The Walking Dead: Josh McDermitt on if Eugene has gone to the dark side
SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched the Feb. 26 episode of The Walking Dead, “Hostiles and Calamities.”
Eugene! What are you doing?!? Seriously, what are you doing?
That’s because it seems impossible to know for sure after Sunday’s “Hostiles and Calamities” episode of The Walking Dead. On one hand, it appears that after being given a nice room, an Atari 2600 console, the company of women, a seemingly unlimited supply of pickles, and the ability to steal a bedpan, that Eugene switched sides and professed his loyalty to Negan in no uncertain terms.
But is Eugene on a power trip and responding to the luxuries and confidence showered upon him, or is he merely playing the part to gain the enemy’s trust and really working as a double agent within the Sanctuary walls? (Or is that just wishful thinking on my part?) We got a hold of the man who plays him, Josh McDermitt, to ask him exactly that. McDermitt also talked about brushing up on his Atari skills, that super awkward reunion with Dwight, and having the crew burst out laughing while he attempted not to burst into flames. Click through both pages to read the entire interview.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Last time I saw you a few months back, you freaked out because I was wearing a Yars’ Revenge T-shirt to honor my favorite Atari 2600 game. Now I know why, because Yars’ Revenge is all over this episode. How much playing of the game did you actually get to do?
JOSH McDERMITT: Well, while we were shooting, it was only on like a 90-second loop, something like that. We had a whole team of — this is how bad the industry’s gotten — we had a team of special effects people to run the Yars’ Revenge loop on a TV for Eugene. But the thing that I was able to finagle was, they were like, “Okay, so we’re going to have this game on a loop so you’re not going to have to know how to play it or anything,” and I’m like, “What? I think you should get an Atari and I should play it. I mean, I need to be truthful in my performance!” So I went down to set for like two days in a row and didn’t just play Yars’ Revenge. I was playing Pitfall and Moon Patrol, and Pac-Man. I played all the classic Atari games. I was going nuts, man. It was so great.
Pitfall was my other favorite.
I’ll tell you this: Not to knock Pitfall, but it does not hold up. It wasn’t as good as I remembered. I was like, “This is too easy!” I remember as a kid I was like, “This is the hardest thing in the world I will ever do!”
So here’s the big question that everyone’s going to be asking at the end of the episode: Has Eugene gone over to the dark side?
Well, I’m getting dodgy on that, Dalton. I don’t know. I don’t want to know.
You mean you don’t know, or you know but aren’t going to tell us?
I have ideas, but I’m not going to share those. These are secrets that I need to keep as an actor. Because everyone was asking me, even on set, they’re like, “WHOA!” Andrew Lincoln said it was one of his favorite episodes of the series. He would call me or text me just about every day. He’s like “Really, seriously, what’s up? Has Eugene crossed over?” I told him I don’t know and I don’t want to know. I even told [showrunner] Scott Gimple, “Don’t tell me, because if I know then I’m going to start playing that kind of direction and I don’t want to.”
I would rather it be a surprise because this was a huge surprise at the end of the episode. When he says “I’m Negan,” I pushed my script back and I threw my arms in the air and went, “YES!” It was such a surprise for me. I loved that, and I want that to be a surprise for everyone else. If I know, then I will start leaning into that a little bit. This is all boring actor talk. The people don’t care. They just want to know if Eugene is playing Negan or not. I get it. I’m not revealing it.
What’s also interesting, though, is that he doesn’t just say, “I am Negan.” He doesn’t even let Negan finish his whole what’s-your-name question. He just goes in and he goes all in with no hesitation.
Well, that’s the thing. He’s struggled with confidence in certain areas of his life as long as we’ve known him. This is probably the most confident thing he’s ever done, is to cut Negan off in the middle of his sentence to say this. It’s interesting. Negan’s got a bat to his face again and he’s very intimidating, and here Eugene just steps up and says it. I love it, man. I’m worried about the backlash from the fans, but we’ll see what happens. I feel like I just got over the fact that he didn’t have the cure to the apocalypse. We’re going to go through this. I’m like, oh jeez!
Is there a moment where it crystallizes for him? What about that scene where he’s patiently waiting in line for cold medicine, decides to skip the line, gets yelled at and told to go back, starts to go back, pauses and then plays the whole “Don’t you know who I am?” card? And then he just starts taking everything.
He had been told several times since he got to the Sanctuary that, “You’re one of us now. These people, they eat s—, you eat good.” The savior who was taking him around — I don’t know if her name was established, but the savior’s name is Laura — Laura is telling him, “Hey, you are not these people.” It’s taken a while for him to realize that, so he’s standing in line trying to get the ingredients he needs to make this little death pill and realizes, this is taking forever. These people are just chatting about poker night and all this stuff.
He’s going to step up and get what he needs in a Eugene fashion, but then there was something written in the script that I don’t know if it got edited out or not, but this was kind of the moment for him. He walks away from that table and he looks over to the right and he sees some saviors kind of laughing at him, and he has this moment of like, they don’t believe I’m one of them, and if this is true, if I am actually part of their group now, I need to step up. Not just show them, but prove to myself and prove to everyone else that I am going to be Negan. I am someone who needs to be respected. And so he just walks up and does it and it’s a turning point for the character because I think there’s still that hesitation for him everywhere he goes.
But in that moment — boom, he steps up. Everything is great, and then I love that he’s grabbed the bedpan and the fly swatter and he’s grabbed all the blister packs and he’s got the little stuffed animal. He just grabbed a bunch of stuff and this is a very empowering moment for him and very important for the rest of his arc there.
What I love about the character of Eugene is he’s got both those sides, where he’s so timid and cowardly at some points, you could say, and other times he’s just super cocky. We’ve seen that before from him.
He’s always been very cocky and arrogant in certain areas of his life. His intelligence, his game, you know, he spits game with women. I mean, this guy thinks he’s Matthew McConaughey. He’s not — but he thinks he is. That’s why I always like watching him interact with women on a romantic level, or at least from his point of view, because he always crashes and burns, but in his mind, he’s like yep, that went well. He has no idea. He always just lacks those social cues.
So he has that arrogance and the cockiness, as you say, in certain areas, and now we’re starting to see it bleed over into other areas of his life or his personality, and I think it’s only a good thing for him. He’s a man who’s had to change and adapt to survive throughout every turn of this apocalypse, and this is what he’s continuing to do.
NEXT: The awkward reunion with Dwight, and getting laughed at by the crew
So is the human genome project just Eugene’s go-to lie at this point?
Yeah. I mean, he’s a master liar. He’s a master manipulator. We saw that when we first met him on the show, and I think those lines, word for word, are the same lines he was saying before. Yes, that is his go-to, because he kind of saw that this was crashing and burning. Negan was just starting to lose confidence in him when he was saying, “Are you just a smart guy or are you just some idiot?” For Eugene to say what he’s saying wasn’t enough for Negan, and so he had to revert back into that. Now I am a doctor, I have PhDs in this and that as well as that. He had to increase his value, I guess you could say, with Negan. It may be a go-to lie, but it works.
I love the very awkward meeting between Eugene and Dwight. Considering their history and that Eugene chomped on Dwight’s man parts, it was a fun little end to the episode to see them come together like that.
It’s like, “Hey, I don’t know if you remember. I don’t know if you caught my name before I bit down on your crotch, but it’s Eugene. Nice to meet you.”
It’s like The Office: Sanctuary Edition.
I know, man. We’ve got to do a parody of that. Yeah. Austin Amelio, who plays Dwight, is great. It was such a short and quick scene, but we had such a fun time shooting that scene because we were just laughing so hard at the awkwardness of that. It’s like, here are two guys that are after two different things, and yet they’re stuck together and they have this awkward history between them. One of them’s munching down on a pickle.
I don’t remember if it was in the episode or not, but Dwight had one of those suckers that he got from Doctor Carson’s waiting room, and so there were a couple takes where he was just kind of fumbling around with it and Eugene had finished his pickle and he’s like, “By the way, are you going to eat that sucker?” Eugene is in hog heaven right now. He’s like, this place is great! We got pickles. I got suckers, Negan’s wives, everything! I’m Negan. Everything’s awesome.
I was very happy to see you kept the streak of Eugene crying episodes intact.
I’m going for a record. I don’t remember what season, but there was a season where Norman Reedus, was like, “Dude, I was crying every episode, I couldn’t do it anymore.” I’m trying to break that record.
Well, you’ve got a new streak going too, I believe. We’ve had a few episodes now where Eugene covers his face with his hands. That’s a classic move right there.
He doesn’t want to see things, man. That’s kind of the driving force with Eugene, is that he was so scared and was so full of fear when he was down in the clearing when Glenn and Abraham died, when he was on his knees and truly believing he could’ve died as well. He covered his face there because he just didn’t want to believe it and he didn’t like that fear and that feeling, and I think that’s the driving force behind all of this is like, I don’t want to feel that way again. And so there are moments where that’s coming back and this Negan guy — whose basically the apex predator, top of the food chain — is coming around and just wreaking havoc, and Eugene doesn’t want to see it.
I was going to ask about those little lab experiments Eugene does for the wives — it’s basically like the Mentos and Diet Coke trick or something. Did you actually get to do those or not?
Yeah, I did. It was great. The special effects guys showed us how to do it and I got to practice it a bunch and it was very consistent and everything. And then, of course, when it’s rolling, it never went the same way twice. There was one moment, because these little balloon things were filled with hydrogen, and I was supposed to put the candle up to the balloon and it just explodes, but there were a couple of takes where it just pierced a pin-sized hole in it, so the hydrogen comes jetting out and it’s on fire so it’s like a blowtorch.
Basically, the fire cuts the line and then the balloon starts flying around in this crazy direction and I feel like it’s going to land on my mullet and catch it on fire, so I start running and I’m screaming and everyone’s laughing at me and like, “I’m literally right next to this fireball that’s not exploding and you guys are laughing at me? Go for it.” I’m freaking out, man.
We need that footage on the Blu-ray. We need to see those cuts.
Oh, man. I’m all for it. I have no shame. Please! I’m sure I look like a giant idiot. I’m sure it wasn’t as bad as it looked, but standing right next to it, that’s what you do with stunts, especially with pyrotechnics and things like that. If something doesn’t go exactly according to how it’s supposed to go, then get the hell out of there. That’s me running, and of course, the crew who’s standing 60 feet away are laughing their butts off and it’s like “No, no, you don’t get to laugh at that.”
For more Walking Dead inside intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.