When it was announced Jeffrey Dean Morgan would be playing the infamous Walking Dead comic book villain Negan, the casting seemed perfect. And having watched him on set, I can say that Morgan has Negan’s mix of evil motives and disarming charm on lockdown. The guy is bringing it every single take.
But his approach is not a carbon copy of the comic book baddie. Morgan is adding some new wrinkles to the character with his take on the leather-clad lunatic. We spoke to the actor to get some insight as to what to expect from his Negan when The Walking Dead returns with season 7 on Oct. 23 on AMC.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You came on set for the finale to film that one scene and then had a long break before starting on season 7. How much were you thinking about this character during that time off and how you wanted to approach him?
JEFFREY DEAN MORGAN: I sure thought about him a lot. I have stacks of all the comic books, and what I have taken from those panels is a posture or a smile or whatever it is, and then filling those blanks in between. And as closely as we follow what Negan says and does in those comic books, we also have to add and subtract. We’ve added a lot, obviously, that’s not in the comic books with Negan. Not only trying to keep his language and his persona, but it’s how he walks and how he stands and all that kind of stuff.
I’ve created this whole kind of physical presence that is unlike anything I’ve ever done before, kind of how he moves. My move now for Negan and what I’ve taken physically from him is a kind of lean-back smile, which I saw in one panel one time. I’ve taken that and run with it. What I have found in doing it and seeing a little bit of playback is it is really unsettling because it just shows this kind of comfort and casualness that Negan has in these horrendous situations when he’s doing his thing.
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Watching you on set, it seems like your Negan is a little bit less manic than the comic version, but with this disarming charm and what-me worry smile that could erupt into violence at any second, which makes him even more disturbing in a way. Do you notice any differences between your Negan and the original?
This is unlike anything I’ve ever done as far as a character. I mean, Negan is just an original. I could try to draw parallels with say, the Comedian, and I’ve done a couple of other bad guys, but I’ve never done anybody like Negan.
And as far as similarities with the comic book, yeah, he might be a little bit more manic, but understand that I’ve got to connect those panels together and how Negan does that, there’s not a script for. So the writers will give me the material and then it’s about okay, well, how can I make that work? I’ve got to make this guy real, you know what I mean?
I think that was the key — if I just make this guy manic and kind of one dimensional then I don’t have anywhere to go. So I thought, for me, and especially after doing that first episode, the introduction, and some head bashing, there had to be a place I could go. I try to make every scene a little bit of a rollercoaster so you don’t know. So it’ll keep you on your toes of where Negan is, and I only have so much I can go on working on the comic book. Then I get all this dialogue. How can I make that make sense and make it effective for the other actors that I’m working with?
So what we’ve created is very disarming. I think there is this f—ing charm and devil may care, but you’re going to do it my way. But he does it with a smile. But when that violence comes, there is no doubting what this guy is going to do and how he’s going to do it, and I think we’ve established that very early on, that at any given moment you can die in front of Negan. What I hope is that it does make it scarier. I think after the premiere airs this year, I think the audience is going to get a very good idea of what Negan is capable of. So if there’s a scene where he’s smiling and people are like, “What the f—? He’s not a badass.” Well, just watch, because at any given minute, you know, Lucille is going to take your f—ing head off and he’s going to do it with that same smile. That’s the thing.
Check out a video of Morgan below on Negan’s extensive cursing, and for more Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.