This afternoon I had the distinct pleasure of talking with Josh McDermitt, who shared with me his thoughts on The Walking Dead Fandom, his interaction with the cast and crew, and how working on the show has changed his life.
The interview began with a light and humorous tone as McDermitt joked with me about the humidity in Georgia and what it does to the human body. "That humidity gets into your skin and swells you up. I see pictures of myself and it looks like I've gained fourteen pounds."
After chatting about the Georgia weather, southern hospitality and Walking Dead Fanfiction, McDermitt shared with me his favorites among the characters on the show. "Before Eugene joined the show, one of my favorite characters was Morgan. It might be that I really enjoy the actor (Lennie James)." Once McDermitt's character, Dr. Eugene Porter joined the show, McDermitt explained that his favorite character became Sgt. Abraham Ford, played by Michael Cudlitz. "He's a walking muscle," McDermitt joked.
McDermitt, like many of the cast from [The Walking Dead](series:201193), says the fans and the experiences he's had with them have been amazing. "I have three favorite fan experiences," he said. "The first favorite is the first time I ever watched someone dress up as Eugene and saw how much care and attention to detail he paid to his costume. It was really great."
McDemitt's second favorite fan interaction was a little strange. He met a woman at a convention who worked as a mortician. This fan brought McDermitt a "butt plug," used in preparing a body for burial. McDermitt said, "Not only is that my favorite gift from a fan, ever, but the woman was very sweet and not weird at all."
McDermitt also counts all the fans who wait outside the fences surrounding the shooting locations as favorites for interaction. "I try to stop as often as I can. The fans are completely rabid and so dedicated to brave the Georgia heat to wait for us. It's pretty awesome."
According to McDermitt, the biggest difference between fans of The Walking Dead and fans of his earlier work is intensity. "The Walking Dead fans really love the show. Their intensity and fervor for the show is tremendous."
McDermitt echoed the sentiment expressed by many of the other members of the cast and crew that working on The Walking Dead is like working with family. "This crew is the best crew. They're out there with us, battling the elements right beside us."
Part of the family atmosphere is the way the cast spends time with one another off set. "I'm very much a hermit," McDermitt says. "I'd stay in after working, but the cast calls now to get me to hang out with them. I kind of crave it."
McDermitt's favorite "hang-out" story was the night he and Steven Yeun and Cudlitz went to see a live show in Atlanta. "Grizfolk, an LA Band, was playing in Atlanta and we went to the show. We hung out in the club and there was this line of fans coming by and telling us how much they loved the show [The Walking Dead] and having pictures taken. Then Steven and Cudlitz and I hung out with the band until someone invited us to a grilled cheese party. We went to the party at some random person's house and ate grilled cheese and listened to the impromptu concert Grizfolk put on. It felt like something from a movie."
When asked how he came to audition for the role of Dr. Eugene Porter, McDermitt joked, "I had no more money and needed a job." The more serious answer to the question, however, was much more interesting. "I have a comedy background and it took some convincing to get my manager and agent to agree to look for dramatic roles for me. I thought I'd have to do a lot of auditions before landing a dramatic role, but the audition for Eugene was one of my first for a dramatic role."
McDermitt explained that he had already been a big fan of the show, though he hadn't read the comics, before he auditioned. "I didn't know which role I was auditioning for when I read. They're really tight about that," McDermitt said about his experience. He explained that he'd figured out which role he'd read for by the time Scott Gimple (writer, director and showrunner for The Walking Dead) called him and revealed that McDermitt had, indeed, read for the role of Eugene. "I was excited," McDermitt said. "I knew that this [was] the guy I'd want to play."
Getting the role wasn't a slam dunk according to McDermitt. "There were several moments when I didn't think I'd have the job."
Once he did get the job, McDermitt says he stopped reading the comics. "The comics and the show are so different. [Robert] Kirkman (creator of the original comics) has said he wants it this way." To be true to the role the writers and producers have given him for Eugene, McDermitt says he put the comics down, despite enjoying them. "I didn't want to be influenced by the comics. I can only work with Eugene in the space the writers and producers give me and I didn't want what I read to change how I might play the character."
McDermitt's life has changed significantly since taking on the role in Cable TV's most watched drama. "It's funny but I have no time to do things, but also more time to do things," McDermitt said. "In the past, I would be trying to get a new job, or writing, or working on comedy, but now I have time to do things like go to the range with Christian Serratos. I wouldn't have done something like that in LA."
McDermitt also says that living and working in the south has changed his life. "I've become more friendly since living in the south. People at the grocery store say hello, not because I'm on the show, but because that's what you do when someone comes into your store."
While working on The Walking Dead has opened doors for McDermitt professionally, the schedule the show keeps has made it tough to capitalize on those opportunities. "I have a standing offer to perform [stand-up comedy] in Atlanta, but no time. After a fourteen hour day on the set, I don't really have the energy to go out. If I do have the energy, it's often on a Monday when there are no shows available."
McDermitt has a few projects on the horizon, but didn't want to reveal them at this time. "There may be a couple of movies you'll see me in later. I don't want to name names and then have something fall through."
Look for McDermitt when Season Five of The Walking Dead premiers Sunday, October 12 on AMC. You can find Josh's website online, follow him on twitter @JoshMcDermitt, like him on Facebook, or read about his work on IMDB.