Interview – Andrew J. West

andrew jFinding one’s creativity can be a task some spend a lifetime searching for. Thankfully, for Midwest American actor Andrew J. West, he caught the acting bug at a young age and has not looked back since. Starring in a handful of popular television series such as ABC Family Comedy Greek, West continued to work hard in building a resume, and in 2014, landed one of the biggest roles of his career as Gareth on AMC’s The Walking Dead. A terrifying portrayal of one of the series biggest villains, West’s time on The Walking Dead was one that no one will soon forget. Recently we caught up with the busy actor for a look at his career in entertainment, his time on The Walking Dead, his latest film Nightmare Code, future projects, and more. – You have been involved in entertainment over a decade now. First, tell me, what inspired you to get involved in this industry?

Andrew J. West – It’s a good question, I’ve always been driven to do something creative. A lot of people are. When I was in high school, and when I was a teenager, I was trying to find different outlets. I played in a band for awhile, I was sort of interested in painting, which I still do. I didn’t find acting till I went to college; I had always sort of fantasized about acting or thought about trying it. The act of performing was really terrifying to me, so I never got involved with it. When I first started college, I was about 18 or 19. I started taking acting classes and I really fell in love with it. At the same time, I was living with some friends of mine, one in particular was a film studies major. He needed to make films for his classes. I started helping him write material that he could shoot. I started acting in these shorts essentially that he was making. Through that process, I really fell in love with it. I realized that I really enjoyed it.

In terms of creative outlets, I always felt like I was better suited for it in terms of skill set as opposed to music or other things. It just clicked for me over time. By the time I graduated, I had met some other friends that I did plays with in college. We just moved to Los Angeles and gave it a shot. Looking back on it, it seems kind of nuts. We didn’t know anybody in the city; we didn’t know where to live or where to begin. I arrived in LA and eventually found my way into some audition rooms and eventually convinced people to give me a job, which is where I’m at now, still going into rooms and trying to convince people to give me a job (laughs).

The CW
The CW
ABC Family
ABC Family – (laughs) That is pretty cool how it worked out for the best for you. You found your creative outlet.

Andrew J. West – Yeah, it’s something that most people need on some level, to find something, whether it is a hobby or a career either way; whether it’s consuming entertainment or art, which is something that I do all the time. I’m constantly listening to music or watching movies or looking at paintings, it’s something that is really unique to human beings. We all need that type of interaction, that engagement. I am lucky that I get to do something like that for a living; it’s such a cool feeling and a privilege to. – Absolutely. Many of your credits are within the television series genre such as Greek. Do you enjoy working in television?

Andrew J. West  – I do, I love working in television. I am really lucky. Other actors that are my age or all actors that are working now in television, we are all very lucky to be working in what is more like the golden age of television. There is so much good TV now and I love getting the opportunity to jump in there and throw my hat in the ring in some of these shows. Once in awhile, I get asked to do some of these shows. It’s fun to play a character over long periods of time. It’s fun to have that serial aspect of sitting with a character and exploring a character. I love working in TV. If I had my druthers, I would work in TV and film, and hopefully theater too for the rest of my career. – It would be a great balance to have for sure. Amidst your television credits, you starred in a full-length film Nightmare Code. What brought around this project with Nightmare Code?

Andrew J. West – Nightmare Code was a script that was sent to me actually by a friend, Mei Melançon, who plays Nora in the film. She was cast first and I knew Mei because we both share representation; we had the same agent. Mei was cast in the film and she thought that I’d be a good choice for the Brett character. She sent the script to me and my manager and I loved it. I just thought it was such an eerie, cool, and weird script. I wanted to do it immediately. We got a hold of Mark Netter, who directed the film. I met with him, had a great conversation, and knew that he was going to do an awesome job with the movie. I made an audition tape for him just to make sure that everyone was comfortable with my take on the character. He asked me to do the film, that was how that all came about. It’s cool that finally, it took a couple of years like it does with many Indies, that now it’s coming out.

Still from Nightmare Code
Still from Nightmare Code – Sometimes it takes a little while for an independent film to get distribution, or get the mainstream notification that it deserves.

Andrew J. West – Absolutely, it’s very tough. It’s quite an accomplishment for it to ever get finished, let alone come out. I’m really proud of Mark and I’m really excited that it’s finally going to get out there. –What is interesting about this film is the way its shot. It is very different, the way it is presented to the audience, than other films. Basically, you are looking through a computer screen a lot of the time, and it is split screens, which is very interesting. What was it like working with that?

Andrew J. West – Totally unique, and totally unlike anything I had shot before. The film is essentially Found Footage, and a lot of it plays out in these four quadrants, which is ambitious and risky. It’s a really risky way of telling a story, but it works so well with the themes of this film. It creates this voyeuristic feeling for the viewer. It was challenging because half the time you had no idea where the camera even was. There were these surveillance cameras set up all over the set that we were in, this location. It is catching the scene in this totally unconventional way.

It took a little while to get used to, because as an actor you are used to shot after shot, shot reverse shots, two shots, and you kind of know where the camera is going to be. It wasn’t like that at all, we were using smaller cameras and all these things. Sometimes you kind of felt like you weren’t shooting anything at all. You were doing a scene and you were thinking, “Is anybody getting any of this?” At the same time, it was easier in a way too; you didn’t have any of that self-consciousness that you sometimes get if a camera is right up in your face when you are trying to do a scene. It was unique and fun. The whole time, I couldn’t wait to see what it was actually going to look like.

Still from Nightmare Code
Still from Nightmare Code – It is definitely unique and I think that’s one of the great selling points of the film. That unique quality, plus the story, which is quite eerie, if one would like to categorize it, it could be considered a Science Fiction/Thriller type film. What is really creepy about it is this is something that could very well be reality; you just do not know. It is definitely something that adds the creepy value of it, especially considering in the computer age that we are in right now.

Andrew J. West – Absolutely, that was one of the things that drew me to the script too, was that it was so creepy and scary. It had this sort of The Shining (1980) meets 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) vibe to it, but at the same time, I’m reading it thinking, this may not be that far off. When you grapple with these themes that the movie deals with, you start to go down this rabbit hole of asking yourself what is consciousness. How does this physical matter that makes up our brains bring into being the sense of agency, a sense of self. How could you potentially replicate that physical matter digitally in order to create something similar? If you did, how would that thing possibly evolve on its own? How would it react with human consciousness and how they manipulate each other? All these really mind blowing things that at least indirectly deals with. It’s a little chilling, but really poignant, and relevant to the world that we live in now. – We are living in a completely digital age. It seems like we are always connected in some way or form regardless between your cell phone, tablets, etc. You are constantly connected.

Andrew J. West – We rely on it now, it completely altered the world. You feel totally naked if you are out somewhere without your cell phone. You feel like you are isolated, even if you are surrounded by people. It’s a strange concept because not that long ago, it wasn’t that way at all. Obviously technology has greatly improved our lives in many ways, it has made life a lot easier. Although, it is sort of scary to think how reliant we are on it and how it could turn on us. Those possibilities do not seem too far-fetched.

nightmare code artwork
Indie Rights – That is something that the Science Fiction genre has been trying to teach us for a long time; that technology can turn on us. Some things are far-fetched, some things come to fruition, believe it or not, in a lot of this Science Fiction.

Andrew J. West – Just the concept of the internet would have seemed completely far-fetched only a couple of decades ago. Here we are and it governs our lives, our day to day, how we live our lives, do business and socialize now. – It is so true. Now, what is quite interesting as well is around the same time you were working on Nightmare Code, when it was released initially in 2014, is when you were also cast in The Walking Dead.

Andrew J. West – That’s right. We shot Nightmare Code and then I started working on The Walking Dead into the following year. Or maybe even sooner than that, it was very close together. – How did that involvement with The Walking Dead come about? One could imagine that was a huge victory to land that role.

Andrew J. West  – Huge. It’s one of the most exciting jobs in the TV world that I’ve gotten. It came about like most other jobs, I just went in and auditioned. It was a very interesting audition process because when you audition for The Walking Dead, you audition with fake material. You do not audition with material from the actual show because they can’t let any material from the actual show out into audition rooms. They have to protect against spoilers. I had to audition with material that I had no idea how the character would fit into the show.

I auditioned with a couple pages of this material, about 3 or 4 days later I get a call saying I got the job. They put me on a plane and flew me out to Atlanta. I have no idea what I’m doing on the show. I was familiar with the show, but I had no idea how I would fit in. We start doing wardrobe fittings and all these things, finally I get called into a meeting with Scott Gimple, into his office. He broke it all down for me, I hadn’t seen any scripts yet. He told me, here is who you are going to be, this is what’s going to happen. I was just smiling from ear to ear, I couldn’t believe my luck. I didn’t know if it was going to be a smaller role or a little more inconsequential. When I learned that I would get to be essentially a rival or villain, even for a few episodes, I was just thrilled. When I started reading the actual scripts, that’s when I really got happy, I felt, “Wow, this is going to be good.”

Andrew J. West as Gareth - The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Andrew J. West as Gareth – The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC – As you mentioned, your character lasted four episodes. Like you said, you had a major impact on the overall story on The Walking Dead. You did not know initially, but once you got the job, you knew that you were going to be a villain and have a big impact on the landscape of the show?

Andrew J. West – I thought, based on what I saw on the script, that was a very real possibility as long as I did my job well and that it all came together the way that I thought it could. If those episodes realized the potential that they think they have on the page, I felt that it really could have a big effect in the landscape of the show. When I finally got to see them, I was really happy with them. I thought that the directors of those episodes were great. The writing, I knew was going to be great. I felt like it all came together pretty well. The art that Gareth had, I was really happy with it. – You did a great job with Gareth. Obviously, to the audience, he was not a likeable character, but you did a good job portraying it. That is a testament to your acting. Seeing that the audience only was given a sample size of Gareth, no one really knows the detail of why he is the way he is or his backstory. Did you sort of create this backstory for him to bring his character to life?

Andrew J. West – I had conversations with Scott Gimple, we did get a little taste of his backstory in the premiere of season five where we see that he and his family had been taken prisoner. They were locked in this train car and were tortured, abused, and all these things. There were conversations with Scott about the fact that these people weren’t always like this, that they were initially good people. Through this experience, their perception of human beings drastically changed and that was all I needed to jump into the scene that you are actually going to see. That’s all I needed to get into the space that I needed to be in, to figure out why am I doing these things that I’m doing. Why am I having this conversation with Bob? Why am I talking to the group as they are knelt over the trough the way that I am talking to them? What is it that I am trying to accomplish? I didn’t need much more than those few conversations and what we saw in the premiere in the flashbacks.

Lawrence Gilliard Jr. as Bob Stookey, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee and Andrew J. West as Gareth - The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Lawrence Gilliard Jr. as Bob Stookey, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee and Andrew J. West as Gareth – The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC – Going back to your time on the show, as you said, the way you approached your lines and such, you were unassuming yet terrifying as hell because you had a very laid back tone to you. It was really scary as hell the way you approached it.

Andrew J. West – The secret is, I just let the writing do all the work. That’s really the truth. When I read those scripts, I realized this guy is going to be scary, there is no way for this guy not to be. Doing the things that he’s doing, saying the things that he’s saying, he’s terrifying. I felt like I was best served the character and best served the show if I almost stayed out of the way of the writing. To just approached it in a very simple matter of fact, nonchalant, almost casual way. I felt like it was best served, what we were trying to accomplish on the show.

If I went into it thinking I need to make this guy tough or menacing, it would just be overkill. That’s all in the writing, that’s already there. It was a matter of dialing all that back and almost approaching it as this is the world now. It sucks. This is just how we live, it is what it is. It sucks that you guys are on that side and I’m on this side. That’s the way it’s all playing out, I felt like it would be a little, ultimately more, chilling. I felt like it was almost written that way, that’s how I thought anyway. When I got in and started doing it, Greg Nicotero and Scott Gimple, and everyone involved, were encouraging. It was clear that they were on the same page as well. At that point, I realized that we could just sort of jump in and do what we did with it.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Andrew J. West as Gareth, Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha - The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 3 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Andrew J. West as Gareth, Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha – The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 3 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC – Well, as stated, you did a great job with it. Beyond The Walking Dead and Nightmare Code, what other projects do you have on the horizon?

Andrew J. West – There is a couple of things coming up that I am really excited about, recently I finished two films. One is called Middle Man starring Jim O’Heir, myself, and Josh McDermitt, who was on The Walking Dead as well. It’s kind of nice to have a reunion with Josh. It’s a very Dark Comedy about a stand-up comic who gets caught up in a murder spree out in the desert surrounding Las Vegas. It’s funny how it’s also dark, strange, and awesome. I’m excited for this one, it will come out sometime next year. I finished another film recently that I had a smaller role in called Reverse; a Psychological Thriller about a guy that gets unwittingly swept up into this cult. A sort of self improvement cult that quickly becomes very scary. That one stars Adam Goldberg and Fran Kranz, that will be a really great film as well. That, I will assume will come out sometime next year. We just finished shooting that one, it will be a little ways out. Those are the two latest things.

Middle Man –They both sound interesting. Dark Comedies are always fun. That is great that you got to work with Josh again.

Andrew J. West – I love Josh, he’s a really good actor and a fun guy to work with. What’s cool about this film, for him, is that you are going to see him do something so different than what he does on The Walking Dead. That character that he plays in Middle Man cannot be more different than Eugene, which will be really fun. That goes for everyone in the film. Jim O’Heir, who plays the lead, you will get to see him in a different light. For any fans of Parks and Recreation, who have seen him play Jerry Gergich for the last five years, you get to see him do something totally different. A big character that I play is something very new for me, it’s going to be a really wild and fun movie. People will have to check that one out when it comes out. – They most certainly should. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. covers a broad range of music and movies, particularly Horror. If you are a fan of Horror films, do you have any favorites?

Andrew J. West –  I grew up on Horror films and reading Stephen King novels and the series of books called Scary Stories as a kid. The Stephen King stuff, I was probably way too young to be reading a lot of that stuff. The Evil Dead series is always going to be one of my favorites. The Shining (1980) to this day is such a superb film, it’s almost a genre bending film. It does fit nicely into that Horror genre. There’s so many, I grew up with George Romero watching Night of the Living Dead (1968), the original plus the remake Tom Savini directed in 1990. I love the remake, Tom Savini did an excellent job with that one that came out decades ago now. The original Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985) were always two favorites. I love those. All of that, I was really into all that stuff, and still am. – That is fantastic you are into the genre like that! Day of the Dead is a fantastic film and recently celebrated its thirteenth anniversary.

Andrew J. West – Day of the Dead is great, I re-watched it just recently. Haven’t seen it in years and I watched it, I felt like I liked Day of the Dead more than I did years ago. That whole series is really special. They did the one with John Leguizamo that came out ten years ago, Land of the Dead. I only saw that one once in the theater when it came out. I always liked the first three more, but that is one that I have to revisit and see how it holds up now. I have seen all those films so many times, Land of the Dead I’ve only seen the one time. I have to catch up on that one again. –  Land of the Dead was an exciting one because it was Romero’s first Living Dead film in some time. It was good and it is still enjoyable to this day. He did two movies after that, 2007’s Diary of the Dead which was a first person type film and Survival of the Dead in 2010.

Andrew J. West – I haven’t seen either of those, I kind of fell off a little bit after Land of the Dead, but I have to get back in there and check those out. The original ones that he directed are so special, I really did love the remake that Savini was responsible for in 1990. I love those Zombie films for sure. – You are right, Savini did a great job with that one. It actually just turned twenty-five years old!

Andrew J. West – Twenty-five years ago, I remember when watching it as a kid, probably way too young to be watching it.

United Film Distribution Company
United Film Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures – Many kids did the same thing. You are not killing anyone, so you are ok.

Andrew J. West – Yeah, I guess so, it is just on TV so it is alright then (laughs). – (laughs) You mentioned The Evil Dead there, you know there is an Ash vs. Evil Dead on Starz now.

Andrew J. West – I know, I was really excited about that. I had no idea they were making that. I think I just discovered it through a billboard that I saw, but I am very excited to see what that is all about. I was pretty pumped when I saw that they were making that into a show. I will definitely be checking that out.

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