After “The Walking Dead” Season 4 episode “Claimed,” it’s become pretty clear to viewers that there’s more than meets the eye with character of Eugene. Zap2it spoke with the man behind the mullet, Josh McDermitt, about his character’s journey on the show, whether Eugene meant to shoot the truck’s fuel tank and what was up with that smile.
Zap2it: What an introduction last week. Was that the first scene you three shot?
Josh McDermitt: That was the first thing we shot. We kind of rolled in to Atlanta. We were there almost a week just getting our hair colored and changed and getting our wardrobe fittings and all that, and then we shot that scene in about five seconds. So that was our first taste of it. And then I think they were kind of shooting stuff out of sequence, so we actually didn’t go back for a few weeks. It was really hard to kind of go there at first and just have kind of that little taste and then come back to Los Angeles, hair color changed, and I wasn’t able to talk about anything having gone through this immense, just like so exciting of an experience. It was really tough. We were itching to get back.
Can you explain why Eugene smiled that way after convincing Abraham to follow Glenn?
For me, it just kind of says that Eugene’s plan is coming together. I don’t want people to be mistaken and think Eugene’s a bad guy and that oh he has this big evil plan. It’s none of that. Eugene’s just trying to survive like everyone else and this is the only way he knows how, by manipulating Abraham. This big dumb idiot Army guy doesn’t know much, and [Eugene’s] definitely smarter than most everybody he ever encounters, and when things kind of work out in his favor, when maybe they might not and they end up working out, I think that kind of makes Eugene smile a little bit. He gets joy out of kind of messing with people’s minds a bit. I think that’s really what that was.
What about when he shot the truck’s fuel tank. Was that intentional?
There’s two ways to look at it for someone like Eugene. I kind of like to look at it like he’s in the middle of a chess match where he’s thinking three or four moves ahead of his opponents. When the fight’s going on, Eugene’s hanging back by the truck, partly because Abraham probably told him, “Hey, if we ever need to get out of the truck or whatever, the safest place is you to stay there,” because to everyone else, Eugene’s the package. He’s the most important element of their mission.
But then also Eugene’s probably going, “Okay, we’re wasting time. How can I use this to my advantage?” Of course, when the walkers come out, he starts shooting them up. The two ways you can look at it is he could have swung the gun the other way and still figure out how he could slow up their progress and their trip, or he can swing it toward the truck and take the truck out too. I don’t think Eugene does everything deliberate, but I also don’t think he flies by the seat of his pants and just wings it. I think there’s a nice mixture of both.
This idea of a cure for the zombie apocalypse hasn’t been a part of the show for so long. How will it change “The Walking Dead”?
Honestly, it starts to give people hope. They’ve lost a lot of people that they’ve loved already, but if there’s a cure, that means there’s hope. If you start to look at the show you see yeah it’s a show about survival but they’re never going to get out of this; they’re not even trying to get out of this. It’s a really dark place to be, and what this does is this brings light.
I think Eugene is obviously trying to survive and he’s doing what he knows best, which is use his brain and kind of BS his way through life, but I also think that in the comics he kind of finds Abraham in a really dark place when they first meet up. There’s an element to Eugene where he wants to make people feel good too. It’s not a malicious thing.
Are we going to find out more of Abraham’s motivation for deciding to follow Eugene?
The conversations I had with [showrunner] Scott Gimple and the times I’ve heard Robert Kirkman talk about it, they’re saying that our backstories are going to be pretty similar to what happened in the comics. If that’s the case, then I imagine that we’re definitely going to explore that more. The group is split up into however many different subgroups right now, and I think they’re trying to figure out how to get everybody back together. Everybody’s trying to find each other. What’s going on with Abraham, Eugene and Rosita’s backstory, that may not be a priority at this point, but I’m sure we’re going to get into it pretty soon.
Were you a fan of the show already?
Oh yeah, I was a huge fan. It was my favorite show. I didn’t think I’d ever do an audition for it, let alone be on it. It’s a dream. I come from a comedy world where I did standup for 10 years and I do sketch and improv and that sort of thing. All the while I was doing that I was working on my dramatic acting so that I could hopefully book a job like this. For it to actually work out, that’s awesome. How many times do things work out?
Are we going to see any of your comedic talents shine through?
[laughs] I think there’s like a little side mission going on with Eugene where he not only wants to get to DC, but he also really wants to do a standup comedy show along the way.
They totally should do webisodes of that.
[laughs] Yeah, Abraham’s like, “Listen, we’ve got to get these guys to DC, but first, Eugene’s got a bit he wants to try out.” … No, I’m trying to play it as straight as possible. If people laugh, that’s not necessarily my intention. But I do think it’s a fun character to write and it’s a fun trio to write.
I think there’s definitely humor there that Robert Kirkman found when he first introduced them in the comics. Abraham is just a different animal. He’s foul-mouthed and he’s this larger-than-life character. It’s like he’s something they haven’t seen before. That element mixed in with Eugene kind of very stoic and very emotionless; I think they’re a nice little comedy duo if you think about it that way.
Had you read the comics before you were cast?
I had to get caught up. I didn’t know that there was a comic before I started watching the show, and then I heard there was but I still hadn’t read it until I started getting into the casting process. I really wanted to play catch up, but I do know that like the character of Daryl isn’t in the comics. I get that it’s like two different entities, but I still wanted to have that knowledge, and it’s obviously helped, especially how they want to keep our backstories very close to what’s coming out of the comics.
Do you think there’s a chance of Eugene’s story arc playing out in some different ways than in the comic?
I don’t know. It’s interesting because the show progresses and new storylines emerge that maybe aren’t necessarily even in the comics. Obviously they’re brand new and we’re going to see these characters of Abraham, Eugene and Rosita have to deal with that. There could be some hope there that we’re going to explore some new territory, obviously yeah. I don’t think it’s going to be lock step with what the comics were. But I know Scott Gimple likes to tell versions of stories and just kind of do a remix of things, so to speak. I think we’re going to get a healthy dose of both.
Looking at your headshots, it’s clear you don’t have a mullet in real life. Have you ever had a crazy fad hairstyle?
When I was 14 years old, I went to Game 6 of the NBA Finals, when Charles Barkley and the Phoenix Suns were playing the Chicago Bulls. I lived in Phoenix and I was such a huge fan of the Suns, I shaved my head, but the only hair I left on the back of my head was number 34 for Charles Barkley. My aunt was a hair stylist so she did it for me, and then she dyed the hair purple and orange, which were the Suns’ colors.
The Suns ended up losing that game, and I had to walk around with that hair color after losing the NBA Finals. That was probably the most ridiculous hairstyle I’ve ever had.
So can you tease anything exciting coming up? Will we see Eugene handle a machine gun again?
Yeah, I think that that was Eugene’s dream to fire off a machine gun, but that was quickly taken away from him, and I don’t think we’ll see him handling a gun anytime soon.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays on AMC at 9 p.m. ET/PT.