'The Walking Dead': 10 things you didn't know about Josh McDermitt

Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter in The Walking Dead. (Photo: Gene Page/AMC)

To celebrate the Oct. 22 Season 8 premiere of The Walking Dead — the series’ 100th episode — Yahoo TV will be posting a new TWD-related story every day through the season opener.

It was no joke when Josh McDermitt first turned up on The Walking Dead. In 2013, fans of the hit AMC horror drama met Eugene Porter, McDermitt’s mullet-wearing alter ego who claimed to know the cure for the zombie plague. While the actor’s role came as a bit of a surprise for longtime fans (you’ll see why in a minute), McDermitt transformed into The Walking Dead character you love to hate. Here are 10 things to know about this versatile actor.

1. He was a semi-finalist on Last Comic Standing.

No wonder he looked familiar! Comedy fans may recognize McDermitt from his 2006 stint on Last Comic Standing. A young Josh made it to the semi-finals of the NBC comedy competition. A few years later, he was a series regular on the TV Land sitcom Retired at 35. While The Walking Dead seems a bit out of his wheelhouse, McDermitt always knew he had it in him to take on weightier roles. “I was strictly a comedian,” McDermitt told Culturated.com of his pre-Eugene life. “I was on a sitcom. Every commercial I booked was comedic. But I always knew I could do drama. When I told my agent to start booking me for drama auditions, The Walking Dead was the first thing that I went out for.”

2. He grew up in a big family.

McDermitt’s family was larger than The Brady Bunch. The actor grew up in Arizona and was one of six kids, but his family also took in foster kids on a regular basis. “We did foster care, like emergency foster care, so we would get a lot of kids in the middle of the night and stuff like that,” he told the Talk Nerdy With Us blog. “At any given time, we could have 12-15 kids in our family. We’d hang on to them for a day or two before we’d have to figure out if they had to be placed in a permanent home. … It was kind of a lot of fun to come home from school and you’d have a new brother or sister.”

3. He was hired by a radio station at age 15.

McDermitt can thank Billy Ray Cyrus for his first job. At age 15, he called a Phoenix radio station to request a song by the country singer and it paved the way for his first real gig. “I called up [morning radio hosts] Tim and Willy, and I did a voice that said, ‘Hey can you play ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ for me,'” McDermitt said in an interview with Good Morning Arizona.  McDermitt continued to call into the station as a character named Cocko (he eventually had 10 different characters on the morning show), and the station ended up hiring him as a regular on-air personality to riff on local news stories.

4. He has a nickname for his character’s mullet.

Eugene’s mullet is like an extra character on The Walking Dead. The character’s ‘90s hairstyle is so iconic it even has a nickname. “We call it ‘the mullet of life,’” McDermitt told Vulture. The actor also said he would never want Eugene to change his signature style. “I don’t think he would ever change it,” he said. “In fact, they wrote that he would try to pull it into a ponytail, which would be part of his going-to-work thing. But if they ever wanted to do something other than the mullet, I would fight that so hard. I think it is an iconic hairpiece. I love it so much. I love looking as stupid as possible.”

5. He quit social media after receiving death threats.

If you can’t find McDermitt online, there’s a good reason why. Earlier this year, McDermitt received backlash (including death threats!) over Eugene’s antics, so he shut down his online accounts. In a final Facebook Live message, McDermitt addressed the cyber-bullying he received as a result of Eugene’s Season 7 story arc with Negan and the Saviors. “I’m just sick of it,” he said, according to TV Guide. “You can hate Eugene. I don’t care. I’ll argue that you’re wrong, but you can think whatever you want. But when you start saying you hope I die? I don’t know if you’re talking about Josh or Eugene.”

6. He’s a hot air balloon pilot.

Is this guy a jack of all trades or what? McDermitt is a licensed hot air balloon pilot. “A lot of families have like a boat or ATVs or whatever,” he told Vibe. “We’re a weird family. We had a hot air balloon.”

Josh McDermitt as George Payton in Mad Men in 2014. (Photo: AMC)

7. He appeared on Mad Men‘s final season.

McDermitt didn’t let the tail end of his mullet deter him from auditioning for another iconic AMC show. McDermitt appeared in the 7th season of Mad Men, playing George Payton in two episodes of the ‘60s-set advertising drama (“The Monolith” and “Waterloo”). “I got the audition to go in and read for Matthew Weiner and the producers,” he said in an AMC Q&A. “Everyone else auditioning was wearing business suits and everyone looked like they belonged on Mad Men. Matthew Weiner said he’s a really big fan of The Walking Dead, and he was excited I was cast on that show. And, despite having the mullet, they picked me anyway.” McDermitt also said it wasn’t hard to keep his Mad Men role a secret. “I rarely shave down to my face, which I had to do for Mad Men, so a couple of people were asking about that, but no one thought that I’d booked another show, let alone Mad Men,” he said.

8. He modeled Eugene’s voice after his brother.

McDermitt is a master of voices (see his morning radio history), but he turned to someone close to him to come up with Eugene’s monotone. In a Reddit AMA, he revealed that he based Eugene’s voice on his brother Zach. “He gets mad every time I tell people that!” McDermitt wrote. “But he speaks with such a flat, even affect, that he was like the perfect model for what Eugene sounds like. Eugene’s emotional spectrum is so tiny — I couldn’t not steal my brother’s persona, to make Eugene.”

9. His favorite fan gift was given to him by a mortician.

Talk about morbid! McDermitt has received all types of gifts from diehard Dead fans, but his favorite fan gift was given to him by a mortician — and it’s really creepy! McDermitt told Moviepilot that the fan gave him a “butt plug,” used in preparing a body for burial. “Not only is that my favorite gift from a fan, ever, but the woman was very sweet and not weird at all,” he said.

10. He didn’t start acting until he was 30.

McDermitt isn’t even 40 yet, so it’s hard to believe that with all of his credentials, it’s been less than 10 years since he started acting. “I didn’t start acting until I was 30,” he told Talk Nerdy With Us. “I’ve always been a bit of a performer, even going back into my childhood. But then, I just wanted something more. I moved to Los Angeles and started auditioning. … I feel very fortunate that I even figured that out, because I think that there are a lot of people who maybe want to be an actor or pursue some passion or dream and they don’t do it because they don’t realize that they can.”

The Walking Dead Season 8 premieres Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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