This season of AMC’s The Walking Dead has been fairly pivotal in the way it’s been introducing elements from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s popular comics, for instance, bringing the group of survivors to a large maximum security prison and also introducing the Governor, played by David Morrissey, the counterpart to Andrew Lincoln’s Rick over at another community known as Woodbury. (And if you aren’t caught up on the the show or haven’t read the comics, we’ll advise you not read this piece in order to avoid spoilers for the third season so far.)
Anyone who’s read the comics knows that the Governor has far more nefarious plans for the “walkers” (or “biters” as the folks at Woodbury likes to call them) and working with the Governor to achieve his yet-to-be-revealed goal is a scientist named Milton, played by Dallas Roberts, another element that hasn’t appeared in the comics. We first met Milton in the fourth episode of the season, “Walk with Me,” and in the most recent episode “Say the Word,” we saw Milton tangling with a “walker” out in the field and showing distaste for Woodbury’s choice in recreational pastimes.
Originally from Houston (rather than Dallas), Roberts is a veteran actor of the stage and screen having appeared in movies such as Joshua and 3:10 to Yuma and on TV shows like AMC’s “Rubicon” and the Emmy-winning “The Good Wife.” Before transition to the screen with a key role in Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World, Roberts was a mainstay in New York’s Off-Broadway theater scene, even being nominated for a Drama Desk award.
ShockTillYouDrop.com got on the phone with Roberts to talk mainly about his role as Milton on “The Walking Dead,” but towards the end, he mentioned that he’d be joining Matthew McConaughey in the upcoming Dallas Buyers’ Club, directed by Jean Marc-Valée.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: I’ve spoken to Gale Ann Hurd but haven’t had a chance to talk to any of the actors from “The Walking Dead” so what’s involved with getting a role on the show
Dallas Roberts: They sent me the role to audition for and I put myself on tape in my bedroom with my girlfriend, so I sent that off to them and then a couple weeks later, got the part, but as you may know about the show, it’s ultra-secrecy, so the part I auditioned for never exists in the actual show so it’s learning on the job what you’re actually doing.
Roberts: You would think they would have. They did not. Part of that I think allowed for me to sort of make it up as the pages came in and just learn more and more about what was happening as it was going on. No, there was no meeting about who this guy was or what he’d be doing. They sort of found it after one episode.
Shock: You’ve done a bunch of TV shows, some of them from the very pilot, some just for an episode or two, but this one has already existed for two seasons so did you have a lot of expectations when you heard they were looking for someone? Is it nerve-wracking knowing how big the show had already become?
Roberts: No, certainly not nerve-wracking. That’s part of my camera work, because it feels the same way whether 10 people are going to see it or 12 million people are going to see it on the day. If there was a theater gig and there were 12 million people out there, that might make me a little bit more nervous but it was more of an opportunity rather than a frightening sort of thing.
Shock: How long ago did you do your audition and get the gig?
Roberts: I think I started shooting in June so I probably was auditioning sometime in early May. Yeah, it felt like I auditioned and then there was nothing for a couple weeks and then they called and said, “You got it,” and then they were trying to figure out how he was going to fit into the storyline, etc. I probably knew for a month before I started shooting, but again, because the show’s so secretive, there was no script, there was no character description, there wasn’t anything to build on. And Milton’s not part of the canon, so again, I just sort of landed with my boots on the ground ready to pick stuff up on the fly.
Shock: It’s interesting how the show is mixing stuff right from the comics with stuff not from the comics, such as bringing in your character into scenes with the Governor, who is a major character in the comics. Did you go back and read the comics just to get more familiar with David Morrissey’s character at least?
Roberts: Yeah, I was actually a fan of the comic book before I got the job. I was on another show on AMC called “Rubicon” and my character there, Miles, was into comic books, so I thought, “Oh, let’s read some comic books and see what’s going on.” One of the ones that stuck with me was “The Walking Dead,” so I actually had an intimate knowledge of the story and then once the show first came out, started watching and realized how they would drift away from the comics and then come back to pieces of the comics and then drift away. I think they’ve done a really good job maintaining a new creative vision for it while still satisfying those of us, like me, who know the story. Certainly, you wouldn’t want to just serialize the comics in television form or everyone who has been familiar with the comics would know exactly what was going to happen. I think they’ve stricken a really nice balance between staying true to the comics and still feel free to roam around in other territory.
Shock: Absolutely. The end of the second season was huge since fans of the comics immediately recognized what was happening and where they were going. I’m not sure if others were quite as excited as we were with that last scene knowing they had big things ahead.
Roberts: Oh, yeah. When they peeked over that hill and it was the prison, you knew what was coming.
Shock: We’ve only seen one episode with Milton so far, but I get the impression that he’s acting as the conscience for the Governor in some ways. He doesn’t seem like he belongs there, so are we going to find out how he got to Woodbury and what he’s doing there?
Roberts: Milton, I don’t think is the kind of guy who would survive very long without the presence of the Governor. Milton is not someone familiar with firearms or explosives and I think he got lucky in his proximity to the Governor when this thing went down and then has made himself invaluable to the Alpha dog, so it’s a symbiotic relationship. He gives the Governor the smarts to research an outlook, and the Governor protects him from the likes of Merle and the rougher members of the bunch.
Shock: How far in advance have you filmed?
Roberts: We are still shooting the second to the last episode now and then there’s one more episode to shoot and then we’ll all be done, at least on the production side, right after Thanksgiving. Their production time is getting longer for sure, and the network shows I appeared on when they’re shooting 23 episodes, then you’re shooting stuff way in advance because it’s going to start airing and catching up to you. This one, luckily, we’ll finish shooting just about the time before it takes a hiatus and then comes back fresh in February.
Shock: They’ve definitely been taking it slowly in terms of the introduction to Woodbury and the Governor, because we’re only three episodes away from the hiatus. Do you appear in a lot more before then?
Roberts: You got to get the Governor in some way and Woodbury is where the Governor lives so I imagine you’ll become more and more familiar with Woodbury as the show progresses.
Shock: One of the things that makes “The Walking Dead” different from many other shows is that basically anyone could die at any given time.
Shock: That’s also what’s cool about the comics because you never know when Robert Kirkman will kill a main character, so is that weird to be an actor on a show where you can show up one day and find out that you’ve died.
Roberts: Yeah, I can’t say that it’s not nerve-wracking, but it’s also part of what we signed up for. If I was on “The Sopranos,” I would read the script as soon as it came out and I’d read it to make sure I wasn’t dead. If I was on “Boardwalk Empire,” I would do the same thing. “The Good Wife,” you’re not really worried about dying a whole lot—there are different stakes there and a different world going on, but no, definitely a part of it, and as you know from Episode 4 that just came out last week, no one’s safe. They’ll take anybody out if they need to.
Shock: Have you had a chance to spend any time with Robert Kirkman and hang out with him on set? Is he really as he sadistic as he seems from the amount of his characters he regularly kills off?
Roberts: No, he’s incredible. He wrote an episode, maybe seven, maybe eight, and was on set during that time. Just being a big fan of the comic books, someone said, “This is Robert” and I said “Hi” and then I realized it was Robert Kirkman. He also had Charlie Adlard, the illustrator, with him as well, so I sort of geeked out for a little while. Kirkman is very funny, extremely witty, and we talked about our kids and playing on the playground and stuff like that. He doesn’t come off as the guy whose mind has created this nightmare universe, for sure.
Shock: Do you have anything else lined up for the time after you finished shooting this? Do you have any other movies?
Roberts: Yeah, as soon as this closes in early December, I’m going down to New Orleans, I’m going down to shoot a movie called “The Dallas Buyers’ Club,” it’s Matthew McConaughey and a bunch of other people. It’s a pretty cool true story about when AIDS was first taking us over in the ‘80s and a I guy figured out how to get drugs to people cheaper so they could afford them. I’m really looking forward to that and that happens in December. It’s going to be fun.
Shock: I really like the director Jean Marc-Vallée’s most recent movie, “Café de Flore.” You seem to regularly be drawn back to doing genre movies—”The Grey” was a great example, and “Joshua.” How is it that you seem to be doing a lot more genre now in your career?
Roberts: There’s something so basic about the genre movies—and I don’t want that to sound dismissive at all. When you drop into “The Grey,” the plane’s crashed, it’s cold and there’s wolves. Here, the zombie apocalypse has started. That just gives you the baseline and the rules to play with, and then, I’ve been lucky to be blessed with good writing in “Joshua” and “The Grey” and this certainly. It’s a fun arena to play in when the stakes are that high and when the rules are that firmly entrenched and then you have the opportunity for real people inside of this fishbowl they’ve built around you, that’s certainly thrilling, but that’s drama in any sense. The fishbowl of “Romeo and Juliet” is that they’re in love with each other and their families hate each other. I think with “The Walking Dead,” you get all of that drama and then also get squishy zombie brains and people hitting each other with baseball bats and all that fun stuff.
Shock: It also feels there’s a higher caliber of genre and horror these days, both in movies and television, between “Walking Dead” and “American Horror Story,” the casts they put together for these shows are incredible. It’s interesting how genre and horror has transitioned into something that’s being taken more seriously.
Roberts: Yeah, I think television in general has become so much better than it was when I was 20. They were still doing stuff like “Friday the 13th – Part 9″ and television wouldn’t touch that stuff with a ten foot pole, and now I think with “Breaking Bad,” and all sorts of shows that have pushed those boundaries, you’re finding creative types I think who are enamored of the notion of a long-form story where you don’t have to wrap it up in 96 minutes, but you can take 25 to 56 to 200 hours to tell the story. That’s gotta be fun if you’re a guy with a story.
The Walking Dead airs on Sunday nights at 9PM on AMC.