Gene Page/AMC
March 23, 2015 at 12:00 PM EDT

Man, that guy Pete sucks. He’s hitting his wife. He’s hitting his kid. And from the looks of it, he’s hitting the bottle pretty damn hard as well. But here’s a little known secret about Pete: The guy who plays him on The Walking Dead, Corey Brill, is actually super-nice. Andrew Lincoln introduced me to Brill on set the day the epic fight scene was filmed—and you can read Lincoln’s take on that fight right here—and Brill was a total team player. I caught up with the man who plays Pete (and will also be appearing on stage at the South Coast Repertory in Coast Mesa, California in Of Good Stock, which begins previews on Friday) to get the inside story on how he snagged the role, what it was like for him filming that tussle, and how he feels about being labeled a “porch dick.”

EW: Why don’t you start off by telling us how you get the role of Pete on The Walking Dead?

COREY BRILL: Well, it’s kind of a crazy story. I was doing theater in Pennsylvania at a little summer stock theater there and work in the southeast and Atlanta and North Carolina and Louisiana for actors came up in conversation with somebody else in the cast and he was like, “You have to meet my friend Barry. He has an agent in North Carolina that he loves.” And I met him about a week later, he introduced me to his agent, I started working with her, and this was I think the second audition I got through her—I put myself on tape out of Los Angeles and I think I heard by the end of the week that I just needed approval from AMC for this role. So I got myself out to Georgia!

How much did they tell you about the role when you were auditioning?

It was completely secretive. The scene that [showrunner Scott Gimple] had written was unidentifiable as a Walking Dead scene. It could’ve been from any contemporary show, really. I think the character had a different name—he was a doctor, but again, this wasn’t a post-apocalyptic world this scene was set in. The one thing that was very clear was that the character had a temper, and it came out in that scene. So I kind of found that point where, “Okay, this is where the lid comes off for this guy.” Really the only thing I knew going in was that he was a doctor and he had a temper.

Had you watched the show before at all before you got cast?

I hate to say it, but I binge watched it once I got the job. I had heard great things about it, but you know, there’s so much great TV out there—looking back on it now, I don’t know how I survived.

Did you try to look through the comic books to get ideas about your character?

It’s funny, I went to a bookstore in Peachtree City, and they had it on the shelf, and I literally looked through my hands— you know, it was like I wanted to see, but I didn’t want to see. So I got a sense of what happened from that, but I didn’t want to go frame by frame and really think about their take on the character. Scott was very cool. He was like, “If you want to look at it, do…if you don’t, don’t. It’s totally up to you.”

Okay, here’s a question for you: How often when we see Pete is he drunk? Because that dude always looks a little soused.

[Laughs] I think at that point you maintain a certain level of alcohol in your bloodstream at all times. I think by the time he’s having his first drink, the ones from the night before are just wearing off. After a rough night, this guy often wakes up on the porch with cigarette ash all over him and lucky he didn’t catch on fire in the night.

Yeah, speaking of hanging out creepily on the porch, what’s it like to have people calling you “Porch Dick” all over the place after Chris Hardwick dubbed you that on Talking Dead?

Luckily nobody in real life seems to have adopted that one. I saw a lot of things coming, but Porch Dick was not on my horizon at all. I did not see that one coming.

Pete is supposedly this super-important doctor, but is he ever even in his office? I don’t think we’ve ever seen him actually helping anyone.

I’m trying to think if there was anything that was cut. There might have been a moment or two where we see me letting someone into the doctor’s office. Who knows? In the next episode you might see me in the office, I’m not sure. But you’re right. Well, it’s so safe in there. You get a few colds here and there, but that’s it.

Let’s talk about that epic fight scene. I was there on set and that was some serious stuff going on in between you and Andy Lincoln. Have you ever had to do anything like that before?

No, I never have and boy, it was like the best day of my working life. I’ve never had so much fun and worked so hard at the same time—fantastic. And, you know, in theater, anything that you do physically, you’re going to have to repeat it each night —sometimes eight shows a week. But having to do something so physical over and over and over again, it’s so much fun because you don’t have to act anymore–you’re just literally trying to breathe. [Laughs]

Tell me what it was like when you started to see Andrew Lincoln’s pre-scene method and work routine there. The guy gets pretty intense. Were you prepared for that?

I had seen a little hint of it in some other scenes—the one over by the pond when he almost ends it right there. Before that scene, too, he was banging on these water coolers beforehand and just keeping his distance. And then, when we got to that fight scene…you know, what’s so great about Andy too is that I never felt unsafe or really scared. You definitely feel like you’re in good hands, and I hope that he felt the same. But it’s inspiring, because I come from theater and there’s a little bit of a purist thing that theater actors can have, and TV and film—it could be viewed that it’s a shortcut or you don’t have to work as hard. Boy, Andrew Lincoln blows that out of the water. I mean, the hardest working actor I’ve ever shared a set with—just incredible. And an incredible guy, just so great.

To be there and watch you two go at it time after time was unreal.

I’m glad to hear that too, because as it was happening, I was like, “God, this must be just another fight for everybody here.” But I really did get the feeling that it was special. Oh, man, Mike the director was just like a little kid—he was so excited about every take. And the same with Andy. It felt really special.

It must have freaked you out a little bit when Andy had you in a headlock and just kept whispering, “F— you” in your ear.

Well, I was whispering it back. [Laughs] There was so much blood that they put on my eyes and forehead that it was dripping down into my eyes while we were doing the choking scenes and it actually got behind my contact lenses and I’m sure there are some photos and shots where my eyes look brown, but that’s because the blood got behind the lenses. I still have them—they look bright pink to this day. It’s amazing.

How do you get to the place where it’s real but not real?

That’s the best place in the world to be, I think. I imagine it’s the same for athletes and WWE wrestlers—when you’re able to really feel open to what’s coming at you and yet know that you’re safe, it’s the best feeling in the world. I don’t know how you get to it—you get on a show like that and get to work with people like that, I think, is what you need. Safety is a huge part of it and Monty—the stunt guy—he allows you to relax that part of your brain that would be worried. Although I think I did connect with Rick at least once, I think I clipped him.

As if dealing with Rick wasn’t bad enough, now Pete has to deal with Carol in the finale judging by the sneak peek clip they showed on Talking Dead.

You’re right, I don’t know which is worse. [Laughs]

I gotta say, I’m not liking your chances next week in the season finale, sir.

Hey, who knows, anything can happen, right?

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

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