For our latest exclusive feature on The Walking Dead, I recently had a chance to talk with Scott Wilson for an in-depth interview to discuss his work as Hershel on the TV series. Not only do we talk about Season 4, but his reason for joining the TV show, losing a leg in Season 3, and the fact that Hershel was almost killed off in the second season:
*Spoiler Warning: This interview includes major plot items from the first half of The Walking Dead Season 4
When were you first introduced to The Walking Dead and what made you say yes to taking on the role of Hershel?
Scott Wilson: I was back in Georgia visiting my mom for her 97th birthday and I had been commenting to friends of mine that as long as I had been acting, I had never worked in Georgia. About an hour later, the phone rang and I was asked about being on The Walking Dead. I looked at the first season and said that I’d love to be on the show, so that’s how that came about.
I thought the zombies were just incredible. Greg Nicotero and his team just did such a great job with them. Had they not been done well, I didn’t know how much room there would be for performance, but the zombies enhance the actors.
One reason too was that Greg Nicotero, Frank Darabont, and Gale Anne Hurd were involved in it and they have really good track records, so it was definitely something I paid attention to. Being a part of the show was something I thought I would have a lot of fun with, and in fact it has turned out that way.
As you know, this is all based on Robert Kirkman’s comic book series. When you got the role of Hershel, did you dive into the comic book series to see where your character might be headed?
Scott Wilson: You know, I didn’t because I was told that it wouldn’t be following the comic books to the letter. I didn’t want to get hooked on something, think that my character should go somewhere, and then put myself in a position that was contradicting the storyline coming from the writers’ room. I didn’t watch the show either until the entire season was over, so now I can follow the show every week without having to worry about it [laughs]. And I will read the comic book series now.
I was sad to see Hershel die in Episode 408, but not too many of our readers may know that you were originally supposed to be killed off toward the end of Season 2.
Scott Wilson: At one point, I think it’s before we shot episode 9, I got a call from Glen Mazzara. He told me he was taking me out, but he liked what I was doing and really didn’t want to. I told him it was ok and that I’d remain a fan of the show.
He said that it would happen in episode 11 or 12, but I read the script for 11 and didn’t’ see it and I read 12 and didn’t see it either. I’m on the set for episode 13 and Glen Mazzara said: “Look at you… you’re still alive…”, so I got into the third season and I lost my leg in the first episode [laughs].
That’s one scene that’s regularly brought up by Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus, and they always talk about the energy in the room during that scene. Since you were the one having your fake leg cut off, what can you tell me about that day?
Scott Wilson: It wasn’t just the hack part, but shooting the scene time after time where they are picking me up and rushing me into the prison mess hall. Take after take, there was this incredible energy going on and there was Andrew, Norman, IronE, Steven, Lauren, and it was just incredible to see them pick me up and frantically run me to the cafeteria. Of course, going down on the floor and Andy is taking the axe and chopping my leg off is pretty violent stuff, but it was pretty amazing.
Then they brought the prisoners in. We were off camera when they started, but we recreated that scene for them so they could see what had been taking place and react to what we’ve been doing. It was really phenomenal.
It was really funny that Ernest Dickerson directed the first episode I was in, then the episode where they take my leg off and then he directed the episode where they take my head [laughs]. We’re good friends, but he puts me through all of these horrible things…
I’m sure you were happy to find out about getting your leg back in Season 4…
Scott Wilson: I was thrilled about that because it’s incredibly demanding to use those crutches every day. I wanted Hershel to look as active and capable as possible, so you’d believe he could deal with the issues of an apocalyptic world. It was very physical.
Were they happy with where they took your character in Season 4? While I really liked Hershel in Seasons 2 and 3, he had a more prominent role in the group this season.
Scott Wilson: I really enjoyed it. Of course, he’s had a lot of wonderful scenes all along, but when I read 403, when he gets the berries to make the tea, he became very proactive. In the other episodes he was more reactive and responding to other issues and other people.
That kind of set off an alarm bell in my head, though [laughs]. Then, I read episode 405 and it was very Hershel intensive. I loved it and I thought it must be the end. It was a great episode to have before you go out.
You said you had suspicions that Hershel would be killed around that time. When did you find out and who was it that told you?
Scott Wilson: It was actually after that episode. Scott Gimple called me and told me he was going to take me out. It’s a tough spot for anyone to be in and he handled it gracefully. I think he’s a wonderful writer. You know that you’re going to go sooner or later. You know that up front and while you may not like it, you recognize it’s going to happen. Now I can be a fan and watch the show without knowing what’s next [laughs].
Hershel’s death was definitely one of the more brutal and shocking scenes from the show. I also think this is one of the deaths that has hit fans the hardest, as everyone seemed to really love Hershel.
Scott Wilson: I love that Hershel has resonated with the fans the way he has, and that has to do with the writing and the performances around me. He was a very interesting character to play and he evolved into more of the wise old head. I think he saw humanity in most people and he had a willingness to see past flaws and get back to some kind of life that would have more value to it. He’s constantly looking at the positive side of things. He looks at the prison and sees the possibility of being self sustained by growing your own food.
I’ll miss working with those actors. They’re all so talented, starting with Andrew Lincoln. He’s a real inspiration to everyone on the show and not just the cast, but the crew. The crew does so much work in such little time. Action scenes would take several weeks in a movie, but they do it every day.
Talking about the incredible amount of work put into these episodes by the cast and crew, 408 has to be the biggest episode I’ve seen on the show. Of course, your character getting killed off was a major event, but what’s something else that stood out to you during the filming of that episode?
Scott Wilson: That one thing I really loved about it is that there’s a tank and people with weapons sitting in front of the fence, with The Governor hollering and Rick goes down with a six shooter and faces the tank. It just tickled me to see that. It was like a gunfight at high noon, where you see someone walking down main street with a six shooter on their hip. It was a lot of fun and I got a big kick out of it.
On the last day of filming, everyone was wearing suspenders because Hershel wears them and they were applauding when I got there. It was real touching that they cared enough to do something special like that.
And it is all well deserved. You did such a fantastic job on the show as Hershel and I know that the fans are going to miss you as well.
Scott Wilson: I’ll miss being on the show, I appreciate the fan reaction, and I loved working with Andrew, Lauren, Steven, Melissa, Norman, and the new cast members. It’s also been totally fun watching Chandler grow up from the first season. He’s becoming quite the man and he’s an incredible actor.
There’s been some wonderful cast members that aren’t on the show, like Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey DeMunn, Laurie Holden, IronE Singleton, Sarah Wayne Callies. I’ve said that we walk on their shoulders and now I join their ranks. It’s a real family and these bonds will be there long after the show is over. It has been a lot of fun.
I want to give a big thanks to Scott for taking part in this interview. Be on the lookout for much more content on The Walking Dead next month, when Season 4 returns with the second set of eight episodes starting on February 10th. Catch up on our recent coverage highlights by visiting the following links: