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Exclusive Interview with The Walking Dead Star Josh McDermitt

Photo Credit: Brad Everett Young
Photo Credit: Brad Everett Young

Actor and comedian Josh McDermitt didn’t get started in acting until he was thirty, but he hit the ground running in many ways. Hailing from Phoenix, Arizona, McDermitt was raised in a fun and encouraging home in which his imagination, creativity and performance skills were able to flourish. Before becoming an actor, McDermitt was a stand-up comedian for many years, in addition to being a hot air balloon pilot. However, it wasn’t long before he realized that he was meant for acting. He started with guest star spots and recurring roles on several television shows, including Retired At 35 and Mad Men, before landing the role of Eugene Porter on The Walking Dead. I had the pleasure of chatting with this amazing and hilarious actor about his love for Pumpkin Spice seasoning, what’s in store for Eugene this season and what he thinks about his character’s iconic mullet. Keep reading to find out more!

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How are you doing, Josh?

I’m doing alright. I feel like the weather has finally turned. You know, I grew up in Arizona where we didn’t have seasons, it’s like anywhere it’s like cooling off is exciting for me, even if it’s only 90 degrees. (Laughs).

I know how that feels. I’m in Michigan, and yesterday it just started getting down to 40 degrees at night and you can tell that fall is in the air so that is kinda cool.

Are you like a pumpkin spice latte kind of person?

I am a pumpkin spice latte kind of person. Are you?

I am, and it’s taken over our culture. It’s a problem. Like, everybody is worried about the apocalypse, and zombies attacking and everything, and this could be the start of it. What if Starbucks didn’t know and they use bad pumpkin spice in their coffees? That’s the beginning of the apocalypse. We are a slave to the pumpkin spice latte in this country, you and me included. It’s a problem, and we need to recognize this before it’s too late.

I saw a picture of a pumpkin spice flavored dog bone the other day and was like, “That’s a little extreme.”

You know what the sad thing is, though? I’d probably try it. (Laughs). Anything pumpkin spice—you put pumpkin spice on anything and I’ll try it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a dog bone or if it’s—I don’t like corn. My mom used to cook corn all the time growing up, but if you had pumpkin spice flavored corn, I’d eat it. I’d eat a carburetor off of a Chevy if you put pumpkin spice on it!

Besides your affinity for pumpkin spice, what else can you tell me about yourself?

Well, I’m addicted to golf, I’ll tell you that right now. That’s actually what I’m doing right now. I’m playing golf, and I feel like such a jerk for even mentioning that, but I don’t get to play that much and that’s really all I think about is golf. Most of the conversations that I have with people are about golf. Like, if you love golf, then you’re my best friend, but if you’re like “Ah, no, whatever,” then you’re dead to me. (Laughs). So that’s really the most important thing that you can learn about me.

I grew up in Arizona. I grew up in a big family, and my mom was always playing practical jokes on her kids and stuff like that. You know, we always had like a fun atmosphere wherever we were. We were always putting on skits or doing magic shows in the house. We rarely watched TV; we mostly used our imagination. And, there were a lot of kids in my family, so we did everything together and just goofed off and stuff like that, so I feel like that kind of energy and attitude and everything else carried over into my adult life. Anytime things start to get too serious, I try to inject some kind of humor into it. I just want to keep it light and easy. You know—I assume that you’re an adult and not a 15-year-old kid—that being an adult is hard. I’m glad that we went to school to learn things but no one taught us how to be an adult! That’s like the hardest part!

What inspired you to go into acting?

It was something that I always kind of wanted to do, something that was always in me but I never knew that it was something that I could do. I mean, I didn’t start acting until I was 30. I was working at a radio station and then I started doing stand-up comedy. I’ve always been a bit of a performer, even going back into my childhood. But then, I just wanted something more. I was tired of being behind the scenes—not that I need attention or anything—but there were too many responsibilities laid on me when I was producing the radio show and I was like, “I just want to screw around? How can I screw around and get paid for it?” So I kind of started doing stand-up because of that and in that sort of world, I realized, “Oh, this thing inside of me that I’ve always wanted to do is called being an actor.”

I moved to Los Angeles and started auditioning and stuff. I feel very fortunate that I even figured that out because I think that there are a lot of people who maybe want to be an actor or pursue some passion or dream and they don’t do it because they don’t realize that they can. We sit there and say, “Oh, I have to be an adult” or “I have bills to pay” or “I have this responsibility or that responsibility” but at the end of the day, you just have to leap and hope that net will appear, you know?

You mentioned growing up with a lot of kids in your family. How many kids were in your family?

We had six kids in our family. And we did foster care, like emergency foster care, so we would get a lot of kids in the middle of the night and stuff like that. At any given time, we could have 12-15 kids in our family. We’d hang on to them for a day or two before we’d have to figure out if they had to be placed in a permanent home or if they were going to go live with an aunt and uncle or something like that. It was kind of a lot of fun to come home from school and you’d have a new brother or sister. I never considered it like “Oh, I’ve got a new foster-brother.” It was always “I’ve got a new brother.” So that was always exciting, especially since I was a kid that wanted as many friends as he could and to goof off and screw around, because I’d always have new people to have fun with. It was a great childhood. I fell right in the middle [age-wise].

What do you enjoy the most about being on “The Walking Dead”?

I’ve done a bunch of other projects and other shows, and the thing that “The Walking Dead” has that the others didn’t is that sense of community and family on set. I mean, this was my favorite show before I even started working on it. You know, I have a comedy background so I never thought that I would be on this show, but I still watched it and loved it. When I got the opportunity to do it, I was so excited. And then when I stepped into it, I was welcomed with open arms. It was then that I realized how much more special it is. It’s not just that I get to be on my favorite show, and in a sense, hit the fan lottery, but I really get to be a part of these people’s lives, people who I respect as actors, and they get to be a part of my life.

That sense of community is what is really special. There are people who I haven’t had the chance to work with. When I showed up, Scott Wilson’s and David Morrisey’s characters had died a couple of episodes before I showed up, so I didn’t get the chance to work with them and I was sad, but then we go all around the country to meet fans and I’ve gotten to know them. They don’t care that they haven’t worked with me; I’m a part of the family just like everyone else. So, they welcomed me in and I welcomed them in, and it’s been awesome to be a part of that community on a much deeper level. It’s the most rewarding job that I’ve ever had.

Before you were on the show, who was your favorite character?

Oh my gosh, I get asked this a lot. I feel like the answer changes depending on the day and my mood. But, I love the arc that Daryl had and him having to overcome so much. I mean, he was kind of a butthead at first then all of a sudden, he’s this great, heroic character that everybody loves. (Laughs). I loved him, and I obviously loved Rick, and you know, I was disappointed that I didn’t get the chance to work with Scott Wilson because I thought Hershel was amazing. But, if I am honest, what really drew me into the show wasn’t just Andrew Lincoln. It was also watching Lenny James in the pilot, the guy who played Morgan. We don’t see him again until season 3 and he’s crazy in his apartment and he has all this writing on the wall. He was probably my favorite character, if I’m being honest. He just killed it, he was awesome. It’s a joy that I get to work with him on a regular basis now.

So what drew you to the character Eugene?

It’s someone that I haven’t played before. I always played big, crazy characters and that sort of thing, and the thing that’s really cool about Eugene is that he’s very introverted. He’s thoughtful in the sense that he’s always thinking. It’s really cool. I watched an interview with Channing Tatum, right after he did “Foxcatcher,” and that character that he did, he had to be quiet a lot, and in this interview, he’s saying “This is the hardest acting job that I’ve ever had,” and part of me was kind of laughing because I thought that it was easy to shut up, but it really isn’t.

Eugene is a lot like the character that Channing had to do, in that he doesn’t have to say much. That’s been a real challenge, and I’m always up to a challenge and am thankful that I get to play this character that is so intellectual and introverted and strangely intelligent. I think that’s great because he’s the complete opposite of me; I’m just an idiot. (Laughs). I have to look up half of what he says before I say it. I’m like, “What, microorganisms? Am I gonna have to ask Scott Gimple to explain things to me?” I feel like they’re gonna kill me off just based on the fact that they don’t want to keep answering all of my stupid questions! But that’s really what drew me to him: the fact that this guy is the complete opposite of me. He’s just a fun character to portray.

What was your favorite scene to film last season?

It’s kind of like the question of “Who’s your favorite character on the show?” It changes based on my mood. Right now it’s the scene where Eugene revealed that he didn’t have a cure. Spoiler alert for season 5! It’s on Netflix now so you can get caught up. I think it’s when he admitted that he wasn’t telling the truth. That was such an awesome scene to shoot because every actor that was there was supporting me and they were carrying me on their shoulders to the finish line. It was probably….let’s see…it was episode 5 but it was only the fourth episode that we shot last season. In the couple of episodes that we shot before, I felt like the new guy yet they didn’t care that I was the new guy. They allowed me to be able to do what I needed to do, and they were very supportive and helpful.

It’s really fun to be part of a show like that where people aren’t phoning it in. Just because the camera isn’t on you doesn’t mean that you can be on your phone. I’ve had the experience where the person who was supposed to be feeding me my lines is on their phone, too. That’s not cool. This show, they don’t do that. Andrew Lincoln, he could go home at some point but he doesn’t. He shows up and gives you off-camera lines. And everybody is like that. That’s what’s awesome.

How did you feel about your character lying to Abraham and kind of deceiving the other characters in season 5?

I knew that he was lying the moment that I picked the script up because they told me that. So, I knew that was there. I was kind of shocked that it came out sooner than I expected. I thought it would come at the end of season 5. So, I was a little shocked when I found out that we were gonna do that. But in terms of what the character did, I’m gonna defend him, because I think it was Tara or Glen who said it shortly after that “This guy, it was the only skill that he had: his intelligence, and lying and making up a lie, and we’re supposed to be mad at him for using his only skill?” That’s so true; we’re all doing what we have to to survive. I don’t judge Eugene at all. It’s bad that people died, and that’s not lost on Eugene. He’s not a robot who doesn’t care. But, at the same time, I think he’s alive and thankful. I do think there is a little bit of remorse, but I think he also justifies it. So, I defend him, wholeheartedly.

What role do you think Eugene is going to play in this coming up season?

Well, if you remember at the end of season 5, where he saves Tara and Glen and Nicholas from the turnstile of death, that was a very heroic thing that he did. He had to step up in that moment. I would like to see Eugene continue that trajectory of heroism if he can, to not just always be that guy who’s letting everyone else do the heavy lifting. I think his greatest asset is his intelligence and I think that’s a good thing to have, but until he learns how to use it to contribute to the group, he’s gonna struggle. I think that he ultimately wants to fit in wherever he is and that he does want to contribute. So, I hope we get to see that, but this show is not without hurdles and challenges for the characters, so we’ll have to see if that even happens.

I hope so! I really hope so!

I do too, because it’s an exciting place where we are with Alexandria. We’re not on the road; this is a bit of a sanctuary and safe haven, and I think there’s always stress outside those walls. You know, this season features more walkers than we’ve ever had. And that’s a scary thing, because even though we’re behind these walls in some safety, we know that the reality of this world is that we are constantly in jeopardy. I think Eugene doesn’t want to go back out there where there’s all the walkers.

Is there something about Alexandria that the characters are going to discover this season? It seems like all the communities that they discover have a secret bad side. Is that something that we are going to see with Alexandria, too?

A dark underbelly? I think people are gonna have to watch and find out. I’m not gonna give anything away in terms of that. I’m not gonna go anywhere near that! (Laughs). People are just gonna have to watch! I think people are gonna go nuts over this season. Every season, we kind of say, “This is the best season that we’ve had” and season 6 is no exception to that. It is literally going to be the best season that we’ve done. It’s scary, you know, it’s a scary season. Scary in a great way! There’s just a lot of shit that’s going on, and a lot of questions that were left unanswered at the end of season 5, we’re gonna answer them and then ask a whole bunch of new questions. That’s what is exciting about this show.

Do you ever get the chance to give the writers ideas in regard to storylines?

Every once in a while. I did something this year that wasn’t necessarily a storyline but a line for one of the characters, and they used it. They said, “Oh my god, I can’t believe that we didn’t think of that!” I was really happy, because 9 times out of 10, that doesn’t work. The writers are so good that they don’t need my dumbass interjecting anything! (Laughs). They know what they’re doing and they’ve been on the show longer than I have. They know the characters just as well as I know them. So, in regard to the story, we don’t really need to pitch them anything. There have been opportunities that we can ask the writers about, such as, “Hey, I see that Eugene is going to do this, have you thought about that?” and they’ll answer, “Yeah, that’s actually coming later.” But there’s probably not much that I can think of that they haven’t already thought of. It’s good to know that we’re in such good hands.

Do you remember what the line was?

Yeah, but I’m not telling ya! Nice try! If I told you, I’d get fired from my job, oh my gosh!

Who would you love to guest star on the show?

Hmmmm…John Goodman. He’s one of my favorite actors. He’s such a hilarious actor, and yet, he can do drama so well. He really grounds all of this comedic characters in this reality that is so truthful and awesome. I think he would fit perfectly on our show. I mean, there’s no way in hell that he would do it if we offered it to him; he’s too big of a star. But if I had a wish list, it would definitely be John Goodman.

Has being on “The Walking Dead” made you think about what you would do if there was a real zombie apocalypse?

Uh, yeah, I would find Norman Reedus and get right behind him, are you kidding? (Laughs). This is no joke; I literally bought a place right next to his so that if this thing does go down, I can be close to him. But, it really depends on where you are. I have a different contingency plan based on where I am in the world, because I have thought about this. If I’m in Los Angeles, I’m going to go to Catalina Island, and then kill everyone on that island and live there. I’ll be able to see if ships are coming for me, and I won’t have to worry about zombies—except there was that one movie where zombies were like swimming. People have bunkers in the desert and everything, and I think that’s dumb. That might be good for a nuclear attack but it’s not gonna help in a zombie apocalypse. You’ve gotta grow things, and I think that getting to a small island that you can manage is the way to do it.

It’s very interesting that you brought up the desert in regard to Los Angeles, because that’s where all the characters in “Fear the Walking Dead” are trying to go, and I always thought that it was kind of a weird choice. Have you been watching “Fear the Walking Dead”?

I haven’t had the chance to see more than two episodes. Unfortunately, I’ve just been so busy. But I love it, you know? I’m a big Kim Dickens fan and I think that she’s killing it on the show. It’s a pretty great show. I’m enjoying it, from what little that I’ve seen.

Is the mullet real?

Yes. I also put a couple of extensions in to make it fuller. But, it is real and it is spectacular. It’s pretty long and disgusting and people are constantly wanting to touch it, and I don’t know if I like them doing it because I don’t know where their fingers and been and they don’t know where my mullet has been.

 

Season six of “The Walking Dead” premieres October 11 at 9:00 pm on AMC.

 

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