Daryl said it best in "Internment," last week's installment of "The Walking Dead": Hershel Greene is one tough "summnab----." Ditto his portrayer, 71-year-old Hollywood veteran Scott Wilson, who gave an Emmy-worthy performance in "Internment," including performing all his own stunts.
Wilson, who began his film career co-starring with Sidney Poitier in "In the Heat of the Night" and Robert Blake in "In Cold Blood," is a character actor memorable to fans for everything from movies like "Dead Man Walking" and "Junebug" to TV roles like playing Marg Helgenberger's dad on "CSI" and Elvis Presley's pop in the TV movie "Elvis and the Colonel: The Untold Story."
But it's his role as farmer/veterinarian/group conscience Hershel on "Dead" that has brought him his biggest success, and, he says, one of his happiest working experiences. "Everyone really has a great deal of respect and concern, and they're a bunch of good people," he tells Yahoo TV. "That goes for in front of as well as behind the camera. Everyone involved with the show, they sense that they're a part of something that is very rare, very unusual."
Wilson, the only main cast member, besides Chandler Riggs, who's from Atlanta, where "The Walking Dead" films, also talked to Yahoo TV about how physically demanding playing Hershel can be (and how he agrees with Daryl's assessment of how well Hershel stands up to his challenges), about reuniting with his childhood pals since he's been back in the ATL, and about his biggest fan.
What will we see from Hershel going forward this season? He was obviously shaken physically and emotionally, maybe spiritually as well, in last week's "Internment." How is that going to affect him immediately and longer term this season?
That's a good question. He certainly was put to the test here. I think he ultimately survived the test. When he comes out and he seems to have shaken it off a bit. When Daryl says "You're a tough son of a b----," and [Hershel] says, "I am," it seems as though he's kind of taken it in stride at that point. But you're right. I think he was pushed to the point of exhaustion and to the point of … all of who Hershel is was put to the test in that episode. But I don't think he came up lacking in anything that was important to him.
Obviously, he knows everything that's happened and everything his friends and family have had to do to survive, but this felt like he was in it himself on a different level, a bit deeper than he has been in the past.
This episode was a culmination of what has been there in the past. With the notable lapse in Episode 9 of the second season, when he ends up going into town and gets drunk, he certainly has, since that time, been someone you could count on to have a consistent point of view that was really in the interest of allowing the group to have some kind of humanity, as well as surviving. Without that humanity, we're nothing but animals. He has allowed the group to keep … he keeps them on point, in terms of, "Do we really need to do this? Do we really need to do that?" That's been one of his functions with the group, his place in the group, as well as his ability to farm and to provide medical attention for people as they might need it.
He stresses that everyone has a purpose, sometimes a very specific purpose. Do you think that has been key in helping to keep them together, working as a group, and motivated to fight to survive?
That's right. He tries to keep people motivated. He keeps them pointed in the right direction, like little Lizzie, when he tells her to go read "Tom Sawyer." That's her job. "You do that. Everyone has to do something. That's what you do." And not in a childish way. He doesn't talk to people like they're kids. He reminds them that there is a greater purpose, in a sense, than just simply surviving. That plays out through a lot of the characters, like Carl, when he shot the kid last season. He took a position on that, and Carl certainly justified his actions later. That is Hershel's strong suit for the group.
Is it true that you did all your own stunts for "Internment"? It was a very physical episode for Hershel.
(Laughing) Yes, I did. It was very physical, but then it was interesting. The thing on the netting, I actually tripped, flying onto the netting. That was fun. Pulling the guy up and tossing him over the rail, that was fun.
This has been a much more physical season for Hershel, in general. Has it been more comfortable for you now that Hershel has the prosthetic leg? Just imagining those crutches, for a whole season last year, on that rough prison ground, it must have been pretty demanding?
It was, actually, and I think it would be for anyone regardless of their age. And I am glad about [the leg], very much so. It was interesting trying to hide the leg. From the first episode when he lost his leg, which was kind of a dynamic scene itself, everyone's energy level was just amazing all day long … picking him up and hauling him into the cafeteria. That was all-day [filming], take after take. I was very impressed with the group, everyone. I am on every episode, with all the actors on the show.
Later, when Hershel was in the cell, they cut a hole in the bottom of the cots so I stuck my leg down there, and it looked like half my leg was gone. Rather than get up between takes, I would stay in the cot, because it would be faster to go into the next take. One take, I'm lying back and all of a sudden I start snoring. (Laughing) I wake up to everyone laughing. They were in the middle of a scene. As tough as it is, it wasn't always that tough. You get your winks in when you can.
The cast and crew breaks down "Internment":
You were born and raised in Atlanta where you film, but hadn't lived there for more than 40 years when you joined the cast. How different is your hometown now?
There are places there now that weren't there when I was growing up. Peachtree City was hardly there at that time. It's interesting to see people that I knew when I was four or five years old and through elementary school and high school, to bump into those people and see how they've lived their lives and how I've lived mine, because it happens quite often.
I was at a concert one night, and the week before, a friend of mine who lives out in California now, where I live, had contacted me. I hadn't heard from him in years. He sent me a picture of this little league football team that we were on [in Atlanta]. He said, "I know everyone but this guy. Do you know who that is?" I said, "I don't know who that is." So I'm at this concert, and this guy walks up and he says, "We were in a picture together years ago," and I'm thinking, "How?" I said, "Well, what was that?" He said, "The little league football picture." He was the missing character! It was really strange, but nice. There was a synchronicity to it.
And your family, your mom, still lives in the area?
Yes, my mom lives in south Georgia. When I have time off, I'm able to go and spend time with her. She's 99 now — knock on wood. She's a big fan of the show.
Hershel has to be her favorite character.
Well, you can bet on that. You would do well to bet on that. She loves the whole show, though. She follows all of the characters.
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"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.