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Feeling Alive with ‘The Walking Dead’

Actor Josh McDermitt shares behind-the-scenes insight about his character, including the significance of the mullet

If you haven’t been up-to-date with the undead last season, here’s a recap. When we first meet Dr. Eugene Porter (played by Josh McDermitt), the latest comic book character to appear from Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead series, we learn he may hold the answer to what caused the zombie plague. And although the socially awkward scientist doesn’t reveal much else about the alleged “cure,” Sergeant Abraham Ford believes him and does whatever it takes to keep Eugene out of harms way.  Their mission to Washington D.C. hits a major roadblock in the finale when both men get trapped inside a train car with Rick and his crew. To get the scoop on what we can expect from season five (which has just been renewed for season six!) we ask McDermitt some questions.

What can you reveal about Eugene’s character this season?   

The mission for Eugene and Abraham has always been to get back to D.C., to get back on track. Obviously that mission has taken a bit of a detour because of the situation in the train car, but we will learn more about Eugene and Abraham’s character, how their relationship works and where they are coming from. We’re about a year and a half into this apocalypse so we’re not too far removed from who we are as people. It will be exciting for everyone to see how their relationship impacts decisions moving forward, especially with everyone wanting to get out of the train car. It will be interesting to see what everyone decides to do after that.

What’s it like filming with the original gang?

It’s awesome. I was a huge fan of the show before I came on. I still get caught checking out Michonne or Daryl and go ‘oh my gosh, I won the fan lottery!’ I’ve never had to work with a cast this large and at once. I’ve had to learn a lot on the fly. The cast is awesome. We hang out together even when we’re not working. It’s great to be able to work with your friends. It’s been a lot of fun. 

Josh McDermitt

Josh McDermitt

Is it fun to play such a dramatic role?   

Eugene’s probably a little more grounded in reality than some of the things I’ve done on the comedic side. He’s a character and I love doing characters. I trained at the Groundlings in Los Angeles and all that stuff is very character based. That’s the kind of stuff I’m drawn to. I would rather have a mullet and look like crap and pretty much look the way Eugene does than to be on the show wearing a suit and a tie and kind of blending into the background. I want to stand out, you know?

Tell me about the hair. Is there a meaning behind the mullet? 

I mean c’mon, the mullet is a great hairstyle! We haven’t had a good mullet on TV since Uncle Jesse on Full House (laughs).  Honestly, I kind of joke, but I’m thinking we might get the writers to finally listen. I want to say the cure is in the mullet. All you have to do is wring out some of the mullet sweat, spray zombies with it and they will come back in human form. When I did the audition they kind of give you dummy material and initially my character on the script had a mohawk. I was like ‘oh I would not look good.’ I’ve got moles I don’t want people to see and so I said ‘oh I hope this changes’ so when I found out it was actually going to be a mullet it I breathed a sigh of relief.

In season four Dr. Eugene shot up his own truck and got his group lost more than once. Is there anything he’s good at? What is his greatest asset?

His intelligence remains his greatest asset to the group. He may lack in some areas, but he timed out perfectly exactly where Glenn and Tara would be coming out of the mountain in order to help them find Maggie, Sasha and Bob. He’s very mathematical in that sense. You would think it’s common sense not to shoot up the vehicle you are using to drive up to D.C. but I’ve met people that are so extremely smart, they lack street smarts and sometimes common sense.

Do you share any similar traits to his character?

He’s a little socially awkward and at times I am like that. I’ve been working on that my whole life. I was precocious when I was younger but somewhere in my adolescence I’ve kind of lost that and retreated back into myself. There are moments where I don’t know how to act socially. I’ll say something really odd and that doesn’t necessarily go over well. I’m trying to work on that, but that’s one thing that’s similar to me because I am not the smartest guy.

How is this season different from all the others?

Looking at it from a fan perspective because I was a fan coming in, I think it’s going to be the best season yet. It’s dark, the tone is so much more intense and it doesn’t end with the first episode, it carries out throughout the entire season. The writers do a great job of topping themselves. They certainly have created this awesome world and this incredible story. Any fan of the show will continue to be a fan and it will also bring in new fans, if you can believe it. We’re in season five now and we just got picked up for season six today. The people will respond to the season in a positive way because it’s just an awesome show. The intensity is there and I love it.

What would you love to see Eugene do more in the coming season?

I would love to see Eugene, well, I don’t know if fans would want to see this, but I would love to see Eugene get a girlfriend (laughs).

He did come out of his shell by calling Tara “hot.”

Yes and that sort of comes in lacking social interaction and the social cues. He didn’t realize she was a lesbian, but maybe he did know or he might have still known. He was probably like ‘I can get her with my mullet.’ I would love to see Eugene try to hit on women. I think that would be funny.

Tune in when season five of Walking Dead premieres this Sunday 9/8c on AMC

Photographs by Isaac Sterling