Armed with a Single Action Army revolver and dead-perfect aim, John Dorie is well-equipped to survive in the living dead apocalypse, but it's his friendly nature, endless optimism, and love of toffee that instantly made him one of the most likable characters on Fear The Walking Dead when he was introduced last season. With Fear The Walking Dead Season 4 out now on Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate, Daily Dead had the great pleasure of speaking with Dillahunt, who discussed his long-running interest in The Walking Dead, joining the cast of Fear The Walking Dead, his love of Westerns (which are a big influence on season 4), and he also reflected on his character in 2009's The Last House on the Left remake.
Some people thought you might play Negan back when they were casting that character, and even though you didn't end up playing Negan, you got to go full circle and they made this really cool character for you. Did you have to audition for the role of John Dorie or did they write it with you in mind? How did you first hear about John Dorie and get into his boots?
Garret Dillahunt: Yeah, well, Scott and I had developed an over-the-phone relationship during the whole Negan discussion. I knew that character was coming up and I was a fan of the show, and I had made overtures, and I think they were interested in talking to me about it, but there was just no way that, if they wanted me, that I could've worked it out with my schedule, because I was on another show at the time.
So that was that. We established an over-the-phone relationship, this role came about, and he gave me a call and said, "You wanna play it?" So, I actually don't know if it was written for me, or with me in mind. It fits me so easily, so maybe it was, but I never thought to ask that, I just thought it was like, "Oh, you know what? We got this other guy, maybe you'd be good at playing him."
But that's how it came about. He called and said, "You wanna come and talk about it?" So we did, we talked with him and [showrunners] Ian [B. Goldberg] and Andrew [Chambliss], and they laid out a loose plan about how they thought it was gonna go. There are always changes that happen through most of the season, but it sounded good to me, so that was okay.
Yeah, that's sometimes how the best things work out, when it seems serendipitous, that eventually you would get into this world one way or another. And I think it's really cool that your first scene in the show is with Lennie James' Morgan, and it bridges the gap between The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, and you're the conduit for Morgan to come into this part of the world.
Garret Dillahunt: Yeah, it was a great intro, it was the best I've ever had, with that character. They shot it beautifully with one hell of a DP, and we were all very excited. We were excited about this new project, this new prospect, this new and daunting task. It's very difficult to change, to bring an audience back, but it's possible.
There is a lot of talent on display in that show, too. I wanted to be a part of it, I've been a fan of both shows and I've had friends on them since day one. I've watched them all, I like to see them very much. I was very excited to be asked to join.
You and Lennie have a great back and forth, because his character is burnt-out when you meet him, and you're this really optimistic guy, so it's fun to watch that balance.
Garret Dillahunt: Yeah, but also, John's really hungry for company—he just starts babbling, he can't shut up. He hasn't spoken to another human in so long, since June [played by Jenna Elfman], and he's desperate to, and this guy, Morgan, clearly is a loner. It's hard, he's desperate to convince him to even stay the night and have a can of beans with him.
It was nice to meet Lennie before the big scene, but I wasn't worried. He's just not that kind of guy that you need to worry about. He's one of the most generous actors I've ever worked with. I thought I could have done anything in episode one of season four. There's some actors, and there's a lot of 'em on the show, that you just feel like, "Let's just do all our projects together cause we can all play a thousand different things."
Like a traveling acting company in the old Shakespeare days.
Garret Dillahunt: Exactly, our troupe could put on any play—toss it to me and I can cast it out of this group of people. There's a lot of stage experience on that show. Lennie was in the first production of the reopening of The Old Globe. He spoke the first words on that stage—what an honor.
The chemistry is really fun in season 4, and it feels like a Western with the aesthetics and the way the characters interact. Because John Dorie is a cowboy-like character, and he can shoot really well with his revolver, I'm curious if you have any favorite cowboy characters or Westerns that you have in mind when you play John?
Garret Dillahunt: Oh, I love Westerns, I love them so much. I can quote Silverado to you. I loved being in [The Assassination of] Jesse James [by the Coward Robert Ford], even the Western aspects of [No Country for] Old Men, I love that. Deadwood is killer and gave me a career, so I have a lot of gratitude towards the genre. I like the spaghetti Westerns, I like it all. In Westerns and science fiction, you can tell just about any story, you can make any metaphor, any theme you wanna tell can be hidden within those genres, so it's kind of perfect for me that I can be in a science fiction and a Western, essentially at the same time.
One of the cool things about this past season is that it feels like the writers' room is bringing in different genres. We had the romance episode with you and Jenna Elfman at the cabin, and then you also had the Jaws episode where you and Colman [Domingo] were in a boat and you're trapped by an alligator. It's like watching different movies set in the Walking Dead universe, which is really cool.
Garret Dillahunt: I'm glad you like it. It's the kind of genre that the fans have a real ownership of now, and it makes it very personal and it means a lot to them. So those new ideas are tricky. A lot of people don't wanna hear it, don't wanna see it, but I think most people understand that the characters can't be caught in the same loop. There has to be an advance somehow, they have to try, and how could a society rebuild after any kind of disaster, let alone something like this?
This could be a metaphor for anything. At some point, someone is hopeful, and I think that is what we are trying to do with this group. This group of people was tired of feeling like they just had to give up. These characters turned a corner. At some point, someones gotta say, "We have to rebuild society, we can't hole up, we can't fall into cannibalism and murder. How do we make order out of chaos?"
And that's a big theme of season 4. You see Madison [Kim Dickens] steering her kids in that direction, and I think what's really interesting about John is that even though he's obviously really deadly with a gun, he has a lot more optimism than we're used to seeing in this world, and I think that's his greatest weapon, because he's able to bring Strand [Domingo] and Alicia [Alycia Debnam-Carey] back from the brink of losing their minds. It's really interesting that your optimism can be more useful than your gun, even though your gun is definitely good, too.
Garret Dillahunt: Yeah, it dictates how he uses them, right? It's kind of like how mama bears are the most feared bear. Because if you threaten something they love, even though they'd rather not, if you're gonna [threaten something they love], then we have trouble. I like that quality in people.
It's kind of the same with [2009's] The Last House on the Left. Never thought I would have made this connection, but what I liked about that movie thematically was that this dude [Krug] was a bully. Who did he terrorize in that movie? A teenage girl, a policeman who had already been badly wounded in a car crash, and the people who end up putting him down are just an unprepared doctor and wife, alone in their summer home, and they're the first sort of adults he meets who won't quiver in fear of him, who find it within themselves to put him down. I think that's an interesting quality in people. I'm fascinated by how you would choose to become something else in times of crisis. Just like Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan. He was an English teacher—who knew he would be this great leader?
In addition to Fear the Walking Dead, are there any other projects coming up that you're excited about?
Garret Dillahunt: We made a movie called Sergio and I think it's gonna be really cool, so keep an eye peeled for that. We shot some of it in Jordan and Thailand, which was the most fun I've ever had shooting a movie. It's a great cast, so keep an eye peeled for Sergio.