The Walking Dead's reveal that Dante (Juan Javier Cardenas) was secretly a Whisperer spy who would go on to murder jefe Siddiq (Avi Nash) was perhaps most surprising for Cardenas, who only learned the twist from director and executive producer Greg Nicotero after arriving on set for the first day of shooting. Cardenas’ tenure on TWD would ultimately prove short-lived: after “Open Your Eyes” exposed Dante as a Whisperer, “The World Before” revealed the true believer was sent by Alpha (Samantha Morton) to topple Alexandria from the inside. Siddiq was later avenged by Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) when the priest viciously stabbed Dante more than a dozen times.
“It was definitely one of those quintessential, ‘Hey, welcome to The Walking Dead’ moments as an actor,” Cardenas told Skybound’s Talk Dead to Me podcast. “What happened was, coming into this season, the information was really parceled out to me. You’re on a ‘need to know’ basis. So when I actually showed up to the first day of work, essentially, all the information that I had to use was the information that was given in that first episode where I first appeared.”
A prepared Cardenas already familiarized himself with creator Robert Kirkman’s comic books, where Dante is a heroic member of the Hilltop colony who eventually becomes the love interest for the widowed Maggie Rhee. But the change to TV show Dante — which only happened because of the temporary absence of Maggie star Lauren Cohan — proved to be one of the show's biggest changes from the comic book source material.
“I literally, I read every compendium,” he said. “I went back and analyzed the character of Dante in the source material, and I really did feel that I had quite an established grasp on who this person was.”
When gearing up for his first scene in the Season 10 premiere, “Lines We Cross,” Cardenas was prepping opposite Nash when he was approached by Nicotero with a tap on the shoulder.
“He’s like, ‘Hey man, let me get you. Has anybody spoken to you about kind of what you’re gonna be doing this season?’” Cardenas said. “I go, ‘No, but I’ve read this and that, and I feel like I’m really prepared. I understand kind of where I’m going right now, so I’m feeling pretty good about it.’ And he goes, ‘Yeah… why don’t you step off set for a second, take a five-minute walk with me?’ And he revealed the general arc of what the character was, and he revealed all of the ulterior motives of the character, and really the true face of who this person was, in about a ten-minute pep talk on the streets of Alexandria. It was fantastic.”
Upon hearing the news, Cardenas felt “huge sense of invigoration, and really, excitement.”
“Because what that means is that I was given a really singular, lucky opportunity to really create a new character. Its own, unique kind of interpretation of the character Dante,” Cardenas said. “Paying homage to the source material but really making this its own creation that would stand on its own for an audience, and you don’t always get that when you’re doing interpretations of original work or adaptations, which The Walking Dead is. You don’t usually get that. So I feel actually very lucky that I got that chance.”
New episodes of The Walking Dead Season 10 premiere Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. For more TWD intel, follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter.