Interview – Josh McDermitt of The Walking Dead

In the world of AMC’s The Walking Dead, characters come and go, but there are some which stick with viewers from the moment they are introduced. Whether these characters are labeled good or bad, each one plays a vital part in the storyline of what has become the most popular series on television. First appearing in front of audiences Sunday February 16, 2014 in episode 10 of season 4, Dr. Eugene Porter is one that immediately had fans talking, as he claimed to know of a cure for the zombie pandemic. Played by the charismatic Actor/Comedian Josh McDermitt, Eugene has become a regular on the series, and whether fans like his character or not, they cannot deny his impact. Take a closer look into the world of McDermitt as we talk his joining The Walking Dead, portraying Eugene, the moral on the set of the series, and more. – You have been involved in entertainment for some time now as a stand-up comedian and actor. Tell us what inspired you to get involved in acting?

Josh McDermitt – It was something I always wanted to do. It was not until my mid- to late twenties that I realized exactly what it was. I think I had always leaned toward performance, the arts, and that sort of thing. Sometimes it takes a while before you realize, “Oh! All of these feelings I have inside of me are because I want to be an actor.” I was working as a producer for a radio show, very much behind the scenes, and I started doing stand-up, which I did for twelve years. That whole time I felt uneasy, and it was because I wanted to be an actor. I do not think there was any one moment like, “Boom,” where I went on stage as the tree in Peter Pan, “It was a horrible role, but the acting bug bit me,” or anything like that. I think it was just a culmination of always being drawn to that kind of thing, and I never really realized that it was something that I could do. I always thought other people could do it, but not me.

Like I said, it was not until my mid-twenties that I pulled the trigger on it. I did not move to LA until I was thirty, which is kind of old for people to pick up and make the move, compared to people who move there in their late teens and early twenties. It was a little nerve-wracking, in a sense, to go, “What am I doing?” I left this great job to pursue acting, but I think I preferred it that way, after a while, because I was already set in my ways. I knew who I was. I was sure of who I was as a person, and also pursuing a career in acting.

Josh McDermitt in Retired at 35 series (2011-2012
Josh McDermitt in Retired at 35 series (2011-2012) – Right, obviously you took a risk, but it paid off. That is what makes it that much more exciting.

Josh McDermitt – Yes, absolutely. It is something that I have always done, take risks. I like to mix things up because I get very bored easily. If I do not keep stimulating my mind to try to hold my interest in things, I will get bored. The next thing I know, several years have gone by, and it is stagnant and I have not grown and I am all angry. I have always shaken it up. For example, there was an acting class I was in, everything was going great, and I was making great strides, but then I just quit it and took a different acting class. On the very basic level of something like that, all the way up to just packing up and moving across the country all the way to Los Angeles. I do not want to wait until I get stagnant. I want to shake it up when I can. – Through the past six years, you were on a number of series, but in 2014 you appears on AMC’s The Walking Dead as Dr. Eugene Porter and have become a regular character. How did the role come about for yourself?

Josh McDermitt – Well, I was on a sitcom, as my background is in Comedy and that sort of thing. As I was doing the sitcom, I was working with acting coaches and working on the more dramatic side of my career. I knew I could do it, but it is hard to convince people when you are known for being wacky. I did a lot of training, and then I went to my agent and said, “I’d like to do some drama. Why don’t you start sending me out for that kind of stuff?” They were like, “Alright!” Literally, The Walking Dead was the first thing that I had auditioned for on the dramatic side. They just sent me out on an audition. It was not like I knew someone, people always want to know, “Did you know someone on the inside to get you the audition?” No, my agent submitted me and I walked in and grabbed the part. It is honestly how a lot of roles get booked. The story that everyone wants to hear is that you bumped into Steven Spielberg in a coffee shop and now he is putting you in his movie. It was really sort of basic and boring in terms of what the process was. It was a dream come true because it was already my favorite TV show. Being a Comedian, I never thought I would ever be on a Drama, let alone the biggest one in the whole world.

Dr. Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt) - The Walking Dead _ Season 4, Episode 11 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Dr. Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt) – The Walking Dead _ Season 4, Episode 11 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC – That is great. Sometimes life leads you in ways you never expect and in positive ways.

Josh McDermitt – Absolutely! Even when I was a kid, I never dreamed of it. Like I said, it took me quite a while before I realized I wanted to be an actor, so I was never really dreaming of moving to Hollywood. I would play sports and that sort of thing, but honestly, I would rather go see live theater instead of hanging out with the football players. I was on the team and they would be like, “Hey, look at these theater nerds!” I would be like, “Yeah, we should probably go see their production this weekend, just so we have more ammunition to make fun of them.” (laughs) Secretly, I was like, “Oh, man! I wish I was up there,” you know? You never know what is going to happen. It could be right in front of you the whole time and you never really know. – Definitely. Eugene’s character is one that many people, perhaps, were weary of when he was first introduced, but then it becomes evident he is harmless. Then he completely turns off everyone when he reveals his truth. With that said, did you have an idea of how you wanted to approach developing Eugene’s character?

Josh McDermitt – Scott Gimple, our showrunner, and Robert Kirkman, they had already mapped it out. They knew what they wanted. I knew when I took the job that Eugene was lying. I just knew that I wanted to be as real as possible with this character. The development of him, I just left up to the writers. I mean, we have amazing writers. There was nothing that I could bring or do to the character that they have not already thought of. That is not to say that they are very controlling over what we do, we certainly have a lot of freedom. In terms of who this guy is and where he is heading, that is all Gimple, Kirkman, and our executive producers. I just got each script one day at a time, knowing that the truth was going to be revealed at some point. Just waiting for that day, and then that obviously happened last season in Episode 5, Self Help.  

Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter - The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter – The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 5 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC – He did come across as a cowardly individual for most of the series, but in Season 5, the audience starts to see a change in Eugene after the truth came out. Are you happy to see his character start developing into a stronger individual?

Josh McDermitt – Yes, absolutely! Especially from an acting standpoint – no one wants to play the same character with the same behaviors over time. You want the character to evolve and to grow. It did not matter if he grew into someone who was less cowardly and gets to be the hero for the day, or if he had doubled down on his cowardice and went in the complete opposite way, it would still be a change. That is all I care about. I would be just as happy if Eugene were even more of a coward. Like I said, all I really want is a change within the character. I certainly liked getting to be the hero for the day, even though a lot of people were really upset that Eugene did not really have the cure (laughs). We had already filmed Episode 14 by the time Episode 5 had aired. Everyone was upset with Eugene and all I kept thinking was, “I cannot wait for Episode 14 to air and for you guys to shut up!” (laughs) – (laughs) Right, redemption did come for Eugene. It is really amazing how people really grow a strong attachment to these characters. Yes, it is fictional, but it is extremely compelling. 

Josh McDermitt – The cool thing about the show is that it is as realistic as it is. Yes, the apocalypse is not real, but we all kind of wonder – is there going to be zombies? Will it be some sort of nuclear thing? Everyone feels that an apocalypse is coming and everyone is drawn to who they think they will be in the apocalypse, and this show does it in such a realistic way. I mean, it could be cartoon-like, but it is not, and I think that is what plays so well. Me, personally, I would be a lot like Eugene in the apocalypse, actually (laughs). It is fun to play that out. Even as a viewer, to watch someone like Daryl just be a badass, they think, “Oh, man! I would love to be like that in the apocalypse.” Then, to watch his evolution to see which way he goes and say, “Oh, I would not go that way – I would continue to go in this direction;”  They can second guess the character’s motives and everything. People really get behind it because, deep down, I think secretly deep down they really want the apocalypse to happen. It is funny, everyone has plans on what they would do. I certainly have a plan of what to do if the apocalypse hits. Hopefully, one day, we will get to put those plans into place (laughs). – (laughs). That is what makes it so effective; people do think, “What if I were in this situation? How would I react? What type of character would I be in this horrific situation?” That is really what makes it so compelling.

Josh McDermitt – It is kind of funny. People were so upset with Eugene for lying. He just did what he had to do to survive. You would have done the same thing. Everyone talks about how they would still be a man of character after the apocalypse hits. If you did not know how to survive, you would lie just as badly as Eugene did. People get so upset at Eugene; “I cannot believe he did that! What a jerk,” when three episodes before, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is biting out the neck of another guy at the end of season 4. So, I am thinking, “Wait… So he gets a pass for doing that, but Eugene tells a lie and you guys cannot let that go?” It makes me laugh, because at the end of the day, everyone is talking about it, but that is what we want. We want people to be invested, and they certainly are.

Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter - The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 14 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter – The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC – You are absolutely right. Speaking of Rick biting out a neck. A lot of people did not like Joe as a character because they thought he was a bad guy. The fact is, most do not know what they would do if they were in that situation, that was Joe’s way of surviving. 

Josh McDermitt – Exactly, you know, people did not like Joe because he was a bad guy, but he had to do what he had to do. Joe does not think Joe is a bad guy. I am certain Jeff Kober did not approach the character like, “Oh, I’m a bad guy.” or are judging the guy’s motives. I never judged Eugene and said, “Oh, I cannot believe this guy is lying!” He is doing what he has to do. You cannot judge that. You cannot get upset about that.

Look at someone like the Governor, I mean, granted, the Governor did some pretty nasty things. The Governor does not think he is evil. It is interesting, are we are just on the other side of that? I mean, Rick is pushed to the limits. Is he evil? No one is going to think, “Ah, I am evil, guys. I am the bad guy.” No one thinks that. So what are we seeing with this group now after the end of Season 5? What is going on with these characters now? There are some pieces of  garbage for sure. Look at guys like Aidan, who was killed in Episode 14, Spend. His whole thing was he would leave people behind when things got hairy. That is horrible! Again, he was just doing what he needed to do to survive. That is not to justify it or give him a pass. Aiden does not think he is a bad guy. It is an interesting character and sociological study in all of this. – It certainly is. As you mentioned, Season 5 was a fantastic season for The Walking Dead with so many ups and downs. How excited are you for the return of the series come October?

Josh McDermitt – I am always excited. It does not matter if it is Season 4, 5, or 6, or if we make it to Season 25. I always get excited because I am a fan first. If Eugene gets killed off, I will be pretty upset because I really enjoy working on the show. I would be just as excited to watch the new season. I would not stop watching it, because I am a fan. I think the most upsetting thing to me would not be that I would not be able to work on the show, it would be if the show went off the air. That would be more upsetting to me because of how much I love it. So, yes, Season 6, I am excited! I cannot wait for October.

the-walking-dead-season-6-keyart – That is another thing people wonder about. If an actor works on a project and their character is nullified, do they say, “I am not going to watch this anymore! I am annoyed!” Are they such a fan that they say, “I still love this show so much, it does not matter that I am no longer a part of it.”

Josh McDermitt – I think every person, every actor and every situation, is different. I look at it right now and think that if I were asked not to come back to the show – in my current state – I would still watch the show. Now, if that actually happened? Who knows! (laughs) Who knows how I would really feel, but honestly, the most upsetting part from when we lose a cast member, at least from someone who is still alive on the show, are these dinners that we do. Having to go to these dinners, the most upsetting part, that I can gather, is that they cannot just come to work and be with their family and friends. They are going to get another job. They are going to work on some really cool things. Chad Coleman (Tyreese) is already off working on a new project. He told us about it and we were like, “No way! That is awesome!” Emily Kinney (Beth) is working on other things, but it is really about not being able to come to work and hang out with your family and friends anymore. They become such a part of you. – Seeing as you have been a part of The Walking Dead for some time now, what is the relationship between the cast members like? It seems like it is very good.

Josh McDermitt – Yes, we are all very close. We are shooting in the middle of the woods, in the middle of Georgia, in the middle of Summer. You really get to know people down there. You are not sitting in an air-conditioned stage. Everyone is battling the elements and you are in it together. Everyone is nice. We are outside of LA, so no one is fighting traffic to get to work and then they are pissed off because the traffic was horrible. Everyone shows up to work. They want to be there. I mean, you do not have to be there. As hard as it is to shoot this show, people want to be there, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Alanna Masterson, Christian Serratos, Josh McDermitt and Tyler James Williams - The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 10 _ BTS - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Alanna Masterson, Christian Serratos, Josh McDermitt and Tyler James Williams – The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 10 _ BTS – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC – Wanting to be part of something, makes a much better working environment. Being a stand-up Comedian is a tough gig. You have to let your personality out and show the world your flaws. Does that helps you get in touch with a more sensitive side when acting?

Josh McDermitt – Sure, when doing stand-up, you reveal deeper, darker places in your soul, and that helps when you are acting. You do not want to hide behind a mask, even though that is sort of what a character is. You want to be able to draw on your own personal experiences in life. So, yes, doing Comedy could help activate that, in a sense. It might get you to that point a little quicker, instead of having to manufacture it or find it. You have already thought about this stuff because you have stood up on stage and talked about it already. – My last question for you is pertaining to movies. covers music and Horror films.  If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorites? 

Josh McDermitt – Here is my issue with Horror movies, I get really scared, so I do not watch them. (laughs) It is not that I do not like them for what they are, It is just that… I am a pussy. (laughs) I just get really scared. So, it is kind of funny that The Walking Dead was my favorite show, because for whatever reason, that did not scare me as much. It is not necessarily a show about zombies, as bloody and gory as it is. I watched The Hitcher (1986) when I was a kid. My Aunt Jill made my sister and I watch it and it scared the shit out of me. I was like, “I just cannot do these kinds of movies anymore.” Then we doubled down, watched Poltergeist (1982), and I was like, “Oh, my God! I cannot do this anymore!” I am sorry, that is just not a great movie to show a six year old. My mom told my aunt “Don’t show them any bad movies” My aunt loves that stuff though, so that is what we ended up doing, and it scarred me for life. (laughs)

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The Walking Dead Season 6 Premieres Sunday October 11, 2015 on AMC

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