Q: Season 5 opens up with Rick gagged and bound. Having gone through a day (or more) of shooting like that, what tricks did you come up with to stay sane?
A: To stay sane? Rick’s not sane. We’re in a very dark, dangerous place. When we shot that opening sequence with the throat slit, it was so realistic and horrific.
Q: You’ve referred to the premiere as the most action-intense episode yet. Did you undergo any additional training to prepare for it?
A: We just turned up for work and within a couple of days of filming it, we felt like we hadn’t stopped filming since last season. The first time we had the table read, everybody was absolutely thrilled and terrified. We hit the ground running and it was fun. It’s an amazing, violent Escape from New York, but with zombies. This was not an episode where anybody had time to ease in. We just went for it. I think, as a result, it’s incredible. It’s got everything in it.
Q: You’ve mentioned before hating Woodbury, but loving the prison. How do you feel about Terminus?
A: [Laughs] I think you get a sense of exactly how Rick feels within the first three minutes. Filming there was great, though. I thought, as a location, it was beautiful. It reminded me of Brazil, the Terry Gilliam movie. It was just this industrial, broken down, old warehouse. It was great to light, to look at and to shoot in.
Q: Did that cause any conflict when you were in character?
A: It’s a double-edged coin. As Rick, I hate the place. They’re smoking people there, so obviously I’m not comfortable there. I think as a location to shoot, it’s phenomenal.
Q: Now that the series is in its fifth season, how much has Rick become a part of you? Do you ever catch glimpses of him in your own personality?
A: I’ve been dealing with this guy for five years and there are some blurred lines. Sometimes, I have to pull myself and go, “Whoa! Am I just doing the job?” I think it’s natural to feel similar to the person you’re playing. I think you always draw from yourself. You put on different clothes and hair, but ultimately, I’ve always drawn from who I am. All of this is about playing and we get to tell this incredible story for a living. None of us underestimate how lucky we are.
Q: Is it true you originally dropped the F-bomb in your “They’re screwing with the wrong people” line?
A: That was in the original script and I didn’t want to say “screwing.” That was the alternative take. It was interesting to say it and just be like, “No, I’m just saying what’s scripted!” It just felt like the natural progression with Rick suddenly biting people’s necks and then saying, “They’re f—king with the wrong people.” It has been some journey.
Q: Speaking of that neck bite from the Season 4 Finale, what was that like to film? How many takes were there? What kind of meat was it, really?
A: It was raw chicken. They offered me beef and chicken and I asked for what was closest to human flesh. It was 3:30 in the morning, after doing probably 75 set-ups of that one scene, and there was a prosthetic gash on his neck with raw, bloody chicken. He looked more terrified than anybody I had ever worked with. I don’t remember much after “Action.” Norman kept looking at me and saying I looked crazy. It was quite a wild night.
Q: After that neck bite, do you think you have what it takes to play an on-screen walker now?
A: Well, I don’t want to be too good at it because people might get ideas. I remember when Jon Bernthal (Shane) eventually had to do it and he just went, “Oh God. What is this? What do I do?” He was a very good walker, but none of us ever consider it.
Q: What kind of challenges does working with a baby on a set like The Walking Dead present? How different/similar is it to real parenthood?
A: Well, you can give the baby back to the parent, so it’s nothing like real parenting. [Laughs] That’s a very good question because this season, we really try to define some moments of connection between Rick, Carl and the baby. We try to get the baby on early and hold the baby so it can be relaxed. There’s nothing like having a baby on set to keep you in it. They know everything.
Q: Do your kids watch the show? What do they think of it?
A: They’re way too young and also, I’m not sure I want them to see their daddy like that. I’m their daddy and that’s what I’m there for. We try to keep that side of my life very separate.
Q: Now that Rick’s beard has gotten so long, have you developed any beard-grooming techniques?
A: You should see me now. I am without beard.
A: Yeah, I’ve been freaking everybody out! When I do have it, I just let it run free and go wild.
Q: Do you think Rick will ever shave his beard again, or will we be able to mark the passage of seasons by its length?
A: I’ve seen a lot of fans recently [without my beard], so it’s one of three things: either I’m dead, I found a razor – or both – or we’re in an extended flash back. So, take your pick.
Q: If you could play any other character on the show, who would you want to play?
A: With my beard, I’m sort of morphing into Hershel anyway.