J E F F R E Y D E A N M O R G A N
Interview & Photographs by} John Russo
Grooming by} Shirlry Losi for Honey Artists
Styling by} Cannon for the Only Agency
Location} The Baccarat Hotel NYC
Produced by} Photohouse Productions
JR: So what a ride it’s been. You started The Walking Dead journey in 2010. Could you ever have imagined that it would be this great of a run?
JDM: I came in at the end of Season Six, so whenever the fuck that was. It’s now Season Eleven, which is really Season Twelve, because this year we are doing 30 episodes. But I think I have been here for seven years. But no, I didn’t think I would be here this long, it’s so rare that shows go this long anywhere. But when I signed to do Negan we had talked about three seasons. And that was all she wrote, I thought he would just walk off like he did in the comic books or they would kill him. And here I am man, still here.
JR: Wow, that is so exciting!
JDM: I’m not done yet. So I guess that’s the fucking punchline of this (laughs). Lauren Cohan and I are doing a show called “Isle of the Dead”, Manhattan will be the isle of the dead, so the journey for Negan isn’t done yet. I’m a little bit surprised that I am still going (laughs).
JR: Hey, you are doing what you love.
JDM: That’s right, that’s exactly right. I can’t bitch about doing what I love and I think I do love Negan too, and the fact that I get to be home played a big part in it in making this decision really easy for me. And I just want to see the zombie apocalypse in New York City, I’m dying to see what that looks like, because I think it’s going to be fucking unreal.
JR: So looking back, are there any things that you would have changed about your character Negan? Would you have played him the same way if you had the chance to do it over again?
JDM: That’s an interesting question in that there wasn’t a lot of change with Negan, he didn’t develop more as a character, it took like three years to kind of get out of that initial what he saw when he came down the steps of that trailer. In fact, almost everything that Negan said for three years was sort of an iteration of that very first eight page, nine page monologue that I gave as my introduction. But over the years we’ve shown different sides of him obviously and people have called it this sort of redemption path that he’s been on. I don’t know if I would go that far, because Negan is still Negan if that makes sense. But would I change anything that I did, man, it would have nice to maybe, no you know what, fuck it, I wouldn’t change a thing. (laughter) I was going to launch into something about how violent he is and all this shit and his introduction to being so brutal. But I think that that was part of the storytelling process and that also gave me room to grow or Negan room to grow. You start at this worst spot you can. And the fact that everybody hated me and only like fifty percent of the people hate me or Negan, is a kind of a testament of the journey he has been on. And I think as long as there is a journey in a character as an actor you are fucking thrilled to play that and it means that there’s growth and all that crap which is fun to play.
JR: That leads into a good question. Was there a particular year or storyline that you thought stood out as exceptional? Kind of when Negan peaked or your performance of the character peaked?
JDM: Man, I liked Season Seven, my first full season because it was just, we had met Negan at the last episode of Season Six so I remember we started off Seven and it was kind of all Negan all the time and Negan torturing Rick Grimes, Andy Lincoln’s character. And we sure did have fun, I loved working with him, he’s no longer on the show but I loved fucking with him. I loved fucking with him as Rick Grimes because it also bugged Andy Lincoln so much that I had fun if that makes sense. And we became very friends, I became good friends with the cast on the show obviously after so many years. But that first year I think where we got to see Negan and all of his glory as that guy, as that first initial iteration of Negan was awfully fun to play.
JR: It’s so cool when you look back on your career and you have these amazing memories of working with these great actors and great people on the show and that’s important.
JDM: Well it is and I think that’s another reason why I am still here, is that other than this year where we have been kind of fucking isolated, I mean generally when I am down here, we are down here for like six months out of the year, we do sixteen episodes, and this year it’s been 30 and it’s a lot more time. But we spent a lot of time together, and this year we haven’t spent a lot of time together off set because of COVID. But I think why I am still here is my love of this cast. It really is a kind of family atmosphere with the exception of this year because of COVID, we spent so much fucking time together, I actually spent a lot of time with Norman Reedus. And yeah, he is much a part of my family as anyone else, because my kids, to them, he’s Uncle Norman and vice versa with his little girls. And that is kind of how intertwined we all are. And that’s a rare thing, I mean I think we talk about it a lot as actors, what kind of family atmosphere there is, but this really is, because none of us are at home, Georgia is not our fucking first home at all and what we got is the people here on the show, those are our friends and our family. And just kind of the nature of the show, it’s the hardest show to film that I have ever been a part of, but I would probably put it in the top two in the history of television, it’s just a physically and mentally hard show to film. And that also brings a certain closeness with the cast creating it with you.
JR: So speaking of film, these days, anybody with an I-Phone now, filmmaking is much more accessible than it was back in the day. What do you think about this whole revolution with young filmmakers, like everyone is just basically creating their own vehicles? Are you on board with this new approach to filmmaking? What are your thoughts on that?
JDM: I’m totally on board. I mean I got a twelve year old who is really good, who is a really good editor and really can shoot. And because he started so young to be able to do his own thing, he had his brain in such a way that he is a storyteller. And I think that that’s an amazing thing for young people to have access to, phones and computers and they can literally shoot a whole movie, write, shoot, edit a whole film in their room. I mean Gusy, my son has all the accouterments, he’s got green screens and things to hold his phone level when he’s doing running shots. And I am amazed how quickly he learned, I can’t sit around in front of editing software and know what the fuck I’m doing. And he figured it out like immediately and it’s super impressive and he makes really funny thoughtful films at the age of ten, he started showing me stuff that was blowing my mind, very smart, very good sense of humor, very adult with his sense of humor, probably hanging out with his mom and dad too much during the pandemic. But it’s amazing and so I’m all for it, I’m all for the young folks getting a handle on filmmaking.
JR: And speaking of the pandemic, it caused a lot of people to rethink their approach on work and life. More people are moving to the country, focusing on quality of life. Has the pandemic changed your outlook on how you choose to live life now? And do you think now that it’s ending, it’s going to kind of go backward? How is it for you?
JDM: Well we were sort of living the pandemic lifestyle for the last fucking ten years. We moved out to the country, we got a farm, so we were doing it. Everybody started like now they are moving out to where we live, now there’s traffic and too many fucking people out in the country. But it’s not going to change how we live, unless we decide that maybe city life, to get away from all the people that moved upstate might the way to go now, especially if I am shooting a show in the city, we may be reverting to being in the city a lot more than the country. But for us, we didn’t have to run anywhere. We had our ranch and we could eat right out of the garden and so that part of the pandemic, we were very self-sufficient and fucking prepared for it. But not the mental aspect. (laughs) But all the rest of it, we were good. We will see going forward. I don’t see this ever ending, I don’t think life is going to be what it was before the pandemic, I just don’t see it. I am having a lot of conversations right now about masks with schools and the candy company that we own and what do we do now that those mandates are getting taken away, because man, where I am, we are still getting positive hits on COVID. I know people that are still getting sick and a friend of ours just passed away from COVID. So it’s fucking crazy. It’s not gone I guess where I stand and I’m going to remain vigilant and I wish other people would. But we will see. Look, no one wants to rip their mask off more than I do, I promise you that, but I also have the responsibility of having a young child in a house that can’t get vaccinated and so for us it’s a no-brainer.
JR: So choosing or accepting the right projects in the chess game of Hollywood, looking back, are there any projects you wish you would have taken that you passed on?
JDM: Yeah that is a tricky question because, I mean probably. I’ve been offered a couple of things, there was one thing in particular with Peter Jackson that I wanted to do, shot in New Zealand and I have never been in New Zealand and like oh my God, could I just be in New Zealand and I really wanted to shoot it, but it was like my second or third year on The Walking Dead and it was like a six month shoot and I couldn’t do it. That one I still kick myself about. But no, because I feel lucky in the career that I have had and I try not to wake up in the morning with a lot of regrets. (laughs) At this age they don’t serve me well having regrets, so I try not to have them.
JR: In our current society, where you are not allowed to have an opinion unless it’s the current accepted opinion of Hollywood, and everything you say will be used against you, do you feel that it’s best to just say nothing at all?
JDM: Yeah the whole just fucking dribble the ball bullshit, like what LeBron gets? No, I was pretty quiet for a long time. My wife is the opposite of me, she will fight everybody and give her opinion in such a way and I have such respect for her for doing it. I have been more on the quiet side. I recently had decided that maybe that’s a bullshit thing to do. For one, I see my wife saying fucking things and I hate for her to be alone in stating her opinion because we are in lock step. But I have been very vocal recently, especially about this war that’s going on, I have been very vocal about mass and vaccinations and that is kind of within the last year, before then I was pretty quiet, I think everybody knew where I stood politically, I don’t think that was a big fucking secret. But I didn’t say it a lot. I don’t like that everybody can have an opinion but us because we are fucking actors, I don’t fucking get that at all. If anything I think that we are as educated and sometimes more educated than a lot of people and they all get to say what they want to say. But the minute an athlete or actor speaks out they get told fuck you, Hollywood, jock type, whatever. I think if you want to talk about an opinion and feel strong about something, then you should say it. Joe Plumber is giving an opinion and he is the one telling us we shouldn’t give an opinion. You know what, I don’t fucking get it, I never have. It is because I don’t know, we have more followers, I don’t fucking know why we are not supposed to have an opinion, but fuck it, have an opinion, I am going to start saying it. (Laughter)
JR: Finish this sentence: You know I worked with that guy Jeffrey on a project, and that guy always manages to ____?”
JDM: Make me laugh. Yeah I make the people laugh. I don’t know why, but I believe in enjoying what you do, and especially on a show like The Walking Dead, when I am with my castmates and crew members, I’m all about making them laugh between shots because we got to try and get through that day and have as much fun as possible.
JR: I have been shooting actors for 25 years and I have to say you are the most real, normal down to earth and fun person to be around. There is no nervous energy when you are on. No one is like, God I wonder how he is going to be today. (laugh) I am like if I can’t work with cool people like Jeffrey Dean Morgan, then fuck it, I’d rather not work at all.
JDM: Oh brother, thank you very much. I want that quote in this article. (laughs)
JR: Thank you! Can’t wait to do it again sir!
To learn more about Jeffrey follow him at @jeffreydeanmorgan