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Exclusive Interview with The Walking Dead’s Jay Huguley

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Television, film and theater actor Jay Huguley discovered his love for acting in college when he auditioned for a school play as part of an assignment for a directing class. After auditioning and learning about the extensive research involved in acting, he became fascinated by the profession and began to devote himself to becoming an actor. His first television roles were small ones in shows such as MADtv, Norm, Walker: Texas Ranger, Providence and Strong Medicine, but it wasn’t long before he began to get bigger and better ones. By 2005, he had scored recurring roles on the television shows Summerland and Alias, and in 2006, he landed one of his most well-known roles: as Will Peyton on Brothers & Sisters.

After that, he got a role on Young & The Restless as Richard Hightower, and in 2012, he was cast as the recurring character Will Branson on the HBO series Treme, starring alongside Melissa Leo, John Goodman and Steve Zahn. In 2013, he appeared in Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave, and from 2013-2014, he was a recurring character on the CW series Ravenswood, the spin-off of Pretty Little Liars, and then the series Star-Crossed. He also appeared in the first season of the critically acclaimed HBO drama True Detective. Recently, Huguley lent his considerable acting talent to the hit AMC drama The Walking Dead, playing the character David, who tragically met his maker in the October 25th episode. I had the pleasure of chatting with Huguley about his time on The Walking Dead, his love for the HBO series Game of Thrones and what’s next for him acting-wise. Check it out below!

Can you tell me something about yourself that not a lot of people know?

My favorite thing in the world is to get up really, really early in the morning and make a big pot of coffee. I still get the newspaper delivered because I’m Charles Ingalls, basically (laughs). But I love to get back in bed with the newspaper and coffee before everybody else in the world is awake—like at 5:00 am—and have a full hour with no phone, nothing. That’s really one of my favorite things to do in the world. I do it every day.

That sounds very similar to me, actually, because I tend to do the same thing! (Laughs). 

It’s like before all the phones start ringing and the emails start coming through, I take some time for myself. I’ll quickly walk my dog but then I’ll have a whole hour of nothing but quiet. I love it.

So, what inspired you to go into acting?

I did a play in college—well, I accidentally got a part in a play in college. (Laughs). I was taking a directing class and one of the assignments was to audition for the school play, just to see what an actor goes through. I did that, and got a part, but then I was really scared. I ended up going through with it, and the rehearsal process, the research required and all the questions the director asked me, such as “How hot it would have been in St. Louis?” and “What would it have been like living in brick house in St. Louis?”—all the research questions and the whole process fascinated me. To go out there every night and hear tiny little audience reactions, like gasps when I’d reveal an important piece of information. Just knowing that you’re sort of leading all these different people along on this story is what did it for me.

Out of all the roles that you’ve played, which has been your favorite?

I would say Jimmy Ledoux on “True Detective” is probably pretty high up there. It was a very subtle accent. It was coming into a story that I was fascinated by, and working with two great actors. You know, that call sheet—actors get a call sheet that lists who’s working that day— literally said Harrelson, McConaughey, Huguley, and I was taking pictures of it with my phone (laughs). But that was a really fun part to play and not something that I would be normally considered for. Luckily, I had a great casting director who saw that in me and I just took a big swing at that and thought that it worked. I was really proud of my work in that and I’m really proud of the show.

What was your favorite scene to film on “True Detective”?

It was that one, for sure. I didn’t have a whole lot more. I just came in and they questioned me about if I knew Reggie Ledoux and what my history was with that, so that was it. Definitely.

So, what made you want to get involved with “The Walking Dead”?

You know, I think that it’s just the best writing and acting on television right now. I had read for it a bunch of times and I felt like I was getting really close, and then one of them worked out. I was thrilled. When the writing in the audition is really good, it’s exciting! Sometimes, it’s just a very basic scene that they give you for the audition, but “The Walking Dead” was always great writing, with a turn in the scene or one of the characters being different at the end of the scene. The material that they would give us for the auditions was always top-notch, so that always got me excited. I think that, for an actor, the most exciting thing is to step into a different world, whether that’s sci-fi or a period piece. It’s really thrilling, and “The Walking Dead” is that in spades. I mean, you’re walking into a completely different world—a post-apocalyptic world—and you have to just buy it from day one. It’s those sorts of things that are really fun to play for an actor.

I’m really glad you mentioned being excited about having the opportunity to step into such a completely different world, because my next question is: Where do you draw inspiration from in your everyday life to be able to play a character in a world like that?

I think we all have our little fears and hesitations, and when you jump into a world like that, you just have to turn them up fifty notches, and get very, very basic with it. You ask yourself, “What would I do?” I think that’s one of the things that works so beautifully about that show: the “What would I do?” aspect of it. The lights go out, and you have your daughter, your dog and a gun: What do you do? I think we’ve all considered that. Certainly, living in California has lent itself to that, because we have earthquakes in the back of our minds all the time. So, I think you just draw on those feelings.

I can totally see that. What appealed to you about the character David?

I just thought that it was such a romantic story and so basically human. For an actor, when you have something to play, you need to boil it down to the most simple thing that you can relate to, and that was really easy for David: David wants to get home. And that’s it; he just wants to get home with enough time to tell his wife “Thank you for making me a man again”. And I just thought that was such a beautiful story.

I agree, and I think that was why I was so sad that your character died in the last episode. I was kind of mad at Michonne for not grabbing the note! I was like “Grab it! It’s right there!”

(Laughs) I know!

How far in advance did you know that was going to happen?

Oh gosh…I think literally like the day of. At “The Walking Dead,”  they give very, very little information—but they give enough so that you can play your part. Big information is revealed slowly and there’s always a shot of another possibility, so you never really go “Oh, I’m dead!” (Laughs) You think, “Oh, there’s still a shot out of this somehow…” But, they’re great secret keepers over there at “The Walking Dead,” and you see why: because it works. People really want to know what’s happening next. I mean, I didn’t even know about Glenn, so that’s how great that secret was kept. I was completely shocked along with everyone else.

How did you prepare for your death scene?

I mean, he’s just doing everything he can to get over that fence, so that’s all I tried to do was just get over that fence. And then, they grabbed my foot and it was over. I don’t think there’s any appropriate way to play that scene—you could play it a million different ways—and one of them was to just scream holy, bloody murder (laughs). And that’s the one that they used!

Seems pretty appropriate though! What kind of special effects go into making a scene like that?

I think a lot of that stuff happens after I’m there, but they certainly used a lot of blood and make-up. That was mostly it, and then the rest was installed later on. I know that they paint things in, like the blood splatter and stuff like that later on, but for me, it was basically that I had my face up against the fence and a lot of fake blood and screaming bloody murder.

So, how do you say goodbye to a character that you’re invested in and really dedicated yourself to playing?

It’s tricky for the actor because everything is shot so out-of-order. That was actually one of the first scenes that we shot, and then you go back and shoot some of the more romantic stuff. But, I think with it, it was that the character was so great, the writers are so great and the other actors are great that you just want the character to go on forever. Because it’s so rare to have a team like that where everybody is so good at what they do that you just want them to go on forever.

So, this was something that I was curious about in regard to the episode, too: I figured the note was a goodbye letter to his family, but what exactly did it say?

It basically said “If you’re reading this, then that means that I’m not going to make it home.” And then it goes on to say “I want to thank you for giving me life again and making me a man again and none of this would have been worth anything without you.”

Awww!

I know! I just thought that it was such a romantic story, and I loved the juxtaposition of this beautiful, uncynical love story in the midst of all of the horror.

Yeah, I loved it, too. Do you think that what happened with this mission—and all of the deaths that have resulted from it—is going to negatively affect Rick’s relationship with the people of Alexandria even more?

I don’t see how it can’t. I think that’s another great thing that the show does is take this undeniably confident people who get the job done and they still make mistakes because it’s not a safe world. That’s bound to happen. But I would still put my money on Rick. If I was lost out there in the woods again, I’d still go wherever he was going.

I would probably do the same! (Laughs) My other question for you—and you probably can’t answer this—but can you tell me anything about what happened to Glenn?

I can’t (laughs). That’s my simple answer. And a lot of it is because I don’t know!

Alright, I’ll let you off the hook on that one! So, if you could guest star on any show, what would it be and why?

I would say “Game of Thrones,” because, again, to step into a world that is so wildly different from your own, where stakes are different and you’re just trying to survive. I think that’s such a challenge for an actor. So, I think any of those stories where the world is so different from your own world is the stuff to get my blood pumping.

I agree. I think “Game of Thrones” is probably the only other show that is equal to or even rivals “The Walking Dead” in terms of life and death stakes, so I can imagine that it would be a really cool show to be on.

Exactly!

Is there a character on “Game of Thrones” that you would love the chance to play?

Jon Snow. I refuse to believe that he’s gone, and that’s going to be a fun comeback when and if it happens, you know?

I know! And I think it’s kind of funny that both “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead” have pulled these “Jon Snow”-style deaths, with of course Jon Snow in “Game of Thrones” and Glenn in “The Walking Dead.”

I know! I think that’s what makes these shows work so well is that the writers aren’t careful about wrapping up certain stories. They’re really gutsy in the choices that they make, which I think makes the viewer feel like they have no idea what’s going to happen (laughs). The people that you love are not safe and that keeps you really engaged, I think.

So, what’s next for you acting-wise?

Well, I’ve been doing this show called “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on The CW, and I did a movie last year called “Abattoir,” which is directed by Darren Lynn who did the “Saw” movies. That’s a horror film that will be coming out in the new year, and I was telling someone the other day that it’s a rare thing when an actor gets scared making a movie because it’s all so technical and takes so much time. “Abattoir” is the first time that I’ve ever really gotten scared. It’s a terrifying story and I think that it’s going to be a great movie. Then, I have four more days left on a romantic drama called “Welcome, Sinners” that is scheduled to come out next summer. And after that, I’ll be figuring out what the next thing I want to do is. I’d like a vacation, to be quite honest (laughs). I’d like a beach and a book and a hammock, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen any time soon.

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