To say that actress Pisay Pao had to overcome obstacles in her life would be an understatement. Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, Pao and her family moved to Seattle, Washington when she was two years old in order to escape the civil war in Cambodia. As a child, Pao was extremely interested in the arts and took a shining to painting, drawing, dancing and performing. She graduated from high school with a scholarship to attend the University of Washington, where she pursued a career in fashion. It was only after she graduated from design school that she began to take a keen interest in the acting profession, and within months of her joining her first agency, she booked her first national commercial. Although she’s been involved in several short films, her role as Cassandra on Z Nation is her first big role in the business. In the following interview, I had the opportunity to ask Pao what made Z Nation different from The Walking Dead, what her first impression of Cassandra was and what we can expect from the new season of Z Nation. Check it out below!
What inspired you to go into acting?
Honestly seeing other ethnically diverse and talented woman actresses is what really inspired me to stick to acting. I am a late bloomer because I did not see anyone I related to physically or as a character growing up. Lucy Liu, Mindy Kaling and Archie Panjabi are just some of the actresses who I admire and whose career had a hand in pushing me forward. That, and I loved Storm of The X-Men on Saturday Morning cartoons. I daydreamed a ton about playing some kind of action fantasy hero….
What was it about z Nation that appealed to you?
I was actually not that excited about auditioning at first because I am scared of zombies! But I like to root for the underdog and I definitely felt like that is what we were from the get go with that other zombie show that is on the air…What’s it called again?…
How would you say that Z Nation is different from The Walking Dead?
Oh right -that show! Z Nation is such a great mix of action, comedy, and drama with a lot of emphasis on the comedy. I think that is where fans see the biggest difference. We have a ton of fun introducing different kinds of zombies and then even more unique ways of killing them.
When you were first introduced to Cassandra as a character, what was your first impression of her?
I was scared of her and for her. I had a hard time getting to that place of someone who is so desperate that they would completely lose their moral compass -which is why it has been such a pleasure to play her. She is not an angel or a demon. She is a survivor and she is constantly changing with her environment.
In what ways is she similar to you, and in what ways is she different?
I would say that I do relate to that survivor instinct in Cassandra. My parents escaped war and I grew up in a refugee camp, so the will to keep going is very strong in me. It should be though -I only chose the hardest profession to get into in the world.
We don’t know a lot about Cassandra’s past prior to her being involved with the Philadelphia Cannibal survivor group. Can we expect to learn more about her life before the virus this season?
I would expect the unexpected with Cassandra this season. She is an entirely different being now that she is a hybrid. I think the big question for her is, how does she move forward being what she is? It is not an easy answer but I am extremely excited to have the fans watch her journey.
In the season one finale, viewers were shocked to see that Cassandra has become a zombie-hybrid like Murphy. What did you think about this development?
I prayed it would come! Seriously. I wanted her to finish strong because I was feeling uncertain of her future and what role she had in the group. All of our lives still and will always be up in the air but I think Cassandra now has an even stronger and clearer purpose.
Can we expect to see Cassandra start to deteriorate like Murphy this season?
You will have to watch season 2 and judge for yourself.
How do you think that her being a “zybrid” (zombie-hybrid) will affect her relationships with the rest of the group?
I think it will be one of the many conflicts that both the group and her have to face. Such is living and loving in the apocalypse.
What are you most excited about in regard to season two?
I am excited about the growth that Cassandra has gone through and how her relationship to everything and everyone will be evolving. It gave me a lot to work on in between seasons. I am also excited just to see the finished product because everything from our wardrobe, to our hair and make-up, locations, and special effects, has gone up. It is going to be epic.
What are some of your favorite television shows?
X-Files, Grimm, Once Upon a Time, Grimm…I am a real sucker for the action/fantasy but I also like Modern Family and The Office.
What do you hope that new actors/actresses learn from you?
That I am still learning too! And that I love working and collaborating with other artists.
You can catch Pisay Pao in the second season of Z Nation, which premieres tonight September 11 at 10:00 pm on Syfy and Space. Also, you can follow Pisay Pao on Twitter at @pisaypao!