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Q&A: Actor Michael Cudlitz on Season Six of “THE WALKING DEAD”

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There is no damned corner on this damned Earth that has not been dicked hard beyond all damned recognition. You got a shit storm behind door A and a storm of shit behind door B… I’ve been to eight county fairs and a goat rodeo but I’ve never seen anything like that.

Is there any character on THE WALKING DEAD who has summed up the experience of immersing oneself in the show better than Michael Cudlitz’ Sergeant Abraham Ford, the tortured warrior soul who wields both machine guns and rapier wit with equal panache?

Likely not. And so imagine how pleased FANGORIA was to discover during a recent conversation about the WALKING DEAD’s sixth season—out now on DVD and Blu-Ray —that Cudlitz the man proved as enlivening and awesomely badass as his character.

FANGORIA: You’ve had quite a varied career as an actor, but there’s not a lot of horror-related stuff on your resume before THE WALKING DEAD. Were you a fan of the genre before taking the gig?

MICHAEL CUDLITZ: Actually, I’m a huge, huge horror guy. Coming up, I paid my way through school doing construction for film and television and my first jobs were all on low budget horror movies. I actually spent a season working on the George Romero TV series TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE—where one of the Assistant Directors was actually Tony To who I worked with again years later on BAND OF BROTHERS. And then not long after I got out of school I was on the construction crew for TALES FROM THE CRYPT, which was awesome as well.

FANG: Understatement!

CUDLITZ: Yeah, I loved it! So, in addition to just being a fan of horror personally—we’re talking everything from THE OMEN and CARRIE and even further back all the way up through all HALLOWEEN movies, all the Freddy movies, all that stuff—I’ve been around the genre for a long time professionally. And, yeah, THE WALKING DEAD has been by far my biggest opportunity to play around in that universe, but a few years ago I produced a thriller called, DARK TOURIST, and it was really gratifying for me that the horror world embraced it even though it’s not a traditional horror movie. It was cool to get my toe in that pool—horror has a very loyal, very opinionated fan base.

FANG: That’s one way to put it!

CUDLITZ: Hey, they’ll tell you, good or bad, what they think. I like that. Honesty is something we could use more of. I think with any creative pursuit—film, television, writing, fine arts, whatever it is—if you’re actually trying to create or say something real or different some people should hate what you’re doing. You cannot please everyone—nor should you try. If everyone is pleased, you’re not pushing hard enough. You’re not being as sincere as you could be. If you’re proud of a project and you’ve got critics and detractors…well, good. It means they’re engaged, at least—you forced a reaction; got them to actually care and think. Horror is a good space to push those sorts of boundaries.

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FANG: As a horror fan it must be a thrill, then, to be a part of such a revolutionary, iconic show—something that provided a real shot in the arm to the entire genre.

CUDLITZ: Absolutely. It’s amazing. If I were to talk about the highlights of my career, it would have to be BAND OF BROTHERS, SOUTHLAND, and THE WALKING DEAD—and I’m really proud of each and how different they are. But portraying Abe on WALKING DEAD is the most fun I’ve had, ever. I show up every day at work and just have a blast. You add to that the fact that so many different people with very different tastes connect to the show in such a real and powerful way and…wow, it’s just been a gift. Truly. I’m very fortunate.

FANG: Can you tell me a little bit about how you went about developing your character? How much did you draw from the scripts, how much did you draw from the comics, and how much was your own spin?

CUDLITZ: You know, not all the characters began their lives in Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels, but most of the main characters, like mine, did. And there’s just so much there—Kirkman’s already so beautifully layered these character’s lives from panel to panel. So for me, as an actor, I don’t have to go hunting around for much. We know what the characters look like, their mannerisms, how they carry themselves. They’re already so wonderfully rich as they exist in the graphic novel that it’s very easy to sort of stand them up out of the page and have them start walking around outside of that. I like to say the TV show takes place in the space between the panels. [Executive Producer] Scott Gimple—just a great writer who loves and respects the source material—has done an amazing job of building on the foundation that Kirkman is giving him and bringing that intense, emotional journey to life. My job, really, is just to respect their work by committing to this fantastical world with these extremely high stakes. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to do that as best I can.

FANG: Amidst the intensity of the show, Abe occasionally brings a bit of levity to the end of the world. Do you enjoy that aspect of the role?

CUDLITZ: I love it. [TALKING DEAD host] Chris Hardwick calls him the Shakespeare of apocalypse or the poet laureate of the apocalypse—something like that—which is perfect ‘cause there is this strange, dark blue collar kind of poetry to how he talks—so out there. And no filter! [Laughs.] I mean, it’s just so crazy and fun. Then, at the same time, here’s a guy who is completely haunted by the horrible things that happened to his family. There’s a lot going on there to dig into.

FANG: Right. You just alluded to the darker elements of the show, so let me ask: as an actor and just a person, when you spend so much time immersed in a story like this, does it make you look at the world or life in a different way?

CUDLITZ: Not really. As a person I’m pretty much a realist. I think the show handles all these subjects in a very, very real way. What would happen if there were an apocalypse and everything that we know of our society was instantly destroyed? Hard to say THE WALKING DEAD would be far off the mark. I mean, look at our political climate now! If everything were to go to crap tomorrow you know there would absolutely be at least two distinct factions—and probably hundreds—convinced they know how things should be run. And they probably wouldn’t be up for putting their ideas to a vote. The zombie apocalypse portion of the story is, as I said before, obviously fantastical. But the rest of it is a very realistic social thought experiment about what would transpire if a whole society were suddenly thrust into a survival scenario.

FANG: Is there anything about season six that was particularly exciting to you?

CUDLITZ: I just loved the way the noose tightened this season. The way these episodes were written, produced, directed, the wonderful acting of the people I do my thing with—all of it just brought the audience into this group and made them feel both the love and sense of impending doom these characters felt. I thought it was a terrific season. Heartbreaking, but terrific.

THE WALKING DEAD: THE COMPLETE SIXTH SEASON is now on Blu-ray and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

About the author
Shawn Macomber http://www.stopshawnmacomber.com
The ravings of noted South Florida pug wrangler Shawn Macomber have appeared in Decibel, Magnet, Reason, Maxim, Radar, Shroud, and the Wall Street Journal, amongst other fine and middling publications. He also hosts the podcast Into the Depths and pens the metal-lit column Tales From the Metalnomicon for Decibel magazine.
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