Walking Dead Week: Michael Cudlitz on Playing Abraham

Man on a Mission

Oct 08, 2014 Web Exclusive
Bookmark and Share


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.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of The Walking Dead's nearly unprecedented success is the fact that it is built upon so many actors that hardly anyone knew before the show became a ratings juggernaut. Steven Yeun, Emily Kinney, Melissa McBridethese were actors who were pretty much completely unknown by American audiences when the show debuted in October of 2010. Andrew Lincoln had starred in a number of British TV shows but none were widely known in the United States. Norman Reedus, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Michael Rooker had each taken memorable starring turns in films, but none had carried the weight of being the focal point of a TV series. And then there's Michael Cudlitz.

Formerly the star of acclaimed AMC series Southland, where he spent five seasons as Officer John Cooper, Cudlitz is a TV veteran and a familiar face for anyone who has watched Band of Brothers, Lost, or any number of highly-rated shows from the past 25 years. But if he was disappointed by having to share the spotlight with The Walking Dead's ensemble cast, it hasn't shown in his bravura performance as Sgt. Abraham Ford, the mission-minded ex-military man. One of the only characters who seems to be enjoying the zombie apocalypse, smashing in walker skulls like a child popping balloons, he's single-minded in his mission to get to Dr. Eugene Porter to Washington, D.C. so they go down in history as the men who saved the world. Like his character, Cudlitz is concise in conversation, dropping the occasional colorful one-liner into his speech when he gets rolling on a topic. But where Abraham seems eager to explain his assignment to whoever will listen, Cudlitz speaks like a man who keeps most of his thoughts to himself. Fortunately, he agreed to share some of his thoughts with us, opening up about his long career, his feelings toward his character, and the art of saying nothing in interviews.

Matt Fink (Under the Radar): So is doing this show your first extended experienced in the South?

Michael Cudlitz: Yes. A couple years ago I shot Forces of Nature in Savannah, and I shot a small movie in Mississippi for two weeks. But this is my biggest run in the South.

At this point would you say you're used to being down there?

I'm used to being in Atlanta. I think Atlanta is a great citylots of great food and great culture. I grew up in New Jersey, and it reminds me a lot of the area I grew up in, strangely enough. I love it out here, actually.

How long would you say it took you to adjust?

Pretty quickly. This is what we do. We're nomads. You go from job to job, and you meet a new group of people in every job you take. If you're successful, you're doing it a number of times a year. I'm fortunate enough to be working for a number of years, so it was a pretty quick adjustment period. It's normal. This cast in particular has been extremely gracious. We're all in this together, and the working conditions can be pretty tough. It's almost all exteriors. And everyone is far away from everybody, so you cling to each other for comfort and that feeling of safetymuch like the show.

Did you have any particular expectations for what it was going to be like when you were joining the cast of The Walking Dead?

No. I learned a long time ago to have low expectations and you will always be surprised. In this case, I was pleasantly surprised. More and more that's becoming the case. A lot of the people who do this for a living are pretty well adjusted. They're accepting of other people and the way people work. It's a good situation.

Had you heard about this cast being particularly close-knit and having a good rapport with each other?

No. Not necessarily before I started. After I was hired and met with [Walking Dead showrunner] Scott Gimple, he told me that everyone is very close, and he was right.

Had you been a fan of the show before you joined the cast?

Yeah. I wasn't caught up, and I wasn't the biggest fan, but I had read the pilot before it came out and thought it was fantastic. I had high hopes for the show, and they were realized. What drew me to it as a fan was that it wasn't ultimately about zombies but about how these people make their way through this world to rebuild their lives and recreate society. I was shooting Southland at the time [The Walking Dead] was airing, and we were just going into production when The Walking Dead was starting to air. I wasn't able to watch it when it aired, but before I started I was all caught up. I read the comics, and I could see definite similarities with the source material and the characters and what they'd become. Obviously, they have an opportunity to flush out the characters and make them different than they'd been in the graphic novel, and they've done a great job with it. Some liberties are taken and some things are changed, and Robert [Kirkman] has a chance to say, "What would happen if this character hadn't died? What would happen if these two characters were in this world together?" That's what happens with Abraham and Tyreese. They weren't together in the comic like they are in our version. Our characters have a past that is still in the comics, which is great, because you still have a sense of the broad strokes of where we're going, but you're not locked into anything specifically because things do change a lot.

As an actor, do you get to collaborate with the writers on your character?

Not really in this situation. There's a vision that Kirkman and Scott Gimple have and are pursuing. That's not to say that you can't give input on specific stories, but no one really calls you up and says, "Okay. Where do you want your character to go over the next couple years?" It's definitely not a closed door and they won't tell you to go to hell. But they have their jobs and we have our jobs.

Did knowing that characters on this show die regularly change the way you think about this show, knowing your time could be limited?

When shows are picked up, they are picked up by the network, and then months later the actors are either picked up or not picked up for the show. A show getting picked up doesn't guarantee you a place on it. It's highly likely you will, unless you shit in somebody's cornflakes or you're difficult or completely unaware about how much of an ass you arewhich happensbut you expect it and hope that you'll get invited back if the show gets picked up. Going into this show, you know exactly what it is, so I don't know if you approach it that way. I do know I could be killed at any moment, so it changes the way you lease your apartment. Maybe the way you make some long-term life plans, if you're going to be out of town. There is a little bit of unknown to it, but it's a known unknown. It's how you are hired, so for anyone to be surprised when your time comes, they're kidding themselves. That's not to say I won't be sad when the time comes, because I'm having a great time. But that's the job we're doing here, so hopefully I'll be around for a very long time. I know it's not up to me.

How much do you know about where your character is going? Is it just a script-by-script basis?

Yeah. You get broad strokes, very subtle broad strokes and vague mappings of it. But it's pretty script-by-script.

It's interesting to look at season four and look at the current news, with the Ebola scare and terrorists beheading people, both of which were major plot points on the show.

Oh, interesting. Yeah, they've been beheading for years, but as far as it being in the news and being a topical force in the world right now, absolutely. Yep.

Do you ever have conversations about this stuff with your other cast members?

Nah. We're just trying to figure out where we're going to have dinner. [Laughs] We talk about everything.

I talked to Josh McDermitt, and he said you were probably the most similar to your character of anyone on the show. What do you think about that?

Oh, interesting. I don't know. I don't think I'm very similar to him at all, but we're not who we think we are. We're who other people see us as.

You don't think you have much in common with Abraham?

Maybe. I definitely have a strong sense of what's right and wrong and what I believe in. I follow my convictions 100%. I care about my family. I wouldn't argue it. But I just don't really look at it that way.

When you're portraying him, do you feel like you pull a lot of yourself into that portrayal?

Everything in our world is ratcheted up, so there might be elements of me in there. But I'm not aware of it, because everything is at 11 all the time.

From what you've seen, do you think any other cast members are very similar to the characters they portray?

I don't know if I know them well enough outside of work to make that determination. You've got to remember that people are not only on the show, they're also living out of town in a group, and we all have our masks that we put on. We all take our positions in our structured society that we've set up outside of the show. Everybody does what they do.

Have you had any particularly interesting encounters with fans of the show?

They're all interesting. These are some intense fans. There are people who will wait outside the set for days on end in the pouring rain, literally day after day after day. The same fans who've gotten signatures and who we've stopped and said "hello" tothey come back again and again. It's pretty awesome, actually. Probably 99.9 % of them are massively respectful and excited about the show and all of the actors. Nothing crazy yet, but I'm sure it's coming. [Laughs]

When you're not on set can you blend in?

When you see a huge, bright handlebar moustache, there's no blending in. I try to wear a hat, but that just draws more attention. Josh [McDermitt] gets to take off his mullet, Dania [Gurira] gets to take off her dreads, Norman [Reedus] gets to drop his crossbow, and they all look very different outside of work. I think it's a lot easier for them to blend in.

I know everything is locked down tightly as far as what you can't talk about. Do you know exactly what is off limits?

Yeah. They're very clear and specific. They control the information as far as the specific story information, and I think that's a good thing. There's no confusion.

It must be strange doing these interviews when you can't really say anything about what's going on with the show.

I've joked about how I've never talked so much about nothing in my entire career. You talk around stuff, and it's interesting. You can only talk about things in retrospect. You can only talk about things that have already happened and that the audience already knows or has seen in trailers and stuff. If AMC puts it out and it's in the public, we're allowed to talk about it. Other than that, we're not. We're not allowed to talk about who we're working with, because people can put the story together. It's...interesting.

That must be hard keeping that all from your friends and family.

Yeah. You just tell them you can't talk about it, and it becomes easier. They say, "Hey, what about...?" and you just go, "Nope." It's not up for discussion.

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

www.twitter.com/Cudlitz

 



Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.