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‘The Walking Dead’s’ Austin Amelio on Torturing Norman Reedus, Laughing With Jeffrey Dean Morgan

We first met Dwight (Austin Amelio) last season on “The Walking Dead.” Comics fans were surprised to see him with an unblemished face. But soon enough, Dwight had taken an iron to the face, courtesy of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan); yet the physical abuse seems to have only reinforced Dwight’s loyalty, and he’s emerged as one of Negan’s top lieutenants.

On Sunday’s episode, viewers saw Dwight try to break the will of Daryl (Norman Reedus), an excruciating process involving various forms of torment. Amelio talked with Variety about what it’s like to torture Reedus and laugh with his character’s own torturer.

First of all, how long does it take to get that prosthetic on your face?

About an hour and a half, and 45 minutes to get it off. But I like to hang out in the makeup trailer — the makeup dude is my buddy. We bring each other new music, tell fireside stories. We’re like each other’s Spotify Discover.

What kind of toll does it take on you as an actor to have to play a guy who is in this very tense state all the time? He looks like he’s rotting inside and out.

Oh it’s hard. You know, yeah, great, I get to make an awesome egg sandwich, but then right after I have to go torture a human being. It was not pleasant. By the end of the episode I was like, “I’m so done with this.” We don’t have bad actors on this show, so when Norman shows up, he’s on set in this emotional state, he’s in the cell. It just sucks. You can feel the energy coming off him, and it’s not good energy. It really affects him. I mean, in the best way possible because it’s so realistic, but it is hard to be that in it. It was not fun.

Did you have to listen to that “Easy Street” song over and over again?

I believe it was put in in post. But I listened to it over and over again when I got the script, just to get in that mindset, and by the third time I was like, “This is the worst song ever.”

Let’s talk about the power dynamics at play between Negan, Dwight, and Daryl. Dwight seems like he could end up being the weak link in Negan’s chain.

I think that may be a crazy statement. I’m following Negan’s orders and doing exactly what he tells me, ’cause if I don’t, who knows what could happen? He’s a monster. He could burn the other side of my face, take off an arm.

So is Daryl another Dwight waiting to happen? Is the difference between them, as Daryl says at the end, that Dwight still has something to lose, while Daryl doesn’t?

All I know is, I’m glad they put that moment in there. As much as me and him go back and forth, it gives us a little bit of an understanding as to what both of us are going through, and a little bit of empathy for each other, which is so awesome after all the torture. We come to a little bit of a, “I get where you’re coming from” place. And then, bam, I close the door. It’s definitely frustrating for him. It makes him question his selling out. But that’s all I got.

It seems like Dwight is furious with Daryl because he shines a light on Dwight’s weaknesses.

Absolutely. I sold out! I went against all my morals and codes I had at the beginning, when I came in at episode 606. This guy is not breaking. It is illuminating in a way. I have to keep doing this and going through it. It’s hard on me, emotionally, I don’t want to do this. It’s f–king torture and Daryl will not break, so he’s making it pretty difficult for all of us.

What’s it like getting bullied by Jeffrey Dean Morgan every day?

We do actually have some fun. There are a couple takes we just start laughing hysterically. But it’s amazing how much a–hole-ish nature they put in one monologue. I tell Jeffrey, “You’re so relentless with me. You do not give up.” It sucks for me, as Dwight. Any move I make, that could mess up everything. I have to stand there and swallow my pride. But Jeffrey is awesome, he’s a lot of fun.

Were you a reader of the comics before getting cast?

I did not even watch the series. I’d heard of it through the grapevine here and there. It was this distant thing: “The Walking Dead,” okay, sure. I had no idea Dwight was going to be such a big character. I was living in L.A. in a small apartment in Echo Park, got the call, and thought, “Hey, nice, I get to go to Atlanta and do an episode!” And then I talked to [showrunner] Scott Gimple. He was like, “Hey he’s a huge comic-book character.” So I realized I had to move to Atlanta and all this crazy stuff. But it’s been great.

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