It is THE must watch show for fans of strong serialized drama and the horror enamored. A show about survival, and a modern day wagon train full of diverse characters fighting against a mysterious zombie plague that has befallen the world.
THE WALKING DEAD was created by Robert Kirkman, adapted for the small screen by noted Director Frank Darabont, and brought to life by a tremendous cast which includes frequent Darabont collaborator, Jeffrey DeMunn.
A classically trained theater actor and a veteran of over 100 TV and film projects, I spoke with Mr. DeMunn today about the DEAD source material, Darabont’s sudden departure, and what the future holds for his character.
How familiar are you with THE WALKING DEAD comic series?
Jeffrey DeMunn: Im not really all that familiar with it, as a matter of fact when Frank first called me to do the job I was working on another job down in Dallas and he asked me if I wanted to come to Atlanta and kill zombies and I said ok without any previous knowledge of THE WALKING DEAD. I just took a leap because it was Frank Darabont.
Are you aware of where the story goes in the comics?
JD: I have some awareness of it, yeah, but its not by any means a focus of mine. Its like doing an autobiographical play. Aaron Burr, I did that once, I studied some on the life of Aaron Burr but ultimately what you have to go by is what your script is. So I have some awareness of it but its utterly peripheral.
Speaking of Frank Darabont, obviously he’s no longer involved on a day to day basis with the show. I know you’ve worked with him extensively through your career, how has his departure effected you and how do you think its effected the show overall?
JD: Inevitably it is a massive change. It was Frank who brought everybody together. I’ve worked with Frank, I guess for about 22 or 23 years now on various projects. I think its 7 projects in all, this is my 7th Darabont project and I’m no way unique in that. Our scenic designer Greg Melton went to high school with Frank. Our wonderful zombie-maker Greg Nicotero has known Frank and worked with him for 17 years. The FX guy Bill has worked with Frank, I don’t know how many times, Laurie Holden. I guess what I’m trying to say is that everybody was brought together by Frank, not just the cast not just a few individual crew members but it was a massive reuniting.
He works with a group of people and he carries that talent with him and talent follows him because he is, within our time, he is one of the greats, so yeah its made a massive difference having him leave, it was his vision that took a successful comic book and turned it into a massively successful worldwide phenomenon.
If you picture that there was once a wonderful book called RITA HAYWORTH AND THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, Frank Darabont read it, and had a vision of what it could become as a film and suddenly that became huge.
His ability to take something from the page, from someone elses hand and move it to the screen…THE MIST for instance is a favorite of mine, and I re-watched it for the first time in awhile for an article, and the vision of that movie is striking in how it casts humans as the monsters…
JD: Did you watch it in Black and white?
I did not, I didn’t know it was available in black and white.
JD: Yes, that is the way that Frank originally wanted to only release it, he shot that as a black and white movie but the powers that be said “no you cant do that, people aren’t going to watch a black and white movie and you’ve got a rough enough ending as it is“.
Going back to THE WALKING DEAD, it seems like his impact is still felt and I think that speaks to how strong his vision was.
JD: Well he worked on the first 8 which takes it right through 2.08, which will be now the first 7 because we combined 1 and 2 for the premier to make the hour and a half premier. So Frank’s work is right through what was our episode 2.08 and I believe that will complete what is shown this autumn and then there is a bit of a hiatus, followed by the remainder of this season in which he had nothing to do with the plotline and so on.
The remainder of the season he had nothing to do with, but another big thing, and I don’t mean to go on and on about Frank, but he’s a genius and one thing, he would look at every makeup, he would look at every costume. People knew you had to run it by Frank, he had his hand on everything, especially the editing. So what we do have now for this year is the edit is not the “Darabont edit“, in that you will see some differences and I believe some people have noticed that already.
What episode are you guys up to now?
Can I get any kind of hints as to where the show is going to go?
JD: Not a chance. (laughs)
Not a chance, well, I had to take a shot–I guess you could be called a character actor in terms of movies and TV, obviously you’ve done a lot of theater work as well but you’ve kinda found a home with THE WALKING DEAD in that you’re stable and its an everyday job. How has that transition been for you?
JD: Oh fine, you know when we shot THE GREEN MILE it was an everyday job too, that was 20 weeks. So this is just a long one (laughs), like a long movie, so yeah it hasn’t been a huge transition, the big transition is always between doing theater, and doing film or television.
Which do you prefer?
JD: I don’t really have one I prefer, they’re both still an extraordinary challenge and they’re both still very very exciting to me. So I don’t have a preference, they feed each other. Theater is harder, it’s a tougher job, and it takes more out of you. But I just enjoy them both, I’m fortunate enough to be able to do both.
Your character on Walking Dead is slowly going through a transformation. He seems to be more vocal, a little less concerned with confrontation, for instance, the whole back and forth with Andrea over her father’s gun. How do you feel about that?
JD: Well, I think it makes sense to me. Dale is a protector, a caregiver, a watcher, and eventually people like that have to speak up. Yeah, you’ll see a lot more of that from Dale.
Now in the comic, Dale kinda moves from being a paternal figure in Andrea’s life and moves toward a romantic relationship with her. Is that something you foresee happening in the show?
JD: I haven’t seen it yet, so we’ll just have to wait and see.