The Walking Dead Post-Mortem: Michael Cudlitz on Abraham's Backstory, Sanity, Future

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[Spoiler Alert: Do not read ahead unless you have watched last night’s episode of The Walking Dead.]

When I talked to Michael Cudlitz for the premiere of The Walking Dead Season 5, one thing he said to me was that we’d want to talk again based on the events of The Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 5.

And he was clearly right, based on all that was revealed last night.

We found out a lot about Abraham, including what happened to his wife and kids, how he met Eugene and, in a big shocker, the fact that Eugene is NOT a genius and has no real idea how to save the world. Umm... oops?

Since we can surmise that most of Abraham’s sanity was tied to getting Eugene to DC to help save the world, it's safe to say we’re moving into even more fragile territory than usual with Mr. Ford.

Thankfully, I grabbed some time with Cudlitz for this post-mortem to talk about... pretty much everything. Let’s see what he had to say:

Michael Cudlitz as Ford - The Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 5

TV Fanatic: Tell me your thoughts when you first read the script because it definitely gives us so much about Abraham and where he’s come from. I mean, holy s**t.

Michael Cudlitz: Yeah, it was much the same reaction I had when I read episode four in Band of Brothers, the episode that was central to my character. But [with The Walking Dead] it was just like, 'thank you,' is your first thought. Actually, 'Holy shit. Thank you.' No, it’s just in a show like this where you have a lot of strong characters that have been around for a while, to come in and just be handed this opportunity is a gift. And it’s a very trusting gift and I’m honored that everyone involved producing this show felt comfortable enough to trust me so early on with such a heavy load. Anyway, it’s very humbling.

TVF: Between the zombie kill scenes and then there’s a really nice scene with you and Steven [Yeun] that’s just quiet. Which one of those scenes is more challenging for you as an actor?

MC: They both have different challenges because they’re being done together, they’re all balanced against each other. No scene stands alone. Every scene comes out of another scene and leads into another scene which structures the whole episode. There’s a lot of commonality here when you’re looking at a scene and the way you look at it. I like scenes that you can sort of play with, imagine the scene in the moment. That’s when you’re actors on set and you can play something from beginning to end and that’s what we did with the scene inside the bookstore with me and Steven.

The action sequences tend to be cut up. They have their own challenges because you have to remember where you were, emotional and energy level from one bit to the next, so everything can tie in seamlessly but they’re a lot of fun because there’s a lot of over the top stuff. You’re getting to do this great sort of action-y sequences and you’re getting to kill zombies and kill walkers in really cool ways and new ways and that serves the story. But I’d have to say in stepping back looking at it as a whole the more intimate scenes are more fun for me because it’s more of a challenge to find out where the twists and turns lie.

TVF: We’ve talked about sanity before in terms of Rick and Eugene but is it safe to say Abraham’s kind of going to go off the rails next since his plan just went up in smoke?

MC: We don’t know. We’re going to have to try to find out what he really has left to live for because he really is back to the moment where his family was killed, somebody who’s ready to take his own life. We’re literally back at that moment. We realized all that Eugene did for him at that point was make him tread water and he’s been treading water on this false idea for over a year and a half now.

TVF: Tell me about the flashback scene when you’re face-to-face with Ellen and there’s not a lot of dialogue. Talk to me about shooting a kind of heavy, emotional scene like that.

MC: Typically it’s not the dialogue. The dialogue is the vehicle that lets the audience know what’s going on in a lot of cases but what’s really going on is two actors sharing moments, giving and taking in those moments and it really is unspoken, the terror. She can’t speak. I have become worse than the group that attacked my family.

Basically it’s a call back to the comic book where in the comic book the group that Abraham traveling with turned on his family when he was out on a run and raped his wife and daughter. He comes back and he kills them all and basically his wife has said ‘you are worse than what they did to me.’ And he can’t really wrap his head around that and they wind up leaving. He finds them. They have been eaten. The mother and the son have been eaten so severely that there’s nothing left to come back and he winds up having to shoot his daughter in the face, and that’s the story we’re telling.

And the horrific emotional sort of baggage the he carries with him and he has given up on life. And now we wonder what he has to live for but we also understand how important D.C. was and how important this mission was because it really did become the only thing that he had left to live for in his life, so that’s a little bit more I think focused on why D.C. is so important.

Battling a Walker - The Walking Dead Season 5 Episode 5

TVF: We see a little bit of Abraham’s relationship with Rosita. Is that just people leaning on each other? Is it about love…?

MC: Yeah, I would say that they are in love but that scene is not two characters making love, that’s however you want to word this. That’s two characters f***ing and that’s what happens in war time. You turn into animals. There’s killing and there’s eating, there’s surviving and there’s lust and it’s literally a release. It’s an animalistic urge and he has the ability to satisfy it.

TVF: The fact that the wound on Abraham’s hand keeps opening up seems to be symbolic of many things.

MC: It’s symbolic and it’s emotional. It ties in the emotional storyline with the past and it reminds him that is the hand that he beat them with and the bloody hands he reached to his wife with and the blood on his hands that literally and figuratively going on in his world.

TVF: It always kind of freaks me out a little bit when you see an actor put a gun in his mouth or near his mouth or anything.  That’s got to be uncomfortable to do I’m guessing.

MC: Yes and no. That gun never leaves my possession. I check the magazine multiple times, the chamber. It gets dry fired a couple times and it never leaves my hand between takes and if it comes back, the magazine gets checked multiple times again and the chamber gets checked multiple times, it gets dry fired multiple times, but then it’s just really just a piece of metal. I have complete control over that.

What I did feel was important was that I think sometimes when you see that type of thing depicted on television we always see this huge decision making process that goes on, that drags out and potentially drags out the drama. And I was very clear when we were doing it that I wanted it to be once that decision was made in his head. He is a soldier. He doesn’t pull his weapon unless he’s made that decision, so that decision and that process he’s gone through while he’s sitting there so once he pulls the weapon out he has already made the decision. It goes right to his mouth. There’s no time. I find the idea of that to be chilling because it kind of comes out of nowhere.

TVF: How important is it for Abraham that he be kind of the “leader” or at least the one calling the shots? I’m thinking of the point early in the episode when Glenn assures Abraham that he’s the one in charge.

MC: I think what’s more important is that everyone is on board with what he wants to do. Meaning, we cannot stop again. Every time we stop, every time we pause, shit falls apart. And with Glenn it’s more telling in that moment for me to let him know that, yes, we are continuing to D.C. where that thing that you wanted us to all do, we’re doing that…and I think Glenn sees that, in my opinion, or the way that I look at it is that Glenn sees that as the chink sort of in Abraham’s armor, meaning he’s going to f***ing flip out if he thinks nobody wants to go with him anymore and everyone’s backing out of everything. And Abraham realizes they’re not backing out, they’re just reacting to what just happened and that is a normal reaction.

TVF: I have to say, it wasn’t just a good episode for you, it was also for Josh McDermitt (who plays Eugene). He did such a good job.

MC: Absolutely, he was terrific. He really brought it, man. It’s a pleasure working with Josh. Everyone really shined. I have a very strong theory about television and I don’t think it exists in a good form. I don’t think it rises to its own occasion if it is not done well all around. I think TV shows that have one good performer or one good performance in an episode, the episode’s not good. For an episode to be really good everybody has to be really good. And I think just right now I’m blessed with being surrounded by really, really terrific and talented performers and production people. It’s just a dream job.

The Walking Dead Season 5 airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC.

Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of Follow him on Twitter.

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