The Walking Dead - Josh McDermitt as Eugene

Exclusive: The Walking Dead's Josh McDermitt digs into Eugene's traitorous turn

Contributed by
Mar 31, 2017

"I would hope that people can see his side of things," said actor Josh McDermitt about his character Eugene on The Walking Dead during an exclusive interview with Syfy Wire. "I mean, he even explained in last week's episode, where he says he thought he could be a survivor and then he just had that pants-pissing terror."

No character has taken us on more of a roller coaster ride during Season 7 than Eugene, first stepping up to try to do something heroic and then being captured by the Saviors and turning down a rescue to become Negan, or at least Negan's bitch.

McDermitt (Twin Peaks, Mad Men), who does not have that Eugene accent, talked with Syfy Wire about Eugene's survival skills, what we can look forward to with the expanded Season 7 finale on Sunday, and that mullet.

I am so upset about Eugene being a traitor.

Josh McDermitt: You're distraught, huh?

I'm distraught. It's true. Although I still have hopes that Eugene will do the right thing.

I really enjoyed his arc. That's the thing that the show does so well that a lot of great shows do: They don't let the characters just stay in one place. They grow, they change, they morph, as we do as people. It's never fun to watch a show or a character where the characters are just one note and flatlined. And it's certainly not fun to portray that as an actor. And so to be able to do that is rewarding and it's fun to watch the ebb and flow of the fandom and how they love Eugene one moment and are frustrated with him the next and then love him again and then hate him and then they see his point, and they're just all over the place. So it's fun to watch.

It's like a roller coaster ride with Eugene.

He just said aligning himself with this guy, the guy who's causing all the drama in everyone's life, means he doesn't have to be scared again. Because that's what Negan said to him back in Episode 11, "Hostiles and Calamities." He said, "Listen, you don't have to be scared anymore. I just need to know who are you." And that's when Eugene cuts him off and says, "I'm Negan." It's like, if this is all I have to do is just pledge allegiance to you and then I don't have to be scared, well great.

But it is interesting because Negan did bash Abraham's brains in and Abraham was the reason that Eugene survived at all.

Yeah, but I would also argue that Abraham survived along the way because of Eugene as well. As you remember when they met, Abraham was about to commit suicide and Eugene gave him a reason to live. It's interesting. I would also think that if Negan were to go away and maybe another bad guy comes along, Eugene might align himself with that bad guy. He's just scared. He's just doing what we all would do: "All right. What do I got to do to stay alive here. How can I survive?"

The Walking Dead - Josh McDermitt

This world isn't so black and white even though the fans treat it as black and white sometimes or some of the fans do. They get mad at a character for this or that. A lot of people were mad at Rosita for a lot of this season, and they're like, "She just needs to get over it." This is all very fresh in the timeline of this story. We're less than a week out from this traumatic event that is upended everyone's lives and you think she's being a bitch? She's pissed. She feels guilty. She's upset. There's so much going on and it's like people need to take a step back sometimes, myself included. I do the same thing.

I imagine you get really caught up in the story, putting yourself in your character's shoes, literally.

Yeah, absolutely. Is it the wisest decision? I don't know. I'm not Eugene, thankfully. I'm not in the apocalypse trying to survive. I can certainly see why he's doing it.

And we know that if he survives, he may well have to try to make peace with Rick and the gang again if they defeat Negan like they did in the comics.

Well, if we even go that route. I mean it remains to be seen. This storyline with Eugene and Negan isn't in the comics either. I think it goes down that Eugene is captured by Negan and his people, and Negan wants him to pledge allegiance and Eugene says, "No, I won't. I'm Team Rick all the way." So this is a complete departure from that. Which is great, I think. The comics are awesome, but the show fills in some empty spaces and there's a lot of characters that aren't in the comics that are on the show, and so we have to move things around and tell stories in a different way. Remix them. Make them better.

That makes it exciting too.

It's funny because everybody was like, "I know this is going to happen because that's what happens in the comics." And I'm like, "Yeah and Daryl is not in the comics either, so exactly what do you think going to happen with him? Andrea is still alive in a comics. She's dead on the show. What's going to happen now?" These people don't know. It's fun to speculate but truly in the end we don't know what's going to happen.

The Walking Dead - Josh McDermitt as Eugene

Do you think that Eugene was evolving and then he's taken some steps back from his evolution?

He just maybe took a left turn in his evolution. He was certainly growing into this survivor, into this person that he could be proud of. I think that was all within the world that he thought he knew. The world didn't change. His perception of the world changed. Negan was all always there getting over on everybody. But all of a sudden Eugene's perception of this world changed and who he is as a person. It's like, "Oh, I need to take a left turn here." And we see that in Episode 11 with Negan's wives, when they get mad at him and they call him a coward, he said, "That's a correct assessment." He knows it. He knows he's not a survivor but he's just doing what he can to survive, which I guess in a sense is also being a survivor. The people who are still alive at this point have had to make a lot of tough decisions, Eugene included. There are no weak people alive at this point in the apocalypse anymore.

Negan realized fairly quickly that Eugene can be a real asset.

Yeah, I mean his intelligence is always his biggest strength and I think Negan saw that immediately. I think the thing with Rick, I feel like just from ... this is from Josh's point of view not Eugene's, but sometimes it feels like Rick is still trying to figure things out and trying to manage everything and there's a lot of ... honestly if we went back to the Ricktatorship, my way or the highway, things might be a little better and different for that group. This is just my opinion. I don't know. What do I know?

Well, you probably know a lot.

Because that's what Negan did. He's like, this is how we do things. You either get on board or you're dead meat. And it keeps a lot of people alive that way. Rick's trying to hold on to his humanity in a weird way and I don't know if that works for every situation.

If I were Negan, I would be getting ready to set Eugene up in a factory making bullets and guns because that's going to be the next currency in this world.

Yeah, Eugene even stated it in Season 6. He's like, "This is going to be the most valuable thing coming up." And just like crops. We need crops. Who was it ... the junkyard people had said, sometimes they crack open a can and it's spoiled, a can of food ... like these things are going away. There are things that are going to be more valuable than anything else and I would imagine bullets are one of them. But that all remains to be seen in terms of where Eugene stands with that because so far he hasn't been asked to do anything.

The Walking Dead - Josh McDermitt as Eugene

I know you can't say much at all about the finale but what do you want to tease fans regarding what's to come?

For me there's a lot going on. There's a lot of little things going on as well. Everything is going to come together at once and there's a lot of payoff for things that we have been setting up. And it's beautiful and tragic and messy and scary. And I just think in terms of a finale, it's one of the best we've done.

That's awesome. What's been your favorite part and what's been your least favorite part of the Eugene story so far on the show?

My favorite part has been his ability to adapt to different situations in order to maintain his survival. I mean we've seen this guy grow ... Look, the apocalypse is good for some people and it's bad for others. I think the apocalypse was a good thing for someone like Eugene and it brought him out of his shell a little bit even though it may not appear that way a lot of times when we look at him. He's definitely a different person than he was pre-apocalypse. He was probably more closed off at that point and he's been forced to come to terms with some of his emotions and things like that. Building those friendships and just adapting and changing in order to survive. I like that. I like how he's constantly changing.

In terms of what I don't like, I don't know that there is much that I don't like. I've known this is who he is and where he's headed the whole time and I like the slow burn of it ... Really I love his progression and his arc and where he's gone. I was a little disappointed that the truth came out about him not having the cure to the apocalypse so quickly in Season 5. I was thinking that would come in the back half. I thought that was a lot of fun playing that and seeing how he's had to dodge questions and be secretive and it was fun to watch the fans, the ones who don't know the comics, speculate what is going on with this guy ... I'm very happy with how they did that. If anything I would have liked to have played that in a few more episodes, had some fun with it. I do like where it went.

What's your biggest challenge with playing Eugene?

Just trying to keep a lid on it. I can be pretty expressive and then at times I can be just like Eugene and not say anything, and just have a stone cold face. But there are moments where I want to shout or I want to have my mannerisms be bigger. And the more I do it the easier it becomes. But I think just letting all that stuff boil under the surface and not showing it on an expressive face has been probably the biggest challenge for me. And honestly, like I said, the more I do it it's not as much of a challenge as it was initially.

I don't know you, but Eugene would seem to be quite different than you. How is it for you as an actor to dig into such a unique role and go places where maybe Josh never would have gone otherwise?

I think for an actor, we're often playing an extension of ourselves. Not always, but just a lot of times that's what roles we take. We're playing a version of us in a lot of ways. And with this guy I had definitely put a mask on. He's completely opposite of me. People always ask, "Well, what are the similarities you have with this character?" And I make jokes that we have the same hair or the same body. But honestly that's where the similarities end. I mean we're completely opposites and that's what's been fun is trying to peel back the layers of this guy and the more I get to know him the more I'm able to inject more of that into him. And it's just fun to be able to play someone so completely opposite of you.

I would imagine when you look at some of the meanest bad guys in TV and film history, those actors are typically the nicest people in the world. And it's because they're playing someone completely opposite, they just get a lot of joy out of that. I mean look at Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Negan is a wretched character and Jeff is like the sweetest man in the world. And I think there's a bit of that in playing Eugene, where he's so completely opposite of me that I get joy in just diving into someone that I then don't have to bring that home with me, or I can just hide behind that character. I absolutely love that.

The Walking Dead - Josh McDermitt as Eugene

 

If Eugene does not survive the finale, what do you want to say to fans?

This is been the most amazing trip for me. I was a the big fan of the show before I started working on it, and in a weird way I've struck the fan lottery that I got to be a part of my favorite show. It's absolutely incredible and the fans have been nothing but awesome. I would hope that whatever show or movie or fandom I slide into next, that fandom would be one-tenth of what this fandom has been. Because even if they're one-tenth it would be incredible. Just the love and the support that they have, not just for me but for every character and to see how hard it hits them emotionally when a character leaves is truly special. I just love them so much and I thank them for this ride because without them the show would be nothing.

You realize that you're going to be Eugene forever to the sci-fi fans. You'll be doing conventions 20 years from now and fans will call you Eugene. We don't ever forget. We've got a really long memory.

I have blond hair and no mullet in real life. I guess right now I have a mullet, but once I cut that I'm worried like, well, are they going to know or are they going to be like, "That guy kind of looks like Eugene." And then they'll think that's hilarious and keep walking.

Has that been your biggest challenge, keeping the mullet?

Yeah, it's great for my professional life and horrible for my personal life (laughs). Even if people don't recognize me, people are still staring at me going, "Does this guy know he has a mullet?" Dead serious, people are always staring at me and it's funny because you can tell when they recognize you from the show and when they don't, but either way they're staring at you.

Do you wear a lot of hats outside of the show?

I wear a lot of hats. I have a lot of hats (laughs). In fact I'm supposed to go to a dinner here coming up with some friends and it's at a nice restaurant and I'm not going to be able to wear a hat. And I had to remind them like, do you still want me to come to your dinner because you know what's about to happen if I don't wear a hat. Because then it's just not going to be fun for you guys. Your dinner is going to turn into a conveyor belt of people coming up and taking pictures and interrupting your meal. Which is okay with me but I want to make sure it's okay with you.

Assuming he survives the finale on Sunday, what are your hopes for Eugene and what are your hopes for Josh?

Well, my hopes for Eugene would be that he continues to survive. That he continues to change and adapt. And that he would get back on to the track of him being a version of what he thought being a survivor is. Not just losing that confidence and having that self-doubt of, "I'm a coward, so I'm not who you think I am. I'm not a good person." He even said that in Episode 11. He's like, "I'm not a good person." And I think there's a lot of guilt there and I would hope that he could rise above that and get back on the track of being a good person, being a survivor and helping out others. He's a very selfish individual. He may think of other people but only after he's made sure that he himself is okay. And I would like to see him be a little more selfless.

It would be nice if he could get laid too. Find a girlfriend.

It's funny. Yeah, everybody wants that and everybody brings that up. Number one, I love watching his interaction with any woman. It's always so ripe with comedy and always awkward. The guy thinks he's George Clooney and he's anything but. But also if he were to get laid, I would be curious to see how that affects the man ... I think it would affect Eugene getting laid more than someone like Daryl getting laid. People expect Daryl to get laid.

Well, Daryl is confident. Eugene is not. He would be a mess.

I think he would still have confidence but he would put his confidence in the wrong areas. He would think about himself mostly, for sure.

And your hopes for Josh?

Just for me I would hope that this show has been a nice jumping-off point for me in the rest of my career and to be able to pick and choose the projects that I want to do as opposed to taking any job that's offered to me because I need the job or I need the money. Anything like that. I think every actor would love to get to a point where they can just basically choose a project based on the material or based on a director or a writer they want to work with and things like that. I've certainly taken jobs that I didn't want to take but I needed to take them and that never feels good. So I would hope that for the rest of my career here after Walking Dead that I would be able to do that.

The Walking Dead Season 7 finale airs Sunday at 9PM on AMC.