Walking Dead Week: Andrew J. West on Playing Season Five's Potential Antagonist Gareth | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Walking Dead Week: Andrew J. West on Playing Season Five’s Potential Antagonist Gareth

A Different Kind of Evil

Oct 11, 2014 Web Exclusive
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This week is Walking Dead Week on Under the Radar's website. Season five of the wildly popular and critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic zombie drama starts this Sunday, October 12, at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Central) on AMC. In anticipation of the show's return, for this special theme week of coverage we have interviewed around 10 members of the show's current cast and will be posting one to two Walking Dead interviews every day this week.

Given that the bad guys ultimately lose in every good vs. evil drama presented in television drama, part of Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman's genius is in limiting the number of purely malevolent antagonists in his story. Shane ended up being a power hungry, largely unstable character, but fans still debate whether his harsh pragmatism might be the best strategy for surviving a zombie apocalypse. The Governor, too, despite ending up a homicidal sociopath, was a nuanced and somewhat sympathetic character. With Gareth, the leader of the Terminus group, The Walking Dead introduced a new kind of antagonist to their storya well-spoken, tech-savvy Millennial.

Played by Andrew J. West, Gareth does not appear in the graphic novels, so even diehard fans of the series don't know exactly what to make of him. Is he a precocious Mark Zuckerberg-like CEO who happens to be managing a group of people by ruthlessly protecting them from outside threats? Is he the leader of a creepy cult, having set up a room full of candles to commemorate the lives of lost members? Or is he the steely-nerved leader of a group of cannibals who lure the desperate into Terminus in order to restock their freezers with fresh meat? Whatever he is, West is here to explain why he doesn't see Gareth as a simple villain, how he imagines his character's motivations, and how Gareth represents something new in The Walking Dead universe.

Matt Fink (Under the Radar): So I read an interview with you where you said you didn't really consider Gareth a villain in the traditional sense. I was wondering how you do consider him.

Andrew J. West: I consider him as a person who is confronted with the ultimate horror. I understand the impulse, especially for story writers and audience members to want to organize the story in terms of good guy, bad guys, heroes, and villains. But as an actor who is playing one of these parts, I think it's dangerous to think too much about a label for your specific character. It can be dangerous to think too much about "Is my character a good guy? Is my character a bad guy?" I think it's much more helpful to just think of the character in terms of this being a person who has a unique history and who is confronted with tough decisions that they have to make, and though you or I wouldn't agree or maybe we would do the same thing, the decision has been well thought out, and there are reasons for it. Whether they are good reasons is up for debate. But it's not really the actor's job to worry about that too much. As the actor, you've got to trust the writers that they've constructed this character in a well thought out manner. You've got to just jump on board and try to bring this character to life and get on board with the decisions that they make. For me, to think of him as a bad guy doesn't really get at anything. I think of him as a complicated personas complicated as you or I or anyone else. And you find ways of justifying the things that he does or doesn't do.

Is it important as an actor to understand your character's motivations and that they be reasonable on some level?

It's certainly important that you understand where the motivations are coming from, absolutely. I think that's probably the most important thing for an actor is to understand why he's doing the things that he's doing and why he has made these decisions. But what is and what isn't reasonable is largely up to debate, and especially in a show like this, it will be up to the audience to decide what is reasonable and what isn't. But when you place characters in this type of world, the very concept of rationality is called into question.

One of the main themes that the show deals withand it's one of the themes that the comic book deals with, alsois what is rationality and how do you run a society in this world? How do you treat people? How careful are you with people? These are all questions that Rick is faced with early on, and he makes decisions in the beginningin the comic book and in the showthat he believes are morally sound decisions that turn out to be basically ill-advised or at least not well thought out enough, because he has not come to terms with what the world has become. So one of the most interesting things about the show is that it calls into question how our moral compass is calibrated now and how is it different from before this event.

What's cool about Gareth, and what I really love about this character, is that he has very specific ideas about how we are to treat one another now and how it's different from what it was before the event happened. And they're very different from what Rick believes in a lot of ways, but what's interesting is that Garethand whether you disagree with him is a different matteris more certain of the decisions that he has made and the philosophy that he has adopted about what this world is than Rick is. I think Rick is still searching for a lot of those answers, and he's revising his viewpoint. He's constantly reevaluating"How do I treat people? How do I approach people? How careful with people do I need to be?" I think Gareth has come to those conclusions more quickly and has cemented them in his mind more quickly than Rick has. At least that's how the character struck me when I began reading the scripts.

Would you say Gareth sees the world in a more black and white way than Rick does?

I don't know. I don't know if he sees it as more black and white. I think that he has a different history than Rick, and some of that will be explored in the new season. I think it's just altered the way that he approaches interpersonal relationships. I don't know if it's black and white; it's just different.

In the season four finale, when Gareth herds the group into the train cars, he doesn't call them by their names. He calls Rick the "ringleader" and Daryl the "bowman" and so on. There was some speculation that this was a reference to earlier in the season when Rick tells Carl not to name the pigs because they might have to kill them eventually. Did you have any conversations about that with the writers?

No. To be honest, there was not. Scott Gimple, the showrunner, is fantastic at giving just enough information to the actors to play the scenes appropriately and to have enough information to go into the scenes knowing what you're trying to do. The rest of the info is not really revealed to maintain the integrity of the material and make sure things aren't leaked. The specific reason for why those names were given wasn't really discussed, and I had my own take on it and my own ideas, and whether or not they were the same as what the writers had in mind, it wasn't going to compromise the integrity of the scene. So it wasn't really an issue. What they are is just for me, and it isn't really important. If you look up a lot of the interviews that Robert Kirkman or Scott Gimple have been doing recently, you'll see a lot of answers to these things will be revealed very quickly. They're not going to leave people hanging too long on a lot of this stuff. We'll find out pretty fast what is going on at Terminus.

Since Gareth doesn't appear in the comics, did you have any idea what he was going to be about?

I did not. When you go on the audition, you audition for materials that are written specifically for the audition. It's not material from the show itself. So during the audition process, I knew nothing about the actual character. I didn't even know the character's name. I just knew I badly wanted to be a part of the show, so I knew that I was in good hands, and I was willing to do whatever they asked me to do. But I didn't know anything about the character until I showed up on the set in Atlanta, and even then, when we shot the finale for season four, I didn't know where it was going. I really had no idea. I had a meeting with Scott Gimple before the season finale, and he gave me the information that I needed to go into that finale and play those scenes appropriately, but aside from that I knew nothing. Even going back into season five, things were being revealed to me very slowly, just through reading the scripts one by one. Going into episode two, I had no idea what was going to happen after the first episode until a couple days before we started shooting it and I got my hands on the material. So it's been a very slow process for me, also, to figure out who this guy is and where he comes from and where he's headed.

So it wasn't the sort of thing where you'd have conversations about what kind of character he would be?

A little bit. I had conversations with Scott, and I had conversations with some of the other writers, but it was just the bare minimum of information that I needed to do the job well. Again, it's a lot of general stuff. "Well, Gareth has become a leader. He's a strong leader now, but we might want to explore the idea of him not always being that kind of personality. Maybe it's something he has grown into over the recent times and because of the recent events." Things like that. We'd have those kinds of conversations, and that was helpful. But we kept it on a general level. We didn't get too specific about things. We'd get more specific as time went on and we shot more material. But they've got a great design over there. Scott Gimple and the rest of the writing and producing teamthey really know what they're doing and how to serve the show and also protect the show at the time by not letting too much information out. You know, it's a show that surprises, and it's exciting to not know where this thing is heading. It's important that they don't compromise that.

We haven't really seen a character like Gareth on the show. He doesn't seem like a southerner. He's tech-savvy. He almost seems like a typical Millennial or someone who could be working for Google. He certainly doesn't seem to have much in common with The Governor. It's seems like you're going into unchartered territory with him.

Yeah, I definitely think so. That's another testament to the grand design that Scott Gimple and the rest of the writers and producers have. We are going to see a new character in Gareth, and in season five, we're going to see a new facet of this world in which all of these characters live. That's one of the exciting about this new season; they're shifting gears a little bit and they're moving forward. It's not repeating itself, and a lot of that comes from how Gareth has been designed as this new person that Rick and the rest of his group has to contend witha new personality and a new vision of the world. All of those things you saidhe's a little more tech-savvy. I always viewed him as an intelligent guy and a guy who has a plan. Obviously, he's a bit younger of a leader. That all leads to different outcomes and things they have not had to contend with yet.

I've talked to a lot of the cast members and they talk about how the cast and crew is a big family. Did you feel differently in your position, just because you're an antagonist?

No, I didn't. You always wonder about that going into a job like this. And when the characters are so at odds with one anotheras they were in the season finale of last season, at least at the beginning of the relationshipyou always wonder if it's going to be weird. How method are these people? Will I be accepted? But that wasn't the case at all. Very quickly, they made it clear that I was very welcome and part of the family. That helps. Especially when you're working on a TV show that is ongoing for months and months, you need to have that kind of kinship in order to make it run smoothly, and this set is absolutely one of the best that I've ever seen or experienced. I felt very much at home right off the bat.

www.amctv.com/shows/the-walking-dead

www.twitter.com/andjwest

 



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jewels
October 11th 2014
4:07pm

“He doesn’t seem like the typical southerner.  He’s tech savvy.”  What an ignorant, closed minded, jackass.