On this season of The Walking Dead, we were introduced a new character from the comic book series and his name is Dante. But the television version of Dante is much different than his comic book counterpart. Here to talk about the role is Dante himself Juan Javier Cardenas.
When you first appeared earlier this season, many fans including myself were surprised to see that Dante is a doctor over his comic book counterpart. How long did you know in advance did you know that Dante would be a doctor on the television series?
Juan: “I was made aware of that when I first received the script for the first episode which came like a couple of weeks before my first day of work. My experience auditioning for a show like The Walking Dead is that you have to kind of assume that you’re on a need to know basis and that information will come when it’s given. If you’re like me and you kind of embrace that process, you have a really great time because, it’s exciting going through the process as somebody who’s watching the show. When I auditioned for the character of Dante, the audition materials were different than what I acted in the show as far as like the scene work that I was given I auditioned for a character that was not even named Dante. I was under a different name so when I finally got the script, all those differences really shot out at me because I was familiar with the source material with The Walking Dead and I knew the Dante character from the books. But all those changes from the book to the show would normally throw you off but what that does typically, it invigorates you because you get excited about saying that ‘okay, I have a chance now to kind of pay hommage to the source material’ but actually, I’m getting a lot of leway now to build a kind of a unique character that can kind of stand on its own within this universe so to have a hand in that, that’s actually a super exciting thing and very fun to do. Plus, I get to play doctor on T. V. That’s always fun. Now I can brag and say I played a doctor.”
You and Avi Nash (Siddiq) had many scenes during this season. What was it like for you to work with Avi on the development of your characters for this season especially since it is the aftermath of Alpha slaying her victims?
Juan: “Avi Nash, I can’t say enough about the guy. I had a fantastic time working with him. It’s kind of interesting working on a show like The Walking Dead depending on what character you’re playing because, as you know as an audience member, the world is extremely diverse and it’s really compartmentalized. There’s different communities, there’s different story lines, and there’s multiple characters. So when you watch the show, you realize that certain characters really inhabit different worlds and they kind of interact with these characters over here and etc. Every day when I was going to work, I went with a smile on my face because it was a fantastic environment. Avi Nash and me tend to have a lot of similarities in our background. As far as our training, we both come from a theater background and we both kind of approach things with kind of a similar kind of intensity too. We are trying to tell whatever these lines mean and what does it mean for these characters and really kind of go the extra mile as far as committing to it. I love working with Avi and I feel like it was mutual so I had a great time working with him and happy of the development of Siddiq and Dante.”
Was there more to Dante’s backstory that we have not seen on screen that you know of?
Juan: “I’ll tell you that I personally have backstory that I’ve thought about with the character of Dante. Things that I kind of keep close to myself. There might be possible backstory ideas that were running around production and the writer’s room. What I like about the shortness of Dante’s character of this time of this season, is that it makes the character of Dante even more kind of mysterious and unnerving because we don’t get to see a lot of him. All we have are these moments leading up obviously to the tragedy in episode 8 of his death. But there’s so much that’s unanswered about the character that I think makes the character much more interesting because, sometimes you don’t know what’s scary or the devil you know is what you don’t know so having the audience only get the snippets of this character in trying to piece together what’s true, and what’s not true. I think that’s actually part of the fun so I’ve got my ideas, but I don’t know if I’ll tell people about it.”
How did you prepare for your death scene?
Juan: “I did a lot of stretching and put on elbow pads and knee pads because I knew it could be a rough afternoon. but in all seriousness, all you all you can do is read the material and you try to play the honesty of the moment by moment in the scene and you just concentrate on what that character is trying to cheat at the moment because the character of Dante doesn’t know that he’s seconds away from being killed. He doesn’t know that his death is around the corner so what is Dante trying to convey to Gabriel in those last moments that we see a doctor’s life so I concentrated on that and I just try to present the idea of what possibly propelled Gabriel to act out so violently and to drop all level of stability and all levels of emotional control that we see Gabriel doing for the majority of time is him reacting to Dante’s unerving and frightening certainty that all this civilization that they’ve built, all the civility that they’ve built, all these laws and all of these kind of semblance of normalcy that they’ve built in Alexandria is a facade and that eventually, it’s going to rot from the inside. And I’m an agent of that rock and that’s an unerving and a frightening thing to present to Gabriel. So if I just knew in that day that I just had to push and push and to finally give the straw that broke the camel’s back and to force to have Gabriel to not see any other way out, but to extinguish me as a threat to the community and in that way, breaking down something very integral piece of Gabriel’s character and shocking the audience in seeing how someone like Gabriel could end up acting that way or committing to intentionally murder someone.”
I find it poetic that Dante told Siddiq to open his eyes to see the last moments of his friends lives at the barn and then in the opening of 10×08, Dante closes Siddiq’s eyes after he killed him. Do you feel that way too with the way it was presented to you?
Juan: (Laughs) “I think you really did pick up on something! At the end of episode 7 when Dante’s alone in that room with Siddiq at those final moments of his life, this whole season audience members have been watching Dante interacting with people while he’s on call like under cover so it’s up to the audience to kind of decipher when Dante was saying this, or when he was speaking in this way, how much of that is true, and how much it is not. And you have to think about who he was talking to, who was he talking with in front of people. I think about which is what you’re talking about, is that in those last moments of Siddiq’s cyclical life, it’s just Dante and Siddiq alone in that room and Dante doesn’t have to say anything in those final moments. The fact that it comes out of him, I think that’sa totally legitimate moment and more expressing himself. That’s a reveal of something very true. I think that it’s a sad coda ending to the story of Siddiq and Dante that started with an act of brutality, and it ends with an act of brutality. There’s pain there for both people and there’s a sense of regret and there’s a sense of sadness on both sides. So I do find it very poetic from all sides and that could also be written in a book too.”