The Walking Dead: Josh McDermitt, Tom Payne, Austin Amelio interview

We chatted to The Walking Dead's Eugene, Jesus and Dwight, aka Josh McDermitt, Tom Payne and Austin Amelio about season 7B...

In the second of our season seven The Walking Dead roundtable interviews, we had a chance to talk to the men responsible for playing the cowardly be-mulleted Eugene, TWD’s own long haired ninja, Jesus, and primary member of the iron faced gang and Daryl Dixon obsessive Dwight.

It’s been a good season for all three characters, with Eugene suddenly elevated in the ranks of the Saviours, getting to take what he wants and spend time playing video games in the company of beautiful women (though possibly plotting to poison Negan himself), Jesus finally having a worthy leader in place at The Hilltop in Maggie and a chance to make a difference in the war against The Saviours and Dwight finally looking poised to break free of Negan’s rule of terror and so some actual good at long last. We sat down for a chat, with an opening ice-breaker that quickly became all about that mullet…

It’s nice to see that you all have to keep your look…

Tom Payne: He still has to deal with it (pointing to Austin Amelio), because of the scarring but when I first joined I had to have the fake beard and the fake hair and there’s many annoying things about that, but one of them is that you have to turn up earlier and you have to leave later and I didn’t want to do that, so just to make my life easier I grew it out.

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Josh McDermitt: Except I had the same thought and I grew out my mullet and I’m still one of the first people in every day.

TP: Why?

JMcD: Because they still clip in extensions.

TP: Why?

JMcD: (exasperated) I don’t know! I’m like ‘Are you guys wearing blinders? Like, I have a mullet. Why do you need to give me more mullet.

Austin Amelio: Yeah it’s full mullet.

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JMcD: It’s a full mullet – look at this thing.

Are you going to keep it forever do you think?

JMcD: (in a high pitched defence) Hell no, man! [the room laughs] It’s the most offensive thing I’ve ever owned! It’s interesting that you brought up that ‘It’s good to see guys still have the look and everything’ but that should never be an indication of our survival on the show, you know Michael Cudlitz kept his orange hair the entire length after his demise and the fans have clued in – they know my hair is naturally blonde, so if I go blonde then it’s an indication that something is up. And so I’m going to keep my hair as long as I’m alive on the show, or what’s aired while I’m alive on the show and I don’t know what I’ll do after… I probably won’t keep it, I’ll let my next job dictate I guess.

AA: You should just go Joe Dirt style with it and bring it down to here (gestures to his lower back).

JMcD: Oh man… I can’t do that. I can’t do that.

There’ve been a lot of dark and upsetting scenes this season, does that affect you as actors?

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AA: For me it’s taxing. The episode where I tortured Daryl, I mean that was like the worst week of my life, I was so over it, because every time you get on set – and this with everyone that’s involved in the show – but everyone brings it and they’re emotionally full on, the whole entire time and those waves penetrate you and the whole set. So you know every time I had to get on set with Norman, it’s like he was just this down and out version of himself, that I haven’t seen and it was rough… I was over it, man and by the end of it… I did not want to keep doing that, it was hard.

JMcD: Yeah I mean it takes its toll, I mean it definitely infiltrates our lives, but I think at the same time what we’re trying to do is tell a good story from a real and authentic place and unfortunately we’re putting ourselves through that, but I think it’s coming across in a great way on screen. We’re able to check in and check out from it at times, it’s a place we don’t necessarily want to stay in for a long time, but it’s been challenging this year – I’ve cried more than I’ve ever cried in my life, just in the first half of the season and I just remember talking to Norman and saying “I’m just done crying” and he was like “I’m just glad I’m done crying” because he spent three seasons crying! It’s like, good grief man, it’s just what this show does to you.

Talking of difficult situations – with Dwight, it was something I picked up on in episode eleven and it could be nothing, but with Sherry now gone she made reference in her letter to Dwight’s memory and I wondered if it was about an actual medical condition, or if she was just stating that the man that he was has just gone completely?

That’s a good question… it’s definitely not something I’ve been playing, or that me and Scott have been focused on, where it’s like ‘remember that your memory’s not good’, that’s not the case. I do think it has to do more with the fact that he’s not the person that he was, because I mean that letter was devastating to me, to hear that.

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And that was Dwight’s first sympathetic moment too, because up to that point he’s done all these bad things and you suddenly take a step back…

Right, right, right, it was a rough letter to hear and from your loved one, you know? For Dwight, that’s the only thing that he’s holding on to is the hope that maybe, someday, that he and his wife can get back together and when he gets to that place and he reads that letter, having a loved one say “I don’t know who you are anymore and I don’t know if I can trust you” and he’s got no say in that, they haven’t been able to talk, so that’s a devastating thing.

At this point someone asks a random question about violence in season 7, which is a theme that seems to keep recurring through the interviews and seems odd to me, as the deaths of Abraham and Glenn were no more or less shocking than the fates of Hershel, Lori and Noah to name a few, but it does lead to a nice insight from Tom Payne about how zombies stemming from humanity affects character aspects of the show…

TP: I brought up with Scott last year, because my character has martial arts skills and all that kind of stuff, I said “Maybe he goes out and trains in amongst the walkers” and I had this sequence that I came up with, with my martial arts trainer and Scott was like “Ok… I don’t think we can do that” because he’s very aware that these were people and I actually hadn’t thought about it in that way before and I guess I’d thought ‘Well they’re zombies now’ but Scott’s definitely of the mind-set that these were people and have to be treated as such, so that’s in his mind when he’s writing it.

And do you think that Jesus’ conflict when it comes to violence and his level of pacifism will affect his position at the Hilltop, because it’s an exciting time for the character when he’s poised to take control from Gregory, even though Rick’s group are overtly violent?

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He’s not a leader really, I’d say he’s more of a good general and he understands and see the strength in Lauren’s character – in Maggie and Sasha – and I think he realised that at the Hilltop, things did need to change but Gregory was kind of a good placeholder, but actually with the Saviours and everything coming along things are starting to get a bit dangerous and he sees that Gregory will do anything to save his own skin. I mean he literally tried to give up Sasha and Maggie to the Saviours that one time, so Jesus sees ‘Ok this isn’t good’ and he sees the strength in Maggie and sees that there is a way forward. Even Rick said “We’ve got Jesus here and Maggie and Sasha” so even though Gregory is in charge technically, he’s really not. But Jesus is more of tactician I think and likes to assess a situation before getting heavily involved.

Josh McDermitt, Tom Payne and Austin Amelio, thank you very much!

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The Walking Dead airs Mondays at 9pm on FOX. The season finale will air on 3rd April.