Interview: ‘Walking Dead’ Star Josh McDermitt On Becoming Eugene & Dream Role
Josh McDermitt is more than just the guy with the mullet. As Walking Dead cult favorite, Eugene Porter, the Arizona native has many talents: he’s a comic with drama experience (see: Last Comic Standing and Retired At 35), a hot air balloon pilot (#moreonthislater) and isn’t too shabby at darts (he tried a quick round at VIBE HQ before this interview). With his glorious head of hair in tact, the funny man turned real-life meme on AMC’s hit show details his TWD beginnings, “The Mullet of Life” and the craziness Season 6 has in store.
On landing The Walking Dead role: Well, the whole time I was on another show called Retired At 35. I was studying with my acting teachers and just doing drama only ’cause they didn’t want to ignore that half of my career. Retired At 35 gets cancelled and I was still working on that but still trying to get on another sitcom. I went through pilot season and nothing happened, just kind of farted around, trying to get some more work. [Laughs.] I didn’t work for eighteen months and I was, like, not devastated, but just the truth of this business hit me. You can be on a show and then not work for a long time and I was like, ‘Crap, man!’ So I went through all of my savings, was living off of that and then I was like, ‘Oh, I forgot this whole time I’ve been working on drama. I should tell my agent.’ So I told them to start sending me out for stuff on the dramatic side and this was literally the first thing I went out for. And I love doing drama! It’s fun. It’s completely different from comedy. It’s challenging in its own ways and now the trick is trying to let people know that I do comedy ’cause they know me as this dramatic guy. In fact, I just lost out on a movie role because they had said, ‘Well, we want a comedian.’ And I was like… [Insert cricket noises.] The audition was funny and more comedy than anything and they loved it but they were just like, ‘We want to go with someone who’s a comedian.’ And I was like, ‘Uhhh… ‘kay.’ Weird things happen all the time.
First zombie memory: My mom would play practical jokes on us. She had this half mask. It wasn’t a zombie mask but it was the same kind of torn up skin [like a zombie]. She would just put a blanket on and cover her head and everything and walk in through the house like ‘Rrrrr!’ We wouldn’t expect it so it would freak us out. It would be like in April or something but that was what my whole childhood was like so it kind of pushed me into this performance path where I love kind of screwing with people, having fun and asking for apologies later.
His little brother being Eugene’s muse: My little brother is just like me in terms of he likes to screw with people to. He was working at Costco as a forklift driver. Now, he’s a travel writer but the whole time at Costco, he had all his coworkers convinced that he was Russian. Like he had this big, thick beard and a Russian cossack hat that he would wear and he would talk about the time when he was in the Red Army. He would just BS his way through work everyday. Then I get on The Walking Dead and I start telling people I’m basically my little brother and this and that then he calls me up like, ‘Stop telling people that! You’re ruining my thing.’ And I’m like you’re lying to your coworkers. But yeah, he really got mad. The thing is he’s just dry ’cause he doesn’t speak with any effect at all, so I based Eugene on him in that regard but he’s definitely not as socially awkward as Eugene is … I got so many fans come up [to me] and go, ‘You sound just like I pictured him in the comics’ and that, to me, is one of the highest compliments ’cause I do not want to be the guy that shows up and screws up the show or screws up someone’s image of these characters in the comics.
The story of the mullet: So the thing is Eugene obviously has it in the comics and that was a big thing that [writer Scott Gimple] wanted to keep. When they write the audition they don’t give you any indication of who the character is but the character I was auditioning for had a mohawk and I was praying to God that I didn’t have to [wear] a mohawk. So then I show up to Georgia and they’re like ‘Yes, can you get a mullet,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ I have blonde hair normally and they cut my hair, dyed it brown, cut it in a mullet and I was devastated ’cause it was like such a shock to me. … But the mullet’s really taken over our hair department. Danai [who plays Michonne] wears her dreadlocks…but the hair people, they do a great job and the mullet, they just kind of crack jokes about it and call it the “Mullet of Life.” If you’re tired, you’re thirsty, you can’t make it to the end of the day, come drink from the “Mullet of Life.”
The part where he’s a hot air balloon pilot: A lot of people think it’s fake but that’s a real thing. A lot of families have like a boat or ATVs or whatever, we’re a weird family. We had a hot air balloon.
His ethnic roots: My dad was adopted. He’s Puerto Rican. So McDermitt is an adopted name but I have Dutch ancestry on my mom’s side so I look like my mom. It’s easier to tell people I’m Irish then it is to go through the whole [history]. But what’s funny is that in Phoenix, where I’m from, my dad grew up in the barrio and is very entrenched in the Mexican culture even though he has Portuguese heritage. He considers himself Mexican. He was always making his own tortillas. We always had like ten bottles of horchata in our fridge. He would drink beer with chili peppers in it. I mean, it was ridiculous but I also feel like a lot of people in Phoenix, that’s their life, you know. The Mexican culture is such a beautiful culture and it definitely more than seeped into that community and that state. I know they’ve had their issues in the past with immigration and all that stuff but I feel like that’s such a small minority to what most people feel about that culture. I just love enchiladas.
His dream role: [Playing] Seth Rogen’s brother. We have the same body. People will buy it. If I could create my own role, I would just do a movie with Seth Rogen and we play brothers. I’m a big fan of his. He’s just creating all of his own stuff and I love it. In fact, they were filming Neighbors 2 in my neighborhood in Atlanta, on my street. I was sitting there, calling everyone like, ‘Who do you know on Neighbors 2?’ I [was] just going to show up ’cause I heard he watches the show. I just wanted to be like, ‘Dude! It’s the mullet!’
What fans can expect from the new season of Walking Dead: It’s not going to be easy. I feel like most of the fans are on board with Rick [Grimes]. They see where he’s coming from but it’s not going to be an easy road to get the Alexandrians to kind of decide to live for themselves. It’s a really exciting season and I’m really proud of it. It’s just taken a lot out of us to work on it and I think a bunch of surprises. It’s about these characters but it’s a pretty intense season.