STRANGE FOREIGN BEAUTY. From the catwalk to a string of leading roles, Mercedes Mason adds a new glow to the rainbow of showbiz
Mercedes Mason’s personal history is a vibrant fusion of multiple nations, cultures and—as it turns out—talents. Born in Sweden, she eventually moved to the United States where she was immediately catapulted into the limelight as her international modeling career took shape. But it was in Hollywood where she finally saw her future. Although her first time in front of the camera was left uncredited, it marked the first step in a strong acting career, culminating in her current position as a series regular in the hit show “Fear the Walking Dead.” But, of course, there are many more summits that this starlet will surely conquer.
DA MAN: Hi, Mercedes, glad to have you with us. So, “The Walking Dead” franchise is back on a roll with the new season, and there’s also a lot of excitement for “Fear the Walking Dead.” What’s it like being part of this phenomenon?
Mercedes Mason: Thank you! I’m really happy to be here. As for this phenomenon … I am absolutely humbled by this experience! The fans have been incredible, lovely and supportive. None of the cast members anticipated this type of warm reception, so we are all thrilled. To be honest, I feel as though I may wake up from an amazing dream. If that’s the case, I hope I don’t stop dreaming.
DA MAN: What would you say are the things that make shooting “Fear the Walking Dead” unique compared to other TV series you’ve done?
Mercedes Mason: I’ve been so lucky in my career that I’ve had a chance to play all sorts of characters. Ofelia Salazar is no different. I feel so honored to play a role where I can express vulnerability, growth, strength and fear. As an actress, it’s always exciting to play a role that feels “real,” for lack of a better word. I have to commend our writers for creating such grounded and well-rounded characters.
“Diversity is finally allowed to sit at the cool kids’ table”
DA MAN: Is there anything you can tell us about the next season of “Fear the Walking Dead”?
Mercedes Mason: I haven’t been told anything! Which is scary and thrilling at the same time. We, the actors, discover our characters just as they are revealed to the audience. All I know is that we’ll be on a luxury yacht at some point since that was one of the last hints we received in the first season finale.
DA MAN: There’s a lot of talk about the character you play, Ofelia Salazar. But what’s your personal take on her?
Mercedes Mason: Ofelia Salazar is a young woman at the precipice of change. She’s been sheltered by her parents for most of her life. When we first meet her, she’s under the impression that she is, in fact, protecting her parents from all the misguided follies of being in a foreign country. As she begins to discover more about her parents and what they left behind in El Salvador, she’s forced to see them in a different light, thereby causing her to question who she is. This serves as a catalyst for her growth, as though the proverbial veil has been cast off her eyes.
DA MAN: Do you think that you connect to your character on a more personal level? Especially seeing how you grew up in a multi-national family.
Mercedes Mason: i absolutely connect with Ofelia. I, too, moved to the United States as a foreigner with parents who were in the dark about all things American. It forces you to connect with your family in a way that only immigrants really understand. initially, there’s a pull between the life one shares at home and the one experienced at school. There’s an urgency to protect your parents, your traditions and your home life while desperately wanting to connect to this new world that’s been thrust upon you. I experienced all those things when i moved to the States. The difference between Ofelia and I is that i know exactly who my parents are so that my safety net is intact. Ofelia’s safety net has been torn apart. The other difference is that I, luckily, don’t have to battle reanimated dead people. So there’s that. [Laughs]
DA MAN: Speaking of families, that’s quite a major theme of the series, right? About how a family tries to deal with tragedy together?
Mercedes Mason: Family is absolutely a major theme in “Fear the Walking Dead.” The question our creator, Dave Erickson, wanted to explore is what “family” actually means. Is family something you’re born into? Something you choose? Something that determines your loyalties? When faced with death, human nature tends to lean toward personal survival … Unless the concept of family is introduced. It’s a fascinating psychological study. Only for family are we willing to risk ourselves. These questions give rise to a lot of underlying themes of our show.
DA MAN: Are fans of the series missing out on anything if they don’t also watch “Fear the Walking Dead”?
Mercedes Mason: I can’t speak for everyone, but as a fan myself, I know I had a lot of questions about what was happening around other parts of the country. I wanted to know what ground zero of the infection was like. So, watching our show will give insight into those queries.
DA MAN: Now, if we’re not mistaken, the timelines of “Fear the Walking Dead” and the main “The Walking Dead” series will eventually overlap. So, the big question is: will you make your way to “The Walking Dead”?
Mercedes Mason: I haven’t been told anything about the two shows overlapping, but who knows what the future holds. If that happens, I hope Ofelia meets Daryl Dixon. That’s all i’ll say about that. [Blushes]
DA MAN: On a related note, are there any other movie or TV shows you’re currently involved with?
Mercedes Mason: I play a recurring character on “NCIS: Los Angeles” called Talia Del Campo. She always causes trouble and has lots of fun doing so. They’re really sweet to me on that show … Always writing more episodes for me when I’m able to shoot them, scheduling-wise.
Bra and panties by L’Agent by Agent Provocateur
DA MAN: Moving back to the very start of your acting career, one of your very first roles was in “The Break-Up.” What was it like playing in a big production like that from the get-go?
Mercedes Mason: I had no idea what I was doing when I was on the set of “The Break-Up.” I had just finished modeling and was still in school when I booked that role. My first role ever. I didn’t know what continuity was or finding your mark or anything of that sort. Luckily, I was paired with Vince Vaughn who was kind enough to show me the ropes. He even improvised with me, which now remains one of my favorite parts of being on set. That is when the writers and director will allow you to go off-script a bit. It’s so much fun!
DA MAN: Looking back at that first movie appearance of yours, were there any specific “Aha” moments that made you think, “Yes, this is the kind of work i’d like to be doing more of”?
Mercedes Mason: When I shot the film “Red Sands,” the second project I ever worked on, I remember having long days on set. I spoke Aramaic, a dead language, we were enmeshed in a constant sandstorm in the boiling desert, and yet I couldn’t get enough. I was so excited every time I walked on set. That excitement remains to this day. If you ask any of my cast mates, past or present, they’ll tell you that I have the energy of a puppy. Someone wise once said: every day that you do something you love, it ceases to be “work.”
DA MAN: What about the most memorable roles or filming experience you’ve had so far?
Mercedes Mason: I remember all my roles fondly. However, if I had to choose, I have a soft spot for “Quarantine 2: Terminal.” I booked the lead even, though I’m considered “ethnic” in Hollywood. Traditionally, most ethnic roles are those of the best friend or the buddy to the lead. The director, John G. Pogue, hired me because he believed in me. My skin, hair and eye color didn’t matter. I appreciate him for that. I believe things may be changing a bit in Hollywood now due to people like Shonda Rhimes. Diversity is finally allowed to sit at the cool kids’ table.
“Acting is reacting. Listen to your partner. Listen to your own instincts”
DA MAN: Before that, you had quite a successful modeling career, right? Tell us about your days as a model.
Mercedes Mason: I didn’t appreciate my modeling career nearly as much as I should have. I was young and naïve. I traveled the world, was exposed to great art and culture and yet I didn’t understand nearly enough of it. I was too wrapped up in the competitive aspects of modeling and the need to remain relevant when a horde of younger, thinner and prettier girls were coming up behind me. That being said, I do have some fond memories as well as some instances that taught me important life lessons. Also, i developed a love for fashion that remains strong in me to this day.
DA MAN: What was it that made you switch to acting?
Mercedes Mason: Acting was my passion since I was a little girl. When other kids played hide-and-seek, I would put on my mother’s clothes and pretend to be a shipwrecked maiden on an island full of serpents. I would have to swim to safety, battling sharks and eels all the way. After I graduated college, I knew that if I didn’t try to act then, I would always live with regret. So, I left all my belongings and moved to LA on a whim. I literally slept on couches before i was able to afford my own apartment. It was a struggle, but I’m so happy I did it!
DA MAN: Now, with a decade’s worth of acting experience, what would you say is the most important skill that you’ve developed as an actor?
Mercedes Mason: I hope I continue to learn and forever strive to improve myself but the most important thing I’ve personally learned about acting, thus far, is to listen. Acting is reacting. Listen to your scene partner. Listen to your own instincts. Listen to the world around you and soak it all in. It’s my most useful tool.
Photography Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Styling Alexa Rangroummith Green
Makeup Elie Maalouf at Jed Root using Vincent Longo
Hair Styling Charles Dujic at TMG-LA
Videography Pedro Correa
Styling Assistants Ebonee king and Syedah Davison
Casting Jonathan Clay Harris (jonathanclayharris.com)