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'Walking Dead' Dissection: Does Eugene Know What Caused the Outbreak?

New series regular Josh McDermitt talks with THR about what to expect from Eugene and how the character compares to his comic book counterpart.

Eugene Walking Dead - H 2014
AMC
"The Walking Dead's" Josh McDermitt as Eugene

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from The Walking Dead episode 411, "Claimed," as well as the comic book series it is based on.]

AMC's The Walking Dead introduced a new threat Sunday and resurfaced the show's most basic question during "Claimed," when a new group of violent strangers arrived at Rick's place and Abraham, Eugene and Rosita's mission was revealed.

During the hour, Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carl (Chandler Riggs) head out for supplies -- and some bonding time -- leaving Rick unarmed at the house where he's woken up by a group of scavengers looking to claim the place as their own. While Michonne shares her heartbreaking history with Carl -- she had a 3-year-old son named Andre whom she lost after the outbreak -- Rick (Andrew Lincoln) kills and sneaks his way out of the house. As the new strangers, including a mysterious character played by Sons of Anarchy's Jeff Kober, wait to presumably have their way with the woman of the house (Gasp!), Rick spies Michonne and Carl and is able to detour the duo away from the new threat, ultimately finding a sign advertising a new Sanctuary and opting to seek safety from the uncertain road ahead. It's the same community that Tyreese (Chad Coleman), Carol (Melissa McBride), Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino), Mika (Kyla Kenedy) and baby Judith are headed toward. (For its part, AMC declined comment on just whom Kober is playing and if we'd see him again.)

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Meanwhile, Glenn (Steven Yeun) wakes up to find himself a new member of Abraham's Army -- and on a truck, a good three hours past the bus he last saw Maggie (Lauren Cohan) on. After Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) stops the truck, Glenn parts ways with the group in a bid to find Maggie. Being the soldier that he is, Abraham makes a plea for Glenn to remain in the group and stick with them on their mission. He reveals that they're on a classified mission to get Eugene (Retired at 35's Josh McDermitt), a scientist who knows what caused the zombie outbreak, to Washington, D.C., after the government stopped responding on his satellite phone. As Abraham insists Glenn give up his search for Maggie and instead opt to survive, Eugene accidentally (or intentionally?) shoots holes in the truck's gas tank during a walker attack, rendering the vehicle useless and allowing Glenn to more easily go after Maggie. It's at that point that Rosita (Twilight's Christian Serratos) turns the tide with her boyfriend, Abraham, and follows Glenn, as Eugene almost orders the soldier to follow.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with McDermitt to grill the new series regular about whether Eugene, like his comics counterpart, is lying about what he knows in order to remain safe in a world in which he wouldn't survive on his own, the mysterious new Sanctuary that everyone is slowly finding and what's ahead.

How much did you know about The Walking Dead before you were cast?

I knew it was a comic, but I hadn't read it. I didn't get caught up on the comics until after I was cast. But it was my favorite TV show. We would have friends over and cook dinner and watch. It's a dream to be working on the show; I didn't think I would ever get an audition for it, let alone to be working on it. (Laughs.)  

What was the audition process like? Did you know you'd be playing Eugene?

They're very secretive about casting and I didn't know who the character was or if he was in the comics. I was just trying to focus on the information that they gave me. After I was cast, I had a long conversation with [showrunner] Scott Gimple and that's when he told me I was playing Eugene -- and he has a mullet. I got really excited because it's a fun character. I never thought I'd be on a drama looking like an idiot with a mullet!

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Is that your real hair? Did you actually have to grow a mullet?!

Luckily, my hair was already grown out. I was actually going to get a haircut the week that the audition came down, but something happened and I didn't get to it. I'm a natural blond, and they cut my hair into a flattop and left the longer hair in the back so they could clip in extensions and dye it all brown. When they take those extensions out, I look ridiculous. I was so embarrassed running around that I asked someone to take me to the store so I could get a hat because I was so mortified at what I looked like. They took me to Wal-Mart and I walked in and there were like five people with the same haircut. I thought, "You know what? I'm OK." (Laughs.)

What kind of relationship on the show does Eugene have with Abraham?

The Abraham, Rosita and Eugene dynamic is a lot like a couple brothers and a sister on a long road trip. When you're cooped up with someone for a long time, you're going to fight, argue and bicker with each other, but, at the end of the day, you're like family and you're going to have each other's backs. On the surface, some of the other characters might look at Abraham and Eugene and say, "Abraham's running the show." But I really think Eugene is running the show, especially after he shoots up their truck and everyone takes off. Glenn (Steven Yeun) heads up the road and Tara follows him. And then Rosita follows and Eugene steps up next to Abraham and says, "This way's clear, who knows what's that way. Trust me, I'm smarter then you," and he just starts walking. That tells you the dynamic between these guys. You might think Abraham calls the shots being the ex-military guy and as much of a badass as he is killing walkers all the time, but Eugene is the brains and he's the one really running the show.

So far, Eugene, Rosita and Abraham's story is very similar to the comics. Considering Gimple's remix approach to the show and comics, what kind of differences can we expect from Eugene?

The really cool thing about when you're playing a comic book character is that no one knows what he sounds like. We see that Eugene speaks very quickly and he is very knowledgeable, with an enormous brain, but he lacks emotion; it's dry and emotionless. We haven't really jumped into these characters enough yet to really look at the differences in what we're going to see in the show as it compares to the comics. I know that's coming, but, as we get further in this season, we're going to see these characters come to life a little more and jump into their backstories, and that's where we're going to see the differences. But they're going to be pretty close to what they were in the comics.

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Eugene claims to know who caused the outbreak. How much does he really know about this?

We're introduced to these characters as they're in the middle of their mission. They've been driving halfway across the country to get Eugene to D.C., and I don't think they're going to stop. It's going to take a lot for them to not make their way to D.C. Eugene is always the smartest guy in the room, but he also doesn't want a lot of people in that room because you never know who could be smarter. And when people start asking questions, then maybe some of the things that Eugene has been saying start to unravel a bit. So it's going to be interesting to see how Eugene is able to keep the group on the road and away from other people so people don't start asking questions. Ultimately, people will find out the truth.

One of the things that they're likely to find about is his satellite phone, which we know from the comics doesn't work. How did Eugene convince everyone about that and his ties to the government?

When Glenn asks what's going on with their trip to D.C., Eugene replies that it's classified. That's government speak. Abraham was a soldier and he gets that there are people above him who have more knowledge than he does. Eugene steps away and says, "I need to discuss this with the people back in Washington," and he just hopes that Abraham doesn't walk over and have to hear him. Eugene is trying to keep everyone at bay with the military speak. There's a definite hierarchy in the military and Eugene is definitely playing that up with Abraham.

How trustworthy is Eugene? We know in the comics he lies about knowing what caused the outbreak, his ties to D.C. and other things because he's scared for his life.

It's interesting seeing him at this point because you don't know who you can trust anywhere. I think Eugene is a trustworthy guy even though it may turn out that he is lying. But again, you just can't trust anyone. I don't think he trusts Glenn, and there are elements of Abraham he doesn't trust -- the way he can fly off the handle and kill someone in a moment's notice. We're going to explore Eugene's whole backstory. It will be interesting to see how this comes out and how trustworthy he ends up being to the group.

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How might Abraham react when and if he finds out about everything?

We saw him just destroy some walkers in the beginning of this episode, and he enjoyed it. I don't know that he would enjoy beating up Eugene; there would be a lot more anger there. Eugene shoots up their truck and Abraham doesn't kick his ass. That right there says that Abraham has a level of respect for Eugene that other people might not have. Abraham looks at it as just another roadblock. As Cudlitz likes to say, "Eugene is the package." Once that falls away, there's no telling what Abraham would do. He could kill Eugene.

Eugene is very willing to follow Glenn and detour from their mission to D.C. Is that part of an effort on his side to cover his butt with Abraham and buy him some more time?
Yes. Eugene is constantly scheming, and he is always a few moves ahead. It's like he's planning a chess match. He could have swung the gun the other way and killed the walkers, but instead he swung it at the truck. Whether he did it on purpose -- and I like to think he did -- but even if he didn't he's able to use that and think, "How can I use this to my advantage? How can I continue to stall this trip to D.C.?" As much as he doesn't want to be in the room with a lot of people who might ask a bunch of questions, he likes to keep that group small and manipulate them. He likes to be the one who pulls the strings and he feels like he can help Glenn find Maggie. That is going to slow up Abraham, and Eugene may try to and appeal to Abraham's humanity in that. We start to find out more about Abraham and it becomes a question of why wouldn't you want to help this guy get his wife back?

What about Rosita? What kind of relationship do she and Eugene have? Is there jealousy there for Eugene? We know in the comics that he has romantic feelings for her.

Eugene is absolutely jealous of Rosita and Abraham. He loves women and he's probably the type of guy that didn't have a girlfriend before the apocalypse. He sees Abraham and Rosita together and it drives him nuts. But at the same time, what can he do about this? First and foremost, he wants to survive and this is the situation that he's able to survive in right now. If he can find some love in this, that's a bonus. But he looks at her like a sister, too. When you spend all your time with someone, they become family after a while. Eugene might have a little bit harder time controlling her as he does with Abraham. So there's some frustration there as well.

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Looking ahead, everyone seems to be headed for this mysterious sanctuary. Could this be a trap of some sort? We know in the comics that Rick and company have a very chilling run-in with a group of cannibals.

It's tough to say because you just can't trust anyone. Eugene doesn't want to go there because he doesn't want to be around people who could ask questions. He doesn't want to get another truck and get back on that road with Abraham and Rosita going to D.C., and they could find another vehicle there. He doesn't know what that camp is. I think he wants to stay on the road as much as possible. But at the same time, here's this safe haven being advertised that those who arrive, survive. And without a prison around, it's going to be interesting to find out what happens with the group and if people end up making it there. I think Rick, Michonne and Carl all make that decision to head there and everyone else is certainly hearing about it.

In the comics, Eugene ultimately becomes a very key member of Rick's group who manufactures bullets. Does that give you confidence that you're going to stick around on the show?

Oh God, no! (Laughs.) I'm actually worried about watching the episodes we've already filmed because maybe they somehow shot some footage that I didn't know about where Eugene ends up dying and I'm going to find out when it airs! I don't think there's any guarantees in any of this and that's what's scary about this show and what makes me appreciate this job.

Do you trust Eugene? Hit the comments below with your thoughts. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

E-mail: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit