The second season of FX’s hit vampire series The Strain is underway, and in addition to bringing back old favorites we’ve also been introduced to Justine Feraldo, a tough-as-nails Councilwoman from Staten Island with a no-nonsense approach to the plague sweeping across New York City. Her solution? Exterminate everyone infected with the virus.
Described by showrunner Carlton Cuse as a “wildcard” who will become “extremely significant,” Feraldo is played by veteran actress and New York native Samantha Mathis, who sat down for a conference call with journalists earlier this week to discuss her work on The Strain. Enjoy the highlights from our chat with Samantha Mathis below.
Justine Feraldo has been a very interesting character so far. How much of what goes on within her is driven by her lust for power or need for power, and how much is just about keeping her people safe?
That’s a really excellent question. 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, 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 to create Justine?
I watched some footage of Geraldine Ferraro, and 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. 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, is this, in her mind, kind of another terrorist threat, or 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.
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.
How do you feel about Guillermo del Toro’s and Carlton Cuse’s take on vampires?
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 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.
What was it like on set, seeing the makeup and special effects on the dead vampires for the first time?
Really disgusting and 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 a human being, it’s pretty disgusting. As an artist, I think that they do graphic makeup effects and visual effects on the show tremendously well. I have tremendous respect and awe for what they accomplish.
Obviously, Justine is a very strong character. What do you enjoy most about embodying her?
What’s been so refreshing for me on The Strain is that my experience, at least in the last ten years of my work, has been that 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 Feraldo 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.
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.
It seems in television particularly that there are a lot of really strong roles for females. Do you find that to be your experience as well, that there are more opportunities for women who are not the wife or the mother?
Oh, absolutely. I think to a certain extent I feel that’s always been true – television has more opportunity for women in that regard than film. It’s never been more so the truth than today. I think that there are incredible female characters on television and it excites me to no end. I think television in general has never been more exciting, and it’s so interesting – I’ve been in this business now long enough to say that I remember a time when it was absolutely taboo to do a TV show; you’d never have a film career.
The world has just changed so much, and I think it’s very exciting and the women characters that are out there are fully-realized human beings, flawed, imperfect, strong and weak, and it really excites me. There’s human being women on television now.
The Strain airs Sunday nights at 10pm, exclusively on FX.