The Walking Dead: Austin Amelio on playing new villain Dwight
[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Twice as Far” episode of The Walking Dead.]
He’s baaaaaack. And about a thousand times more evil than before. When we first met Dwight (or “D”) back in episode 6 this season, he took advantage of Daryl’s generosity by stealing his motorcycle and crossbow. Kind of a jerk move. But that could not prepare us for the Dwight 2.0 we encountered on Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.
First Dwight shot Denise dead — and with Daryl’s crossbow, no less — and then straight up taunted Daryl after. Things were about to go from bad to worse before Eugene decided to make a meal of Dwight’s man region and distract the Saviors by chomping down on a very sensitive area.
We spoke to the man who plays Dwight, Austin Amelio, about joining the show, the big change in Dwight — both external with the face, and internal with him being a big meanie — and that harrowing biting scene with Josh McDermitt’s Eugene.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we get into this latest episode, take me through how you landed the role of Dwight.
AUSTIN AMELIO: I was in L.A. for seven months, and to me it was just another audition. I worked my ass off on it the night before for, like, eight hours. So I went in and was one of the last two auditioners, and I heard the casting director go, “Okay, well, we’ll just find the guy tomorrow.” So I was like, “Okay, this is it. I’m bringing it.” And I guess just ended up having a good audition, and it was one of those ones where I was like, “Okay, I think I did a really good job.” Then two days later, they said I booked it, signed some papers Monday, got ready Tuesday, flew out Wednesday, and started shooting Thursday. So it was really crazy. It was super quick.
And how familiar were you with the show when you started filming?
Not familiar. I really didn’t even know what it was. I don’t have a TV or anything, so I had heard of it, but it was so far in a different world, I was like, great, I’m going to go down and do an episode, and that will be it. And then I talked to [showrunner Scott M. Gimple] and he was like, “Well, you’re actually one of the comic book characters, and you’re going to have a huge part,” and I was like “Oh my Gosh! This is crazy!” I had no idea, so all of it was very surprising. I still could not conceive how big it actually was. I was just so worried about getting down there and working and making sure my work was on point. Even still, I’m like, this is pretty crazy for me. This is my first TV experience.
So once Scott told you about the character, did you go check out the comics books at all to see what the version of Dwight was like there and what happens to him in the comic?
Scott is awesome. He really laid it all out there for me, gave me the background of the guy. I did dabble in it a little bit, but not too much, just because he said “You kind of have your own freedom here, because this guy is coming in brand new.” So I had a lot of fun getting into it and creating it with Scott. He really was very precise about who this character was, so I didn’t have to dive into it too much.
When we first met Dwight, he seemed like a half-decent guy who was just stuck in a bad situation and who did what he had to do and took advantage of Daryl’s generosity, but he didn’t seem like a terrible person. Now, however, we see a very different Dwight in this episode. What do you make of that, and what has changed?
His whole thing when I first got introduced was hanging onto his morals and his values and hanging on to the concept that he just wants the world to go back to how it was. And that was kind of where I was at with him in that episode. And now he’s a completely different guy. He’s adapted to the world. He’s running with Negan, and I think he’s still held back, but he’s adapted, and he knows how the world works and there’s no turning back. I think he’s come full circle to the understanding of what’s really going on.
He’s taunting Daryl, as if he’s angry at him for some reason.
Yeah, and now there are certain rules that he has to follow, and that’s just what it is: Those are the rules. I say it in the episode. I go, “This is how we like to start a business deal. This is kind of the way it is.” And at this point he doesn’t even blink an eye when he makes that kill.
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How did you and Josh McDermitt talk about approaching the big scene where he attempts to bite your manhood off?
[Laughs.] It was actually pretty crazy. I got the script the day before, flew in, got off the plane, got in a van, went directly to set, and we start rehearsing the biting scene. And Josh is a super nice dude, but I haven’t been on the show long enough to get to know him that well so I’m like, “Hey, I’m Austin. Good to see you. Okay, are you ready to get this going?” And he was down on his knees and fake biting my dick off, and it was pretty funny. So we were doing rehearsals for it and sending it to Scott. I guess that’s the life of an actor! [Laughs.] Like, “Okay, here’s the scene. Get comfortable with it and make it happen.”
I understand you had some protection down there.
Yeah, we had a cup, and the guy who set up the rig did an awesome job. They had this little harness thing that he held on to and bit down on. We had to get it really meticulous because if I were to pull too hard, I didn’t want to yank Josh’s teeth out. That would not be good. It was very meticulous because we didn’t want to hurt him, or hurt myself in that lower region.
Let’s talk about your face with the giant scar. We know from the comic book what that’s all about but won’t spoil that here, but how long were you in the makeup chair for to get that look?
I normally get there an hour before we get on set. The makeup artist who does it is a genius, and it’s really cool to watch him work on it because he’s perfecting it each and every time he gets in there, so it’s his own little piece of art that’s getting better and better and better, and now I think he’s got it dialed in.
What was it like the first time you looked in the mirror and saw that?
It was great, man! It had some transformational qualities for me, because for Dwight that was kind of dehumanizing, and I’m now trying to wear it as a prideful thing. And I think that’s the only way for Dwight to go about that is to wear it as a battle scar. Once I get that thing on, I feel pretty knee-deep in Dwight.
AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.