, but The Man is a different kind of bad guy. If you aren't on his list, then he's not particularly interested in you. Despite being different characters, did you use any of your previous bad guy experience to influence how we viewed The Man or did you start him from scratch?
JOSEPH GATT: Well, the first thing I do is to never play a “bad guy” as a bad guy. In his mind, he’s not a bad guy. He’s doing his job, for his reasons and in his own inimitable way. It’s up to the arc of the character doing his thing and being who he is, in connection with the other characters, that makes him a bad guy (or good guy.) So I generally let the producers, writers, and directors, etc. take care of that. I find the things I like about the character, the things I connect with. The similarities (of which there might be many in this case,) and the differences. Like “The Albino” from Banshee, I wanted to confuse people and give this guy depth. I wanted the audience to ask questions about who this guy is and where he’s from. Why is he doing what he does in the way he does. Then they’ll decide. And one of the most fun things is watching and reading everyone's opinions about The Man, and how many of them have changed through he season. Initially you perceive him as the bad guy because he’s antagonist to the hero gang. But as the season progresses, you realize that there’s more to this guy. He won’t kill indiscriminately (sometimes to his disadvantage,) and he learns to care about Lucy and what might happen to her. He respects Warren and what she’s trying to do. Addy is a total fly in his ointment… but like other misjudged or misunderstood characters, he has his reasons that fully justify his motives and means. He’s no random psychopath.
Some of the best scenes are the ones of you and Lucy later in the season. The way Lucy was rapidly aging made for some interesting interactions between you and the three actresses playing her. Did literally switching actresses for the same character in the same scene make it difficult to maintain your focus?
JOSEPH GATT: Not at all. It actually helped a little. All of the four actors playing Lucy at different ages were/are amazing, and I had so much fun working with them all. Their respective different ages brought different energies that really helped my interactions. You can’t help but be honest when acting with young actors, because they are totally honest and see through any BS. But Madelyn, Bea, Caitlin, and Kelly were all amazing and super fun to work with.
Let's discuss The Man's motivations for a moment: He's clearly a soldier, or the very least a mercenary, in the Zona army but he doesn't play by their rules at all. In the finale we saw him become protective of Lucy and in turn, she became closer to him. Was that a conscious decision by [Abram] Cox, [Carl] Engler and [Karl] Schaefer as the character developed over time or was that always the intention?
JOSEPH GATT: When the role was first offered to me, that turn, that arc, was in there. It wasn’t totally clear how it would manifest, but it was what was conveyed to me by Karl. It’s one of the reasons I accepted the role. I’m not interested in playing one-dimensional, boring, bad guys that plod through a season being the terminator. I want to play roles that have depth & turns. Ones that can surprise, awaken & confuse. At one point, as the season progressed, I was a little concerned that we had lost sight of that arc. So when we were prepping 0311 ("They Grow Up So Quickly,") I had a long chat with Alex Yellen (director) to make sure we started switching things up a little. Bring in some surprise reactions and emotions, especially with the interactions with young Lucy. Not have him be so mean… start seeing his transformation between thinking about Lucy as The Package, and thinking of her as a young girl who is vulnerable and needs protecting… and who may perhaps remind him of someone from his past. With “Duel” I spent hours chatting with Jen Derwingson (writer/director) regarding The Man and how his arc with Lucy is changing rapidly to almost a fatherly area, and also about how he deals with the Addy menace. We know he could kill her many times over, but for thoughtful reasons he doesn’t, and he pays dearly for that mistake. By the time the season ends, he’s totally in an “I am your father and I will protect you” mode… but he hasn’t lost track of his main objective, which was to return the package to Zona. Things just got more confusing for him.
The Man has had limited interaction with the rest of the Z Nation cast up to this point but what collaborative scenes there have been are generally the strongest of the season. Now that Addy and 5K are chasing after you, do you foresee more time spent with the core cast in season 4 and if so, how do you expect that to play out?
JOSEPH GATT: It’s true that most of the scenes have been away from the core cast, but most of the cast have been on their disparate paths this season anyway. Ultimately, they are all on the same mission. If they all sat down over a cup of tea, they would figure out that they all actually want the very same thing and could all work together. But we all know that’s not how life works. Everyone travels the same direction on their own separate paths. But, as mentioned previously, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with all of the young Lucy's, which has been amazing, and I’ve also had some great scenes with Keith and Kellita. “Welcome to Murphytown” was seriously intense, and my scene with Kellita in the crate in “No Mercy” is still one of my favorites of the whole season. Addy and The Man got seriously in each others' faces in “Duel.” As for how season 4 will develop? Who knows just yet? Maybe the chase continues. If The Man survives, perhaps he joins the core group the way that Hector did. Maybe he doesn’t take Lucy to Zona and they start a journey together. Perhaps they get to Zona… and the group try to get there as well… or some of the group are captured and taken there? I have my own personal preferences and reasons for those…. but they’re for me to keep to myself right now. Let’s see who lives and who dies and how Karl and Craig want to knit them all back together again. There are so many options they could take.
Speaking of that final scene: The Man left quite a potentially deadly wake before he took Lucy and was tackled off the cliff by Addy, but the most unexpected moment had to be when Murphy stopped your punch mid-air. That's the first time we've seen you or [Keith] Allan fist fight in the show. I know fans would like to see more of that, especially between those two characters. Do you think they'll get their wish in season 4?
JOSEPH GATT: That was really fun to shoot. That finale sequence fight with Kellita and Keith. We spent a lot of time making sure it all made sense and rehearsed the moves to make those fights look tight. The show has a great stunt coordinator (Alex Terziev) and fight choreographer (Keith Cox.) We talked a lot about that moment when Murphy stops The Man's punch. It represents his super Z Strength. It’s been demonstrated a couple of times in the past, but only happens when he’s seriously mad. But we also wanted to make sure that we demonstrated that even though Murphy has the strength, The Man has the skills. That would make it an even match of sorts. Keith had the chance to beat me up a little in “Welcome to Murphytown,” but this head-to-head contest was way more fun. I think it would be great to have more Murphy vs The Man and Warren vs The Man clashes. I think the viewers would love that.
What was your favorite scene to film and what was your favorite overall scene in season 3 and what are you looking forward to the most in season 4?
JOSEPH GATT: I have many favorite scenes that I filmed. Everything this season was fun, but a couple of scenes really stand out for me, & for the character. My choices would be the scene between The Man & Warren in the container in 0301, the fight by the river with Addy when I drown her, and the scene in the finale where I’m telling Lucy that I’ll protect her. But I have so many others I loved shooting. Probably my favorite overall scene of the season was the big finale fight. We were all there, and it was a nightmare to coordinate in the time we had, and it still turned out great!! I’m left really excited as to where Karl and the gang are going to take season 4. Live or die, it’ll be fun to see what adventures await the survivors.
Red (Natalie Jongjaroenlarp), 5K (Holden Goyette), Kaya (Ramona Young) and Dr. Sun Mei (Sydney Viengluang) also joined the main ensemble this season, each giving excellent performances in their respective role. But arguably, The Man has been the best addition to Z Nation in the past three seasons. Casting Gatt appears to be a great decision by the showrunners and hopefully Schaefer and Engler decide not to kill him off. Fans of the character and the show would definitely be grateful.
Z Nation returns to Syfy in the fall of 2017.
Header Photo Credit: Frank Schaefer