The Walking Dead Interview

Ahead of the zombie show’s return to FX tomorrow, we chat with apocalypse survivors Jon Bernthal and Steven Yeun

Have you been shooting the show in order this year?
Jon Bernthal [Shane]:
Yeah, there’s been certain situations with locations or haircuts or stuff like that where we’ve had to jump ahead to get something from an episode a little bit down the road. What’s different this year to last year, which I think has been tremendously useful for the actors is that last year we got script-to-script every episode. This year the first seven were given to us right off the bat so we really got to see where things headed and where we were going and it helps us enormously. Logistically because we get to learn our lines way off the jump, but also to have a real concrete idea to know where we’re going in the course of the first few months was really helpful.

There are 13 episodes this year rather than six. Are you treating it as one continuous entity or will there be a split in the middle?
There’s a break at the end of the eighth episode and the eighth we haven’t read. I think they’ve deliberately kept it from us so we couldn’t say anything about it. I have heard there is going to be an actual break and it isn’t going to air for a little while, and then they’re going to do the back five.

So you don’t have any info yet on the next season?
Steven Yeun [Glenn]:
I think we’re going to hit the Walking Dead landmarks we’re supposed to hit. As actors we don’t specifically know per se. I think it’s common knowledge that the prison is in the future. We’re definitely getting that but at what point we don’t know.

Last year you were a new show in a genre that hasn’t really been explored much on TV. Do you have more confidence to push boundaries this year?
I think that’s what they are trying to do. They’re being braver in every sense. I think people mistake bravery for real violence and real dark dirty shit on this. I think emotionally and character-wise we’re going for things, we’re going for issues, we’re going to some really tough places in that way too. Yes, it’s going to be super dark this year, and the gore and the violence is going to be like the show is on steroids. I think when you make a bold step forwards and you get this enormous pat on the back it just encourages you to go, “Well, let’s take a fucking huge step forward now.” And I think that’s what everyone is doing and it really starts with the writers.

Have you shot anything this season that has made you squeamish?
I have, but I can’t say what it is. Because I loved the effects and I was just like “Urgh!”, it change my read on the entire scene. It gets really gross, but in a really good way, a very effecting way.

Ever had moments when you have been so squeamish you haven’t wanted to do something?
I think it’s really cool in our cast that there’s just an understanding that you can’t be a wuss on a show like this. Even if you are squeamish, you can’t show up to work and be squeamish because then you’ll just get razzed from that point on. You just fit the standard that’s been set. That’s what so amazing about this cast.

How much of the comic have you read?
I’d read all of it up until we started. Whatever is new after we started I haven’t caught up on. It’s an amazing comic but I think you can’t read it because then you form too much [of an opinion]. The television show isn’t deviating or anything like that but it’s its own entity and its its own medium and I think you have to pay respect to that in some way. I think as a cast, all of us have read the beginning but nothing more. You just go on your own way, otherwise you’re too informed.

Does that mean that whenever you get a script you think it might be your last?
I think there is a sense, it’s not quite that, but I think there is a sense and that is quite important on a show like this for the atmosphere and the world that you could go at any time. One of the first movies that I did was with a lot of Sopranos actors and they said about that, about how every time they cracked open a script you never knew if it was going to be your last one and you never knew when you were going to get whacked. It’s the nature of the show, anybody could go at any time – and we all love it, we don’t want to die. We want to stay and play as long as we can. I don’t think that it’s quite that, especially this season cause we got so many scripts ahead. But we don’t know what happens after that, you know what I mean?

The Walking Dead UK airdate is Friday 21 October, on FX.

Richard is a freelancer journalist and editor, and was once a physicist. Rich is the former editor of SFX Magazine, but has since gone freelance, writing for websites and publications including GamesRadar+, SFX, Total Film, and more. He also co-hosts the podcast, Robby the Robot's Waiting, which is focused on sci-fi and fantasy.