WARNING: Those who wish to stay clear of SPOILERS should proceed with caution.
Ever since The Walking Dead made its ambitiously grandiose return for Season 6, fans following the source material comic book series could discern that the arrival of one of the most notoriously profound figures in the TWD story seems imminent. Of course, I am referring to the sadistic wielder of both barbed-wire-covered baseball bats and profane alliteration, Negan.
In the time since Negan’s introduction in The Walking Dead #100 back in 2012, the specter of this new, bombastic Big-Bad has inspired speculation and loads of tinfoil hat theories pertaining to his arrival on the television series. However, if the timeline of the show continues its parallel path with the comic series, then such speculation could soon come to an end once the current storyline with the giant corralled walker herds and the elusive head-carved creepers, The Wolves, concludes. Also key is that U.K. import, Tom Payne has been cast as Paul Monroe. Derisively nicknamed “Jesus,” Paul is a future key member of Rick Grimes’ group who initially serves up the exposition of The Saviors; a heavily-manned collective of bellicose marauders led by the aforementioned Negan.
However, before we get to our list of actors who could play the man, let’s look at Negan, contextually.
A villain who’s trying to save the world.
The prospect of Negan’s arrival could be terrifying news for TWD fans who, over the years, have been reveling in the unlikely romance of Glenn and Maggie, since Negan’s initial claim to fame in the comic series involves bashing Glenn’s head to a cracked, bloody pulp with the barbed-wire-bat that he calls “Lucille.” Negan’s brutally vindictive original sin is one of the most memorable, over-the-top, anger-inspiring moments of the mythos. While fan critics have dismissed the enigmatic, uncouth Glenn-killer as an amped-up, unimaginative retread of The Governor, Negan's character actually contains several poetic parallels with Rick that could reflect the greater meaning of the series.
In the zombified TWD universe where the deceptive nature of living people is always the biggest threat, Negan is actually its most refreshingly transparent character. He doesn’t bother with the disingenuous veneer of being a “too good to be true” leader promising a return to the old world, only to turn out to be a nutty fascist or a cannibal hipster. His matter-of-fact attitude regarding his actions also allows him to be irreverent and accepting about his brutish approach to survival in the apocalypse as he regularly breaks out dementedly hilarious quips, pop-culture shout-outs and even literary references that could imply that his mysterious past may have been more intellectually-enriched than he now seems.
Because he thinks that he carries this burden of rebuilding the world, he feels entitled to the limited rewards available. This is evidenced by his lavish lifestyle at The Saviors’ compound called “Sanctuary” where he also keeps a harem of several wives. Yet, he has shown sporadic displays of empathy; especially when it comes to his interactions with Carl and has a reluctant respect for Rick. Plus, he is quite fixated on maintaining the perception amongst his involuntary subjects that he can be reasonable with them, since his goals are always headed towards a long-term governance of a new, harmoniously functioning world. In his mind, every action that he takes is made honoring the new rules of the world, making him believe that HE is the hero of this story.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some actors who could conceivably embody our small screen rendition of Negan!
10. David Boreanaz
The former breakout blood-sucker of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who spun-off as the titular star of Angel, has since spent over a decade comfortably solving crimes as wise-cracking F.B.I. agent Seeley Booth on Fox’s long-running forensic crime procedural, Bones, which just kicked off its 11th season. However, that train should soon be arriving at its final destination. Thus, Boreanaz should soon be looking for a new, likely different gig.
With Boreanaz, we have an actor who is not only a reliable commodity in the “geek” franchises, but can carry a solid a mix of everyman humor. Besides having the right look for Negan, Boreanaz has proven that he can instantly switch modes from likable goof into a believably intimidating, potentially frightening force.
9. Grant Bowler
This Kiwi actor has carried a vast array of roles over the years in his native New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. on shows such as Lost, Ugly Betty and True Blood. With the main project currently on his plate in Syfy’s Defiance confirmed for cancellation after three seasons, Bowler is now free to give his roguish ways a potential sinister upgrade as Negan.
As the futuristic protector/parent and stone cold killer, Joshua Nolan on Defiance, Bowler has proven himself capable of pulling off a character as pathologically nuanced as Negan. Carrying himself as a sort of smirking, modern day stand-in for Han Solo, Bowler could easily turn roguish charm into something appropriately sinister.
8. Matt Passmore
With Aussie actor Matt Passmore, we have the potential for a more subtle Negan performance. He’s currently exploring some soapy sexual intrigue as a journeyman male escort on USA’s Satisfaction. However, the actor, who began his career on numerous Australian dramas, blipped the radar in the States on crime drama, The Glades playing the snarky, sarcastic Florida police detective, Jim Longworth for four seasons until the show became a martyred casualty of A&E’s anti-scripted shift.
As Negan, Passmore could be quite effective in portraying the characteristic idiosyncrasies, yet doing so in a way that could come across as subtle and not as over-the-top as they seem in the comics. Plus, he has the right look, build and signature smirk to be properly intimidating.
7. James Purefoy
The veteran Brit actor has seen and done it all. However, the rampaging rough sex and blood-spilling from his role of Mark Antony on HBO’s Rome really turned heads, leading to a number of prominent starring television roles. On Fox’s recently-finished The Following, Purefoy’s acting chops were parlayed into a memorable role as an academic-turned homicidal cult leader, Joe Carroll with skillful intrigue and charisma.
While one would think Purefoy’s Negan could potentially be a stylistic deviation from the comics, his range could surprise folks, portraying the comic character with fidelity. However, what he undoubtedly brings to the table, just as David Morrissey did as The Governor, is an air of prestige and a deep well of powerful pathos.
6. Dominic Purcell
This stoic-looking U.K. badass drifted across sporadically-themed television series’ until landing a big break with a role in 2000’s Mission: Impossible II (you know, the John Woo one that most people hated.) Since then, he was able to show his skills as a leading man on Fox’s underrated John Doe, and then more prominently on Fox’s Prison Break as the imprisoned Lincoln Burrows.
Purcell can be currently seen exercising a precarious ethical balance playing a villain-turned-presumptive-hero Mick Rory, a.k.a. Heat Wave, on The Flash and its spin-off, Legends of Tomorrow . Given Purcell’s skillset, his Negan could potentially convey the rather bipolar nature of the character in potent emotional extremes.
5. Ray Stevenson
If “intimidating” is a perquisite for our television Negan, then this Irish actor more than meets the requirements. After getting a start in U.K. television, Stevenson broke out in the States with a role in 2004’s King Arthur, which he transitioned prominently on HBO’s Rome, in which he played the horrendously hedonistic soldier with an evolving morality, Titus Pullo. While taking a mulligan as the star of the failed Punisher: War Zone, Stevenson eventually redeemed his Marvel cred as Volstagg in the Thor movies and a number of other visible roles.
As Negan, Stevenson could convey the necessary intensity the role requires, but also carry an almost boyish irreverence that would be necessary. Picturing Stevenson holding “Lucille,” sporting slicked-back hair and a sinister grin, you can’t go wrong.
4. Henry Rollins
According to TWD artist, Charlie Adlard, this jacked, tattooed punk rock pioneer-turned-actor-turned History Channel host was the original visual inspiration for Negan. Thus, it’s probably fortuitous that the earsplitting, pulse-pounding former Black Flag and Rollins Band front-man has also been moonlighting as an actor for decades; notably with a recurring role on Sons of Anarchy.
While the quantity of roles on Rollins’ acting resume may belie the quality, the role of Negan would not likely require anything beyond his own innate, emotionally tempestuous righteous screams of rage. Besides the poetic idea of Negan being portrayed by the man who inspired his creation, Rollins may be able to effectively translate the character’s absurdities.
3. Kevin Durand
The Canadian actor spent several years bouncing around the small screen circuit until a role in the stylistic actioner, Smokin’ Aces helped him make a memorable mark. From there, he nabbed a high profile role on Lost, along with roles in films like X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fruitvale Station and Noah. He currently stars on FX’s vampire/outbreak genre amalgam series, The Strain and has a role on The History Channel’s popular drama, Vikings.
With Durand as Negan, we could potentially have a more balanced mix of the intimidation factor that Stevenson and Purcell brings, but with a stronger emphasis on the eccentrically humorous aspects of the character’s personality. Undoubtedly, he would be able to brandish a Negan-like smirk and bring this role to life with a grinding gusto. However, when asked about the Negan role, Durand recently told ComicBook.com that he was too busy with The Strain and Vikings. However, actors have told more blatant fibs to keep these kind of secrets, so this may still be possible.
2. Patrick Warburton
While the veteran television actor with the unmistakably deep voice first got our collective attention as Elaine’s eccentric boyfriend, David Puddy, on Seinfeld, he has evolved into becoming one of the most employable voice actors in the business; notably from his long run on Family Guy and from a myriad of other animated series’ and films.
While nothing about his work in front of the camera or behind the microphone screams “homicidal zombie apocalypse tyrant,” it’s hard to deny that Negan’s comic book depiction is a dead-ringer for Warburton. Moreover, armed with what is, perhaps, the most definitive live-action likeness of the character, Warburton could use the Negan role to delve into uncharted malevolent territory as an actor, while still remaining firmly in his squinty, smirking, comedic wheelhouse. It's a win-win for the actor.
1. Dominic West
The Brit actor may have made his big-screen debut getting properly Shakespearean alongside Ian McKellen in the masterfully modernized 1995 version of Richard III, but his acting career has taken quite the diverse trajectory from Chicago, to 300, to a villainous turn as Jigsaw in the aforementioned (and unfortunate) comic book effort, Punisher: War Zone. However, armed with an abrasive American accent, he became the star of HBO’s influential police drama, The Wire, playing the embattled, rebellious, hard-drinking Detective James McNulty.
While West’s plate is currently filled with film and television projects such as Showtime series, The Affair, this might be a casting for which The Walking Dead gods might be inclined to move heaven and earth. Why? Well, the quick and easy answer is...The Wire.
Of course, while West also possesses the acting chops and the killer countenance of a pretty passable Negan smirk, the idea of having West play this compelling and critical character for the TWD mythos would have to be the ultimate personal coup for creator Robert Kirkman. Going on record about his Wire obsession, Kirkman told Business Insider, “I love The Wire. I think that every actor that’s been on The Wire is absolutely fantastic.”
Consequently, Kirkman has been filling TWD with alumni from that show, with the likes of Chad Coleman (Tyrese) and Lawrence Gilliard Jr. (Bob Stookey), as well as primary Wire cast member Seth Gilliam (Father Gabriel). Does that mean this pick is merely betting on Kirkman’s Wire fixation? Well, that may simply the clincher. However, West’s run as McNulty on The Wire, showcasing a nice balance of a comically sarcastic persona and a volatile temper proved that he has the necessary tools to bring Negan to life.
That’s our speculative rundown of potential Negan candidates. Have anyone else in mind? Prove that your guts were “inside you the whole time” and share it in the comments section!