Last week’s episode of The Walking Dead was so great and for so many reasons. Not only did we finally learn what happened to Beth after she disappeared in “Alone,” but we also were introduced to several new, interesting characters in the hospital where she is being held. You have Noah, another resident of the hospital and a friend of Beth’s from the get-go. Then, there’s the psycho-bitch-from-hell security cop, Dawn. And, the grab-ass rapist, Gorman, who got exactly what was coming to him before the episode’s end. But, then there is Dr. Edwards, who for me was the most intriguing of the entire group. He’s brilliant. He’s eccentric. But he’s also done some pretty bad things in order to survive, which in my eyes makes him even more interesting.
Dr. Steven Edwards is portrayed by the amazing talent Erik Jensen, and I was fortunate this week to interview the actor, and what a fun interview it was. This guy is truly great. Besides the acting, Erik also writes, and he also recently published his own graphic novel (Can you believe that? Wow. Will talk more about this later). In fact, if you’re one of these people who really pays attention, you might recognize Erik from the hit CBS drama Person of Interest, where he guest-starred as Walter Dang in episode 4.06 “Pretenders.” Ironically, that episode aired the Tuesday just prior to Dr. Edwards being introduced in “Slabtown,” which I saw as a huge coincidence. and actually thought it may have been planned that way.
“If someone out there planned it, I didn’t know much about it. [Laughs] Hey, maybe I should have played the lottery. But, yes, it was a very pleasant week. The order of the two shows was actually different, though. I shot The Walking Dead before I shot Person of Interest. They’re both on kind of a different schedule. So, I shot Person of Interest like a month or two or three after I shot Slabtown, and so that was a coincidence,” Erik explains.
“The two characters are both kind of bright, geeky even, but you know, they are also very different. Dr. Edwards on The Walking Dead, his office is kind of like a gerbil cage, or in this case, since he is what he eats, a guinea pig’s cage. With all of his papers and models and stuff piled around him like wood chips, and he’s got his own corner of the universe that he’s created for himself, and he will do anything he can to stay there. Walter on Person of Interest — AKA “Detective Jack Forge” — wants to get out of his cage so badly that he becomes someone else to escape. They’re two people who deal with a frightening world quite differently.”
Another big difference between the roles on the two dramas is the level of secrecy tied with being cast on The Walking Dead. AMC’s rule is pretty simple — you say nothing to absolutely no one. Of course, just like other cast members of the zombie drama, there’s the fallout from friends and family when the episode airs and the secret does finally come out.
“I usually follow the Gene Hackman rule. I don’t usually watch myself on TV. Though, being fans of the show, we did tune in. My pal, my 4.5 year old daughter almost “outed” me as a cast member at pre-school—she kept calling it “Zombie Show” so I don’t think the other 4 year-olds caught on.“
“So, Slabtown airs, I get all these calls from all of the people I had been keeping the secret from for a long time. You have to sign an NDA and everything, so I was sitting on this thing. My friends will tell you I talk a lot, but I was actually able to keep a secret for once.”
“But fans WANT INFO! You know, I have a next-door neighbor, and he’s 96 years-old, he’s lived there 94 years. Slabtown airs and his son immediately comes out after and says, ‘Hey, I saw you on the show. What happens next?’ Of course, I couldn’t say anything–AMC has really started to go to extremes and have actually implanted electrodes in my brain, and so if I’m about to reveal something, they zap me [Laughs].”
Of course, this didn’t surprise me a bit. Most of us know how secretive AMC is about The Walking Dead and the lengths they will go to prevent spoilers from getting out. Besides this, Erik also didn’t know much about the role or the character when he auditioned and didn’t know the specifics until he got the part and showed up on set.
“Well, I wasn’t really told that much. I think I’ve auditioned for The Walking Dead a couple of times. I don’t know which character I auditioned for when they were casting season 1, but I do remember auditioning once to play Eugene [Laughs]. Which that would have been totally miscast because I never sported a mullet very well and [Josh McDermitt] is so great. He’s good, gosh he’s good. And, then I kind of forgot about it for a while, and then when this part came around, I can’t remember the name– I think it was ‘Johnson’ maybe? Thank God my wife is an amazing director/actor. She’s the reason I booked this. It took a while to rehearse. The Edwards audition, unbeknownst to me, was a brilliant mish-mash of all of the scenes. And within the 5-page scene, there was actually a whole pretend character arc happening through it. I think the audition character was an art researcher betraying another art researcher, and I do remember a piece about the speech about the Caravaggio painting being in there at the end. And, I really didn’t know how it was going to fit into the show, it was a mystery to me until I showed up on set. Well, at least until I got a call from Scott Gimple,” Erik says.
So, Erik gets the role, shows up on set, and what does he find? He walks on the set and into Edwards’ office, and he swears the office and most of what’s in it could have been his own, which was pretty darn weird.
“The thing that scared me the most is that I’m a record hound just like Dr. Edwards. I mean, it was like the writers had planted a camera in my office and just observed for a week. [Laughs] I have a huge vinyl collection, and if you do a 360 of my office you’ll be able to see it. You couldn’t see them on Edwards’ desk, but I’m surrounded by little models just like the ones I’m surrounded by in my office. So, when I walked on set it was like they took my geek man-cave in New York City, threw in some medical journals, and transported it to Atlanta. But instead of the Caravaggio I have a drawing by Mad Magazine artist Don Martin.”
As I said earlier, I like Dr. Edwards, and I truly believe he’s a genuinely good guy (and was a good guy before the whole apocalypse thing), but he’s made some poor decisions out of weakness and out of fear. But, I wanted to get Erik’s own take on his character, who exactly is this guy and whether we could call him a friend.
“On watching the episode I’ve started to see the hospital as one of those guinea pig or hamster playhouses with tubes running in it, and even the recumbent bike reminded me of a hamster wheel a little bit. My internal vision of Edwards was a little rodent-like. But I think there are certain turning points in life when our life presents us with a choice, and we can either take a left turn or a right turn in the hamster house. And, the right turn is going to be the best way to go for us but if you take a series of lefts at those crucial points, you’re going to end up being a very different person than if you’d gone right, or just exited the cage altogether. I would hope that [Edwards] would make the right turns, but the hospital has slowly become something that nobody could have anticipated. ”
“Initially I thought I was in a kind of “just following orders” type story, but Scott Gimple talked at length about the Stanford Prison Experiment, I think it’s called. It’s this experiment they conducted in 1971 where the military wanted to research causes of conflict between guards and prisoners. So they assigned some students to be guards and then some students to be prisoners and sat back to watch what was about to unfold. After only 5 or 6 days, they had to end the experiment “abruptly” because the guards were abusing the people who were “playing” the prisoners. Imagine that going on for 2 years.”
“In that circumstance Me, myself, Erik, I hope I’d make a stand like, ‘I’m not going to follow your orders. Up yours! I’m killing Zombies!’ but Edwards has opted to go along to get along and do horrible things to maintain his privileged position at the hospital. Or it’s his way to keep himself alive so he can keep others alive. However he justifies it, I don’t really know if he’s a good guy or a bad guy. I think all of us aspire to be Rick Grimes in a way, and we all want to do the right thing. But sometimes, maybe more often than we’d like, we make decisions that make us more of a Dr. Edwards, and that’s kind of a sad thing. Then again, justifying his actions in comparison to St. Peter? Wow. Somewhere in Edwards there might be the seeds of a God complex which could always flower into something really nasty,” Erik adds.
Another thing I couldn’t help but notice is the timing in which Dr. Edwards is introduced in comparison to another new character, Father Gabriel Stokes. We see Dr. Edwards for the first time just 2 episodes after Father Gabriel is introduced, and my initial thought was how similar these 2 men are. Two very conflicted characters who had sacrificed others in order to save themselves. But, that’s just me and so, I asked Erik about it.
“I think men of science and men of faith more often than not have very different views of the world. I’m not sure if there is a falling out of grace of God going on with [Gabriel], and you would have to ask Seth. I’ve acted with Seth before (when Erik played NY YANKEE Thurman Munson in “The Bronx is Burning”) and he’s one of my faves on screen. That head to head could be interesting. But, I think Edwards has made some very “practical” choices and fears that maybe he has lost humanity. I think Seth’s character is making spiritual compromises, maybe he fears he’s lost his soul? All characters on the show have lost something. So, in that sense, I think there can be similarities.”
“The bad choices we make wear on us. Do we carry them with us until the end of our days? Do we carry them lightly? Or do we put them on a gurney and dump them down an elevator shaft? Man, did you see all of those bodies at the bottom of the elevator shaft? Edwards has been sticking a knife into a lot of people’s heads. Not rotters. People! You remember in the [premiere] when they had the ‘Then’ and the ‘Now’? Well, I think the Edwards ‘Then’ was pretty horrible, and I think his ‘Then’ was pretty scary. I think he was out searching for supplies and searching for medical equipment the hospital didn’t have and looking for batteries and stuff when they started out, and I think his experiences in the “real world” really just drove him inside. He’s become somewhat agoraphobic,” he says.
So, could Dr. Edwards survive on the outside? I like to think he could, but Erik had an interesting take on that.
“I think he doesn’t think he could, He said that on the rooftop, ‘We’re not the ones who make it.’ I think he thinks he wouldn’t survive. Maybe he even thinks he can’t change. But I think the message of the show is one of resilience. Getting over that. I’ve been in only a few situations when I didn’t think I was going to make it. 9-11 here in NYC. My daughter getting really sick this year, when she was in the hospital. And, I really didn’t think I was going to make it. Even when they told me she was going to make it, I didn’t think I was because it was so hard for her. I just wanted them to take me instead. I literally remember thinking “Just take me. Just make her better.” But we made it. With the help of a lot of friends and family. Nobody had to knife me in the head. I’m pretty sure my wife wanted to a couple times. [Laughs] We are resilient. I think we surprise ourselves. As for Edwards. There is strength and anger in him that remains untapped, and so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Probably the most shocking part for me in the last episode was at the very end. And, it wasn’t just Carol being wheeled in but it was also Beth holding those scissors and acting like she was going to stab Dr. Edwards. WTF? I personally was stunned. Why in the world would she do that?! I would think she would see that Dr. Edwards isn’t the problem, and maybe she should go after someone like psycho Dawn. It turns out Erik was equally surprised.
“Yes! I was so surprised. I was like, ‘Holy crap!’ But you know, Edwards did make her his patsy. He got her to do his dirty work for him. Maybe a guy like that deserves a stab in the head. But I loved it. That moment really surprised me, it made me lean forward. I think it also showed a lot of toughness in Beth that we haven’t seen in the character yet, a lot of nerve, a lot of grit and ground. But that’s Emily too. Emily’s got that vibe about her. Emily and I spent a lot of time talking about music because she’s also into music, also from the Midwest, and I ended up spending more time talking to her than I normally do to the other actors. It was nice getting to know her a little.”
Of course before the interview ended, I had to ask Erik if he were a fan of the series before he was cast. So many cast members were fans long before getting their roles, and it’s always fun to hear their stories.
Erik explains but can’t help but laugh. “I’m a binge-watcher. I’m on season 4 now, but when I was cast, I was only at the end of season 2 of The Walking Dead, and so I tried to binge-watch to catch up. And, it ‘s going to sound funny when I say this but it was too freaking scary.”
After a reveal like that I had to jump in, laugh myself and make fun of Erik here because hey, I’m the biggest wuss and scaredy-cat that you will ever find, and if I can watch, then he can too.
“Hehe, but, yeah, for the first episode of this season I was with my friend Nathan Fillion, and I couldn’t even tell them that I was on the show. And, here I am at [Nathan’s] house watching the season premiere, and it absolutely scared the hell out of me. I mean when the thing with the baby happened, I was yelling at the TV ‘No! Don’t choke the baby!’, it was a very visceral experience.”
One final thing I can say about Erik — the dude is completely devoted to his work. Remember the guinea pig dinner scene? Well, Erik actually got some guinea pig and tried it out. Yes, folks, you read that last sentence right! Holy crap. Talking about getting to know your character.
“It tastes just like chicken. Just like chicken”, he says.
If you say so, Erik! Thank God I’m not an actress because I don’t know if I could have done that.
If you want to see more of Erik’s work, there are lots of things you can check out. Erik recently wrote and co-created a graphic novel called The Reconcilers. It has done well, has gotten great reviews, but you can see for yourself by checking it out at The Reconcilers website.
Erik also writes with his wife, and they are currently co-creating and writing a TV pilot/show with Tom Fontana, who also created Oz. Then, they both also wrote a play recently based upon the work of a rock critic named Lester Bangs and will be opening in Los Angeles at CTG and then a couple of weeks at La Jolla Playhouse. To find out how to get tickets, visit their website by clicking here.
Of course, to see more of Dr. Edwards, just continue to watch The Walking Dead. We can’t be sure when we’ll be seeing him again, and so, you’ll just have to tune in and find out.
The Walking Dead airs on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
You can also find Erik on Twitter at @erikjensen123.
Geeky computer and math nerd by day and TV fanatic by night. My beats are The Walking Dead, The Strain, Person of Interest, Z Nation, and anything that most people would call freaky. Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer of TVGeekTalk.com