Courtesy of Jason from The Walking Dead ‘Cast, CBR presents the transcript from his recent interview with “The Walking Dead’s” latest cast member Ross Marquand. Playing the part of Aaron – the first member of the Alexandria community to interact with Rick’s survivors – Marquand’s part was highly anticipated by fans of the show and comic for several reasons. After outcry over the potential sexual orientation of Daryl Dixon, Aaron represents the series’ first major out male character. In addition, Aaron’s arrival opens up the show to a whole new world with Alexandria. Below, the actor discusses fan response to his casting, his odds of survival and his connection to Rick’s group.
Read the interview below, and download the podcast for free.
So how are you doing? I mean, you’ve been working on the show for a little while, but it’s just now coming out on the air. Have things shifted for you in the last week or so?
Ross Marquand: Most definitely. It’s been overwhelming to see so much of the surge in activity on social media, both directed at me and the characters of Aaron and Eric, and it’s been really fascinating to see the response. I think it’s great, if for no other reason than that it’s opening up a dialogue, and I’m really overwhelmed by all that. But it’s certainly exciting to be a part of it.
My co-host Karen and I think it’s really great that The Walking Dead is showing this openly gay relationship and we’ve already had several listeners write in praising it too, but as I’m sure you’ve seen, there are people on Twitter and social media that aren’t pleased. I’m sure you’ve seen that. Are you surprised by that? What do you think of it?
I was surprised by some of the language that I saw, you know, waking up to some of that. You’re checking your messages and you’re trying to interact with the fans as much as possible, and when you see some language that is just really full of vitriol and hate, it’s tough to come back from that. I think a lot of my friends who are friends of the LGBT community really just have no patience for that, but I do. I think it’s important to have a dialogue with the people who have differing opinions. I would certainly not purport to say that my opinions are better than others, but I hope for the people that do have a strong opinion against two men being portrayed as ultimately gay on the show, that they would ask themselves if they had the same reaction to Tara being openly gay with her lover. There wasn’t so much of a backlash when that happened, and I don’t know what that says about us as a society, or the viewers of the show. I don’t know if it necessarily says anything in particular, but I do think it was surprising that there was really nothing said, as far as I could tell. Because I’ve been a fan of the show since the beginning and I certainly read up on as many threads as I could, and still do, and certainly wanted to chart the course of how people reacted to the show and what they thought was going to happen next. I was curious myself, but I didn’t really see the backlash when Tara came on the show.
But hopefully it’s just some fans who are still trying to wrap their brains around it. And frankly, at the end of the day, we are honoring the source material. Robert Kirkman has laid out this beautiful work for us, this massive sprawling work that is really pretty genius, if for no other reason, that it’s kind of a commentary on our society. And I read an interview with him from eons ago where he basically says “I don’t know why I wouldn’t include gay characters in my stories because there’s gay characters in the world as we know it. Why on Earth wouldn’t they be around in the apocalypse?”
I think that certain people who might be uncomfortable with homosexuality might be okay with it with women because there is something about our society that finds that attractive. Or people who are uncomfortable with it might find seeing men more uncomfortable for some reason?
But I really do think that with this vitriolic reaction that it actually makes it more meaningful and potentially useful that you guys are putting it out there, and I wonder if you even think that you might be helping in some way to change people’s attitudes.
I sure hope so. But again, when I say I have patience with people who have differing views, it really goes back to my upbringing as a Christian. I think that some of the response has been because of that, you know, that they have religious beliefs that perhaps differ and have opposition to that. But I think the position on homosexuality in general, especially in Christianity, is changing to a large degree. I would never tell people what they should believe, but I would hope, as you said, for a shift in attitude. Because, they’re an orientation that is not going anywhere. It is certainly not going to bend to the attitudes of society at large. I think there needs to be an acceptance and awareness, and at the end of the day, whether or not people agree with others’ choice to be with a man or a woman is somewhat irrelevant only in the sense that there needs to be respect at the end of the day. There needs to be respect for all humans and we need to judge people based on their personality, based on what they bring to the table.
Are they good or bad people independent of their sexual orientation? That’s really, I think, what the theme of this show in general is-can you trust anybody? And certainly, I’ll let people decide where their allegiances lie with Aaron and Eric as time goes on, as more is revealed about Alexandria. If in fact they still have issues with Aaron moving forward, I think it will really come down to, hopefully, where the character himself is going. And not so much about his sexual orientation.
Yeah, totally. We’re watching this thinking, “You know, it really shouldn’t be an issue and we shouldn’t focus on it that much,” but at the same time, we’re like “Oh, we think it’s so great that there is focus on it,” so it’s sort of a paradox.
Yeah. I mean it opens up those doors. And that is great, even for people who are sorting through their own feelings on it. They might be surprised by what they find. You know?
Totally. When did you know you were auditioning for Aaron? I know they give you fake auditions. Were you aware that you would be playing a gay character?
No. Not for the audition. They gave a very brief kind of outline of who the character was, and sort of some qualities they wanted me to hit on. And we did the audition, it went well, I left the casting office and then got a call from Sharon Bialy, the casting director, just about 15 minutes later. She said “Can you come right back? We think that we want to see some of this comedic side that you have from your previous work reflected in Aaron.” I said “Yeah, I’d love to!” I went back and we shot it just once or twice more and she said she felt like we got it handled, and that was just…it was so nice in terms of what you normally have to go through as an actor to get a job, to just go in one day and have the whole process take no more than an hour. I was floored. I really thought I was going to have to go in several times and meet with the producers and it just was very easy.
When you read through the script for this week’s episode was tense. You must have an idea of what your commitment is to the show, but I wonder if you’re ever reading through the script, getting nervous about your character, wondering if there was a misunderstanding. Like “Maybe I’m gonna die this episode after all!”
Oh yeah, well. [Laughs] You know you’re never guaranteed episodes on this show, which is the most thrilling thing about it, and also the most terrifying thing about it, is that you never know when you’re gonna go. And, as a fan of the show — a massive fan of the show — if I was in it for two seconds, I would be pleased. The fact that I’ve had a few episodes now under my belt is absolutely astonishing and bewildering. But also, I’m so grateful for the time I’ve had on there.
So yeah, I mean when Rick says “If my people aren’t back here in 45 minutes, I’m gonna put a knife in the base of your skull,” that might happen. And it was scary for a number of reasons, because I was the new guy on set, and I wanted to do the part justice. But luckily I got through the episode and didn’t die. So that’s great.
I thought there was an echo of Gareth in your character. I think they did that on purpose. Gareth was so unassuming, and now here comes another unassuming guy. Did you have that in your consciousness too about Gareth?
I certainly wasn’t trying to channel that when I was performing it. But, when I saw it on the episode, I feel like I did see certain elements of that as well, and certainly with The Governor too. They go about it in different ways, but there is this very charming, affable approach with all three of these men, of “We just want to help. We just want to see you succeed. We want to welcome you in with open arms.” [Laughs] Which based on the track record of the show, people doing that doesn’t necessarily end well for most people, whether you’re in Rick’s group or not. So, I think a lot is going to be revealed in the next few episodes, and it’s going to be real interesting to see how Rick’s group acclimates to this new community.
Aaron’s interesting because he seems kind and he’s brave without posturing at all. Is that kinda what you’re going for?
Yeah, from what I know of people who have worked in relief aid and been in diplomatic missions where they’re going into really hostile territories, what I see time and time again, and certainly from the research I did on YouTube, looking at various workers and peace corps and what not, they all have this really kind of laid back vibe to them. Where their personality doesn’t need to be as strong because they know they are dealing with people that have much stronger personalities than them, and they’re people who might fly off the handle at any moment. So the last thing you want to do is come in telling people what’s what, and demand that they accept you as you are or acquiesce to their demands. Because at the end of the day, it’s about gaining their trust. And making sure that they feel comfortable in the scenario that they’re presenting to them.
We heard he came from an NGO. So he was using that same skill set with Rick’s group?
Yeah, and I think it’s very telling that, he’s like “How can you smile after being punched in the face and be so blase after guns are pointed at you?” And he says, “This was my job for four or five years! I was in Africa getting roughed up and pushed around by warlords and drug lords who wanted to genuinely kill me. And I was very aware of my mortality at every moment. After watching you guys for a period of time, y’all seem like y’all are on the level, you seem like pretty good people, so I’m not going to freak out too much just because you punched me or because you have guns pointed at me. Because that was my job for so long before everything even happened with the apocalypse.
Did you think about what Aaron may have heard or seen that specifically made him feel like, “Okay, this group is okay?”
Well, I think seeing Rick at the helm with a baby in his arm, and seeing his young son with him. And also just the diversity of the group and seeing how they all reacted to various issues and trials along the way. And seeing that they all seemed to want to help each other. It’s revealed at the end of the episode, of course, that Aaron has been listening with one of those cardioid mics, the shotgun mics that can shoot from a mile away. So I’m sure after listening to some of their discussions, he’s gathering a lot of information about what makes them tick, and how they console each other, or not, during those times. And I think after a while, you get a pretty good sense of a person based on that.
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