Exclusive: Interview with Josh McDermitt of “The Walking Dead”
We interviewed Josh McDermitt to talk all things “The Walking Dead.” Learn what Josh has to say about Eugene, his other favorite TWD character, how he’d plan for a zombie apocalypse, and more. Click play to listen to the interview, or read the transcript below.
CTV: Hey everybody this is John with CableTV.com. We’ve got Josh McDermitt here to talk a little bit about The Walking Dead, himself, his plan for the zombie apocalypse. Thanks for stopping by, Josh.
Josh: Thanks for having me, John. I didn’t know we were talking about The Walking Dead. What is this show?
CTV: We could talk about Mad Men too if you really want.
Josh: That show’s over. That show is dead to me now.
CTV: All right, but it lives on, much like a zombie in The Walking Dead.
Josh: Yeah, it hasn’t been stabbed in the head yet.
CTV: Let’s talk about you a little bit. You got your start in comedy. I read that you did some call-in to a local radio show a little bit, had some unique voices and then gone on with them. How was that?
Josh: That was great. I started doing that when I was a child. I would call into this radio show and I would do voices but it wasn’t even … I don’t do voices. I’m not like Ross Marquand, one of my co-stars on The Walking Dead, where he does impressions spot on. He even gets down to the tiny nuances of inflections and things like that of the certain celebrities that he impersonates do. For me, my whole thing was I was really good at sticking to a character and committing and never dropping the character. It may not have been funny but it was believable at times.
I think that’s how I first fell in love with acting. That was my own personal training. I didn’t go to acting school or anything like that. I just figured it out in the heat of the moment. I started doing that and was working with a radio station. While I was doing that, I started doing stand-up comedy. I did comedy stand-up for twelve years. I was touring, I would go on the road with guys like Joe Rogan. I opened for Louis C.K a bunch and David Tell and stuff like that. It was fun but I knew I wanted to be acting the whole time. That’s when I started taking formal training. I worked my way into the comedy world of acting.
CTV: Nice. We can definitely see the commitment to character and I’d say you’re selling yourself a little short on voices because your Eugene character … it’s funny because I had read the comics before the show was on so I was very familiar with Eugene. I thought the casting for the show had been exemplary and then they knocked it out of the park when they brought you in. I think that your Eugene is spot on to how I imaged it being. I was reading your Reddit AMA and I noticed you said you based his voice off your brother’s voice.
Josh: My brother, again another … this must just run in my family, but a guy who likes to commit to a character. He was working, I won’t say where he was working but he had a job and he had everybody convinced there that he was Russian. There’s no Russian in our family. He’s a hairy guy, he has a full-out beard and he would wear this Russian cossack hat and he would speak with a heavy Russian accent and he had everyone believing his name was Dmitri or something like that.
His regular voice, he has such little affect when he speaks. He would be incredibly excited about something and I would just say, “Zack, are you excited?” He said, “Yeah,” like that’s him extremely excited. I kind of took that element of him and brought it into Eugene, of just kind of this guy who speaks so flatly. It was funny because I started talking about how I was basing it on my brother and people that he worked with started to figure it out, that he wasn’t really Russian. He called me and was like, “Dude, stop telling people that because you’re ruining my thing.”
CTV: Don’t worry, we’re not going to put this on the internet so nobody will see it.
Josh: Great. The internet is dying. What do we need that for anymore?
CTV: It’s a fad; it’s going away. Which character besides Eugene on The Walking Dead do you most identify with?
Josh: That’s a good question because the question I usually get is which character would you want to play if you couldn’t play Eugene so I haven’t really thought about this, the one I identify with. I like Glenn. Here’s this guy that doesn’t look like he should survive in the apocalypse just based on his background. You get guys like Daryl who’s a tracker, hunting experience, he has an edge to him. That works in the apocalypse. You look at him and you go, “Yeah, okay, I buy that he would survive.” Glenn’s a pizza delivery guy. He’s had to grow into this leadership role over the years. I think that’s who I would identify with most, I’m a guy that … I’m just kind of guy. I like to do outdoorsy things but I’m not a tracker, I don’t own a gun, I don’t go out shooting and stuff like that. I would be fairly ill-equipped if the apocalypse actually happened, much like Glenn was. I think I would probably identify with him the most.
CTV: Great. I’m sure there’s some pizza delivery skills that would transition well into the zombie apocalypse.
Josh: If you can find some dough.
CTV: It’s an easy recipe, finding your way around maybe. How about you, what’s your zombie apocalypse plan? If it happens tomorrow, what’s the first thing you do?
Josh: I find Norman Reedus and I get right behind him. Isn’t that what we’re all doing? That guy just day after day surprises me with how much of a badass he is. I don’t know, it’s starting to shift a little bit. I thought that if I was in Los Angeles, I would want to get on a boat and get to Catalina Island off the coast there, kill everybody there, then just set up a lookout. Anybody that tries to get to the island, just take them out.
The more I talk about that, the more I realize more people are probably going to try and do that. Now my plan just involves getting to the liquor store at the end of my block. I’m sure they have a gun there, kill the owner, get the gun and steal a motorcycle nearby. I know which motorcycle it is, it’s one of my neighbor’s, and be set.
CTV: Does he know that plan? Have you explained that his motorcycle will become yours once there’s a zombie apocalypse?
Josh: Yeah, I don’t know how to ride a bike but I’ll try, and then just start shooting, take out as many people as I can. Right, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?
CTV: Yeah, but head shots only. I watched The Fear of the Walking Dead and I feel like they hadn’t quite got the head shot memo yet, because they’re just wasting all their bullets on body shots. It’s not going to do anything.
Josh: That’s the beautiful thing about that show is that us as the viewers know so much more than the characters do, so it’s exciting to watch someone figure it out. It’s nerve-racking to go, “No, you’re wasting your bullets,” and they don’t realize, they don’t know what’s going on. Zombies don’t exist. George Romero doesn’t exist in this world so they don’t know what a zombie is. They don’t know what Night of the Living Dead is, and that sort of thing. I think it’s frustrating for the viewers but also exciting to know more than the characters at this point and watch them along their journey.
CTV: Let me bounce my zombie apocalypse plan off you quick. I want you to pick it apart if it’s a bad one.
CTV: It hits, taking the family and heading north, cold weather, getting up into Alaska. Low population, it’s frozen 80% of the year so the zombies are just lawn ornaments if they’re up there. You can go around putting bullets in the heads of each one of them while it’s, then you’re good to go. I think the warmth and the food is probably going to be the hard part, but I think we can work around it with less zombies.
Josh: Yeah, I mean there is that but it’s not … the thing that we realize as we’re expanding this Walking Dead world is the zombies are not the biggest threat. It’s the other humans, it’s the elements. I think, like you said, staying warm is going to be key. Finding food, how are you going to be able to grow anything if everything’s frozen? You have to work like ants so you can survive the winter. I think going north is a good thing, but I wouldn’t go as far north as Alaska. Maybe Calgary is probably good enough.
CTV: Canadian zombies are more friendly anyways.
Josh: Canadian zombies are extremely friendly. Are you kidding? They apologize a lot to you, they drink Pepsi.
CTV: How are you liking the season so far?
Josh: I love our Canadian neighbors. I mean I’m wearing a Canadian passport right here.
CTV: We’d have you with us to get across the border. What are your thoughts on the season so far and where it’s going?
Josh: You know, it’s a great season. I still look at it as a fan because I was a big fan before I started working on the show. It feels like every episode could be a season finale this season. We really just put a cinderblock on the gas pedal and it’s full steam ahead. I love last week’s episode with Carol going on a rampage. It’s one of those episodes that it starts out and you’re like, “Okay, this is going to be one of those episodes where we just get to know the characters whatever,” and then all hell breaks loose. It was complete mayhem and to watch someone like Carol who we love to see being a badass, the fans love that. We’re able to find great ways for that to happen.
It’s an exciting direction that the show is headed. We have this herd of walkers heading towards Alexandria even though they shut the horn off. I’m sure that might come up in a future episode. We’ve got this great struggle between Morgan and Carol. People are picking sides as to who’s in the right. I mean, Morgan is a peaceful man, he doesn’t want to kill. Carol’s like take no prisoners, everybody’s dying. That’s just rife for good conflict. I can’t wait for the fans to see the rest of the season what we have planned. It’s awesome, it’s just going to get better.
CTV: Great. This is a couple part question. Which episode of the season are you looking forward to the most, exactly what happens in it, and who dies?
Josh: I’m looking forward to episode three where Eugene kills everybody and then he just babysits Judith for the rest of the season.
CTV: Awesome, I can’t wait for Sunday. Another off-the-wall question. Alexandria passes a new law for grooming standards and Eugene either has to cut the mullet or go. What does he pick?
A photo posted by Josh McDermitt (@joshmcdermitt) on
Josh: He doesn’t, he leaves. Number one, what kind of community are we living in that we have grooming standards in the apocalypse? I know Jessie is a hairdresser, I get that. She started stabbing one of the wolves in the chest with scissors, her shears. I think if she comes anywhere near Eugene’s mullet, she’s going to get a taste of her own medicine. Eugene will not go for that. He’s got a great head of hair. I just do not see that happening at all. If it were to happen, I would bet Eugene would leave the community and go live on his own and eat as many turtles as he can.
CTV: Do you read the comics? Are you caught up or do you kind of not want to know?
Josh: It’s a little bit of everything. I started reading the comics when I got cast. I knew it was a comic. I had friends who read it and they loved it. This was my favorite show before I started and I didn’t want to mix the two. I figured if I’m going to work on it, it would be nice to have as much knowledge about the entire Walking Dead universe as possible. I started to read it but then I started to notice different elements, things that were different on the show that were different in the comics and vice versa. I also just didn’t want to know what was specifically going to happen. I read up through about the issues in or around 110 or so. I put a dent and I’m very aware of what happens after that, because the fans are the first to tell me, “Eugene did this,” or “Did you see what happened? This is what happened,” which is great but I don’t actively read them anymore.
CTV: Cool. You’re an RPG fan…I saw on Reddit, a gamer?
Josh: Yeah, well here’s the thing with games. I don’t allow myself to play them because I have a very addictive personality. I battle that on a daily basis and I know it kind of sounds funny to be addicted to video games, but that’s one thing that I get addicted to. Anything that gives me that rush and that high and the excitement, I have to limit that in my life otherwise I’ll disappear. Whether it’s something really bad that I could get addicted to or something lighthearted like video games, I just try to manage that as much as possible because I want to go on living.
CTV: Fair enough. I have friends who are honestly afraid of Fallout 4 coming because they think it’s going to end their marriages.
Josh: Absolutely man. I mean, Halo was huge for me. I have a friend who just got an X-Box and was like, “Hey you want to come over and play Halo?” I was literally on my way over to their house and I had to turn around and go home. What am I doing? This is going to be bad. It’s pulling the thread on a very delicate shirt and then just having the whole thing come undone. That’s what I feel like would happen. I know it seems lighthearted but it’s actually a deeper issue with me than just, “Oh I can’t play it,” because I love it too much. It’s a problem.
CTV: All right, well it took a serious turn so I want to talk about a serious scene. In season 5 you’re scene with Michael Cudlitz when he finds out that you’ve been lying the whole time, or Eugene’s been lying the whole time and beats the living tar out of you. That was quite an intense scene. I think it’s one of the better scenes of the show thus far and I want to get your input on how you prepped for that and what it was like to film it.
Josh: Thanks. It was a fun scene to shoot. The great thing about this show is we all trust each other. We all have each other’s back. We offer up input. We’re not telling each other what to do, but we say things like, “Hey try it like this,” or we give little tidbits about our character that might help another person’s performance. All the information isn’t necessarily there for people. It’s secretive when we talk to the fans and when we do interviews like this, but it’s also just as secretive with each other. Nobody knew I didn’t have the cure. A couple people have kind of figured it out. It came as a surprise to a lot of the cast when we figured out that Eugene didn’t have the cure. That’s always fun. This whole show, not just that scene but that whole show, we’re really supportive of each other and helping each other out.
It was a very physically demanding scene to shoot. We shot it over a couple days, which we always have several cameras rolling so even a big scene may not take more than a day, but this took two days. It was really huge. I’d never done any sort of stunt work where I had to take a punch or do anything like that. But again, we trust each other, we go out of our way to support each other. We let each other stand on each other’s shoulders. We lift each other up. That’s as much as … I don’t know what to say, people say “It’s a great scene, you did a great job,” but I have to give all my credit to the crew and the other cast members who were in the scene with me because without them, it wouldn’t be anywhere near what it could have been.
It was fun. Michael Cudlitz is amazing. He’s been in those situations before. We prepped it, we ran through it a bunch. There was never a moment where I felt unsafe or anything. I still had to take the punch and then slam my … which is obviously not a real punch but … then actually slam my head into the back of the firetruck. We had to do that about ten time and that hurt. I got a searing headache that day from doing that before Eugene fell on the pavement. It was fun. We sold the crap out of it. I think the fans loved it.
CTV: Yeah, it was a highlight of the season and of the series itself. We’re about out of time. Anything else? Anything else you got coming up you want to let our viewers know about?
Josh: We’re just talking Walking Dead. I’m just so excited about the rest of the season to air, for everyone to see it. I’m really proud of it. It’s the best season yet and it just keeps getting better.
CTV: I can’t wait to watch it. We’ll be keeping up with you. Thanks for your time.
Josh: Thanks, John.
John Kinnear likes to pour his words on any website that will take them. He has been featured on Babble, Huffington Post, Salon, Alternet, Mamapedia, and occasionally on his mom’s refrigerator. He writes about parenting, television, technology, and his love of grilled cheese sandwiches. Find him on Google+