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'Walking Dead' star Ross Marquand talks about the show's first gay male relationship

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Last night’s episode of The Walking Dead was a big one as we got to learn more about the “stranger danger” that is Aaron. A recruiter for a walled-off community known as Alexandria, Aaron gave his pitch for Rick Grimes and Co. to join his community, only to get a fist to the face and a spoonful of applesauce in return. Eventually, however, Rick came around and the group arrived safely at the gates of what could be their new home. Ross Marquand, who plays Aaron, stopped by Entertainment Weekly Radio (SiriusXM, channel 105) this morning to chat with Jessica Shaw and yours truly about his character’s dietary preferences, that big scene in the barn, and the show’s first gay male relationship. Here are some highlights from the interview.

EW RADIO: Yo, what’s your beef with applesauce, man?

ROSS MARQUAND: Of all the things to have an abhorrence over, I can’t have applesauce—one of the most safe and bland things. I think it’s funny that his mother tried to make him more manly by feeding him applesauce, salmon patties, and onions. Were they served in conjunction with each other? Was it like a casserole, those three items? Or was it just à la carte? It’s like, you’re going to be more manly—have applesauce, dammit

Tell us about the big scene in the barn with you and Andrew Lincoln. Here you are for your first full episode and you have this huge scene with the star of the show.

It was terrifying, I’m not going to lie. Going there on the plane was the most nerve-wracking part because I’ve been a fan of the show for five years. So the flight to Atlanta, I was just sweating bullets. I was mortified. Because not only are you excited to meet some of your favorite characters, but also you want to do a good job. You want to honor the source material, but at the same time—from a very selfish perspective as a fan—I want Aaron to be a person that I want to watch week after week. There was a great deal of pressure, but luckily Andy was extremely kind. He gave me a hug the moment I met him. And then he insisted on rehearsals, which was so wonderful. Coming from a background in theater, that was such a freeing acknowledgement that we want to do some work beforehand. And just having that time in a room where we sat down and worked the scene several times with the director was wonderful.

What’s it like then working with Andy once the scene starts shooting, because he can be very intense?

It was a strange because he gives me a great big hug. He’s so sweet. And then the moment you start working it just switches. It completely switches and he is in absolute work mode—which is wonderful to act across from someone like that who takes his job so seriously. Most of those reactions were absolutely genuine—genuine fear and genuine concern over whether or not he was going to stab me at the base of my skull.

Let’s talk about Aaron’s relationship with Eric, because this is the first male gay couple we’ve seen on the show.

In talking to [showrunner] Scott Gimple about the backstory of Aaron and Eric, it was never really fleshed out how long they’ve known each other—at least from the source material we were given. So when I met with Jordan Woods-Robinson, who plays Eric, we sort of created a little backstory of our own. We thought it was a stronger choice that we had known each other prior to the zombie apocalypse. Prior to everything happening, we had known each other beforehand, we had stuck together. We just thought that was a stronger way to go because it must be such a hard thing as a gay man or a lesbian to find someone in that environment where everything is stretched completely. And we thought it was more interesting from an acting perspective that we’ve been together through this entire two-year stretch.

How closely do you keep up with Aaron’s storyline in the comics?

I’ve basically read up to a little bit past where we are now. I didn’t want to read too much further, because I want to be genuinely surprised as a fan of the show too. I want it to be a thing that unfolds before my eyes. I didn’t want to learn too much about it because it could be the type of thing that colors my performance if I know too much about where he’s going.

What did you think about last week when Talking Dead put up a poll asking whether people thought Aaron was a good guy or a bad guy, and people overwhelmingly voted that he looked evil?

I think as someone who has watched the show for as many years as I have I would absolutely come from the same perspective: How could you trust someone that is so polite and so disarming in that world when everyone who has been in that same realm has tried to kill them every time.

But Aaron definitely has a lighter side to him with the “stranger danger” comment and the quip about a Friday night dance troupe.

That was such a key part of playing it. Even when I first auditioned, Sharon Bialy who cast it brought me back in and said, “I really want you to bring a lightness and a smart-ass whimsical side to the character.” So we shot it again with that in mind. And I think that was all the difference between the character being an über-polite boy scout, and then having a bit of a tongue-in-cheek quality to him where he’s cracking jokes in this environment. This is the last place you would think somebody would be cracking jokes, but that’s kind of his style.

For more Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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