‘The Walking Dead’ Postmortem: Josh McDermitt Talks Eugene’s New Allegiance, Potato Chips, and Grimblygunk

·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Warning: This interview for the “Hostiles and Calamities” episode of The Walking Dead contains spoilers.

Say it isn’t so: Eugene Porter has gone over to the dark side?! That appears to be the path Abraham’s BFF has chosen as he finds himself stuck with Negan and the Saviors at the Sanctuary. Especially since they are not treating him like their other hostages. Eugene’s getting perks and privileges, dates with Negan’s wives, access to any supply or snack he wants — all because Negan sees Eugene’s potential to create bullets and solve problems for the Saviors, using his “Dr. Smartypants” brain.

Eugene portrayer and The Walking Dead fan favorite Josh McDermitt talked to Yahoo TV about Eugene’s big adventure — the character’s best episode ever — including where his loyalties have really settled, what’s motivating his behavior right now, and the one sentence that really opened his mind to the possibilities of life with Negan.

And yes, he also talked about Eugene’s love of canned pasta, stale potato chips, and a funky little stuffed doll named Grimblygunk.

Related: ‘The Walking Dead’ Recap: Fully a Man Apart

Congratulations, Dr. Smartypants. This is the best Eugene episode ever.
I mean, I would have to agree with that. And that’s my new favorite nickname. Laura the Savior, she’s calling me Haircut, which I always think is funny. She’s just kind of bullying me around and everything. Creatively, she’s not really straying from that. It’s a solid nickname, but… Dr. Smartypants, it’s stupid and it’s funny and it’s really the epitome of being a bully. It’s just such a great name. I love it.

It really is the best Eugene episode ever, because it’s you, clearly, kind of delightfully running amuck with your performance. It’s everything we love about the character in this one episode.
Oh, thank you. I think it was a lot of fun to shoot. At this point in the season, a lot of the crew starts to jump onto other shows to keep putting food on the table for their family and that sort of thing. All of a sudden, I’m showing up to work where I don’t know half the crew. The main decision makers are there. But I don’t know half the crew, and I’m working with actors I’ve never worked with before. I worked with Austin Amelio a little bit when I bit his crotch. Even then, we didn’t know each other. It was like the first day I met him, “Hey, nice to meet you, so this is where I’m biting you.” It was pretty quick. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who I’ve gotten to know a little bit outside of work, but hadn’t had a chance to work with him, it just felt very weird in a great way. It kind of threw me off my game in a wonderful way that I feel comes through in the performance a little bit, because Eugene was thrown off too. It’s funny that you say we got to see him kind of run amuck in a delightful way, just like getting to do the things and hit those character traits about him that we’ve all come to love.

Anytime you can have Eugene sit down with women, and there’s some flirtation going on, I think it’s just amazing. This is a guy who thinks he’s George Clooney, you know? He thinks he has game. He doesn’t, but he’ll tell you he does. He’ll crash and burn and think that he walked away without injuries like, “That was great. I’m awesome.”

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan, Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan, Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

What did you think when you got this script?
I mean, I loved it from the start. When we got to the part where he says, “I’m Negan,” I just pushed the script away from me, and I threw my arms up, and I went, “Yes!” This show in its seventh season still surprises me at times. I was surprised in [“Hearts Still Beating”] when, unfortunately, Olivia was killed. I knew Spencer was coming, but I didn’t know Olivia was about to die. I screamed then. I went, “Oh, my god!” I love that, that this show is still fresh, and it’s still keeping people on their toes. I thought it was an extremely well-written script. My hat’s off to the writers. I was really, really happy with it, and it’s not just a good Eugene episode, it’s a good Dwight episode. This is a man who’s completely beat down and broken. It’s such a sad journey to watch. I mean, I was heartbroken when I saw the episode and he was in the house and he pulled the beer out and the pretzels. I lost it. It’s so sad, you know? That’s the harsh reality of what this world is.

Austin Amelio as Dwight (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)
Austin Amelio as Dwight (Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

Dwight continues to be a surprising character, who you feel empathy for.
Yeah, absolutely. You can see how he’s kind of torn between several masters. He wants to survive, as everyone does. He wants to please everyone. It’s just sad to see him torn that way. David Leslie Johnson, he wrote an amazing episode. It was fun to have him on set and to chat with him about different things. It’s interesting, with this show there’s little tiny moments that you’re like, “Well, why did they leave this little part in the script? It obviously has importance.” Then, to talk with the writer and to find out, “Oh, because this is setting up that” or “This is the importance here, I thought it was that” — all of a sudden, it’s rounding everything out in the most wonderful way.

Let’s breakdown some of Eugene’s funnier moments, of which there are many. He can’t have lobster, so he’ll take canned pasta. He wants potato chips, but not homemade ones, not fresh ones. What, for you, is the best part of that exchange between Eugene and Laura?
My favorite moment of that scene, of that little exchange within that scene, is the potato chips. Who wouldn’t want fresh made potato chips? They’ve got a kettle, they’re probably great, and he says no. It says an interesting thing about the character, because I think he’s just very specific in his tastes. He’s very set in his ways. It’s just a preference thing. Look, you don’t get fresh potato chips anymore… even if they’re still in the bag, which he prefers, they’re probably stale by now. I don’t know, I guess it’s something about when you eat them out of the bag, they taste better? I don’t know that’s what he’s thinking, but it’s funny to me that this guy is so set in his ways.

The return of “Easy Street”: probably we’re all going to hate it all over again, because we just finally got it out of our heads from the first half of the season. But, one man’s torture song is another man’s jam, which it turns out to be for Eugene. Is that the most Eugene has ever almost danced?
I think so. That’s his go-to move, to bob his head the way he did. It’s how he presents himself to the ladies. He’s smooth, he’s smooth. The fans will be happy to know that we shot a longer sequence to that. We edited off most of it so that hopefully it didn’t get stuck in everyone’s heads again.

A longer version? Does that mean there might be a DVD extra version that includes Eugene dancing?
No, I’m not going to go as far as saying that. I mean just him bobbing his head for a longer period of time, and maybe like two minutes’ worth of music instead of five seconds or however long it ended up being.

How long did you have to listen to “Easy Street”?
A lot. I hadn’t even heard the song yet when we shot the episode. I didn’t know what the song was. I actually had a hard time keeping a straight face when I heard it, because I’m like, “This song’s ridiculous.” Everyone on set was pissed. They were like, “Dude, we’ve heard it so many times. We’re sick and tired of it.” I’m like, “It’s not that bad of a song.” Then, of course, on my way home from work, I was driving, and I usually drive in silence just so I can kind of decompress, but that song was stuck in my head. There’s just something about it… it infiltrates your soul.

The video game, “Yars’ Revenge”: Eugene really thinks this is the way that the ladies will be entertained, by watching him play this game. Had you actually played that game before?
I had an Atari growing up. I did not play that game, but I had many others. I said, “Well, you know, so how are we going to do it?” They’re like, “Well, we’ll have it, but don’t worry about it. It’s going to be on a loop — you actually don’t need to know how to play it.” I told them, “Look, in this moment, I am a method actor. I need to learn how to play this video game.” I made them set it up for me and I came down on my day off work. I just sat in a room and played video games all day, like old school video games on the Atari. It was so rad. I was so happy I said that I needed to do that, because it was so worth it. Yeah, I love that Eugene thinks this is how you entertain ladies. He has a very specific set of rules of what he is and is not allowed to do with Negan’s wives. He’s never had a woman over to his apartment, let alone three. It’s awkward. One of them touches his knee, and he kind of doesn’t know how he feels about that, especially “I don’t want Negan to know.” He just kind of moves his leg over awkwardly.

Grimblygunk: who or what is a Grimblygunk?
I think that’s a Scott Gimple thing. I don’t know where the name came from. I even asked him, or maybe I asked David Leslie Johnson, “What’s the deal with this name?” They were just like, “I don’t know… it’s just a Grimblygunk. We just came up with the name.” I feel like there’s a lot of things in Eugene’s past that he is trying to grab on to, that hold significance. The justification, I wasn’t told why. There’s certain things I specifically ask, “Don’t tell me, unless I need to know,” so that I can have the freedom to make a choice on my own. With that, I just felt like there was something in his childhood that reminded him of that, and he just grabbed it.

Every one of these characters is desperately trying to hold on to something in their pasts. This is something that he probably saw. There was a little teddy bear that I had growing up. It was actually called a Joshua bear. Once I grew out of the age of having a teddy bear, I didn’t need it anymore, it would just sit on this little wooden bench in our home. It would just sit there, like it was on display. As an adult, I would see pictures and I would see the Joshua bear sitting there, and I’m still just like, “Aww.” Like, I get really nostalgic, and I just want to go pick it up. I don’t know, part of me believes that’s what he felt with Grimblygunk. It may not be exactly the same thing from his past, but he wants it. It’s like a security blanket to him. We end up seeing it later in the episode, when it’s tucked in his jacket pocket. It’s like, we have a hard time taking you seriously, [and now] you’ve got a stuffed animal hanging out of your pocket, and you’re eating a pickle, and you’re yelling at guys. What is going on, man? He grabbed a bed pan, too. I’m just glad they didn’t make me shove that in my pocket.

(Credit: AMC)
(Credit: AMC)

Okay, delving into the serious moments for Eugene: it appears that Eugene has pledged his allegiance to Negan. At first, maybe we think he’s doing it just to survive, which is obviously a very good reason, but he doesn’t just say, “I am Negan,” he says, “I am utterly, completely, stone cold Negan.” Has he really gone over to Team Negan?
That I don’t know. Again, there are certain things that I’ve asked, “Don’t tell me. Please, do you mind not telling me unless I need to know?” That was one of them. I didn’t want to know the answer to that, because I would end up playing it. I would play it with a wink or I would play it with too much seriousness or whatever. I just wanted to play it truthfully for that moment. I obviously made some decisions for myself, which I’m going to keep for myself, I’m not going to share with people. The thing that’s interesting is, we’ve been watching this man grow over the last few seasons into a man of action, a man who has confidence, who can step up and contribute to the group. All that was shattered when they met Negan, and he killed a couple of Eugene’s friends. They were all trying to pick up the pieces and figure out who they were in this world and how they can move forward from that point, Eugene especially. He was so scared and so fearful of Negan… those feelings that were coursing through his veins. He hated it. He hated it so much. So in the moment where he says, “I’m Negan,” that’s an important moment for sure, but there’s a moment before that line when Negan says, “Hey, you don’t have to be scared anymore.” That’s like a hit of crack to Eugene, because I think that’s all he wants. He’s just breathing that in, just like, “Oh, my gosh, this is literally all I want.” I think that’s what allows him the freedom to cut off Negan mid-sentence, which is a bold thing to do, and just profess his love right there. I feel like it’s a question that people are going to be asking themselves. This show always asks questions as they pertain to our own lives and society as we put ourselves in these characters’ shoes. Like, “If this apocalypse were to happen, who would I be like? Would I be like Michonne?” or, “Oh, I’d be more like Abraham,” or whatever.

I think this is something where people would ask like, “If I were in Eugene’s shoes, what would I do? Would I say ‘I’m Negan,’ or would I be like Daryl?” Daryl’s a strong individual, but I think a lot of people would be like Eugene, scared and hoping someone protects them… might lie about having a cure and things like that. Are you really going to say that you would stand up to this man and say, “I’m not Negan,” and just keep getting fed dog food sandwiches and stuff like that? Negan’s providing a pretty nice life for Eugene right now. It remains to be seen how this is all going to play out, but it’s very exciting. It’s also a little scary, I’ll be honest.

The other thing is that when he was last in Alexandria, Rick was still very much in his dejected state. He wasn’t the newly hopeful leader that Rick has become in the second half of the season, deciding to fight back and try to get this army together. Eugene knows that Daryl escaped, but he has no reason to believe anyone came to help Daryl. In Eugene’s mind, he doesn’t necessarily have any reason to believe that they’re going to make an effort to come and get him or help him escape from there, either.
Right. Yes, because they didn’t do it for Daryl. Like you said, he doesn’t know that Rick’s turned a corner, that he feels like there’s a little bit of hope, and they can fight this guy. You can’t blame Eugene for trying to do what he can do. He’s not just going to say, “Oh, I’ll just put up with your torture, because I know my people are going to come in here eventually, two years from now, when they finally get their act together.” It’s survival of the fittest, and you’ve got to take care of yourself.

What is Eugene thinking when Negan tosses Dr. Carson into the fire? Negan is very definitely trying to make a point to him, that he wants Eugene to witness this, because this was another guy who he had put a lot of faith in and depended on.
Absolutely. I also think that with Eugene’s intelligence, another one of his assets is he’s able to read a room very quickly and size people up. I think he put it together, as we found out later… he knew that Dwight sacrificed the doctor to survive. He wasn’t going to let Negan’s wives sacrifice him to survive. He’s going to make sure that doesn’t happen, because we all have to look out for ourselves. I think that’s a clear moment that he also realizes that he’s being played by these women. He was blinded by lust for a moment. I agree Negan was definitely trying to make a point, but I don’t think there’s a point that needs to be made. Eugene knows that Negan’s a bad guy. He’s seen the atrocities that this man has committed. You do bring up an interesting point, that here’s a man that Negan trusts, and yet he’s still going to kill him. Even though Eugene might feel the trust from Negan, or that trust starting to build, you have to remember you’re never on solid ground around this guy.

Your castmates, and the producers, all keep saying the Season 7 finale is unlike any other season finale the show has done. How would you describe the season finale?
I would agree with that assessment. We always go out big. We’re building toward some things, and I think there’s going to be a convergence of a lot of storylines at one point, whether or not that’s in the finale remains to be seen. That was a difficult episode to shoot on many levels, not least of which I felt like we had a shortened time to prepare for it. I don’t remember exactly why, but you usually get X number of days to prepare. It just felt like the episode was so big we didn’t have enough time. That’s not a bad thing. I’m not saying that in a bad way. It’s just that big.

What can you say about Eugene for the rest of the season?
Well, he’s certainly in an interesting place now. I think we can start calling him “Negan” — we can stop calling him Eugene, or at least call him Dr. Smartypants. I think he’s going to start getting adjusted to his new life at the Sanctuary. He’s always going to have to stay on his toes. I think some of his decisions will be put to the test.

What’s your favorite Eugene line of the episode? There are so many good ones.
It’s “I’m Negan.” That’s it. I’ve been asked a lot by fans, “What’s your favorite line of the series?” It really would differ depending on my mood, but I loved it when they were in the machine shop last season, and he called dibs on killing that walker. He said, “Dibs is dibs,” like there is some sort of code that this man lives by. I always thought that was hilarious, but then when I read, “I’m Negan,” I went, “This is my favorite line.” I was teasing the fans, I said, “I don’t know what episode it’s going to come in, but you’ll know it when you hear it. My favorite line is coming up.” I just don’t know what’s going to top, “I’m Negan.”

And it’s not just, “I’m Negan.” He’s very emphatic. He, as you said, interrupted Negan, which you just don’t do.
You don’t do. It’s word vomit. He just like spilled everything out all over Negan’s red scarf and said, “I’m yours, buddy.”

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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