Is everyone else out there just as excited as I am that the FX series THE STRAIN has returned for another season? Being left off in a lurch I will admit to spending a rainy weekend recently re-watching Season One but mainly because I had my buddy with me! I mean no one should watch horror alone is my way of thinking.
The character of Justine Feraldo is played by the talented Samantha Mathis. Her character is a councilwoman for Staten Island in New York City. Smart, to the point and strong – we haven’t yet seen all that Justine has to offer fans in the series.
Born in New York herself, Mathis has made her mark on television, had done stage productions and experienced voice over work in 1992 with FERNGULLY: The Last Rainforest. I have to give her a shout out for doing the TNT mini-series The Mists of Avalon, a series I watch over and over to this day.
Recently seen on the CBS series Under the Dome as Alice Calvert, I’m actually thrilled as we had an opportunity to talk with her in a conference call about THE STRAIN and her role.
Get ready for funny, feisty and informative!
Feraldo is such an interesting character. How much of her is driven by lust for power and how much is keeping people safe?
Well, I think that 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?
Did you take any inspiration from any real-life politicians?
I had a very brief conversation when I was brought on to play Justine. I mean, I watched some footage of Geraldine Ferraro. I really tried to draw from what Staten Island is like today and looked at footage from some council people 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 was striving to really create someone who felt authentically Staten Island and what that entails. As I was saying earlier, 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.
With her 9/11 background does she really have any kind of handle on exactly what she’s dealing with?
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.
Do you have a favorite moment so far this season?
Well, there will be a point where a gun ends up in Justine’s hands, and while I’m very much a…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.
What was the film or television show that affected how you went about your daily life growing up?
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 Bella Lugosi movies, they terrified me. I think that 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.
How do you feel about Guillermo del Toro’s and Carlton Cuse’s take on vampires? Do you like the way they handled it?
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. On 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.
What was it like on set seeing the vampire makeup for the first time?
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. 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.
Did you feel that scene of the unveiling of the dead vampires was kind of a defining moment for audiences to really have an understanding of where she’s coming from and what she’s willing to do?
I am working with people who are tremendous visionaries and had conceived of, certainly, that part of the show far before I came along. What I really appreciate is a visual that is so strong and shows the depths of her seriousness of the situation and I think also her anger – and that she will do anything to protect her people. As I spoke about earlier, having a history of feeling that Staten Island hasn’t been protected and that she’s very dedicated. Her constituents, who are predominantly first responders, make up a huge part of the citizens of Staten Island. She is not messing around. I just got on board. I’m along for their creative ride, but I thought that it spoke wonders as to how strong she is 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.
Do you think that New York will be able to fight this kind of apocalypse better than any other city or that could do it better?
I don’t want to speak about what other cities would do. I don’t know. I live in New York. But, I will say I’ve lived in both California and New York. What I really love about New Yorkers is, as brash and rude as people can be, when push comes to shove and people are in danger, they have each other’s back. They really look out for each other. I’d like to say some other things, but I’m not going to swear. Some stories that would exemplify that, but I’ll just say that New Yorkers get a reputation for being really impatient and really loud and obnoxious, but the truth is when something happens, when there is a disaster, they don’t mess around and they look out for each other and they take care of each other. I think this band of vampire fighters that you see at the core of the show really does show you exemplary of how you can have people from all walks of life in New York. But when the sh** goes down, they will come together and they will unify to protect each other and protect the people of New York City.
Are there any traits in Justine that you’d really like to have in real life and that you find very useful?
I would actually say that what’s been so refreshing for me on The Strain is that my experience, at least in the last 10 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. 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 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 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.
This is a series where channeling your inner OMG is really necessary too. Things are about to get even juicier as THE STRAIN, Sundays on FX are bringing Season Two in your face…just the way I like it!