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Jeffrey DeMunn on "The Walking Dead"

(Interview by Lee Karr)

The AMC press guide describes the character of Dale in the following way, "He is wise, sometimes profound and is the respected elder of the group, though is also rather feisty, not afraid to speak his mind and call others out for mistakes in judgement." It continues with this, "Dale is a fairly self-sufficient man, and ever watchful of the changing dynamics among the survivor community."

Itís easy to see why show creator Frank Darabont immediately thought of Jeffrey DeMunn for that role. Jeffrey DeMunn exudes a sense of dignity and class in his performances, which Darabont is very familiar with. After working together on films such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Majestic, and The Mist, it was inevitable that they would team up again - this time for Darabontís latest project, The Walking Dead. Darabont has even referred to DeMunn as his "good luck charm".

Jeffrey DeMunn has enjoyed a long career in acting, ranging from the stage, to television, to feature films. The Walking Dead is not his first foray into the world of horror/terror either. Besides The Mist, Mr. DeMunn has also appeared in Christmas Evil, The Hitcher and the remake of The Blob(co-written by Frank Darabont).

An admittedly shy and private person, Mr. DeMunn came across as a very thoughtful and warm person. It took many attempts, but I was finally able to secure this interview with Mr. DeMunn, once again courtesy of AMC publicist, Jill Dortheimer. Her help was invaluable in making this interview happen. I hope everyone will enjoy it.

So how exciting is it right now for you to be involved with a hit t.v. series that just got picked up for a second season?

    Oh, thrilled. Iíve been doing this for nearly forty years and never done a series, you know. Itís a new thing, kinda fun. But mostly...God what a great bunch of people! We had a blast! Despite the heat, despite the conditions down there I couldnít wait to get to work every day. So I feel pretty lucky.

Can you talk about landing the role of Dale?

    Landing the role? What do you mean by that?

Well, was it a situation where Frank Darabont just offered you the role or did you have to audition for AMC?

    No, he called me up and he said ĎDo you want to come kill zombies in Atlanta?í, and I said sure.

What was your take on your character when you read Frankís script?

    Boy...thereís not a short answer to that. Itís a complicated thing. You approach it carefully and just learn what you can each step of the way, you know what I mean? I didnít have a take on the character, so to speak, I just studied him up. He obviously had a pretty significant loss - lost his wife - okay there we go. Step two, you know, what else? Heís a fixer, he makes things work. Okay, what else? Just sort of put it together slowly.

Did you have any reservations about being involved in a zombie project, or did Frankís involvement take away any fears you might have?

    Yeah, Frankís involvement took away the worries. I know that when he gets people together theyíre wonderful people and they treat each other well and theyíre talented. That took away any real concern about it.

How was it reuniting with Frank Darabont again, this time for television?

    It was great. Youíre moving at a different pace, but thatís okay. It was wonderful. It was fairly seamless. Itís like when you get together with old friends and you say that thing that we all say, Ďas if no time had passedí. Itís that kind of feeling. We just pick up the conversation where we left off. Itís a wonderful collaboration.

Was it a challenge or difficult switching directors for each episode?

    It was, it was! I wasnít use to that. Yeah, that was new to me. I suppose it could cut different ways, but I think that for us anyway it helped to bring the whole team together, both cast and crew. Because we had to rely on each other too.

Did you have a favorite episode from the six?

    No, I donít think so. As your doing something like that, at least for me as I was doing it, they donít become compartmentalized. Itís like we did a long movie, you know, we shot a lot of scenes, but theyíve got seams between them. You see what I mean? Itís like it was all one story, because it was all one story. So I didnít think Ďwell hereís this episode, now this episodeí...

    I tell you one thing, I didnít like it as much when we were indoors. That came as surprise, because we were all saying Ďoh man, isnít it going to be wonderful to get indoors and get out of this heatí. We were working in the full sun most of the time and it was upper 90's or more and we were getting cooked. But then we got inside and we all missed it, we missed being out.

Thatís funny you mention that, because when I interviewed Gale Anne Hurd she said something similar as well. She thought it was something that the production came to embrace actually.

    Yes it did! It was a tremendous uniter and yeah we got use to it(laughs). I spoke, actually at the time, with some of the crew about that and they felt the same way! It was strange, but the heat and the adversity did bring us together and, I donít know, we were a team against it.(laughs)

Has Frank given you any hints about next season? In the comic, your character and the character of Andrea begin a relationship of sorts. Will that carry over into the show?

    Boy, I donít know what his plans are. Heís dropped some hints, but I wouldnít pass them on. I donít know whatís happening or when, I just know it will be a good ride.

Recently, online reports said that Frank had let go of the entire writing staff for the show. What kind of effect do you think it will have on next season and do you think Frank would tackle writing each episode himself?

    Oh, I think that would be nearly impossible, that would be an impossible task. He needs team mates.

    Iím not particularly worried about it. He knows some terribly talented people and works well them and can bring them in and do it. So no, Iím not concerned at all.

What do you think has been the key to this showís success and why have people responded to it like they have?

    Itís the human story, itís the challenge. Zombies are sort of a metaphor. Theyíre a symbol of adversity and challenge and pressure that people have been under from many, many different sources ever since there were people I suppose. Wars or famine or whatever it may be...and itís just watching human beings struggling against pretty impossible odds is an interesting thing to do. Itís fascinating.

Thatís why Iíve enjoyed it so much. It hasnít dwelled on the gore or the zombies, itís been more about the human relationships and the pressure cooker situation they are all in.

    Yeah, and Frank is obviously fascinated by that. You look at things like "The Mist". All of his stories he sayís Ďokay letís take good, normal ordinary people and put them in a really tough situation and see what happensí. And of course what happens is that some people fare better than others and the second, third, and forth layers of skin are revealed under that kind of pressure. So yeah, itís fun to work on.

Did you go back and watch any of George Romeroís early zombie films or read any of the graphic novels by Robert Kirkman before filming?

    No. I read a little bit of the illustrated book, I got the compendium and read some of that. But then I pretty much said Ďalright, letís wait and see what the script is, letís see what the story isí. So I did a little bit, but not much, Lee.

Hereís a fun little hypothetical for you...how would you fare in a zombie apocalypse?

    God knows...I am a combination of being a terribly self reliant person and I can also lose my cool under tough situations(laughs).

So you're human basically.

    Yeah, there you go. There you go.

Did you hear some of the things that Andrew Lincoln said about you the other day to MTV News?

    No, what did that rat say about me?(laughs)

Iíll read you the quote. He said, "DeMunn is the man. Heís a terrific actor. Heís a gentleman, one of the nicest guys, but heís got this kind of steel in him, this fierceness as well. Thereís also this lightness and deftness of touch, and so funny - he just is the guy". How does that make you feel to hear a fellow actor say such nice things about you?

    Oh wonderful, yeah it makes me feel wonderful. Especially Andrew because I said to him, early on, shortly after I met him and watched him work, I paid him a pretty severe compliment and I said ĎIím not going to say anything more ever about you and if you say that I said these good things Iíll say that youíre a liarí. I left it at that, but thatís just my way of saying that I have huge respect for him. Not only for the kind of work that he does, which is terrific, but his demeanor on the set, I gotta tell you. You know, the fish rots from the head and he is our head. Heís just wonderful! Itís not just that he treats people well and heís nice to people and all that - heís having a blast! If youíre with someone thatís having a really great time, thatís an infectious thing and I think it helped us all. It sets the tone and the tone is, Ďisnít this a gas? I am having funí. And we were, we did, and hopefully we will all next season

Lastly, how would you sum up this experience so far?

    How would I sum it up?(long pause) It just was, I donít know...the words all sound tripe when you try and put it together, but it was a joy - it was a joy. I couldnít, I literally couldnít, wait to get to work every morning. And I was walking out into heat that would just stop a horse and did nothing but guzzle water all day, and youíd feel light headed and then have to have Gatorade, or one of those or something, to get the electrolytes going. It was tough, but couldnít wait to get to work!

© Interview by Lee Karr

(© Homepage of the Dead, December 2010)
Hits: 9702 since 12-Dec-2010

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