Over the years, actor and producer Ross Marquand has built a reputation as one of the most talented actors in the business. Hailing from Colorado, Marquand earned his BFA from the University of Colorado in Boulder before moving to Los Angeles in order to pursue acting. It wasn’t long before he began attracting the attention of critics and casting directors, and, in due course, began to score bigger and bigger roles in the industry. Before Marquand’s breakout role on The Walking Dead, he played screen legend Paul Newman on AMC’s Mad Me, a role which earned him praise as well as accolades.
In addition to acting, Marquand is also an incredibly gifted voiceover actor and has lent his unique talents to a number of shows, including Phineas & Ferb, Conan and videogames such as Battlefield Hardline. He is particularly famous for doing impressions of celebrities, most notably Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey and Matthew McConaughey, as well as fifty others. His talent in this field led to him landing a starring and producing role on Pop TV’s Impress Me, helmed by Ben Shelton and Rainn Wilson.
Currently, Marquand plays Aaron on AMC’s hit drama The Walking Dead. I had the distinct pleasure to chat with Marquand about what changes we will see in Aaron, how the TV series compares to the comics and which shows and movies bring out the nerd in him. Keep reading to see what he had to say!
What appealed to you about the character Aaron?
Truthfully, when I auditioned originally, I wasn’t really told much about the part that I was auditioning for—they give you a brief on what type of person they are, but not much of the character in terms of the qualities. Who they are is veiled in secrecy for the sake of keeping the show and its fans on their toes. I had auditioned for the show before and was a huge fan of the show to begin with, so what drew me to it first off was just my love for the show. But then moving forward, as I got to know more about the character, I began to love how honest and altruistic he is. He’s a guy that I don’t typically get to play; for whatever reason, I usually play villains. (Laughs).
For me, it’s been a joy to bring this really lovely and complex man to life. He’s so genuinely altruistic despite how people have treated him and what’s been done to him. You know, that scene in the bar where he came to with a smile on his face after being knocked out by Rick is very telling of the type of guy he is. He’s just constantly looking for the good in people and I really like that part of him.
Yeah, that’s a really cool part of him and that’s what I like about the character, too. In what ways would you say that you are similar to Aaron and in what ways are you different?
I think Aaron and I are both really diplomatic types of people. We’ve both been through a lot and we can use those types of experiences to inform our opinion of others, so we always want to give people the benefit of the doubt. But I think we differ in how we’d go about the world. If I were in the world of “The Walking Dead,” I’d be much more in tune with Rick in terms of his management policy, I think. “You get one chance to prove yourself and if you prove to be something other than what you said you were, you’re out!” I think that would be my approach.
You mentioned being a fan of the series before you were on it. Who was your favorite character?
Oh man…I don’t know if I have one. There’re so many wonderful characters on the show. It kind of changes from season to season, too. Recently, in the last few seasons, it’s definitely been Glenn, especially since he’s a great complementary character to Aaron in the sense that both characters are always looking for the good in people. He’s always trying to show people that there is a much better way that they can go through life.
He’s a much more pragmatic version of Aaron, I would say, in that he is forced to kill countless walkers along the way but he’s never killed a human, and that’s where he and Aaron do differ because Aaron has killed a few people unfortunately in his time as a recruiter. I think that’s a guilt and a shame that he carries with him. Glenn has never had to deal with murdering an actual human; he’s just killed zombies, you know? I always love that Glenn is ever the optimist no matter what they’re faced with; he just has the can-do attitude that is really refreshing to see on the show.
So were you a fan of the comic books as well?
You know, I read a little bit of the comics before I got on the show, but it was always kind of in passing. My buddy Doug always had them at his house and I would brush by them at times and always be really impressed by the artwork and the writing. I always had intended to read them but never got around to it. As soon as I booked the part, I consumed as much of them as fast as I could. (Laughs).
I got through most of Compendium 3 before stopping because I was finding out too much about my character and the fate of some of the other characters, so I stopped so that I wouldn’t have anything spoiled for me.
I love the show and the comics. They are just incredible and I think that, this season especially, Scott Gimple has been really good about honoring the comics. The storyline that they’ve been going down this season is in line with where Kirkman had the characters going about halfway through the Compendium, so it’s really cool to see that come to life.
How does experiencing the TV version of “The Walking Dead” compare to the comic version?
It’s great because you have this set idea of who these characters are going to be and how they are going to sound in your head, and then when you see them brought to life by actors, such as Corey Hawkins—I love his portrayal of Heath in the new season. He’s bringing a great grounded quality to the character that I really like and think is so important to that character because he needs to be in many respects one of the sole defenders of Alexandria. Seeing a battle-tested Alexandrian is important for the fans to recognize why the community has survived as long as it has, even though many of the people haven’t been outside the walls of the community since the apocalypse happened.
How do you think Aaron is coping with the recent attack on Alexandria at the hands of the Wolves?
Well, unfortunately, I think one of the motivating factors for Aaron moving forward this season is just this profound sense of guilt. For whatever reason, he finds the backpack that the Wolves brought in as a responsibility that is placed squarely on his shoulders. So, for the rest of the season, he is certainly going to feel the weight of that guilt, but also feel a real call to action. The best way to deal with that guilt and that shame of what has happened and the fact that so many of his friends and community members have died now because of this attack is to become much more proactive and in fact go outside the walls and become a real defender of the community.
I also recently just read that we’re going to see Maggie and Aaron bond over some very troubling matters. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
I think that will definitely unfold in the next episode but going back to what I just mentioned about the guilt, I think both of them feel like there was only so much that they could do during the attack. Now that the attack is over and they are piecing things together, seeing who is accounted for and how severe the damage is, they’re going to really bond over the destruction of the town. They’re going to feel a kinship over that bond while other people are suffering in silence or in their homes. Both Maggie and Aaron really feel that the best way to deal with their troubles is to be more proactive and go out and defend the community.
Are we going to learn more about Glenn’s fate in the next episode?
I think it’s entirely possible (laughs). There’s a lot that’s going to be revealed in the next episode that will clue people in as to what has happened in the last couple episodes. So, yeah.
Will we see any more of the lighter side of Aaron this season?
It’s funny because he came in with this charismatic, smart-ass, whimsical side to him in that first episode. When he was introduced to the group in the barn, but for him, there’s not a whole lot of levity to be had, unfortunately, and that not only goes for Aaron but for most of the characters. There’s still a hopefulness that resounds from Aaron but there’s also a great realization that the world that they though they knew—our community vs. Walkers—is actually so much bigger than that. Now there’re literally threats coming from every possible angle, and it’s their job to defend themselves against them, so the room for levity keeps shrinking and shrinking. He’s going to become a lot more jaded because of that, I’d say.
Is it going to affect his relationship with Eric?
I think it’s definitely going to put a strain on the two of them. The two of them have narrowly escaped death so many times together, and now that Eric is laid up with this broken ankle, he’s not able to go on runs with his boyfriend like he used to, but Aaron still feels the call to fight. He still feels like it’s his duty to go out and defend the people of Alexandria. Heath, Eric and Aaron were the ones to defend Alexandria long before they even met Rick and his group, so truthfully, there is going to be a strain there that will kind of test the bonds of their relationship. They’ll have to figure out what they value most moving forward.
I think they’ll work it out though!
I hope so (laughs).
Last season, there was some controversy when they showed the scene where Aaron kissed Eric. Were you aware at the time that people were making a fuss out of that?
Yeah, most definitely since a lot of it was directed my way on social media, especially Twitter and Instagram. I think we all knew that there was a possibility for a strong reaction one way or another, but for me, the amount of vitriolic comments was surprising. Honestly, I think that for as many comments that were negative, there were just as many if not more from fans who were coming to defend not only Aaron and Eric but also the entire LGBT community. I think it was the right move by Kirkman.
Obviously, in the comics, he has several gay characters and he feels responsible to write gay characters in his comics because he knows that there are many gay and lesbian people in real-life, so he has said that he doesn’t know why he would ever want to write comics that didn’t include them. He always said that there are strong LGBT characters in real life and they need to be represented in media as well.
I think it was really a responsible move on AMC’s part to not change any of their backstory on how they know each other and their relationship, and I don’t know if there was ever a conversation like that, but it’s really good that they stuck to who the characters are in the comics and that all people are represented on the TV show as well.
I completely agree with you, and I’m really glad that they didn’t change it because I think we need more representation in the sci-fi genre especially.
It’s a funny thing because I know there is a movement in Hollywood over the last couple of years to include more LGBT characters and there’s been a backlash because of it. Prior to that, there really hasn’t been a LGBT voice. I think that what we’re all feeling now is that is that the backlash is due to the fact that it’s not something that most people are used to, and whenever you’re dealing with something that people aren’t used to, they get a little scared and uneasy.
I understand some people’s trepidation but I hope that they move past negativity or name-calling and move to a place of acceptance and genuine discussion about it. I think that as long as people are being respectful toward that community and they’re voicing their opinions in a respectful manner toward that community, we can have constructive discussion. When they’re negative or volatile, that’s where I really draw the line.
If you could bring back any three characters on “The Walking Dead” who’ve passed on, who would they be and why?
Man, that’s a great question! I really just always wanted to work with Shane. I think Jon Bernthal is an incredible actor—same thing with Michael Rooker, but that brings back two villains, of course, but they were also really great characters. It’s funny because everyone rips on Shane for being this terrible guy but Rick has essentially become Shane. He has in a sense taken over that role. The things that Rick was uncomfortable doing before and Shane was comfortable doing, that’s exactly where he’s wound up.
That part in the last episode where he says to Michonne and Glenn that “if anyone can’t keep up, just leave them behind,” that’s quite literally what Shane did in the hospital scene in season two. He left a man behind. It’s very interesting to see this well-meaning good guy sheriff turn into someone who is a bit cold, and he’s gotten to a place where he just—like what he said in Alexandria last season: “We’ll try to live with them as best we can, but if we don’t like the way that they do things, we’ll just take it from them.” That’s a pretty amazing thing to say about people who literally welcomed them inside the walls willingly and invited them inside. That’s not exactly good party manners, you know?
But, I love the evolution of Rick. Obviously, he’s one of the protagonists on the show but seeing his arc and how his character changes from that very first episode, that incredible pilot episode, to where we are now and to think about all of the ways that he’s changed over the years, it’s one of my great joys as a fan. To see not only his arc but so many of the characters’ who have changed so drastically from that very first season. Carol is another great example, Glenn, Maggie—what they’ve had to go through and what they’ve had to do in order to adapt to this new world is astonishing really.
It is pretty amazing to go back and watch those early seasons because they have changed so much from how they were.
So, if you’re character were to die on the show, how would you like him to go out?
I don’t wanna die on the show! (Laughs).
Hypothetically! Just hypothetically (laughs).
I suppose, if he has to go, I certainly wouldn’t want him to be turned into a zombie. I would like to go down swinging. Aaron is a fighter and he’s a very diplomatic guy that wants to lead his people to the most harmonious world that he can muster, but at the same time, he’s most definitely a fighter. The way I envision him going down if he does have to go down is not in a very passive way but very much an active one, particularly in defense of himself or someone else.
Besides “The Walking Dead,” what shows, comics, movies, etc. bring out the nerd in you?
Oh gosh…so many! My nerd cred is on point right now, especially because we’ve got Netflix pumping out one amazing show after the next! It’s almost hard to choose what to dedicate your nerdom nowadays because there’re so many different ecosystems. But, definitely “Game of Thrones” is one of my favorite shows on TV right now. When we start shooting the new season, it’s always coinciding with the airing of “Game of Thrones,” so every single week, we get together on Monday and talk about the last night’s episode. (Laughs). Everyone on our show pretty much loves “Game of Thrones.”
On top of that, I’m a huge fan of “Daredevil” right now; that show just continues to blow my mind the more that I watch it. I’m excited to see one of our guys, Jon Bernthal, come on next season as The Punisher. “Battlestar Galactica” has always been a favorite of mine. My brother turned me on to that a couple of years ago. I’m excited to see the potential movie of that show that is supposed to be coming out; I hope it’s still in the works. But there’s really too many to name! I just love how easy it is to access all of these amazing shows. It’s pretty jaw-dropping.
I never even knew that they were talking about making “Battlestar Galactica” into a movie!
They keep talking about it, and I think the last time I heard, they were still on. Who knows if that’s actually going to happen, of course. Certainly, if they decided to make that into a movie, it would draw a huge fan base because it has a built-in cult following. And, of course, let’s be honest: “Star Wars”. That franchise was a big part of the reason that I got into the industry in the first place. Those movies were so important to me growing up and made such an impression on me. I cannot wait to see what JJ Abrams has put together. I remember meeting Kevin Smith at the “Talking Dead” show last year and asked him briefly what he thought and he said, “Oh, dude, it’s going to be amazing!” I just can’t wait!
What is your theory regarding Luke, because there’s kind of a big thing going on—
Yeah! It seriously looks like, based on that new trailer, that Luke is now the new Darth, right? I think that’s clever editing more than anything, and the voice that is being used for that character—I mean, most people know that Mark Hamill is an incredibly gifted voice-over actor; he did the Joker for many years on the original “Batman: The Animated Series”—but I think that they’re probably throwing us a curveball and I think that I can’t imagine a more interesting storyline than Luke turning into his father. What a great mythological twist for that character! But truthfully, I don’t think that is the case. I think it’s a curveball and it’s going to be something else entirely. I do know that I cannot wait to see it!
You can catch new episodes of The Walking Dead on Sundays at 9:00 pm on AMC! You can also follow Ross on: