'The Walking Dead': Jeffrey Dean Morgan on playing Negan -- 'I grew up with a bat in my hands'
The Internet exploded when word came out that Jeffrey Dean Morgan would be playing The Walking Dead’s biggest comic book villain Negan when season 6 returns in February (although look for Negan to show up near the very end of the season). Having already played one psychopath in the Comedian from Watchmen, Morgan seemed like the perfect choice to play the foul-mouthed, barbed-wire-covered-baseball-bat toting Negan.
As excited as fans are to see him in the role, the actor himself may be even more excited to carry around that bat (named Lucille). That became clear when Morgan dropped by Entertainment Weekly Radio (SiriusXM, Channel 105) this morning to chat with Jessica Shaw and yours truly about his addition to The Walking Dead universe as well as his charismatic turn as lawyer-turned-investigator Jason Crouse on The Good Wife. While Morgan admitted that continuing after this season on both shows is going to be difficult (“We’ll see how that turns out. It’s gonna be f—ing hard.”), he had plenty to say about his brand new job as AMC’s biggest baddie yet.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So how familiar were you with the character of Negan from the comic book when you got the job?
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: I’m really f—ing excited. I was familiar. I watched the show, one. But two, I’ve always had a foot in the comic book world. I grew up with my uncle’s comic books at my grandma’s house, so I’ve always loved my comic book reading. And then that took on a whole new level when I did Watchmen. I go to Comic-Con every year, generally with some project of some sort.
So a couple of years ago people started saying, “Hey, man, you should be Negan in The Walking Dead.” So I started reading the comic books just because I’m a fan and I love what Kirkman is doing and so I was very aware of Negan and had read quite a bit of the comic books. So my agent and manager were on the phone and said, “The Walking Dead have offered you this thing,” but they didn’t have any information. They didn’t know the character’s name. It was all a big secret.
And they sort of got halfway through the sentence saying “We don’t know the character’s name, he’s the new big bad…” and I knew immediately who they were talking about. They just got halfway through and I knew immediately who it was. It was no question. I was like, “Absolutely. We’re going to f—ing do it!” And that was it. And literally a week later I was in Atlanta talking with the cast and hanging out.
You brought up Watchmen and I’ve seen shades of Negan in The Comedian. There are some similarities there, right?
Yeah, there is. There’s definitely some similarities. Negan is special in a lot of ways and the more kind of digging I do into Negan, the more excited I get. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve been this giddy about doing a role. I think what’s there in the comic books and the graphic novels is this foundation of this man and the complexities of who he is. Every time I look at the graphic novel — which in the past few weeks next to my bedside I’ve just had stacks of Walking Dead stuff; and so when I’m not memorizing my Good Wife lines and trying to figure that out I’ll just grab one of these things and look at it — and I will read and reread and see something different in it each time. Kind of the excitement level of bringing this guy to life is at such a peak right now, I don’t know how I’m going to survive till April [when the show goes back into production].
How close to the comic are they going to keep the character?
The character itself is going to be as close as humanly possible.
The foul language is an issue.
Look, it’s a speed bump. I’m not going to say it’s an issue because they’re working on it. We’re going to push AMC — the plan is to push them as far as they can because it’s who Negan is. He uses some colorful language. And I use some colorful language. And reading the comic, it’s important. So we’ll see where that lands. It’s our intention that this character is going to leap off the pages of the comic book. It’s very important that that’s who it is. Some of the characters there’s much more leeway, but Negan is a guy that you want to keep as true as possible, and that would be how I want to play him as well.
I’m sure a lot of people want to know if you’ve had a chance to meet actor Steven Yeun yet?
I met everybody. I got a chance to say hello to everybody down there. That being said, I don’t know what’s going to happen yet. [Laughs]
Have you seen your Lucille yet?
She is gorgeous. She is a beautiful girl.
You practice your swing a bit?
I don’t need to practice my swing. I grew up with a bat in my hands.