In anticipation of The Walking Dead‘s season premiere on Sunday, October 13th, Rolling Stone will publish an exclusive interview with a new cast or crew member every day this week. Yesterday, David Morrissey (you know him as the Governor) explained why nobody’s safe on the show. Tomorrow, Steven Yeun – one of only three actors to appear in all 43 episodes – will describe his off-set experiences as a hermit.
How do you like living in Atlanta?
I love it here. It’s a city of transplants. People bond easily. We lucked out with this job being here. A lot of the success of the show is the fact that it’s based down here. It’s not in LA. We’re in this crazy bubble. You do really get that sense that we’re all refugees somewhere. Your free time is occupied with your new friends as well. So you do bond on that level. Sarah Wayne Callies became hugely important when she was cast. She had a young family, a daughter the same age as my daughter. Her daughter is playing at my house now. So believe it when we say it is a family show. For us, it is.
What were you into as a kid?
Anything. I’m a magpie, and that’s probably why I love acting so much. I get into hobbies very easily and probably don’t stay with them. One of the most exciting parts of getting a new job is the research, reading around the subject, trying to absorb it. History turns me on. I was terrible at it at school, but as I get older, I get more and more into it. My brother was a voracious reader. But I was always of the opinion, “I want to live it! I don’t want to read about it!” That was my excuse, anyway. Since then, that’s all I do.
You haven’t done much apart from the show since it began. Knowing now that it’s in your nature to lose interest in things quickly, are you getting antsy to do other stuff?
Yeah, I am. I’m actively looking for roles now. There will come a point where I’ll just want to do something completely different. The difficulty is you get visible in one thing and people go, “Well, let’s give him what he can do.”
So you’re getting offers to be in werewolf-killing movies?.
Yeah, they’ve come my way. I just got offered a movie. Unfortunately it was playing a cop in a very violent movie. I considered it, but I do think the next thing that I do is going to be radically different. People say, “Do you fear being typecast?” I go, “That’s my responsibility and has a lot to do with the next choice I make.” If you say no to a lot of things and you’re willing to risk a little unemployment, then people start to see.
How’d you meet your wife?
I was directing two episodes of a TV show called Teachers. She was a P.A. and was supposed to make a cup of tea. That was her job. She didn’t make me a fucking cup of tea that whole job. But I just saw her silhouette – she had this crazy mullet with spiky hair – she looked like Sonic the Hedgehog. I saw this crazy looking girl with these beautiful green eyes and I just went, “Who the hell is that?” I was spellbound.
At what point did you realize her father was the lead singer of Jethro Tull?
I got told that by two friends of mine. I didn’t know who Jethro Tull was. Then one weekend, she said, “Come back to my parents’ place.” That’s when I realized he was a rock star. He’s an amazing guy.
What do you identify with in Rick Grimes?
There’s this wave – you look at Dexter, Mad Men, the whole anti-hero thing – that seems to be the male archetype at the moment. If you’re playing an anti-hero, then you get to do asides, you get to do stolen glances. The camera catches you in your private moments. There’s something incredibly exciting about playing someone who has that look in his eye – that you just linger a little bit longer and then it just gets cold. Rick’s not that. My private moments are not that. Rick is kind of an old-fashioned hero. It ain’t cool. It ain’t sexy. It’s not arch. It’s raw. It’s grungy. It’s all about a visceral reaction because the characters don’t get the chance to drink cappuccinos and talk about iPods. That ain’t the show. I’d always played these sort of renegade, irresponsible, idiotic kind of roles, but this is different. This is the guy that people fall in behind in the show, whether he’s right or wrong.
Do you feel responsibility to be a leader off the set too?
I think so. The lines become blurred somewhat. Life does mirror art, so I think people look to me now more as Rick than Andy. But I think after spending enough time with me, they realize that I’m just an asshole. Robert Kirkman can’t bear it when I wear flip-flops. He takes pictures of my flip-flops and keeps sending them to me, like, “What are you doing? Rick Grimes is not a flip-flop kind of guy.”
Obviously, you knew people would be killed off the show. But did you have a sense of what you were getting yourself into emotionally?
No. I didn’t read the small print, man. I had no clue. I didn’t know about the seismic emotional shockwaves that would happen. You don’t go into a job that way. It’s like life. You never think about your own mortality. At least not until your back gives way when you’re 40. It just wasn’t something that you consider until the first death. But that’s one of the difficulties – you lose the relationships that your characters have. That dies. You lose these incredible friendships. There is nothing like mortal fear to galvanize a friendship.
How long do you want to keep doing this?
I love playing Rick because he’s changed so much. The world has changed him so much. It is a truly rewarding role and continues to be. The moment I think we’re repeating ourselves, then I’ll start thinking about other things. But if the writers keep pushing him into different places to play the whole spectrum of the man, then I’d be more than happy playing it until my time is done. Until they bite me.