Garret Dillahunt can do it all, and he practically did on Deadwood, playing two totally different characters who had absolutely no relation or connection to one another. He has also proved his comedy chops, starring for years on Raising Hope.
One gig he could not land, however, was the role of Negan on The Walking Dead. While the actor publicly lobbied for the part on Twitter — and says there were indeed some very preliminary discussions about the matter — he was locked into another show at the time (Amazon’s Hand of God) anyway. The role eventually went to Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
But the seed was planted back then for bringing the versatile actor into the Walking Dead family, and sprouted last fall when it was announced that Dillahunt would be joining companion series Fear the Walking Dead in season 4. EW was on set for Dillahunt’s first episode playing John Dorie (which will air as Fear’s season premiere April 15 on AMC).
What can he share about his new character? What was it like joining an already established show in the midst of a full reboot? And what’s this about him wanting another major crossover? Read on to find out.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So start off by telling me how this all came about. How’d you end up on this show? I know you were a fan of The Walking Dead.
GARRET DILLAHUNT: Yeah, I was a fan. There’s a lot of press out there about me auditioning for Negan, which never really happened. There was some discussion about the possibility of it, but there was no way I could do that with Hand of God going on, on Amazon. Not that it was offered to me. I keep telling Jeffrey [Dean Morgan], “It was always yours, man. I never could have got that part.” But talking to [showrunner Scott M. Gimple] about that, we developed a little relationship and he knew I liked the shows, so I guess when this role came along and I was suddenly not on a show, it was like, here we go!
You’re finally here, you’re battling walkers — what does it feel like?
Well, it’s all pretty new to me still. This is our first episode, so I’m still finding my feet a bit. We’re all still finding the voices of the new characters. It’s weird to join a show in progress always because you’re standing on their backs. You know, they had three seasons and here we come in. But they’re such a good group. It’s been really seamless I think, and I wish to work with them more.
I was going to ask about that because it is interesting whenever you join a show in progress.
Yeah, it can be tricky.
Is this more or less tricky because there are so many changes, and there are a lot of new people coming in?
There are a lot of people coming in, in front of and behind the camera, so I’m hyper-aware of the original cast’s feelings and I imagine what they must be going through, like, “What’s going on? Is this still our show?” And it very much is. I’m probably more sensitive to it than they are.They’re probably fine. But I just want to make sure that I fit in.
You look like you’re in a western, and that’s not accidental. I was talking to directing-producer Michael Satrazemis, who said you all were going for that sort of look with the show.
Yeah, my character of John was was a trick shooter for fun before the thing happened, so he’s employing those skills now. We don’t want him to be like a cartoon, but that’s his weapon of choice, so I think the comparisons are inevitable. But it’s not like I have cowboy boots on, you know what I mean?
Yeah, but it’s a different look and vibe that should help differentiate it from the other show a little bit.
Yeah, although Rick’s pretty cowboy. He’s got that low-slung-y thing. I’m hoping for more crossover, I think that’d be fun, eventually.
In what way?
Like, we all cross over all the time. It’s great to have Lennie [James] here kind of leading the way, and it’d be fun to go on the other show, too.
You said John’s a trick shooter, so does that mean you had to practice a bunch of tricks and stuff?
Sure, I’m practicing a lot, but the other thing is we decided he’s more of a good shot than just, like, juggling guns. Because zombies aren’t that impressed with the twirling, so that might go out the window pretty quick. So the main thing I asked for was that I’m a good shot. It’s a pet peeve of mine when people with machine guns can’t hit a thing.
Had you kept up to speed with Fear in terms of what had been happening, or did you start binging when you got the gig?
Yeah, we’ve always watched. I can’t say I’ve seen every single episode, but I’ve seen most. I’ve known Kim [Dickens] since Deadwood, and I was very excited to work with her again. I think they’re really talented, and I was pleased to join them. And nervous.
How would you do in a real zombie apocalypse?
I think okay. As long as they’re nice slow ones like this. If they’re them fast zombies, forget it. My running days are over, man. Those guys are tireless, and I’m not.
How much have these guys told you in terms of the whole arc of the season and your character? How forthcoming have they been?
They’ve told me quite a bit, because they’re trying to seduce you into doing the show. They don’t know I’m sold from the jump, so I pretended like, “Well, I don’t know. Where’s this going to go?” And they told me the arc that’s going to happen and who I’m looking for and the interactions there, and I like it. I like it. I like being a likable fellow, I like being a little funny, but capable. I like those kinds of people. So yeah, they clued me in quite a bit.
How much is the humor going to play a role here in terms of this character?
I don’t know how much, but I like it when it shows up. There are always moments, even in great tragedy. I’ve been at funerals where you crack up. There’s dark humor. I think it’s how you survive, and it might be more his modus operandi. We didn’t want him to be just another brooding badass on the show, waiting to stab some zombies, and so there’s optimism and guilelessness and hope. I think a lot of it’s he’s lying to himself, but it’s how he’s coping.
Is it because he’s been a showman in his past sort of life?
I think it’s just more who he is. Maybe he wants to be from a different time, probably would have been more comfortable in some other time. So he says “ma’am” and “sir” and wants to take care of people and make everybody happy, and doesn’t like making people unhappy.