Josh McDermitt, who plays Eugene Porter on AMC’s The Walking Dead, talks about Negan’s respect for Eugene, finding his character’s angry side and what self-preservation looks like in an apocalypse.
Q: Eugene is adamant about not sticking his neck out for anyone. Was this mentality born out of what happened in the woods or does it predate that experience?
A: I think it definitely predates that experience. It was kind of the impetus for him lying about having the cure to the apocalypse. I mean, this dates back all the way to the first time we meet this man. He’s going to do whatever he can to survive and he only cares about self-preservation. If other people get saved because of his actions, great, but it’s still going to come down to him first. A lot of people died trying to protect him when he was lying about having a cure. There are moments we’ve seen where people have come to him and said, “It’s time to step up.” I think of the instance in Season 5 when the bus flips over and there are walkers coming at them. He did it and it was fine, but he would rather someone else be in harm’s way. Time and time again, he’s been reminded that it’s time to contribute and think of other people, and I think he was getting to that point. He was trying to become a survivor. He even says that to Abraham a couple of times. When he tells Abraham that he doesn’t need his protection anymore, he felt he could fight side-by-side with this man. So, really, this self-preservation has always been there.
At this stage of the game, at least as it pertains to Negan, it’s either fight alongside Negan or die. Those were his options. I find it funny when I get asked why Eugene just went to go live with the Saviors. He didn’t. He was kidnapped and presented with a choice. That’s why he’s not sticking his neck out for anyone, even at the Sanctuary. He’s figured out that Dwight is a mole and he’s not saying anything, but he’s also like “Stay in your lane because you’re going to get me killed.”
Q: In a private meeting with Negan, Negan offers Eugene a handshake – a rare gesture – and even tells him he’s the second most important Savior. How does this newfound mutual respect keep Eugene motivated?
A: It’s something that he’s never really had in his life. It’s something he started to get with Abraham, especially at the end of Season 6 when Abraham says, “I was wrong. You are a survivor.” That’s kind of the first time we ever see someone respect Eugene. I’ve always felt like Rick doesn’t hate Eugene or anything like that, but I felt like his presence and assets to the group were taken for granted at times. And that’s fine because there are a lot of people in the group, so it’s not like he was harboring resentment, but take that and move into the Sanctuary where someone like Negan is going out his way to show how grateful he is to have Eugene around – that’s something he hasn’t really had. Negan also just lets Eugene do his own thing. He calls him up once in a while to solve a complex problem and Eugene loves puzzles and wants to save the day if he can. He’s excited to put his brain to use and enjoys that respect, for sure.
Q: Does a part of him still feel attached to Rick’s group or is the past all behind him now?
A: I don’t think he can ever put the past completely behind him. If we go back to what Sasha was saying before she died, she was really needling at his heart and how she’s not giving up on him. I think he was really confronted with that. There is this sense of “I need to do the right thing, but what is the right thing?” He’s constantly reminded of that. He didn’t feel good about giving Sasha that pill, but she was on a mission for herself. He can never fully put that past behind him.
Q: All hell breaks loose once the herd is inside the Sanctuary and Saviors are being eaten alive. What does this stir up in Eugene?
A: He’s certainly upset. He didn’t know what kind of plan was going on when they first stepped out in 801 and saw the armored vehicles and he feels like he’s in harm’s way. I think he understands they’re trying to kill Negan, but he could be a casualty and he doesn’t want that. He thinks Gabriel isn’t being honest with him and he’s finding out Dwight has his own thing. There are too many moving parts that he’s not aware of that could directly impact his own survival. It all comes back to that self-preservation.
Q: Immediately, he goes to Gabriel and rejects the plan to save Dr. Carson. This may be the angriest we’ve ever seen him! What was it like to bring that side out of him?
A: That was fun because I always like to push this guy to the limit. I thought, “What is anger to Rick? Or Daryl or Michonne?” and then went, “What does that same rage look like for Eugene?” They’re completely different. I had a blast working with Seth [Gilliam] even though he didn’t say much and just sat there and stared at me. [Laughs] The emotion was just dripping on his face and it made it a lot of fun. He’s incredible.
Q: He hasn’t destroyed that confession tape of Dwight just yet. If he did play it for Negan, what would it mean/solidify as it relates to Rick and the group?
A: He would only play that card if he felt like the crosshairs were on him. I think he feels like he can always go back to Rick’s group and ask for forgiveness. He’s not like Gregory in that he’s actively playing both sides. I think Eugene feels justified in his actions enough to logically explain, “I did what I had to do to survive.” He’s not like Daryl where he’s going to stand up to Negan and get tortured. He’s not that guy. So, he would only play that card and use that tape as a last resort. He also understands what that would mean and what that would do to Dwight and the dynamics of the Sanctuary. When you were a kid and you tattled on someone, that was almost worse than what you were tattling on the person about, right? He’s always thinking things through. It would change a lot of things and bring a lot of unwanted attention onto Eugene. So, he could just use it as a bargaining chip with Dwight as opposed to using it for his own survival with Negan, though it could end up getting to that point.
Read a Q&A with Tom Payne, who plays Jesus.
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