The first thing you probably notice about Sgt. Abraham Ford is his mustache. Because it is awesome. But you will be noticing a lot more about him when season 5 of The Walking Dead kicks off on Oct. 12. We already know Abraham is intent on getting Eugene to Washington D.C. in an effort to stop the zombie plague. But readers of The Walking Dead comic know there is much more to be revealed about the character, and according to the man who plays him, Michael Cudlitz, we will see it revealed soon enough. We chatted with Cudlitz to get his take on joining the show in full, revelations about Abraham’s past, the big mission to D.C., and what else we can expect in season 5. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You went to your first San Diego Comic-Con as a member of The Walking Dead this summer. What was it like to sort of see all that fandom up close?
MICHAEL CUDLITZ: It was amazing. That energy, at one point, during our panel, Norman turned around to take a selfie — he wanted to get a selfie of him and the audience. He didn’t realize it at the time, but they had brought the house lights up. Just seeing those 6,500 people, that sea of people — you really can’t see when you’re up on stage. You can really only see 15-20 rows back when the lights are on us. When they brought up those house lights it was pretty much all at one level. It’s just mind blowing, seeing them all go crazy. We walked the floor too. Me, Steven, Andy and Scott Gimple threw on our Spider-Man masks, which seemed to be the mask of choice to hide under this year.
Yeah, Daniel Radcliffe was Spider-Man too. Now, fans can basically just accost anyone in Spider-Man masks to see if there’s a celebrity underneath.
Now we’ll avoid Spider-Man masks and it’ll be something else next year, I guess.
Let’s talk about you on the show because you were the newbie last season — you start in the back half of season 4, but you really only got to work with Steven from the original cast for most of it until the end there. What’s it like now being sort of fully integrated into things?
You bring up a really cool point. I did not feel like I was fully integrated yet. In retrospect, if I could choose a way to enter, that would be the way to do it, with Steven, so you’re not sort of blasted by the entire cast at one time having to figure out. Look, it’s a large group, there are a lot of personalities. All amazing people, but it’s a large group. Anyone in that situation is going to feel not just the pressure of meeting everybody, but, you know, you’re coming into a show that’s arguably the largest show in the world right now, taking on a pretty substantial role, as far as the comic book world — one of the comic book fan favorites, a character that exists and that people have preconceptions about and expectations about. So there’s a lot sort of riding on entering.
So, in retrospect, completely thrilled with coming in that way, working with a smaller group and being able to sort of phase in. The rest of the group could see my work completely finished. I’m sure they talked amongst themselves to get a feel for what I was bringing to it, what my expectations were. Like you saw last year, they all wind up in the box car together, that’s when we all really started working together. It’s really fantastic. I said on the panel last year I felt like a guest invited into the house, and everyone was very gracious and they allowed me to sleep on the couch. This year, they built me a room.
I love this character from the comics. He’s a guy who’s very wrapped up in this mission he’s basically sort of given himself to get Eugene to Washington. Tell me about why Abraham is doing this. Is this to give himself a sense of purpose in a world where a lot of purpose is often lost?
You’re a fan of the comics so I can sort of tie into that directly. Not only the world is lost, but everything for Abraham and his specific world is lost. This is the only thing left he has to live for, and it does have purpose, and it does have meaning. It has so much meaning it is literally the single-most important thing in the world that has to be done. Why no one else can understand that is sort of confusing to him. We get into it early on with Steven and his quest for Maggie. You mean to tell me that finding the person you’re in love with is more important than saving the world? If you really look at that question, there’s nothing more important than saving the world on its face, but if the only person left in the world that you love is still out there and you might be able to find them, would you try? What is worth living for if the only person you love and care about in this world is no longer with you? Which plays into his mission as well, and it’s a very sort of curious paradox that drove him to what he’s doing now.
You mentioned that past in the comics, which is a pretty tragic past. Is that something that we’re going to delve into a little more this season?
We’re going to be definitely examining his past and certain things are taken directly from the comics, as Scott has said, and certain things are paying homage to the comics. I think people who are fans of the comics and people who know nothing about it will be equally satisfied with the reveal of Abraham’s past and what is driving him. We’re definitely going into all of the characters, what drives them this year. It’s really, really ambitious.
How does everyone else feel about this mission that Abraham is so intense on taking on? Are they on board with this plan or are there some skeptics amongst the group?
Well, I think anytime you get a group that’s more than two people, you’re going to have differing opinions, but right now, what’s the choice? They’re in a boxcar. You want to stay in a boxcar? Then, it’s very literally, what are your options at this point? I could argue that the group has not had any sort of mission, major arc of a mission ever. It’s been just to stay alive. There have not been a lot of tomorrows in the show. The show is very much in the moment. I think when somebody presents something that is bigger than the individuals, it’s definitely something that everyone looks at and everyone processes in their own way and everyone will have different feelings about that. But the group is getting bigger and it’s like any family unit. When you’re dealing with you and your spouse, it’s very easy. When you start engaging the in-laws and everyone else who comes to the holiday party, things can start to get tricky. I think it’s very much the dynamic that happens. It’s not always bad. It’s not always good. But there’s definitely a dynamic that is ever changing and has to be dealt with.
I’m really curious to see the relationship between Abraham and Rick because we really haven’t seen you interact with him at all except for maybe one line last season. Those two in the comic really butted heads a lot at first, and we saw maybe a little bit of that in the season 5 trailer. Why don’t you tell me what their relationship is going to be like considering that these are two guys that are used to calling the shots.
You did see a little bit in the trailer. Obviously they weren’t agreeing in that moment to say the least. Remember, Abraham is a sergeant. He’s a non-commissioned officer. He’s definitely mission-oriented, but it’s typically dealing with a smaller mission. He’s not necessarily the guy who holds the keys to the big plan. There may or may not be tension with someone who wants to be the colonel or general because that’s not what he’s accustomed to doing. You give him a plan and he will absolutely execute it.
That’s not to say that he can’t be the colonel or the general someday. It’s just saying that right now, he’s not. It doesn’t even come down to that. It comes down to making sure that this mission gets executed and making sure that Eugene gets to Washington. If someone else has a better plan that’s viable that will work, or a better way to do it, or to approach it — he’s not closed off to that. It’s not “We’re going to D.C. my way.” It’s “We’re going to D.C., even though it might have to turn into my way at some point if tensions rise and people don’t cooperate.”
What about the relationship between Abraham and Rosita? They’re a couple in the comic book, but the only hint of that on the show has been his hand on her leg at one point. Is that something we’ll see more of in season 5?
Like I said, with everyone, we’re going to go deeper into meeting individuals. The thing I think Scott does phenomenally is getting you to care about these characters through learning about them. When wonderful things happen to them, you share it. And when horrible things happen, you share it. I think a huge disservice you can do to a character is create a character that everyone wants to die. I don’t mean like Lori die. Everyone wanted Lori to die every week, but we really didn’t want Lori to die. We wanted to hate Lori every week for bouncing back and forth between Shane and Rick, and putting him in that position, and you just sort of loved to hate her.
The worst thing you can do is have a character that people literally want to die every week. You’re like, oh, gosh kill that guy off. You don’t want that. You want people to love these people, to love hating the ones they don’t care for. Scott is phenomenal at doing that and raising the stakes for each individual character. You fall in love with these characters whether you love them or hate them. It’s going to be doing more of that and we’re going to certainly learn more about Abraham and Rosita and sort of what makes them tick. It’s kind of an odd pairing, and we’re going to find out a lot about them and a lot about everybody else.
When you got the gig, did you go and read up on the comic and get all up to speed with Abraham, or how did you decide to sort of take on that source material?
I was a fan of the show and I knew that the show was different from the comics. So I didn’t want to either confuse myself or waste my time in something that was going to make no sense and detract from what I should be studying. When I asked Scott about the research I should be doing for it, he said no, absolutely, read the comic. The emotional portion of the backstory was going to be something that we were going to be pulling forward. It was definitely, if not exactly the same thing, the emotional weight of it would be the same. I took that as useful information and ran with that. Now as we go further in, I’m learning bits and pieces about his actual stories in the series. It was amazing advice that he gave. Huge elements of his past are definitely what’s driving him. There’s some stuff that happens that we see in the comics from what Abraham tells Rick on the side of the road, in the comics — that’s a chunk of time missing that we will be delving into at some point because we’ve already mentioned certain elements of it. They don’t tie in necessarily with the comic. Scott’s just really wonderful about connecting those dots.
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