'Fear the Walking Dead' Postmortem: Lincoln Castellanos on Playing Tobias the Apocalypse Whisperer

·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Warning: Storyline and character spoilers ahead for the “So Close, Yet So Far” episode of Fear the Walking Dead.

A stellar 27th birthday for a Walking Dead fan: celebrating your new gig as a cast member in the series’ companion show, Fear the Walking Dead. That’s how actor Lincoln Castellanos, a fan of the TWD comics and series, marked the occasion, making his scene-stealing debut as FTWD’s Tobias just days after his Aug. 20 birthday.

Tobias, the wise but socially awkward high schooler who knows a lot more about the impending apocalypse than any adult around him, was an instant fan favorite in the Fear premiere, and only endeared himself more in this week’s episode, as he and Madison were forced into a life-threatening situation inside Paul R. Williams High.

Related: Take a Bite Out of Our ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ Recaps

Castellanos, whose only previous TV role was in a 2012 episode of The Mentalist, talks to Yahoo TV about how proud he was to join the Walking Dead universe, how and why Tobias became the Apocalypse Whisperer, the heartbreak ahead for Madison and her loved ones, and whether or not we’ll see Tobias in the last four episodes of FTWD’s first season.

How much did you know about Tobias going into the audition?
I knew enough to understand that he is a really socially awkward kid, and he knew something was up. The nervous kid trying to protect himself the best way he knows how to. Tobias is a very intelligent kid, despite his social shortcomings, and he just wants to protect himself and get through this experience. Heaven knows that he’s been through a lot of the nerdy, awkward teenager stuff. I just tried to convey those energies in the audition.

As Madison says to him in the pilot, he’s worked very hard to put himself into a position where he could be going to college, but he says nobody’s going to college. Unlike everyone else, he has some idea of the bigger consequences of what’s starting to happen around them.
Absolutely. While everyone else is dealing with their own personal problems, he’s got a whole other world of worries on his plate. He really feels that there’s nothing he can do except prepare, and that’s what you see him try to do. When we meet him, he’s kind of on his own mission, trying to get it done, because he really has no help; he’s on his own. He’s got a little bit of trouble back in his family… at least Madison is there to an extent to try to help him and reassure him that the authorities will let us know if something happens. But Tobias knows what’s up.

All the knowledge he has about how things are going to continue to unfold: Tobias is kind of the Apocalypse Whisperer. He’s mentioned reading and seeing things online; is that the sole source of everything he knows?
He is definitely a character who dives deep into the Internet for an escape, because there’s not much at home and in school that can offer him safety. Tobias is one of those characters who turns to the Internet — blogs, conspiracy theory pages — to just get away from his world and travel into a new one. What he discovers in that new world is something really unsettling, and the deeper he dives into these reports, seeing videos of suspicious deaths and uprisings… his paranoia kicks in, and it puts him into a different mindset. He now has to come to terms with, “I am on my own, and I have to do something to protect myself, because no one else will.”

He gathers his information like everyone else would at this point: go to Reddit, other sites that you could really get lost in. You’re right; he’s kind of like a sage. He has all these prophecies that you hope don’t come true, but fans of the original Walking Dead… I think that’s what’s exciting about watching this show. We’re ahead of the characters. The fact that Tobias knows what [the audience] knows, I think that makes him more relatable, and people find it easier to connect with him.

Like the strongest characters in TWD, Tobias has all this information about how hopeless this situation could be, yet he is very hopeful in that he’s so determined to survive.
Absolutely, because even when somebody feels like all hope is lost, it’s just in our nature to maintain that little glimmer of something to believe in. Yes, life is hard, and he really has no one to turn to, except Madison, who has been there throughout his time in high school, who has tried to help him find a more promising future. I believe that’s why he does take that extra step to finally try to tell somebody about what’s happening. It’s not just about him trying to get his knife back. I think deep down, he is hopeful, and he does want to save at least somebody who cares about him.

That whole sequence with Tobias and Madison taking on Principal Art was a pivotal scene, a great action sequence. What was the experience of filming that like?
It was very physical. It was a very fun, long day working those scenes. Working with Scott [Lawrence, who plays Art]… I’ve grown up watching movies with Scott and Kim [Dickens], so to work with them together was surreal.

One of the things that people are going to see more and more is that the walkers are more human-like at this stage. Because they’re more human-like, it makes them more difficult, emotionally and psychologically, to kill. I could totally see how Madison has to go through this period of hesitation when Artie’s coming towards her. As much as Tobias can yell and say, “That’s not him anymore! He’s gone,” it’s tough for Madison to take that in, because they have worked together for so long. Those moments are going to happen more and more throughout the season. It’s heartbreaking. It’s going to be very tough to get through.

What was the most fun part of filming that scene for you?
Running through the hallways with the cart, and me and Kim just trying to catch our breath. And then Adam Davidson, the director, saying, “Alright, just start a little further back,” and Kim going, “Is he trying to kill us?” [Laughs.] We did that take a couple of times… the long shot of us coming through the hallway, and I almost run into the locker because one of the cans fell — that was really funny. The can did fall accidentally once, and Adam pulled me aside, and he was like, “Would Tobias pick it up?” I said, “Well, yeah, he would.” And he’s like, “Then you can pick it up.” That was a fun moment to have. I don’t think he knew I was going to do that, [but] it’s in the scene: “Tobias, leave it, come on.”

Then getting a little physical with Scott in that one moment before the fall down the steps, that was fun, because I could feel my heart pumping. To have him so close to me and the look in his eyes… that’s not Artie anymore. That’s somebody infected; that’s somebody terrifying. To see that look in his eyes, as an actor, being totally in the moment, it was very scary.

How heavy was that cart, by the way, because you were loaded up with the giant canned goods?
It was quite heavy. It took some force pushing, but luckily, I had Kim’s help. Our goal in the scene is for Madison and Tobias to get away from that sound [of the walker they heard on the PA system]. We’ve got to get as far away as we can, find our way out of there, get the supplies, and go, because she has to get back to her son, and I need to get on with my plans.


They make it back to her car, very shaken up. Why, when Madison offers to have him stay with her and her family, does Tobias turn her down?
I think Tobias turns Madison down because he knows this is just something he has to get through on his own. He was lucky to have her help [with Art], and I think he definitely learns from that traumatic experience. I also think there’s a part of him that doesn’t want to hold anyone back. He’s going to learn to defend himself and take care of himself, and he’s definitely going to grow stronger in this new world because of this experience that he’s had with Madison. Who knows what lies in store for Tobias? Hopefully, good things.

Will we see Tobias again this season?
Well, I have to say your guess is as good as mine. I can only have high hopes. At the end of the day, I am so excited for the moment, as Tobias, being in these first episodes. I look forward to whatever happens next, if anything.

Have you had a lot of fan interactions already? Actress and TWD superfan Yvette Nicole Brown already declared herself a #TeamTobias member.
Oh yeah, definitely. That’s been a lot of fun. The fan response has been a little overwhelming, I will be honest. I’m a fan, too. I was, and will continue to be one of those fans who tweets during The Walking Dead, and tries to interact with all the other fans across the world. Now to have those same fans welcome me into The Walking Dead family… as a fanboy, I couldn’t be more excited. As an actor, I couldn’t be more honored. I’m so happy that everyone is rooting for Tobias and that they can relate to Tobias. He knows something terrible is coming, as do we as fans of the [original] series. All these other characters are soon going to realize, too — hopefully not before it’s too late.

Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.