Josh McDermitt is among the newest faces on The Walking Dead, playing Dr. Eugene Porter, a man who claims to know what caused the zombie apocalypse – and how to stop it. So how does a stand-up comedian/self-proclaimed fan of the AMC series end up being cast as a pivotal character in the show itself? Maybe it's all about the mullet...
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"It was definitely my favorite show; we would watch it every week and have friends over and sometimes we'd have a little Walking Dead party for the premieres or the finales and that sort of thing," McDermitt tells ETonline. "I never really thought I would get an audition, let alone be on it, so to have it all, it’s very surreal. It’s a dream, and I’m just stoked."
Before The Walking Dead, the Phoenix, AZ native was a Last Comic Standing semi-finalist and had a recurring role on TV Land's Retired at 35, but he wanted to broaden his genre range: "I talked to my manager and my agent and said, 'Hey, I can do drama, let’s put the feelers out for it,' but without drama credits it's hard. … For the first drama for me to land is The Walking Dead, I mean, that’s a huge thing and I’m still pinching myself."
McDermitt reveals that during his audition, he wasn't even told which part he was up for: "I had to actually kill a zombie. I had to build a fire and kill a rabbit with a crossbow," he jokes. "No, it’s just a standard audition. The only thing that was different with this was just that they don’t really tell you who the character is. They give you all the information about the character and who they want you to portray, but they’re very secretive. It’s not until you book it, that’s when you find out who you’re portraying. So, I didn’t know that my guy was going to have a mullet until after I got the job. I was like, 'Man, this is getting better and better.' … And next thing you know, you're killin' zombies."
Ironically, the character's trademark mullet became a bit depressing for McDermitt at first during his off-set time in the outskirts of Atlanta: "A lot of it is my hair, but then they clip in extensions just to give it that fuller look," he explains, adding that when the extensions were removed his hair looked like a travesty. "I was so embarrassed. I just asked, 'Can you guys take me to the store so I can buy a hat, since I'm walking around in my off-time with a mullet?' And so they roll me into Walmart, and there were like five people with the same haircut… So, I think if I’m going to have a mullet, this is the place to do it."
McDermitt started reading The Walking Dead comics during the audition process and reveals that the direction his character is heading has one foot in the source material and one foot in the hands of the showrunners. "They’re doing a different version of [Eugene than the comics] -- not completely different -- it’s definitely going to be different and it’s kind of exciting to kind of explore a new storyline. … From what little I know, they’re kind of pulling some things [from the comics], and then they're obviously doing something different, because right now we’re interacting with the character of Tara, who's not in the comics. So that right there just shows you that the storyline’s going to be different because we have a new character inserted into that. It’s going to be interesting to see what they do with it."
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And like many of the newcomers before him, McDermitt says that he was welcomed with very open arms by the cast and crew of the show. "You know, it’s so cliché to say, but it’s true. It’s definitely a family there. … The week we showed up, Andrew Lincoln was not working that week -- and we shoot an hour south of Atlanta -- and he drove down to the set just to meet us. It’s not like he was there for anything else. He came just to meet us, and to have lunch, and to kind of give us the lay of the land and explain how things work around there. You couldn’t ask for a nicer guy and a better guy to be there. He really sets the tone. And before we even got there, I’m getting e-mails and texts from other cast members saying, 'Hey, here’s my info, if you need anything let me know.'"
Catch Josh McDermitt on the season four finale of The Walking Dead, airing Sunday night on AMC.