With just two episodes left in The Walking Dead Season 4, we’re all on the march to Terminus, right? Er, right? Even if not all of us are exactly aware that that’s what we’re doing? And if it’s a good idea or not.
Plus, we’ve got some new folks along for the ride. Dr. Eugene Porter, Sgt. Abraham Ford and Rosita Espinosa — the long-awaited fan favorites from The Walking Dead graphic novels — have swerved off their mission to get the mullet-noggined, trigger-happy Eugene to Washington, D.C., and are tagging along with Glenn and Tara at his insistence. And God (and Robert Kirkman and Scott Gimple) only knows what’s up with the new crowd that Daryl found himself in the midst of a couple weeks back. Or if they’re whom you need to survive to arrive alive, per the ominous Terminus sign.
“The last we saw of our characters, you don’t know — are they going to keep going to D.C., or are they going to join Glenn and Tara in their mission to find Maggie and to help reunite that group?” says Josh McDermitt, who plays the mysterious Dr. Porter, a socially awkward but highly intelligent former science teacher who claims to hold the secrets of how to end the apocalypse. “Where we leave off with them, yeah, they’re kind of headed that way. But there’s kind of this overpowering … eh, that’s not the right word … ominous … ominous is not the right word either … the thought of Terminus is there. That sanctuary. Even though we may scrap this mission and only help Glenn and Tara, now we still have to deal with what this Terminus thing is. We’re going to see how that all shakes out. Because I definitely hope that the group gets back together. But you never know with this show.”
Asked just how much more we see of Dr. Eugene and his traveling companions in the final three episodes — or if the majority of their story plays out in this fall’s Season 5 — McDermitt pulls a Porter and plays his cards close to his vest.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he laughs. “They don’t give us the scripts that we’re not in. But with signs saying “Those Who Arrive Survive” — well, that’s great. They need a place right now. The group doesn’t have the prison anymore and you have to be cautious in this world. I don’t think you can be overly cautious. I think we’re going to find out what is going on there. And we’re going to find out if the group can make it back together.”
We talked McDermitt, a Season 4 semifinalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing and former star of the TV Land laugher Retired at 35, about what it’s like to be one of the new guys, what it’s like for the core cast to have separate storylines, what he thinks is bubbling beneath Eugene’s oddball exterior … and how he’s sleeping these days.
Channel Guide Magazine: First things first, because I grew up 30 miles west of Lambeau Field and am drawn to these things — is it true you own stock in the Green Bay Packers?
Josh McDermitt: Because that is the question you are leading off with, you are instantly my favorite interviewer ever. I do! I own two shares. That’s all I could afford over the time that they were offering. My dad gave me one share in, I think, 1997 when they were offering them, and then with this recent one a little while ago, I bought another one. I mean, it’s 250 bucks and all you need is one share and you feel fine. I didn’t really need the second one, but I wanted one for my wife as part owner, too, since I force her to watch the Packers. I take some ownership for her viewing habits. [Laughs]
I’ve been to many Packer games, but unfortunately only one at Lambeau — it was against the Rams in 2011. But I’m happy I at least got to go to one so far, and I want to go again. I know that there are several Packers players who are fans of The Walking Dead, so I want to hopefully try to get in contact with them so I can maybe get some friends and family tickets from them. … I was seriously considering when they made the playoffs this year — just flying there and buying tickets and sitting through that game where it was like -15 degrees. I just couldn’t it make it work on such short notice.
But that is my dream — to go out there and just freeze. To be crying tears of joy and have them stick to my face. I just want that so bad!
CGM: You’ve said in other interviews that you were an avid fan of the show before you became a member of the cast. Given that, what was it like to walk onto the set for the first time?
JM: To say I wasn’t nervous would be a lie — but leading up to it, I thought it was going to be worse, in terms of my emotions and everything, than it actually was. The great thing is we had to show up a week early just to get our hair and makeup tested and wardrobe fittings and that sort of thing and Andrew Lincoln was not working that week. But we shoot one hour south of Atlanta in a town called Senoia and he drove down just to meet us. It wasn’t like he was going to be onset — he drove down just to meet us and to have lunch with us, and that kind of set the tone and put everyone at ease. He really welcomed us and gave us the lay of the land and I think if he hadn’t done that, it would have been a little more intimidating.
CGM: Was there anyone who was absolutely nothing like you thought they’d be when you actually met them?
JM: Walking in, you see Norman Reedus playing Daryl and you’re like, “Oh my gosh. That’s Daryl!” Everyone’s in their wardrobe and you’re just looking around going “Oh my God, this is real!” But Norman Reedus — as much as the sex symbol that he is — I kind of expected him to be more brooding and, not necessarily cocky, but just aware of the fact that he’s hot and sexy and everyone loves him. But he’s the sweetest man and very gentle and kind and pretty soft spoken. At the same time he has a really fun, playful side and loves to joke around and have a good time. I think that kind of surprised me.
CGM: I was at a Milwaukee fan Q&A with Norman, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan and Greg Nicotero a year ago, and Norman grabbed a mic and waded out into the fray, causing quite a happy ruckus.
JM: Norman loves the fans. They all love the fans. Without the fans, the show is nothing. And that’s what’s really cool — they haven’t bought into the hype, and they realize that the show is bigger than themselves and even though the fans love particular characters, the fans ultimately love the show. And they certainly realize that.
CGM: You and Michael Cudlitz who plays Sgt. Ford and Christian Serratos, who plays Rosita, have only been onscreen with Steven and Alanna Masterson, who is a relative newcomer herself, this season. What kind of mentor has Steven been to the Class of Season 4?
JM: The last episode that aired for us, the character Glenn — Steven — is looking for Maggie and up until now, they’ve all been shooting everything together. They’ve been working together. So even though the character of Glenn is looking for Maggie, Steven the actor also doesn’t have Lauren, and that’s what he’s used to. He’s used to being with the other people. And I could tell that. It wasn’t tearing him up completely, but you could tell that he was off a little bit. He was different. He was missing his friends and the people that he’s grown to love and got to work with all the time — and here the three of us are and it’s like, “You’ve got to work with us now!”
I think it’s tough on everyone, especially the way the season is shaping up — they’re separated from each other and to hear some of the other actors talk about it, it was tough for them. And that’s almost like a gift to the actors in a sense. Because as much as it stinks, it’s easier to play that you actually miss your wife when you miss your friend who plays her.
CGM: You didn’t know exactly whom you were being tapped to play when you auditioned. What was that like?
JM: They’re very secretive about the casting process. I mean, you obviously know you are going out for The Walking Dead and you kind of know the terms of the character. You know if it’s going to be more than one episode or if it’s going to be just a one-episode thing. But they change the name and they give you nothing from the script — nothing you’re reading in the audition is from the post-apocalyptic world. It’s all character-based and backstory.
So I didn’t read the comics until halfway through the audition process — then I started to jump in to the comics a little more. When I found out that it was Eugene and I read up a little more on Eugene and found out that the trio — Abraham, Eugene and Rosita — were fan favorites, I got really excited. Because this guy’s got a mullet, and in my opinion, we need more mullets on TV. And he’s such a fun character to play and to jump into because there is so much going on underneath and within this guy that he’s trying hard not to show. I think that’s also the case with a lot of people who are surviving in this world.
And look, I would love to play Abraham, but I don’t have the body for it. [laughs] Plus, I couldn’t grow the mustache. I’m like a 15-year-old. I have peach fuzz.
CGM: On the subject of Abraham, even though we’ve only seen a little bit of them thus far, the brains-versus-brawn dynamic between Eugene Porter and Abraham Ford is already pretty fun stuff. What’s it like to get to draw that out with Michael Cudlitz?
JM: Michael Cudlitz is an amazing actor and I’ve learned so much from him just in the short time that we’ve been shooting this. And I was already a huge fan of his, so it was a little intimidating knowing that dynamic — knowing that he’s kind of the loudmouth gregarious type of character and that Eugene’s going to be a little quieter. And to all of sudden see that shift [when Eugene grabs a gun and starts shooting wildly, taking out the trio's truck] — I was a little concerned about how’s Michael going to do this? Which was a mistake on my part, because he is such a great actor and he’s so giving and everything he was giving me during that was amazing. We talked about that scene a lot and Michael would talk about how Abraham Ford is a sergeant. He’s used to taking orders. He’s very mission-oriented, so he’ll take orders from above and then he’ll put that plan into motion. So in a sense, Eugene is running the show because he’s the one out there giving orders. And Abraham is out there implementing the plan. And that was just a really exciting moment.
And I think some people — just some of the things I’ve read on social media — they missed it. And then some people said that was the best part. Stephen King even tweeted something about it — he said the best line of the episode goes to Eugene when he said, “Trust me. I’m smarter than you.” It just really kind of peeled back who these people are.
You definitely think Abraham is just bulldozing everyone, but he doesn’t do anything to Eugene when he shoots the truck. He gets pissed off at him, sure. And he could’ve beaten the snot out of him. But then that would have destroyed the mission. So he just asks him a question and then shakes his head like, “I don’t even know what to do.”
Eugene is the one pulling the strings. And that is just a fun, fun moment to play. And I think you’ll see more of that as the series progresses.
CGM: In the graphic novel, Dr. Porter says he cut his hair into that infamous mullet to disguise his background and his intelligence. Since we can’t possibly know what his voice sounded like in that context, could his quirky dialect also be another tool to keep his cards close to his vest? Or is that just part of who this guy is?
JM: I think it could be a little of both, but I’m really having to rely on the executive producers a lot because, as you’re saying, this isn’t in the comic. So at the moment for him, when he opens his mouth, that’s what he sounds like. We don’t know exactly how he is, but the interpretation that I had, and what Scott Gimple and Robert Kirkman had, is this guy is a bit of an oddball. A little socially awkward. I do think that there are elements of what you said, that he’s trying to keep his cards close to his chest, but ultimately I think he’s just — I don’t want to say weirdo — but I think he’s just odd. He doesn’t really know how to interact with people socially like other people would.
CGM: Since you can’t really rely on the storyline of the graphic novels to tell you who this guy is on the show, how do you think he sees Glenn and Tara — as a potential threat to his plan, or new followers that he can incorporate into it?
JM: I think everyone he meets along the way and everyone he runs into — like I said earlier, there is so much going on underneath this stoic exterior — he’s definitely playing a chess match. He’s trying to stay several moves ahead of everyone to see how he can benefit from a situation, how he can manipulate a situation to his own benefit. I think there are aspects of Glenn and Tara that he sees as advantageous for him, and then I also think that he probably sees things that are going to be roadblocks. These are conflicts that I am sure the executive producers are going want to explore more. There are a lot of things going on underneath and we don’t know what or why exactly because of that stoic exterior. So it’s going to be interesting. I definitely think that he wants to be able to control the situation as much as he can. And if you have a lot of people, that may not be easy. But I think he can handle Glenn and Tara as it is.
CGM: Given that you don’t really know what the sum total of his motivations might be or how your story is going to play out in Kirkman’s and Gimple’s minds, what is the one thing that you enjoy most about coming to work and stepping into Dr. Eugene Porter’s skin?
JM: The thing that I’m really enjoying is just what I’d said — that he’s got that stoic demeanor and he’s lacking so much emotion and you don’t know what’s going on, because it’s all underneath. For me, I enjoy — even just as a fan of the show — peeling back the onion of what is this guy all about, what makes him tick and just getting those little nuggets from Kirkman and Gimple and going, “Oh this is great! This is another thing I can add to the layers of Eugene!”
That’s what is most exciting — because it’s not the like the producers have said, “OK, here’s everything about the guy. Now put that away.” They’re only giving out a little bit of information at a time. And for me, it’s almost like I’m not acting so much as I really don’t know what’s going on with him either. So it’s kind of been easy, in a sense [laughs]. Just kind of finding those little things and learning about the character as the viewers are learning about him is what is really exciting for me.
CGM: You’ve already logged some zombie time, so — again, as a fan of the show before you were a cast member — what was it like getting to participate in zombie kills and getting a look at “the man behind the curtain,” so to speak?
JM: They look so real! Greg Nicotero and the special effects crew, the moment you walk on set and see a zombie, you’re like, “That looks so real!” But the thing that takes you out of it is that they’ll be reading a book or eating an apple and you’re like, “Oh. Ok.” But when they’re running — like when they were coming out of the corn field — that’s a little trippy, I’ll be honest! I did have some nightmares from that. But thankfully we’re able to take off the makeup each evening and go home, so hopefully one of these days I’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep.
New episodes of The Walking Dead air Sunday nights at 9/8CT on AMC through March 30.
Josh McDermitt as Dr. Euegene Porter on the set of The Walking Dead, photos: Gene Page/AMC
Josh McDermitt photo: Riker Brothers