[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead. This article also contains information about The Walking Dead comic book and events that may be happening next on the show.]
Another big character from The Walking Dead comic book made his debut on the TV version on Sunday night as previously announced new cast member Ross Marquand appeared at the very end of the episode titled “Them” and identified himself to Maggie and Sasha as a “friend” named Aaron. In the comic, Aaron is a recruiter for a walled-off community named the Alexandria Safe-Zone. While he did not mention Alexandria by name in his brief appearance on screen, Aaron’s presence would seem to confirm that the location just outside Washington D.C. will be the next big stop for the group.
We caught up with Marquand—who is currently appearing in Walking Dead costar Danai Gurira’s play Familiar at the Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven, CT—to chat about how he got the part of Aaron, cracking up his castmates with his celebrity impressions, and the other big Walking Dead role he auditioned for and didn’t get.
EW: Okay, newbie: Tell me about your audition and how you got the role.
ROSS MARQUAND: I have auditioned for Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas numerous times over the past three years. I thought they were great casting agents, but I never booked with them. I would go in there and get callbacks sometimes, but it would never pan out for whatever reason. And I think—you get fake sides, of course—but I think I auditioned for Gareth a year ago. Because some of the language in the show when I saw it six months later matched what I saw in those sides, and I was like, “Gosh, I think I auditioned for Gareth.” And I was so bummed because that was such a great part and it was done so wonderfully by Andrew West. But I’m glad now that didn’t happen because it was only three or four episodes.
It’s funny, because we taped the audition. We did a few takes, I finished up, and they were happy with what they got and they said, “Great. I think we’re good with that so thank you so much for coming in.” It was very quick and painless. And then 15 minutes later I get a call from Sharon and she says. “Hey, I just had this thought. I wonder, can you come right back to the office?” So I fly on back and I’m like, “What’s your thought?” She says, “I was thinking back to your impression videos and Scott Gimple is extremely into improv and impressions,” and there’s a part of that side of Aaron—that sort of whimsical side. He has a bit of a smart-ass side to him. He’s a little more fun and can crack jokes sometimes. And she was like, “We want to see a little glimmer of that in the take.” So I say, “Sure!” We do the take, taped it just once or twice more. They were really happy, but a week later I hadn’t heard anything so I assumed it was a no go. And then I got a call a week later and they said I booked it, so I went down a week later and that was really just the most amazing and painless procedure. I can’t believe it was all so fast and low-pressure.
But at the time when you auditioned, I assume you didn’t know it was Aaron you would be playing, right?
No, they didn’t say the character name, but they said what the character was like.
How familiar were you with the show when you went in to audition—I guess for the Gareth role at first?
I had been a fan of the show since the beginning. I was a huge fan of the show since the Halloween 2010 debut. My friends and I watched it over at my friend Miranda’s house in North Hollywood. We were totally broke and didn’t have the money to go out for Halloween, so we all looked at each other and were like, “Do you want to watch it again?” We just sat there and had a PBR party and watched it again and were so impressed. It didn’t seem like anything else that was happening on TV. It had a very cinematic style to it. So I was a massive fan and was really floored when I got the news because it’s one of my favorite shows and it’s a group of people I had always wanted to work with. I was over the moon.
Once you got the role and they told you whom you were playing, did you go and start reading the comic book?
I didn’t want to do anything until I talked to Scott Gimple first, so I had a phone call with him and said, “I know this is coming from a very specific source material with a fan base that we want to honor. Do you want me to mirror my performance off the depiction of Aaron in the comics?” He’s like, “I certainly wouldn’t tell you to shy away from reading that because I think it will give you some great insights into whom he is, but ultimately I want you to make this character your own.” And that was a really nice note to give because sometimes you can get too caught up in the fandom of it all and the comic books and what people expect from that. It was nice to hear that there was some artistic freedom to make this character what you felt it should be and could be. But reading through Kirkman’s comics was enormously helpful because you do get a really amazing sense of whom he is.
What was the cast like when you started working with them?
It was amazing. Andrew greeted me with a great big hug the second I met him. He gave me a rundown of the weather and what to expect. He said, “You have to prepare for hot and cold, man.” His best friend growing up was my costar in a tiny little movie. It was insane, of all the people to meet and have a connection with. And everybody from Andy to Lauren to Norman to Sonequa to Steven—everybody on set was just obscenely nice; so nice that I felt like I was walking into Terminus a bit. It felt a little scary because everyone was too nice! That’s just the vibe on set.
How often do they make you break out some of your celebrity impressions?
I think it was Alanna that recognized me from this show I did with a mutual friend of ours. She was like “The Impression Guys! You’re the guy that does the impressions!” And then Steven was there and he does some pretty good impressions too. And then Sonequa came up and for the next two weeks every day they would come up with a new one, like, “Can you do this? Can you do this?” And, of course, everyone has been asking if I’m doing impressions of them behind their back. It’s not my policy to impersonate people I work with. I think it’s a bad idea.
So I guess Aaron’s sleuthing skills have to be pretty good here if he has not only identified the leader, but also somehow knows his name is Rick?
He’s been following this group, whipping out his spy gear to some degree. He’s been tracking the group for a while and getting a vibe from them and getting the dynamics of leadership from them and how they work together—and that’s extremely important to him. A lot more is going to be revealed next week.
Also make sure to check out Andrew Lincoln’s thoughts on Sunday’s episode. And for more ‘Walking Dead’ intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.