Josh McDermitt misses being licked by Norman Reedus on set of The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead was one of the very first shows to go back into production during the pandemic thanks to an elaborate system of electronic proximity tracing put in place by a former Army medic turned infectious diseases specialist. Unfortunately, for a cast notorious for elaborate pranks and seemingly odd displays of affection, one staple of The Walking Dead set had to become a thing of the past while filming in Covid, and it is a loss mourned by actor Josh McDermitt.
The man who plays Eugene is quick to praise The Walking Dead crew for overcoming all the adversity of filming in a pandemic.
"The great thing is we're doing this with the same crew every year, the same people, and that helps," McDermitt tells EW. "We obviously have all the protocols in place and that's keeping everyone protected and that sort of thing. Health and safety of the cast and crew is the number one priority, and I think everybody has that in mind."
All that said, there is one downside in that certain customs of yesteryear are now verboten, including a long-standing custom of cast member Norman Reedus.
"I mean, I don't know how many times Norman's licked me or licked someone else over the years," McDermitt notes. "And, all of a sudden, he's got his tongue on a leash and you're like, 'Okay, I guess Norman is not licking me this year.' And, honestly, in our final season, I miss that."
While McDermitt may be concerned about the distinct lack of licking happening, his character of Eugene has bigger issues — having led his team to a new community named the Commonwealth that currently has them in custody and may not be so thrilled about their arrival. With the show's final season kicking off Sunday on AMC, we spoke to McDermitt about Eugene's journey in season 11, and if he thinks his character has this Commonwealth situation… well, licked.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it like for you when you started filming on the final season, even though it is a long final season spread over two years?
JOSH McDERMITT: It felt really weird, just because we were starting at a time of the year we don't normally start in. We had to maintain a social distance, so we weren't able to hug each other. Everything is done from a distance. So I don't think it's really sinking it yet. It just feels really, really weird. And yet, at the same time, it feels all completely normal. And the fact that the episodes are about to start airing feels crazy, just because we normally air in like October. And here we are in August. It's like, "Whoa, what? Hold on." It's like getting a little whiplash, looking around, like, where am I? What's going on? It's weird. None of it's really sinking in yet. I just watched the first two episodes and it seems like ages ago that we shot it. It's weird. It feels like I'm watching a whole different season.
It sort of fits in with the last 17 months of not being able to keep track of time at all.
I don't know how many times I've asked this year, "What day is it?" It doesn't matter if it's Saturday or Tuesday, every day is kind of the same. And I don't really know what's happening and what day I have to pay my bills, and things like that. And thankfully, I haven't gone into debt yet because of it.
So how would you describe Eugene's journey in these first eight episodes of season 11?
He's full of anxiety. He doesn't really know the fate of the people back home in Alexandria. He left during the war to get help. Obviously, he had other motives as well, but he doesn't really know in his mind what's happening back home. And so, there's a lot of anxiety of like, "Oh crap, I have to make this work." The stakes are higher than they've ever been. And he's been in some really high pressure, high-stakes situations, and he always comes out on top. And I think he always has that confidence to come out on top.
And so, right now, we're starting to see that maybe that confidence isn't there. Or is it going to elude him? Will he be able to regain it and recapture it? And that's just kind of where he is. He's in this weird, in between, anxiety-ridden place that he's never really found himself before.
Does he feel extra pressure and that there's a lot riding on him in terms of how things go with the Commonwealth. After all, this is his mission, this is his idea, this is all on him.
Yeah. It's interesting, when he has ideas for something, a lot of times he's having to convince people, "Hey, my way is the right way. This is the way. Trust me, trust me, trust me." And when he kind of went off on this journey, everyone was like, "Yeah, go." So I think that's throwing him a little bit too. It's like, "Wait, you guys didn't push back. Oh, man. Now I really have to make sure this works." It's not even just to save face, like he would normally. It's like, "Oh, you guys didn't push back on this. Is this the right call?"
Plus, he's a risk-taker, obviously in his own way, and he's kind of making these decisions for other people. A lot more people are impacted by these decisions. So I just think that we've seen his growth over time to get to the point where he's really thinking of other people a lot more than he's thinking of himself. And kind of that selfishness isn't there — where before any risks that he was taking was really to make sure that his oxygen mask was secured on his face before he helped other people. Now he's just like, "Let's just get as many of these oxygen masks on everyone's face as possible." I don't know why I went to a plane reference, but that's kind of what he's thinking in his mind is just like, "I just got to do this."
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AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.