You may remember him from "Last Comic Standing" (he was a semifinalist in Season 4), you may remember him from the TV Land sitcom "Retired at 35," but fans of "The Walking Dead" are now going to associate Josh McDermitt with the AMC drama, where he plays the newly-introduced Eugene Porter.
[Related: Take a Bite Out of Our 'Walking Dead' Recaps]
Mulleted Eugene, part of the trio that also includes comic book favorite Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) and Rosita Espinosa (Christian Serratos), debuted at the end of "Inmates," but played a key role in Sunday's "Claimed," when his sloppy gun play led to a major change in plans for his group. McDermitt, a big fan of the show before he joined the cast, talked to Yahoo TV about Eugene, what his real motivations may be — i.e. spoilers ahead, especially if you haven't read the comic books — and the painful, but funny process of whipping up that retro hairstyle.
Congratulations on this very intriguing new role of yours.
Thank you, it's so awesome. I never, in a million years, thought I'd be playing a character with a mullet, on the most watched drama in the world.
OK, you brought it up, so we have to ask about that first … You are sporting what is probably the greatest TV mullet since Uncle Jesse's on the early years of "Full House."
[Laughing] Yeah, thank you. We went a few decades without a good mullet on TV, so I'm happy to bring it back.
Describe the process for creating that. Is it your real hair?
Half of it's my real hair. Thankfully, I don't have a real mullet. I had longer hair … in fact, it's naturally blond. They fashioned it into a flattop, and they left whatever length I had in the back. Then they clipped in some extensions and dyed it all brown. But when they'd take those extensions out, I'd still look ridiculous. They were taking us back to the hotel, after we were shooting one day, and I was so sad and embarrassed, and I said, "Can you please, just take me to the store so I can buy a hat?" They looked at me funny, and went, "Yeah, OK, whatever," so they take me to Walmart. I walked in, and there were like five people with the same haircut. Instantly, I'm like, "You know what? I'm OK."
And you had to keep your hair like that for the entire time you were working on the second half of the season?
Yeah, and it was really difficult, because a lot of my friends are actors, all of us having blond hair, and coming back to Los Angeles, all of a sudden, they see I have brown hair, and it doesn't quite look right. They say, "What are you working on?" I couldn't tell them. I just kept saying, "Oh, I just wanted to change my hair."
We had a nondisclosure agreement we had to sign, and keep everything a secret. It was pretty tough. I was wearing a lot of beanies and baseball hats, [and] I, honestly, don't look good in a hat. I just have a large head.
Eugene's gun play was the big thing that propelled the plot forward in this episode. Now he and his crew are heading off in the opposite direction of where they were going …
The thing to keep in mind with Eugene is, he's kind of playing a chess match in his head. He's always scheming and trying to manipulate the situation for his own gain, and not necessarily manipulation that's bad. He's not a bad guy, but yeah, I think he shoots that truck on purpose.
Because, in the comics, he's lying about knowing how the apocalypse started, so he shot the gas tank on purpose, to delay the trip to Washington and the discovery of his lie?
Now, obviously, there are walkers coming after them, and he needs to take care of that, but he could've swung the gun the other way. I think that … yeah, I definitely think he's always trying to stay a couple of moves ahead of everyone and really dictate whatever group he's a part of, what their motives are, what their mission is.
Just as with the Governor, where there was this feeling that he was someone who, before the zombie outbreak, did not have any sort of power, and this was his chance to create a situation where he was in control and did have some power … is that true of Eugene too, in a less villainous way?
Yeah. I think there's actually an element of that in just about every character, if you think about it. This is obviously a show about survival, and it's kind of asking that question, "What are you going to do to survive?" Gale Anne Hurd, one of our executive producers, had a quote that I read, "Everyone who survived to this point had made the choice to survive. It's easy to die, but it's hard to survive," so you ask yourself what kind of changes are you going to make? If you look at Michonne, she wasn't running around wielding a sword, and she wasn't a complete badass beforehand. She did what she had to do, and I think that's where you can tie in, yeah, the Governor is doing what he has to do, and Eugene's doing what he has to do. You look at Abraham's character. He's doing what he has to do to make it through this.
I think there' are some people that are able to take on a new persona and really almost get a do over, in a sense, and other people, maybe not so much, but they're still having to make that change in themselves. I definitely think Eugene is going, "Oh, this is my chance to start over." And again, I don't mean he's a bad guy.
We know you can't say a lot about what happens the rest of the season, but can you say how much Eugene and his friends factor into the next five episodes?
I think that, up to this point, everyone's been safe in the prison, the other group, and now we're introducing this new element of these nut jobs on the road [laughing]. To try to get to Washington, D.C. … I think it's going to [depend on] if we meet up with the rest of the group. If we're able, what's going to happen? Are we going to try to continue this trip to D.C., or are we going to try to settle down, and build another little sanctuary, in a sense, a kind of safe haven like the prison was?
It's definitely going to … I think it's going to change the group dynamic. Before, the group just had a singular focus of, "Hey, let's just get through this together. We're going to survive." Now, all of a sudden, Glenn's trying to find Maggie, and we're trying to get to D.C., and we're all together. There's going to be some conflict there.
It's definitely going to change the focus and the direction of people's needs, and wants, and desires.
Were you a fan of the comics before you got the role on the series?
This was my favorite TV show. I never really thought I would be on it, let alone even get an audition. In fact, I didn't know it was a comic, until I started watching the show. Once I got the audition, I had friends who had the comics, and I just grabbed them, and started reading them. They're a really quick read. They're awesome. They're just as good as the show.
Are you caught up?
Not completely, but I'm caught up maybe through, somewhere in the 80s. It was difficult to read the comics, having already been a fan of the show, because there were so many things that are different. There are characters that are on the show, that aren't in the comics. There are characters that are still alive in the comics that are dead on the show and that sort of thing. I didn't want to confuse myself too much. It was starting to get frustrating, a little bit, just trying to keep things separate. They're both their own separate entity, and that's cool.
[Related: 10 Creepy (and Real) 'Walking Dead' Tattoos]
How did the role come about? Even the process of auditioning is pretty secretive; you don't necessarily know the real character you're auditioning for, true?
Yeah. As soon as I got the little breakthrough that casting sends out, I did a Google search and quickly found that was going nowhere, and I realized, "Oh, I think they're just making all this up, and they really just want to see the character more than they want to give you storylines that are going to be coming up in the show." What I was able to do … they actually give you a nice, hefty paragraph of who this character is, and I didn't know [which comic book character] it was. I hadn't gotten to Eugene yet in the comics, but there were just a lot of things that were very relatable for me, and I was able to latch onto that.
Once I found out it was Eugene, it was actually after I was cast. I was talking with [showrunner] Scott Gimple, and he said, "By the way, the character's Eugene," and I was like, "Oh, awesome." I had gotten caught up at that point, I was excited, and we were able to really talk about it, both as a fan of the comics and the show, but also just as someone who's going to take this character and make it its own thing. They're really trying to make the characters as similar as they were in the comics, but they're also doing a TV version.
How much input do you have into that? Did you get to do anything to help shape the character?
There are little things that they will bring to it, but not necessarily … it wasn't as collaborative, like with phone calls and developing it back and forth that way. They're very clear on what they want, and, honestly, that actually makes my job a little easier. Unless it's difficult to understand what someone wants, I prefer to know what they want, so I can just take that and do it, and they're really good at making little minor tweaks and changes here and there. Essentially, I'm just doing an impression of my brother, so that's kind of what I'm bringing to the role, just that sort of cadence and dry delivery. It's really just my brother, Zack.
Does he know you're basing Eugene on him?
[Laughing] You may be the first person to let him know. I don't think he knows. He's my younger brother. Everyone in my family is really dry, and he makes everyone else … he's the driest, and he's emotionless, and I think I told him, because he loves "The Walking Dead," and I told him, "Hey, man, I booked 'The Walking Dead.'" His response was, "OK." And that's pretty excited for him. I don't know that I told him I was basing it off him. I don't want to offend the guy. I'm afraid of what he might do.
As you mentioned, Eugene's cadence, the way he speaks and the fact that he doesn't say very much, is funny. Is that something that will continue, that he'll provide some much-needed humor to this deadly serious series?
I think there's definitely a humorous aspect to Eugene. I'm not necessarily trying to make him funny, but if you take a step back and look at this guy, here's this idiot coming across, he thinks he's a scientist, and he's got a mullet, and when he speaks, you're just like, "What the heck?" I definitely think there is a bit of humor in that, and that's kind of something that's being injected into the show, just at least with our group, that maybe hasn't necessarily been there before, and I think that's kind of cool. It's not out of left field, and it's definitely just who these people are. You watch their dynamic. They're like siblings, Abraham, and Rosita, and Eugene, in the fact that they're spending all their time together, and might bicker, and fight, and argue, and all that stuff, and I think there's some humor in that. We're starting to see more humor too between Michonne and Carl. We're starting to see some lighter sides, something that you do not necessarily see in a show that's so dark.
Are you having fun with the whole experience?
I'm having the best time. I can't even put into words how excited I am to be on this show. Me, Josh, as an actor, I sweat a lot, and they're constantly having to wipe me down [in other projects], but on "The Walking Dead" they're like, "The more you sweat, the better." They don't even come to make sure you look O.K. I'm like, "This is great."
And everybody's awesome, everybody is nice. The very first week we were out there, Andy Lincoln came down, and he wasn't even working that day, but he drove down to have lunch with us, and to meet us, and I just went, "This is a really special thing," because I've worked on other productions where you just don't feel as good as you feel when you're working on "The Walking Dead." They were very welcoming, just brought us into the fold right away. Before we even started, Steven Yeun was emailing me, saying, "Hey, if you need anything, let me know. Here's my number …" I just went, "Wow. This is different. This is special." I've seen other people, not on this show, but I've seen other people just treat other people poorly, and you remember that. It just makes this show, it just separates it. It just sets it apart that much more.
Speaking of phone numbers, your cell phone number is listed on your Website. Is that really your number, and if so, how many "Walking Dead" fans have called you so far?
[Laughing] No, I forgot that I had that on there. I put that up a long time ago, and it was one of those phone numbers that you can call and get a stupid answering service or whatever, like, "Hey, thanks for calling. You're wasting your time by listening to this message," or whatever. I forgot I put that on there, and a few weeks ago I called it, and now it's a number for a Caribbean cruise line. I was like, "Uh oh," but I don't know how to fix it. I don't know how to take it off, so if anybody knows how to do it, they should let me know, because the Caribbean cruise line's going to sue me.
"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.