MEFCC 2017: The Walking Dead’s Josh McDermitt: ‘my character has really taken a left turn’

Josh McDermitt, who stars as Eugene Porter in The Walking Dead, explains why surviving a zombie apocalypse doesn’t make horror films less scary and how he feels about recent plot twists affecting his character.

The Walking Dead actor Josh McDermitt at Comic Con. Courtesy MEFCC
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Actor Josh McDermitt, who plays Eugene Porter in TV zombie horror The Walking Dead, is part of one of the biggest horror hits of recent years – but he ­confessed at Comic Con last weekend that in real life he cannot watch scary films.

"I get scared watching horror movies, I'm quite a sensitive spirit," he says. "I can watch Nightmare on Elm Street – I didn't want to, but I can – and go, 'OK, well, Freddie's fake'.

"But something like Poltergeist: horrible. That would sit with me for a week and I'd have nightmares every night. Anything that has that spiritual element messes with me, big time."

McDermitt adds that although he can handle a little more ­terror now that he has worked on a horror offering, he still has to be careful what he watches.

"I have gone back and watched some of the classics, because being in The Walking Dead and seeing the make-up and the costumes I guess the curtain's been pulled back for me enough that I get it," he says.

"But I still have to stay away from things like The Ring or It Follows. I mean look at that, It Follows – even the name scares me. There'll be a trailer comes on the TV and I'll have to close my ears and cover my eyes."

McDermitt also admits that his nervousness means his work can sometimes be a traumatic ­experience.

“Even shooting the show can give me nightmares,” he says.

“We were shooting a scene where I’m shooting a zombie with a machine gun, and I know it’s a stuntman and we’re firing blanks, but the stuntman’s jerking his body as he falls to the ground, and we did take after take after take – it really messed with my head for weeks.

“I basically went from sitting on my couch playing video games to shooting a guy with a machine gun. That does something to you. Just that violence entering your life– it’s hard, man.”

McDermitt had better get used to the violence. His ­character was introduced in season four and, although The Walking Dead is notorious for killing off characters, he was still alive and kicking at the end of the recently ended seventh season – and, although the show's ratings have slipped a little from their peak, it is still one of the most-watched shows on TV and is unlikely to end any time soon.

“Robert Kirkman that created the universe [the show is based on his long-running comic-book series] did so because he said he would watch a zombie movie and ask, ‘Well what’s next?’”, says McDermitt. “So it’s basically been created to run forever, looking at the aftermath.

"I'm sure the TV version will end at some point, but the comics will keep going, and it wouldn't surprise me to end one version of the show and bring in another version. They already did [spin-off] Fear the Walking Dead, so maybe there could be a Oh No, The Walking Dead or The Walking Dead on Ice.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do but it’s clear the fans are eager for more and while that’s the case, I’m sure they’ll keep it coming.”

As far as his own future in a show where not even fan-­favourite characters are ­guaranteed survival, McDermitt admits he does not know what his fate will be.

However, this season has been a big one for Eugene. He was taken from Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) group by vicious killer Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and pledged his allegiance to him, turning against his former friends in the process.

“It’s really interesting for me because my character has really taken a left turn,” he says. “We’ve diverged from the comic books with this storyline – it’s not in them so it’s exciting for me ­because I really don’t know what’s going to happen till I go back to shooting [season eight] in a few days.”

To balance the terror ­McDermitt might want to take on a comedy role or two – the actor performed stand-up for 15 years before joining the zombie hordes apocalypse, and admits his newfound fame is not ­without a flip side.

“It’s been hard because I’ve had to reintroduce myself to that community as a comedian,” he says. “Eugene has got so big that now my agent will put me forward for comedy roles and everyone is like, ‘What? He does comedy?’ No one knows anymore.”

McDermitt had some unusual plans for his time in Dubai, off the usual tourist trail.

“I want to test out this theory that you can leave your wallet in a cab and you’ll get it back,” he says with a laugh. “Is that really true? You could never do that in the United States.”

McDermitt seems genuinely humbled by the show’s global success.

“You don’t realise how big it is until you step outside the US,” he says. “We were in United ­Kingdom last month, and ­Germany, and did a tour through Asia the month before that – it’s just massive everywhere.

"It's really exciting to be a part of something that's like a ­cultural juggernaut. It really is like a Star Trek. People are ­going to remember this show and be talking about it for a long time."