As drama runs high in Alexandria, The Walking Dead stars Josh McDermitt, Michael Cudlitz and Ross Marquand took some well-earned time out to talk with us about surviving the zombie apocalypse…
Tell us about the filming of the midseason
JOSH: We’re still getting over it! It’s interesting because it feels like every episode there’s a couple of people who say “oh my gosh, that was the hardest episode I ever shot”, but this episode was the one that everyone said that, and it was great to have everyone included and to have everyone working as a team. As I was going through the scripts for the first half of the season and knowing kind of where it was headed; we were gonna have to deal with these walkers and that sort of thing, and to see Daryl, Sasha and Abe outside the walls thinking that they wouldn’t be a part of this, but then in the script that we get, suddenly they turn up and they’re right there helping too. It was just so great to have everybody included and everybody exhausted at the same time. We shot that over night, but before we wrapped the season we kept adding more moments to that scene. It was a real beast!
ROSS: I think everyone wanted that episode to be strong because it ends on such a cliffhanger. When we were backed up against that wall and the herd breaks through, when Daryl launches the RPG into the pond and the tables turn, I remember looking down the line and there’s about twenty of us at the gate covered in blood. We’d been shooting, like Josh said, all night, and it was such a great feeling. It was my birthday too, and we were all together, covered in blood, doing this thing exhausted. My muscles hurt for days after. When you do the same action over and over again, when you’re dropping walkers – and remember a lot of stuff gets cut for time – for maybe twelve hours a day, it takes a toll on your body and I think all of us were exhausted but also very proud of that episode.
MICHAEL: We’re all also big fans of the show as well, so when we read these scripts, we see our heroes in peril, and we know what the audience is thinking. We’ve proven already that we’ll kill ya! So it’s not like another show when you see somebody against the wall and you know they’re all gonna get out. In your mind you’re asking who is gonna die? The stakes are that high and that risk is there. We know that the audience is thinking that someone’s gonna die this week, it’s so clear, and then it doesn’t happen; the group comes together and there’s a huge moment where the audience goes “yes!”. Then you get the satisfaction of seeing what you hoped would happen, and everyone, for this week anyway, is safe!
How does it feel to have that lack of job security?
MICHAEL: I think it’s worse for the original five, because they started out with the show. You can say on paper that people are gonna die, but when you’ve been with a show from the beginning it’s not really real to you, even though you see people coming and going. When we came onto the show, we were fans of the show. We’ve seen people die. When we signed on we knew we were gonna die at some point. I think it intensifies the work. I think every day is your best day because it might be close to your last. There’s no complacency, there’s no laying back and thinking “yeah, I’m on the number one show in the world, I’ll ride this out and then I’ll retire”. You may be dead in two scripts. That’s the very staunch reality of it. For me, it keeps everything sharper. I can’t worry about it. I honestly think a lot of us will be sad when it’s our time to go, but I don’t think it’s something we think about.
Are you given much warning when your character’s going to die?
MICHAEL: (laughs) Two episodes.
JOSH: But we don’t focus on our impending doom. If we do that, we’re gonna let this great thing pass us by and we’re not gonna enjoy the moment. We always talk about being a family, and the close friendships that we’ve formed, and I wouldn’t be able to focus on that if I was so worried about when I was gonna leave. So I think just about everybody is that way. We’re just trying to enjoy the ride and have as much fun as we can.
What was it like joining the cast when they had already established their own core group?
ROSS: I remember when I first got to the set, and the first person I met was Andy (Lincoln). It turned out we had a mutual friend in London, which was very strange. I met these two second. It was a very hot day in Georgia, and we were at this barn which was gonna be in this scene, which was one of the most difficult and smelliest places I’ve ever shot…
MICHAEL: It was last season, when we were in the barn and the storm was raging outside and we were all up at the door…
ROSS: …and they’d been shooting a few days already before the walker tornado came. Both of them came up very affectionate, very “nice to meet you”, and they said “if you need anything at all, anything, please do not hesitate to contact Andy.” It was very clear that these guys were smart asses and that they were gonna become my two best friends. And they have. You sons of bitches!
JOSH: It’s one of those things, stepping into the number one show in the world; we were all fans of it and it was intimidating. But it starts with Andrew Lincoln. He met us our first day. He wasn’t even in the episode, but he drove an hour south of Atlanta to where we were shooting to come out and meet us. That sets a tone right away. He had nothing to do but say hi to us. And we try to carry that same hospitality to everyone else who comes in, because we know what it feels like to step into this world where everything’s set, and everybody’s got their cliques and friendships already. We try to be as inclusive as possible, ‘cause fact is, it’s a very grueling show to shoot, and we have that bond and that doesn’t go away.
MICHAEL: And most of us are far away from home. There’s only a couple of people on the show who are close to the area. I think Wes (Snipes) and Chandler (Riggs) are the only ones who are local. Everyone else is from England or various parts of the States, so we are removed from our family and friends. This is our family now, and these are the people we go to when we’re in need in any way.
Keeping the family theme in mind, if the zombie apocalypse actually happened, which three members of the cast would you want on your survival team?
MICHAEL (whispers to McDermitt): He thinks the zombie apocalypse is gonna happen! Maybe we should keep this guy around…
ROSS:. Andy. It’s tough… I mean, everyone makes a strong case… Andy’s proven himself as not only a great actor, but also physically agile. Most of us are pretty agile, but Andy would be pretty formidable.
JOSH: He’s easy on the eyes too.
MICHAEL: And he’s great in the sack.
ROSS: So obviously I’d take Josh for comic relief.
JOSH: Thank you.
ROSS: And Michael’s the brawn. So there we go.(to the others) You guys don’t have to choose me, but just remember that I chose you.
JOSH: There’s something about Melissa McBride that just cracks me up. She’d be the first to go in our group, but man we will laugh until she dies! And I think having these guys with me would be really fun, ‘cause I love to laugh, and when the zombie apocalypse does happen, it’s gonna be a dark time. We’re gonna need to laugh.
MICHAEL: Well I would not have Judith (Grimes) with me, ‘cause that’s just a liability. I wouldn’t leave her if that was a choice… I’m just sayin’… Erm… I’m gonna go with these guys just ‘cause they’re my drinking buddies for the rest of the trip. And I’m gonna add Chad (Coleman), because Chad is strangely and wonderfully unpredictable. Yeah…
Are you guys all up to date on the comics?
ROSS: I only read the comics for character inspiration, because I wanted to draw a lot of stuff from that. I think Kirkman has drawn a really great blueprint for all of these characters. I read up to a certain point though and some things were being spoilt for me and I can’t do it anymore, I had to stop. Even if it deviates from that, I don’t want to be too aware of what’s gonna happen to the group.
JOSH: I read the comics, but mostly because they’re just very entertaining and so well-written. I think it came very early on, there was this one difference in something that Scott Gimple told me about Eugene on the show as opposed to something in the comics – I’ll keep that to myself – but it made me realize that they are different. You have to make a believable character. That’s not to say that the comic book version of Eugene isn’t believable, but sometimes I feel like I’m a cartoon. We’re literally ripped from the comic book so sometimes it feels a bit cartoonish. Not in a bad way, but on TV it’s living and moving and talking, so you have to tweak some things. So I see them as two different characters, but I have a lot of respect for the comic book Eugene. I like the TV version better though ‘cause I’m tied to him!
MICHAEL: But we’ve also found some awesome moments in the comics that we’ve fought hard to keep. That’s great because the comic audience gets to enjoy that as well, and if you find something that’s really great and worth fighting for, your ammunition is “well, it’s in the comic… It’s pretty important in the bible here!”. It’s pretty hard to deny that!
JOSH: There’s moments that they’ve wanted to change on set as we’ve been shooting because something isn’t working right, like we have to face this way or do it that way and not everyone necessarily knows that it’s because that’s how it was in the comics. There was one scene we shot where I had my backpack on this shoulder rather than this shoulder, and they told me to change it. But if it’s a shot that’s in the comics, then it’s gotta be accurate to the original panel. The fans notice that stuff. There’s lines in the show all the time… I don’t know if Scott Gimple even writes anything to be honest; he just pulls stuff from the comics… But the lines in the midseason where Eugene says “no-one gets to clock out today” and “this is a story people are gonna tell”, those are lines straight from the comics. Just being able to read that and knowing that that’s where it’s from, that’s exciting ‘cause the fans know, and you’re able to have that connection with them.
MICHAEL: If you look at the circulation of the comic and the number of viewers of the show, it’s vastly different. Fifteen million people don’t buy the comic when it comes out. But that is the first audience, that is the most loyal audience, and for them to have this special gift on top of the script, you get this feeling that it’s just for you. So I think that helps foster that relationship even though we are deviating from the comics. It’s cool.
ROSS: But they do deviate. I mean, Andrea’s still alive in the comics, and she died back in season three.
MICHAEL: And some people who have already passed in the comic are still alive in the show. Abraham and Tyreese never existed in the same world together, but they did on the show, so there’s a lot of crossover. At this point, for the most part, the comic is more of a geographical blueprint than anything. We’re going to the same places… ish… and the same sort of global events are happening. Or renamed and happening in a different way.
JOSH: They definitely give characters other characters’ moments from the comics, just to help along the storyline in the show. The character of Bob was eaten by the cannibals, but that’s not how he died in the comics. That’s how Dale died in the comics, but it just worked out that that would be perfect for his character arc. And they do that all the time. Unless it’s a biiiiiig giant thing… I woulda been mad if Ross had turned up on the scene and been like “I’m a scientist, I’ve got the cure” or whatever, ‘cause that’s my thing!
The Walking Dead premieres Monday 9pm on FOX
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