Michael Cudlitz and I have two things in common: We both live in the same neighborhood, and we’re both slaves to coffee addiction. For years now, I have found myself — on numerous occasions — in line behind the actor at our local Starbucks. We first spoke briefly when he was starring along-side Ben McKenzie in TNT’s Southland. Since then, the actor has made his definitive mark as Sergeant Abraham Ford on The Walking Dead.
Fittingly, Michael agreed to meet with me at that same local Starbucks. I was well into my third iced coffee when he arrived armed with his own Venti cup of caffeinated fortitude, and after taking one long pensive sip from my cup, I was hit by a rather scary notion.
I know you’ve heard every type of zombie question in the book by now, but does coffee exist in the zombie apocalypse? Because if not, what’s the point?
Oh, man. I don’t know! Let’s just hope we’ll never have to figure that out!
Last time I ran into you here, you told me about working construction on Tales from the Crypt. Do you still dabble in that type of work?
I don’t do construction anymore. I’m on a voluntary withdrawal. I haven’t been active in the Local 44 in… well, it’s been since two year’s after Band of Brothers so that would make it since 2002. I’m still a member, and if I back-pay the two years worth of dues, I can come back in. It’s how I paid my way through school. I started out on Tales From The Darkside and then I worked on Tales from the Crypt.
And to think, even back then, you were working with zombies.
Yeah, I built the Crypt Keeper’s coffin, the multi-faceted thing he pops up out of. You know, I never even talked to Greg [Nicotero] about it. I wonder if he ever had any association with that at all.
Do you have a favorite zombie movie?
Dawn of the Dead. The original.
You know, I’ve seen Dawn of the Dead countless times, but that one scene with the dude getting his guts ripped out gets me every damn time. Nice of Nicotero to throw an homage to that in a recent episode.
Yeah! My wife says to me, “So, really? He’s getting his guts ripped out, and he’s still looking at us?” Yes! It was genius.
Was that the grossest episode on record?
Greg’s been very vocal about that, specifically paying homage to different details. Like with the walkers and the deaths.
And it doesn’t seem like AMC have had any problems with it.
No. People who don’t know horror films are not going to be taken out by it. But people who do know it are going to go, “Hey!” It’s a little something extra. You know, I think this season has acted as an awesome reboot to remind everybody that the roots to the show are in horror. So, we don’t lose that audience who put the show on the map.
I would argue that the people who initially watched it at all were just horror fans who were more interested in that genre. It definitely is not just a horror show, but we cannot lose track of that element. It’s the zombie apocalypse! People should be upset. And you should be reminded on a weekly basis that this is not a safe world these characters live in.
And there’s no coffee.
This isn’t the Starship Enterprise where Kirk gets in danger, but we all know he’s going to be fine. Our characters are in danger and should be sh*tting their pants because they could end up dead at any time.
There was a while there where it felt like the show really lost that element.
For me, I lost interest in Woodbury. I think that when they were in Woodbury it became a little soap opera-y, and not in a good way. It’s interesting because the Alexandria storyline is a bit soap opera-y, but in a great way! Because Alexandria is like f*cked up. It’s like where the f*ck are we? It’s like we’re in Stepford! I would argue that Alexandria is the most exciting thing that has happened to the show ever.
I agree, but I wasn’t going to say that out loud. You’re an intimidating guy and I wouldn’t want you to kick me with your threatening looking sh*t-kickers.
I’m just drawn that way.
When you’ve got the red hair, dude. You’re really intimidating.
I’ve had people come up to me at conventions and say, “I wasn’t going to come up and talk to you but somebody said you were nice.” What are you talking about? What’s so terrifying?!?
You’re a big dude. Even the first time I ran into you when you were still on Southland, I didn’t know if I should come up and talk to you about the show.
What can I say, I play a lot of assholes!
You said it. Not me.
A LOT of assholes.
Speaking of assholes, Abraham was given a construction job on the show. Was that scripted? Did they know about your work background?
Hey! No. That’s in the script and also in the comics.
Okay, you got me. I’m still at the prison in the comics. Although I keep hearing about this Negan fellow.
Yeah. He’s probably one of the most badass dudes ever.
So, you’ve read the comics?
Oh yeah. I’m not totally caught up, but I’m well into reading them. And sh*t, he’s such a bad guy!
Were you reading them before you were cast on the show?
No. I asked [Scott] Gimple if there was any benefit to me getting caught up in the comics. Was there anything in there for me character-wise that I would get out of it? Or should I stay away from it? I knew the show was a bit different from the comics, and I didn’t want to confuse the issue. He said to absolutely read the them. It informs everything we’re doing.
Not to sound actor-y here, but that has to help inform your choices on screen.
For me, information is power. Whether they use it or not, to me it’s important to know who these characters are and where they are coming from. If we’re all doing a scene that’s paying homage to a scene drawn out in a couple of cells in the graphic novel, I think it’s my job to know that. So the comic book fans, whether they know it right away or it speaks to them subconsciously, they’re aware and it’s informing.
And you have an action figure now!
You and Ben McKenzie both went from Southland to popular TV series based on comic book properties. Do you guys keep in touch?
I do talk to him.
Does he have a Detective Gordon toy?
I’m confident he does not have an action figure yet.
Then obviously, you rub it in his face.
Oh yes. Every chance we get. We all do. Myself and Shawn Hatosy (Southland) share a birthday. This year, I turned 50 and threw a big party. Shawn was invited, and I gave him an Abraham action figure for his birthday. He was like, “You motherf*cker!” He was like, “This is exactly what I would have done!” We all joke about it lovingly. I’m pretty sure that Ben’s figure is in the works. I would think, anyway.
Norman Reedus recently warned everyone to get their Kleenex and that they’ll be screaming at their TVs. Can you tell me anything more about the upcoming season finale?
There’s been lots of speculation on a major character’s death… You know, I would say that the finale is extremely satisfying and sets up almost a new beginning for moving forward in Alexandria.
Is Abraham coming back next season?
Your hair may not be red right now, but I see that facial hair still exists…
You’ll have to wait and see.
Dammit. You’re like a steel trap.
Oh, we’re all good at this part. We’re all trained professionals when it comes to that.
Alright. You win.
But I will also say this about the finale: For as much action and drive that it has, there are equal parts that are extremely lyrical. Things play out and I’m glad AMC gave us 90 minutes for the season finale. In that time, I think that everything breathes and it let’s you sit with a lot of the changes that are happening and a lot of the transitions the characters are going through. It’s really good television.
A lot of tools have been used to pick off walkers on the show. What would your weapon of choice be if the dead came back to life and walked the Earth?
I always thought that Tyreese had a lot of it right. A hammer is extremely extremely efficient. I think some sort of clubbing device that never runs out of bullets, never has to be reloaded and doesn’t necessarily have to be sharpened would be extremely extremely useful.
Also, extremely messy.
Yes, but not to say that is the only option. But it would be a great backup. You know, you want something that’s going to kill quietly. Now we know guns attract attention. So…
Okay, so… say the undead rise and the end of the world is nigh…
Yes, go on.
You’ve worked on both Walker, Texas Ranger and Renegade…
Actually, I haven’t worked on Walker, Texas Ranger. IMDB will not remove that credit because they think I’m lying.
You’re already ruining the setup to my question.
Sorry! There’s a non-dialog part in an episode of the show played by some guy who apparently looks like me. Every time the episode comes on, I get people contacting me saying, “I just saw you on Walker Texas Ranger!” It’s not me. I have written to IMDB and asked them to please remove that credit. It is not an actual credit, but they won’t do it.
Well, did you work on Renegade?
Okay. So, if the zombie apocalypse hits, who do you fight alongside: Chuck Norris or Lorenzo Lamas?
No, wait a minute. I’m going to change it up on you!
You’ve worked on both Beverly Hills 90210 and 21 Jump Street. If the zombie apocalypse hits, who do you fight alongside: Luke Perry or Johnny Depp?
Luke Perry. He’s a smart guy. I don’t know Johnny Depp, but I do know that Luke is very smart. He helped me set up the first fence at my house. He was setting up fence posts and my neighbors were like, “Oh my God, is that Luke Perry digging holes!?”
You had Luke Perry digging holes in your yard?
Yes. Yes I did.
What’s his going rate?
And with the first question, I would have to go with Chuck Norris.
Because, why would you not?
Well, sure. But really, it’s because the only thing in the world that can kick the sh*t outta Chuck Norris is Sergeant Abraham Ford. I’m probably going to get grief for that!