Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” Season 6 finale, titled “Last Day on Earth.”
As the latest addition to “The Walking Dead” cast, Jeffrey Dean Morgan certainly made an impression in his bloody debut as Negan in last night’s Season 6 finale. After his brutal band of Saviors cornered Rick and his group, Negan played a harrowing game of Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo to choose which of our survivors he’d brutally kill with his baseball bat, Lucille. Unfortunately for fans, the show chose to film that murder from the perspective of Negan’s victim, meaning that we’ll have to wait until Season 7 to find out who Negan killed.
Following his Sunday night appearance on “The Talking Dead” alongside comic creator Robert Kirkman and series showrunner Scott Gimple, Morgan spoke to reporters on Monday morning from New York, where he’s finishing up his recurring role on the final season of “The Good Wife.” Find out what he had to say about Negan’s introduction; his “emotional” two nights of filming with the “Walking Dead” cast; and where Season 7 will pick up in the aftermath of our mystery character’s death. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
How much will the series explore how Negan became the character that we see him as now?
I talked to Robert Kirkman last night after we did “Talking Dead” and he’s kind of doing the backstory of Negan now, so whether or not or when we see that — and I hope we do — I can’t answer that. I know that when Season 7 kicks off, it’s gonna kick off directly from where we left it last night; that’s about all I know as a fact at this point. But hopefully we’ll find out more about Negan as we go. I think his backstory’s gonna be pretty fascinating.
Will you guys show the graphic detail of whoever met Lucille last night?
That would be the hope, yeah, that’s the impression I have — we will pick up directly from what we saw last night that ends Season 6, on that note, and Season 7 is gonna pick up right where we left off. So yeah, you’re gonna see who’s at the end of that bat and what happens from there.
How chilling was it to shoot the last scene?
It was a little bit tense. For me, it all happened very fast. I think I got the script two days before I shot it, and I only got that piece — I only got Negan’s stuff, so I didn’t even get the full script. But I think for obvious reasons, the cast of the show was understandably agitated. They may know more than I did going in. Everything was very hush-hush, AMC and “The Walking Dead” are trying to keep everything so secretive, so I went in knowing my monologue, which was essentially taken from the graphic novel. I think agitated is a fair word — it was a very emotional two nights, and I think you saw it on the actors’ faces.
For me, it was about learning a monologue and trying to portray a character that I haven’t gotten to play a whole lot of in my career. I was just trying to find that groove as Negan, I only had two days to do it and that’s a hell of an introduction for somebody to just come in and do. It was very emotional, that’s what I’ll say. It was very emotional for the whole cast and a couple of them didn’t make eye contact with me until the end of the second night and a couple of them, on the same note, embraced me immediately and were texting me after we’d filmed all night. But I’d say overall, people were emotional.
Fans are pretty upset over the cliffhanger ending; what was your take on it?
I didn’t know it was going to be a cliffhanger until I watched the show – that was how it was done in my world. I don’t know if any of the cast knew how exactly it was going to end, which caused a lot of the uncertainty and emotion to be going on. That being said, in talking to Scott and Robert last night, I think their explanation [was] that that was the end of the story for that season, and that is that Rick has lost control, and there’s Negan, and Negan has all the control and I think that’s where they wanted to end the story — and it’s not about the death of that person … the death of the person is gonna kick off 7, and Season 7 will be a big part of who is on the receiving end of Lucille. I understand the fans’ frustration, I get that. That being said… I have to trust these writers and showrunners, they know what they’re doing. It’s been a show that a lot of people watch for six seasons and I believe they’ll be back to see who met Lucille and as the story continues to grow.
How did you approach bringing Negan to life in that final scene?
I’m a fan of the show and I was a fan of the comic books. I got approached when Negan was introduced in the 100th issue of the comic book – fans of the comic book gave me a copy of it and said, “when they ever get to this guy, you should be this guy,” and I was at Comic-Con, actually, and that was in like 2012 or 2013 or something, so I was very aware of the character. I had read a couple of the comic books. I think the tone of Negan, that came in discussions with Scott, but mostly it came from seeing the panels of the graphic novel — Negan’s grin and attitude, that’s the skeleton for my character, those pages. I just add meat to those bones and try to fill in the spots that aren’t there. I think what was important is that this character was charismatic. People are like “he’s this psychotic guy,” I never looked at him like that. I think there’s a lot of similarities between him and Rick. If we were following Negan’s story from day one on “The Walking Dead,” the audience would be rooting for him. It’s a very parallel storyline, it’s just now I’m going to butt heads with Rick and his group and he’s gonna have to deal with me and the Saviors.
I think in Negan, you’ve got a guy who’s got something. He’s got something that people want to follow; a little bit of that is fear and a little bit of that is charisma and a little bit of that is a sense of humor and trying to mash all of that together in one character, in one monologue is what I tried to do on the fly. Like I said, I got that scene maybe two days before we shot it, it was fast work and I had to get it and make my decisions right then and there and you saw the final result, and hopefully people were happy with it.
How many takes did your introduction take to film?
We shot my side in the first night, and then we turned around and did everybody else. They use real film on “The Walking Dead,” it’s not shot digitally … I don’t know how many takes, but we had six cameras rolling, it was quite a production. I got it all the way through the first time and I got it all the way through the last time and every time in between, so they had a lot of stuff to edit and play with. It’s like doing a play, a monologue like that; you’re kind of on stage and that’s sort of the deal with Negan, he just takes center stage. And I’ve heard Kirkman and Gimple say he’s the star of his own movie and I tried to take that and run with it.
Are you playing Negan as a “bad guy”?
I’ve played a couple bad guys in my life… I never approach it like he’s the bad guy, I approach it like he’s a guy, especially in a world like the zombie apocalypse … I think the backstory of Negan is that he used to be a used car salesman; that’s what I know and there’s not a whole lot beyond that. I think Kirkman’s working on it now, so I don’t have a whole lot to go with, but he’s a car salesman and he has survived as long as Rick and his gang, so in order to do that, what has he done to get there?
We’ve seen what Rick has done to get there and keep his people alive and the kind of leader he’s become, and I think there’s some very strong parallel lines between Negan and his story. We were talking last night on “Talking Dead” and you think about how many people Rick has killed to get to where he is, and the fact that Negan’s only taken out maybe one of them, right? Rick just killed 20 of his men, so I feel like Rick’s getting off real easy here. Negan has these guys work for him, luckily, Negan’s got a lot of story yet to come. We just met the guy – so it’s gonna be an interesting road. I know a little bit, I know certainly what I know from the comics and I’m anxious to really delve into it. So we’ll see.
How are you preparing for never being anonymous again?
I don’t know, it’s already getting weird. I’ve got a different life, I live up on a farm, I don’t have anything to do with social media… I don’t know if you can ever prepare yourself for that. It’s never been something that I’ve been interested in. I love what I do for a living, but the other side, that aspect of being famous or a celebrity’s got zero interest to me. We’ll see, I don’t know that I knew exactly what I was tackling when I decided to do this role, so we’ll see how well I handle it, because I’m a private person, so I’m a little bit interested to see how that all works out and if I deal with it well. I hope I do.
Negan’s showmanship feels similar to the Comedian’s from “Watchmen” – why do you connect so well to those charming rogues?
The Comedian I think was a little bit more hardcore, a little nihilistic. I haven’t completely figured out Negan yet, which is a cool thing for me — it means I get to do a lot more work to figure this guy out. Like I said, I had like two days of preparation before I was on the set doing that scene so I didn’t have a ton of time. I was in the middle of doing “Good Wife” when I did it, I was on whatever episode, maybe episode 10 of “The Good Wife,” and it just worked out and I ran down to Atlanta and shot that scene. I didn’t have a ton of time to prep for it, other than I watch the show and I was aware of this character…
My agents called and said “Walking Dead” wants you to be a bad guy and they were like, “we don’t know the character’s name,” but I knew immediately who it was, because I was aware of the comic and where we are in the show. I knew enough about him where I felt real comfortable just on the fly doing it. But I don’t know why I excel being a villain, I don’t think of him necessarily as a villain other than for the same reason you do, that you’re a fan of the show and you watch these characters and you attach yourself to them and this is the gonna be the guy that ruins that for you. But in my world as an actor, I approach it that this is a guy who’s a survivor.
We’re gonna see Negan do some stuff in the next year or two that is not gonna be very nice and I may have to approach that from different angles. But we’ll see, I haven’t got there yet. It’s been so much on the fly right now … After I wrap “The Good Wife” is when I have time to figure out Negan and do a little more thinking on it. I’m kind of locked into Jason Crouse’s world, I did this in November… so I’ll do more digging on Negan, but all I can say about my bad guy roles is I really have fun doing them. The last few years I’ve always been a decent guy, a good guy, so to speak — a little gruff and rough around the edges but basically a good guy — in TV anyway. And Negan, I realize he’s a bad guy and I realize that he’s maybe one of the most well-rounded villains that we’re gonna see on any screen in a long time and I look at that and all I can tell you is I get real excited about it.
Have you read ahead in the comics to find out what happens to the character?
I know a little bit, I know where we’re going. I’ve got a stack of the “Walking Dead” comic books next to my bed here. I think we’re going to stick pretty close to what you see in the graphic novel with this character because he’s so iconic to this world, so this storyline is going to stay true. From what I understand talking to Scott Gimple and Robert Kirkman, we’re gonna try and keep it pretty close. I think that’s something to be able to look forward to because it’s a great storyline.
What did you think of Negan’s introduction and who do you think he killed? Weigh in below.