A fan of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and the graphic novels they were based on, Michael Cudlitz cared more about the story being told than whether or not he survived the zombie apocalypse.
Well, in some ways.
The departed Sgt. Abraham Ford, who was brutally killed by the barbed bat-wielding Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) at the end of Season 6, was a fan favorite who sacrificed himself for the sake of the group.
That physically taxing death scene, in which Negan bashes Abraham’s skull with his bat Lucille, was an important one, but Cudlitz didn’t want it to eclipse another character’s demise.
“Being a fan of the show, I wanted to make sure that my death didn’t take away from Steven’s [Yuen] death. I was very concerned about that as a fan,” Cudlitz said when he stopped by The Times’ video studio for a pre-Emmy chat.
“I’m kind of happy that a majority of the focus leaned on Glenn’s death. Abraham had become part of the fabric of the show, but I felt that Steven [as] Glenn made the show. I watched him grow up as an actor… Steven and Melissa McBride … I felt they had the greatest arc that I enjoyed following most. They were sort of the heart and soul — so far as the direction, the moral compass, always pulling everybody back, especially after Hershel had passed.”
As Abraham bravely faced his fate, Cudlitz credited the writers with crafting the scene. However, it was Cudlitz who chose how Abraham would present himself to Negan.
“That was him being a soldier. He knew. He had assessed this whole situation. He knew that someone in this group had to go, and he being the ultimate solider was willing to take it for the next guy.”
Cudlitz was also familiar with his own arc after following Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels. He knew the death was coming, and it was confirmed when writer Scott M. Gimple called him to set up a meeting.
“I knew, I mean, I knew it was time,” he said. “It’s always sad to leave a place where the working conditions are fantastic, the stories were great, the people were great. I understand that [he had to die]. I processed that. But the actual leaving of that group, sure, it was sad.”
But actually watching himself being dispatched wasn’t as dramatic an experience as much as a technical one.
“It’s hard to separate all the technical stuff, because there’s a lot of prosthetics involved up until the actual hit,” he said of the shooting of Abraham’s death.
The grueling 12-hour scene was shot in frigid temperatures. The actors were on their feet for nearly four hours straight, Cudlitz said, and he had chosen to make Abraham stay upright, which he regretted 30 minutes into shooting.
“You know how the audience is going to react, but you don’t react the same way, because you are so much a part of it.”
For him, watching it “was not a big deal.”
“For us, that moment is broken down into two nights of six hours each night of prosthetics. For us, [as actors], it’s a very technical thing. So we’re looking to see if that technically looks good rather than ‘oh my gosh, that’s horrible.’ When I saw Steven get beaten, it was horrific, because he was my favorite character.”
Watch Cudlitz’s full interview below:
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