“I apologize, I’m in a car and in a couple of minutes, I’m going to be dropped off at my hotel, and there’s a lot of fans and craziness out there,” Josh McDermitt said to us on the phone this morning. The actor, who plays the highly intelligent but socially awkward Eugene on The Walking Dead, is in New York with the rest of cast, preparing for tonight’s red carpet premiere at Madison Square Garden, where a sold-out crowd of 13,000 Walker Stalkers will get their first glimpse at the season 6 opener. (The rest of us will have to wait until Sunday, when the episode airs on AMC at 9 p.m.)
“Everywhere we’re going, we’re getting stopped on the street,” McDermitt said. “New York and L.A. [usually] seem a little tame because people are used to seeing their favorite actors walking down the street, but this trip is different. People are a lot more rabid, they’re a lot more intense. It’s awesome and exciting and scary all at once.”
As he traveled to his hotel, McDermitt filled us in on what’s new with Eugene this season, the strangest things he’s signed at conventions, and whether or not he’ll keep rocking that mullet after his time on the show ends.
One of the overarching themes in season 5 was that everyone in the Alexandria Safe-Zone needs a job and has to find their role in the community. What will Eugene’s role be in season 6?
The one thing he was trying to find in season 5 was his identity, who he is now that the [truth that he’s not actually a scientist] is out. Even though he can be himself now, he doesn’t know who that is yet and how he fits in to Alexandria. For him it’s a little scary because the threat of living outside the walls is still very real to him. Eugene can’t fend for himself outside the walls. So until he figures out who he is and what his service can be for the group, it’s going to be difficult for him.
Especially considering that since his confession, the group’s trust in him has been severed.
Oh absolutely. The great thing is they didn’t oust him from the group; that would have been horrible. That just shows you what kind of group he’s living in. But they don’t trust him. And not just, “Oh I don’t trust this guy, he’s going to lie to me,” but “I don’t know this guy’s motives.” It’s obvious he’s trying to survive, but when you look at a character like Nicholas (Michael Traynor), he and Aiden (Daniel Bonjour) were talking about just leaving people behind if things got hairy. I feel like Eugene is one moment away from that. Even though he saved Tara and he saved Glenn at the end of last season, there are going to be trust issues until he steps up and proves otherwise.
Eugene is not a combat fighter, which puts him at risk. Will we see him learn to physically defend himself this season?
I think he’s going to be tested around every turn. He’ll never be a Daryl (Norman Reedus) or a Michonne (Danai Gurira). He’s always going to be struggling, but this season especially, he’s going to be tested. Last season, when he stepped up and was a hero, it was it wasn’t really a choice. He could have bailed, but he realized he was going to die too if he didn’t do something to save Tara and Glenn. That moment was forced upon him. I think there will be moments where we’re going see whether or not he actually steps up [voluntarily].
Judging from the San Diego Comic-Con trailer, there’s going to be a lot of walkers this season.
We have more walkers than we’ve ever seen before. It’s pretty crazy.
It’s really fun to watch Eugene’s evolving relationship with Tara. He cares for her so much and vice versa. How important is that friendship for him?
Eugene, even before he admitted the truth [about himself], felt like an outsider. And after the truth came out, he really felt like an outsider. There’s elements of that with Tara, too, because of her part in the attack on the prison [in season 4]. Even though she didn’t know what was going on, she’s always kind of felt like she didn’t belong in this group. I think that’s something they bond over. Even though they kind of get on each others nerves at times, it’s very much like a brother/sister relationship, and she’s certainly helped him by encouraging him to step up. If she hadn’t been prodding him and pushing him all that time leading up to the moment he saved her, he probably wouldn’t have [done it]. He had the confidence [because of] her, and I think that is what he’s desperately searching for.
When I interviewed Christian Serratos earlier this year, she mentioned that the two of you and Michael Cudlitz (Abraham) are all really close, because you came into the show together as a trio. What makes that bond special?
It’s scary to [come onboard] because it’s such a big show, and I was a fan. I didn’t want to come in and screw up my favorite show. When you show up with two other people who feel the same way, you bond over that. It’s a very difficult show to shoot—it’s intense, it’s hot, it’s gross. You know what Atlanta is like in the summertime. People ask me, “How much sweat do they put on you guys?” That’s real sweat. It’s disgusting. But the people are awesome. With these two specifically, these are friendships I’m going to have for the rest of my life.
What’s it like when the three of you get together?
Recently when Christian had her birthday, she may have had a drink or two, and she decided she wanted to do a cartwheel. So I got a beautiful video of her doing a cartwheel and then falling flat on her butt, right on the wall. It was so awesome. That’s the fun thing, nobody takes themselves seriously. We’re always playing poker together—Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha) is an amazing poker player, even though she doesn’t know how to play. She trash talks enough and gets you to bet more if she’s bluffing. She’s pretty awesome.
You’re going to be at Walker Stalker Con in Atlanta on Halloween weekend. Are you prepared?
I love that we’re doing it on Halloween. There’s nothing like the one in Atlanta; the people are crazy. Every time I go to a Walker Stalker Con around the country it grows, and the Atlanta one is certainly the flagship. I don’t know if I’m totally prepared for it. I don’t know what we’re getting ourselves into.
What’s the strangest thing someone has ever asked you to sign?
I’ve signed boobs. I’ve signed babies. I signed a woman’s back the other day and she went and got [the signature] tattooed. I’m entering new territory with that. I’m always down to sign whatever you want (laughs).
You said you were a fan of the show before you were cast. What was that like suddenly becoming a part of a show you loved?
It feels like I hit the fan lottery. I still get emotional about it because it’s truly the best job I’ve ever had. It’s exciting when I’m at lunch and there’s Norman Reedus and there’s Melissa McBride (Carol). I’d met a couple of people before [I got the role] just though mutual friends, but it’s different when you see them in character. To know that I’m a part of this is incredible.
Does that give you a closer bond with the fans because you’ve been one of them?
Yeah. I just want to share this experience with them as much as I can, because I know they would love to be in this position. I feel blessed and fortunate to even be here. I meet people a lot [who ask how to become an actor or be on the show] and I empathize with them because that’s exactly what I wanted as well.
When you’re not working, where are your favorite spots to hang out in Atlanta?
I’m a big fan of Fox Brothers [Bar-B-Q]. I’m really into Ford Fry’s restaurants; I love The Optimist. I’ll hit Ormsby’s and hang out in that area. I absolutely love the nightlife in Atlanta. I also walk the BeltLine a lot. When my time in Atlanta comes to an end, I’m definitely going to be sad.
One last question—have you ever considered rocking your character’s mullet in real life?
Unfortunately, I kind of already do. They used to put extensions in, but now my hair has grown out so much. I’ll probably keep it as long as I can, even when I’m off the show, because it’s just become such a part of my identity. I can’t imagine myself without it.