"Walking Dead" fans, let's be honest: Last week's intense interactions between Glenn and the Governor, Glenn and Merle, and Glenn and that doomed zombie made for such a fantastic hour of drama that "When the Dead Come Knocking" could have served as the third season's midseason finale and we all would have been satisfied.
Luckily for us, the "Dead" crew has one more installment -- Sunday's "Made to Suffer" -- before the walkers shuffle off for a midseason break. Yahoo! TV had the chance to talk to Steven Yeun, the actor who plays zombie thrasher Glenn Rhee, about his heroic battle last week, what to expect for Glenn going forward (could he, to steal a phrase from one of his network brethren, be on the verge of breaking bad?), and how he deals with the ever-looming possibility that his character will become a zombie snack.
Congratulations on this excellent third season of "The Walking Dead," Steven, and on your performance in last week's episode, "When the Dead Come Knocking." We really need to have a Glenn action figure now, with a removable wooden chair you can smash into pieces and use to attack zombie action figures.
(Laughing) Thank you, I appreciate that. That means a lot.
What was your reaction when you got that script and read this amazing sequence for Glenn with the zombie battle?
You know, it was cool. It made a lot of sense to me. And it was great because it was also freeing in the sense that [director] Dan [Sackheim] and Glen [Mazzara, showrunner], they're willing to let me roam around in that space at my own leisure. Obviously not willy nilly, but even in the way that we choreographed the chair scene, they just left the camera on me. We had specific beats to fill out, but I just did whatever I wanted.
Even down to the scream. That wasn't scripted. It just came out and we picked it up and we just kept on doing it that way. I felt really good just reading it and shooting it. It was liberating for me as an actor, as well.
I was just going to say to you that the scream was my favorite part of the scene, because it just felt like this was not a scream that was born just from this incident. This was a scream three seasons in the making for Glenn. Did that just come out or was it something you had thought about adding at the end?
You know, there was a little bit of thought in terms of really letting it all go, but I wasn't going to do it unless I felt it. Shooting that scene, especially [Dan] letting the camera just follow me and me just jumping around everywhere and trying to smash this chair…I just went for it, and it just felt right in that moment.
I really appreciate that you qualified it as a scream that echoes the last three seasons, because that is something that I've been trying to do, is have Glenn have this slow growth and find moments where he can really shine and use those moments to step him up closer and closer and closer until it was time to get there. That's with the help of a lot of great writing and awesome directors and camera crews. I'm just really lucky to have that.
You mentioned in a recent interview that you and the rest of the cast often use music to psych you up for certain scenes. Did you do anything like that or use any preparation like that for the battle scenes in "When the Dead Come Knocking"?
I didn't have to use any music this time, because it was such a great situation. Donna Premick, our makeup woman, she's amazing, and she put that eye stuff on me…she put the prosthetic on me every day. It took me to a pretty dark place every time they put it on, so I was already there. And Michael Rooker [Merle] is fantastic, so you just feed off of him. Russell, who played the zombie, was great, too. It just made sense. I didn't use music in that moment, but everybody on our set is so respectful, every person on the crew, that it's just…everybody knows when something's important and when something really needs to be shown. They all give you that energy to just be there. It's pretty amazing.
Would you call this one of your favorite scenes for Glenn, or one of your favorite episodes for Glenn?
Yeah. This was a definite milestone for Glenn. It's a turning point for him. It's a growth. It's probably the biggest growth for him. There's more to come, definitely, but this for me was really fun to do. It was fun for me as an actor.
Another really powerful Glenn moment this season happened in the episode where Lori and T-Dog die, when Glenn asks, "Can't we just have one good day?" He is, or was initially, a pretty laid-back guy, but that one line, and your delivery of it, really said so much about what has been building up in him.
Thank you. And it's hard as an actor and someone who's part of a show where we're trying to tell honest stories in a ridiculous context. What's really great is people have really responded well to this growth of Glenn. But I'm wondering how much they'll accept (going forward).
What's beautiful about this character is he's still growing. As is everyone, but he's still growing. This isn't his peak. He hasn't made it now to some sort of badass status…he's not now some outright leader. You see that eventual growth, and over the three seasons you see what he's capable of. [But] then you keep pushing him and you push him and you push him, and then you get to this point where you're pushing too far. He lets out a rage filled scream about what he thought was pure and amazing in his life.
The only thing that really keeps him alive in his life changes before his eyes, and he has such murderous intent. From that point on, it's not just a simple game of, "OK, now Glenn's just going to exact revenge. He's going to kill everybody. He's going to do everything the right way." Now is exactly the time where someone like Glenn can go off into the irrational and lose it, to the point where he might actually be wrong. The rest of the season will show that. I'm really excited for people to see, and wondering how people are going to take that, too.
Have you already filmed the whole third season?
We're almost done.
So you're in Atlanta now, still filming?
Yes, I am.
So you're still finding out how the rest of the season unfolds, while we're wondering how the midseason finale unfolds. What can you tell us? The showdown with the prison group and the Woodbury people is coming to a head this week, right?
Yeah, it's two worlds colliding, and it's two really different thought patterns colliding. It's two different ways of survival colliding. It's really black and white right now. What does a ragtag group of people who are on the verge of starvation and always under the gun do? How do they [react] against a group of people that are living in maybe the best situation that you could possibly find in a zombie apocalypse? It's just going to be an explosion.
One of the other great things the writers have done more of this season is to drop little details about things that probably a lot of fans have been wondering about. My favorite happened when Glenn and Maggie say they're going to look for baby formula. They just very casually mentioned that they found a phone book, and that's how they've been scouting supplies. Again, as viewers, we wonder about those things. Do you, the cast, ask the writers about those kinds of things, too?
Yes, and the writers are fantastic. They do think in great detail, and it's paired with how seriously everybody takes it on this side of the script, too. Everyone's trying to always justify. We're always trying to make sense of it. Even in the beginning of this season, we all got together as a cast and talked about what we thought [the characters] did in the six month jump, in the huge break in between seasons. How? Did we set out a contingency plan? Maybe that's why Rick was so quick to amputate Hershel's leg. It would have been something we would have talked about, decided how maybe we could save someone who's been bitten that way…maybe it's like a snakebite. A lot of things like that we talked about.
The whole [production] takes pride in putting a lot of detail into it. I'm glad you guys notice.
You are all obviously very close as a cast. Does shooting in Atlanta, far away from Los Angeles and the business side of things, help that?
Definitely. It's us being locked in here. I don't think any of us would change it. If someone said, "Let's shoot this show in L.A.," all of us would say no. Not only for the fact that the crew is amazing here, but also, we're in the sticks. We are. It's crappy. But not in like a terrible way -- it's crappy in the perfect way. All of us get really tight because we really do only have each other, and it's fantastic.
That's why it is a brutal show that you see. The places that Andy goes, Andy Lincoln, is quite amazing to me. I don't know how he stays sane. (Laughing) But he does it, and he comes to work and just kills it. [Every character] is so emotional and constantly in a state of distress, and yet we still show up to work loving it. We'll see what happens in five years. We'll probably all have some sort of mental illness. (Laughing)
Given that you all are so close, it must make it even tougher when a cast member leaves. You guys deal with that more than any other show on TV because of what has been proven again and again to be the very real threat of any character being vulnerable to getting killed off. How do you deal with that?
It sucks. It sucks pretty bad. It's not fun. Luckily every death has a purpose and a reason, and it pushes the story forward. It enriches the show, and I think off of that, we can find solace. But otherwise, it just sucks. These are people you're fighting in the trenches with, and all of a sudden they're gone.
Do you have to push it out of your mind, or is there a bit of you, as you go through the season and you get new scripts, that's wondering, "Is my time up this week?"?
Yeah, that is always possible. The show writers are kind enough to let us know a little bit in advance if something is coming. But at the same time, everyone's just really happy to be on this show and be part of a historic type show, something that I think might be talked about for ages. If you can leave an indelible mark within that, then bam: You've done enough. You've done what a lot of people would love to do. Personally for me, I can't speak for anyone else, but I love this show, and if I stayed on it forever, that would be amazing. But if I ever go, that would be just as amazing, because I'm sure they would use that to propel the show forward.
Shortly after the show premiered, you talked about how weird it was the first time you were recognized by a fan. Is it still weird, especially with the increased popularity of the show? You seem to enjoy interacting with fans on Twitter…
You know, on Twitter, those are just my thoughts and my views. I don't know why people follow me, because a lot of the stuff that I put up is really stupid. [Laughing] But I guess they like it. I love the fans. I love the people that come up to you. Even yesterday, I was walking around, looking for gifts…a guy just came up to me and he was like, "Dude, last week's episode was awesome!" To me, that means a lot, because these are the people that we're making the show for and killing ourselves for.
The extra attention did take a little getting used to, just because I'm just a kid from Michigan. It's really strange, but it's flattering and it's fantastic. People are just kind. As long as I don't do something scandalous, I'll be OK.
You are a Second City alum, and you've guest-starred on "The Big Bang Theory" and "NTSF:SD:SUV." Are you itching at this point maybe to, in the offseason of "The Walking Dead," jump into a comedy after so much intense drama on "The Walking Dead"?
Oh god, yes. I would love to go back into comedy and do some of that. But at the same time, if I got a drama role as well, I would jump at that, too. "The Walking Dead" has been so fantastic in that it's been my grad school, and someone's paying me to go to grad school. Everyone's trusting me not to mess it up. To be surrounded by the people that I'm surrounded by, to be given the things that I'm given, is amazing. To be quite honest, the episode last week, I don't think I could have done it the same way two years ago, three years ago. There's no way. I just don't think I would have been ready for something like that. For the creators and the writers to ease me into this process and build my character up to this point and build me up as an actor as well to get to that point, I'm just very fortunate.
Because the production process of your show is so intense, do you seek out projects between seasons -- movies or guest-starring on other shows -- or do you want to kick back and relax a bit?
For me, I thrive in work. If I get idle, I kind of go insane. I am looking. There are projects here and there. I really just want to work. Right now I think I'm at that age where I want to work a lot, and maybe later on if I get married and have some kids, I won't want to work. I just need to do that now. Break my body while I can.
Which may feel like it's happening literally on the show sometimes?
Oh, we have all aged way more than we should've at this point.
Thank you. Actually, it's just…I think it starts from an OCD thing, and I really like design, and I really like patterns. I really like clean lines and order. As for fashion, for me I take it more as a way of life. There's a really amazing store in Atlanta called Sid Mashburn. It's a men's store. That's where I got a lot of the suits that I've been wearing, and I love those guys, because Sid, he just embodies the idea of why people dress up. It's just a mutual respect. If you dress up for an occasion, that means you're looking good because you respect the other person. You dress for that other person.
That's a nice philosophy.
Yeah. I try to look my best at all times. I sometimes can't do that, because I look like s--- a lot of the time.
Like when you've spent 16 hours filming inside a prison?
"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 PM on AMC.