Actor Chad L. Coleman (The Wire) has been added to Season 3 of the hit AMC drama series The Walking Dead, as comic book fan favorite Tyreese. After only catching a brief glimpse into the new character, viewers will now have to wait until the show returns in February 2013 to learn more about the character’s backstory and to continue with the strongest and most successful season yet.
During this recent interview to promote his work on The Walking Dead, Chad L. Coleman talked about focusing on the humanity of the character, why producers Robert Kirkman and Glen Mazzara were interested in him for the show, what an adrenaline rush it is to get to kill zombies, joining such an established cast, the possibilities of what’s to come for Tyreese and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), what the last day of shooting was like, how this show compares to his experience on The Wire, his weapon of choice for the zombie apocalypse, and his favorite zombie movies. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
CHAD L. COLEMAN: Well, I’m not an inside-out student of the graphic novel. When I came onboard, I was told, “If you need to reference it, we will. Just take this ride with us and, as we need to reference the graphic novel, we’ll give you some insights from that perspective. But, just ride it out from script to script.” I would say that the humanity of the man is very much akin to what was done in the graphic novel. His lack of skills is very much part of it, but his desire to protect and his desire to abstain from egregious violence and his strong sense of family are things that are resonating for me, in playing this role.
Was it challenging for you to come on as a character that had an established arc in the graphic novel, but who’s been changed so much for the show?
COLEMAN: I watched all of the prior episodes and I had great discussions with Glen Mazzara and some limited discussion with Robert Kirkman, knowing full well that he and Glen were in full discussions. Glen’s background is huge, and I just trusted that we were going to go somewhere interesting and compelling. I was just open to the journey. And Glen has an open door policy, so whatever questions I may have, he’s always there, at a moment’s notice, to answer. So, it has been different. It’s been like, “Hey, just get on the roller coaster, and hang on!” But, they’ve always delivered. They’ve delivered some amazing stuff for us.
Did your work in the Left 4 Dead video game help get you this role?
COLEMAN: No, that was never referenced, but that would have been fine with me. But, for the most part, the story that I get is that Robert Kirkman was a huge fan of The Wire, and the character that I played, Dennis “Cutty” Wise. That’s the origin of their interest in me.
COLEMAN: Unbeknownst to me, my agents had been speaking to Robert Kirkman for a little while, about the possibility of me playing this role. Whenever you have the creator pulling your card and saying they want you to be a part of it, you’re in a pretty good position. And then, it was a matter of talking to Glen Mazzara. It wasn’t a wheel barrow full of information. He said, “Take a look online. Take a look at this stuff. Take a look at these episodes. This is what we know.” It was about trust. All I was looking for was a kernel or seed that I could hold onto, and his humanity is that, which resonates for me, personally, as well. So, I just started connecting dots with my own personal self, and I had this sense of family, which resonates with me, and that sense of humanity, which resonated. The rest filled itself out, as we went along.
When you were up for this role, were you aware that it was such a fan favorite character?
COLEMAN: Yes, as soon as I went online. I pulled it up I was like, “Oh, wow, okay.” That’s the icing on the cake. I’ve created an original role before, but to have something that was already present, in another form, and to have to be able to honor it, in a way when you know that people have an attachment, and to be able to live up to that, that’s huge for me. So, my desire is to continue to make the audience proud of what’s happening in the television world of The Walking Dead.
How have the physical aspects of this show been, and what were your first days like, getting to kill zombies?
COLEMAN: It was a complete and absolute adrenalin rush. The electricity was running through my body like crazy. Also, the technical aspect of it, which I won’t give away, was equally as compelling for me. I was like, “Oh, wow, this is how they do it!” Because the zombies are so real, there’s really no acting required when you see the amazing work that’s being done. It’s just so eerie. The most eerie part of it is to see them just doing regular things, in between takes or during a lunch break. Watching a guy getting salad dressing while he’s all zombied out is pretty hilarious.
When the show returns, will there be no shortage of zombie killing and action for you?
COLEMAN: No doubt about it! The man has a hammer, and he knows how to use it.
You have to do a lot of running from zombies on this show. Do you feel like you’re in adequate shape, to do all this running in the Georgia heat?
COLEMAN: Oh, of course! I grew up in Richmond, Virginia, so it gets a little sticky in that area, as well. And I spend a lot of time in Georgia. I have two sisters who live there. So, bring it on! I love running in the heat!
Does it take some time to get used to hanging out with such hideous looking creatures?
COLEMAN: Yes. The pendulum sways back and forth. You’re not doing a take and they’re saying, “I’m sorry, did I get too close? Did I not come up close enough?” And I’m like, “No, it’s fine. I just want to make sure that I don’t swing the wrong way because I don’t want to hurt anyone.” You have a real human thing going on, and then you’re looking at this hideous thing. It’s real trippy.
Did the established cast welcome you with open arms, or did you feel like an outsider who needs to earn a place in the established order?
COLEMAN: This is an amazing, extraordinary cast of human beings, and I don’t exaggerate, at all. Andrew Lincoln has to be the nicest, ego-less lead actor that I’ve ever met in my life. His energy and temperament just falls over everyone. It’s just a one big, happy family. They respect some of the body of work that I’ve been able to put together. But, the show is the thing for Andrew. It’s his baby, and his passion and the way he cares about it is why we all tune in. We all dial into that. So, they’ve been amazing. They’ve been really, really special. This is special and it doesn’t happen often. It’s only the second time in my career where, in a television endeavor, that I feel this sense of family and open arms with a, “Come in and we want to see you shine,” type of attitude, and it really starts with Andrew Lincoln.
What can you say about the relationship between Tyreese and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and how that will develop?
In the comic books, Tyreese becomes Rick’s second-in-command. Do you see that happening in the series, or is he just destined to become another Shane (Jon Bernthal)?
COLEMAN: I, Chad Coleman, the actor, would love that, just for the opportunity to mix it up and go toe-to-toe in the scene with Andrew Lincoln. That’s the selfish aspect of it. For the story, I think it would be compelling. I think it would give the audience a lot of meaty exchanges. I can’t say that I know that that’s going to occur, but I put my vote in for it, for sure.
What does Tyreese see in Carl?
COLEMAN: It speaks to his ability to read a situation clearly and communicate, in an effective manner, to try to get the objective taken care of. He could see something in this young man, and in the way he handled himself with that weapon. Just his whole presence and stature was very clear to Tyreese. He was going to handle it as diplomatically as possible and, in no way, shape or form, was he going to take for granted who this young man was.
What about Tyreese and Michonne (Danai Gurira)?
COLEMAN: I couldn’t give you one iota about that. Spoiler to the third power. Honestly, there is as much that will surprise me as it will surprise you. But, you know the pedigree of the show, by this time. It’s going to be juicy and awesome, for all parties involved.
Fans of color have been waiting for some black characters who will stick around on the show for awhile, and now there’s Michonne and Tyreese. Can you give any reassurances that, as they add black actors to the show, they won’t be killed off for awhile?
COLEMAN: I can’t say anything, but slow down, be easy, you’re going to be incredibly proud. Glen Mazzara and all of these folks have the highest of integrity and character. We matter as much as anyone else, so you’re going to see that played out on the show. I don’t think there’s any kind of agenda, on their part. It’s just how the story telling unfolds, at times. But, you’re going to be incredibly proud of Michonne and Tyreese. Believe me, with what’s coming, you’re going to be so satisfied. And I say that in all humility. These folks work with the highest of integrity. They’ve been involved in shows that are just absolutely amazing. So, I’d say no worries, strap on your seatbelt and enjoy the ride.
Tyreese and his group may feel like they’re safe, but little do they know, they have the entire threat of Woodbury and the Governor descending on them fairly soon. How will Tyreese feel about being thrown into the middle of this conflict between the prison and Woodbury?
COLEMAN: That’s a loaded question. You’ll be wide-eyed and discerning, just taking it all in and trying to process. That’s about as much as I can give on that.
How much of Tyreese’s backstory will be explored? Will you be exploring his history as a famous football player?
COLEMAN: I don’t know. I love that stuff because it just sweetens the pot and makes things that much juicier. It heightens the stakes that much more.
COLEMAN: Beautifully exhausting. Andrew Lincoln got everyone in a circle and, just being who he is, had everyone take a moment to really relish what we have. That’s who he is. It was about being able to look Gale Anne Hurd in the eyes and saying, “This is so special. Thank you for allowing me to take this journey with you.” And to say that to everyone in the crew. I know it sounds hokey, but everybody feels the love and everybody gives huge hugs. Everyone is just excited about coming back.
How many episodes have you shot, so far?
COLEMAN: I’m in five of the last eight.
Given the high level of everyone who’s worked on both The Walking Dead and The Wire, it seems like the two shows would be similar to make, but how are you finding the experience, in comparison?
COLEMAN: Well, the difference is the whole horror/zombie aspect of it. There’s the technical side of it with what’s done in post, and the digital stuff, the things you have to do and the way you have to position your body, and other things of that nature, that have to occur, in order for the audience to experience what they’re experiencing, in that very real way. It’s far more physical. Even though I was training in the gym, I still find myself more winded than when I was on The Wire. I’m not saying that I’m out of shape. Don’t misread that. But, it’s a lot more physical and there’s a lot more physical activity. The similarities are in the intelligence, the creativity and the passion of the actors and creators of the show. That’s the same. This is filet mignon, and you don’t get that a lot. That’s just the truth. That’s why I’m ultra excited about the horror aspect of it and delving into that world while still having these huge questions about life itself, integrity and violence. It’s a hell of a ride.
If you were in the zombie apocalypse, what would be your weapon of choice?
COLEMAN: Honestly, I love his cross-bow, but I’ve got to stay true to the hammer. I could do a lot of damage with that thing.
Are you a fan of any zombie movies?
COLEMAN: Yes, 28 Days Later. I love the genre. My daughter is a huge fan. I’m into gore. I even enjoy the funny ones, like Shaun of the Dead. I’m not exactly referencing any American ones there, but The Walking Dead takes the cake. I do enjoy the genre. I’m becoming more and more of a fan of it, every day. I’ve always loved the movies, even though I wasn’t a student of it.
The Walking Dead returns to AMC on February 10, 2013.