While the overall reaction to The Walking Dead season 6’s ending cliffhanger was far from positive, one aspect of the season finale that did generally garner positive sentiments was the first appearance of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan. One of – if not the most – infamous villains in the history of The Walking Dead comic book, Negan was a character fans had been eager to see introduced on-screen for quite some time, and the casting of a powerhouse actor like Morgan in the role did nothing but increase the levels of viewer anticipation for just how good TV Negan could end up being.
Acting regularly since the ’90s, it’s only in the last decade or so that Morgan has really seemed to hit his stride, perhaps most notably playing John Winchester – father to series heroes Sam and Dean – on The CW’s Supernatural, along with bringing life to The Comedian in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film. More recently, Morgan played the lead in Starz drama Magic City, and put in a memorable cameo as Thomas Wayne in Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. In Negan, Morgan may have very well hit upon the character that will ultimately define his career.
Of course, when adapting a comic book for TV, some changes are going to be made. This is true of any written story translated to the live-action realm, and it’s been no different for The Walking Dead. In a new interview with EW, Morgan discussed some of the alterations he and TWD’s writers have made to the Negan character, as well as his approach to the material.
“I sure thought about him a lot. I have stacks of all the comic books, and what I have taken from those panels is a posture or a smile or whatever it is, and then filling those blanks in between. And as closely as we follow what Negan says and does in those comic books, we also have to add and subtract. We’ve added a lot, obviously, that’s not in the comic books with Negan. Not only trying to keep his language and his persona, but it’s how he walks and how he stands and all that kind of stuff.
I’ve created this whole kind of physical presence that is unlike anything I’ve ever done before, kind of how he moves. My move now for Negan and what I’ve taken physically from him is a kind of lean-back smile, which I saw in one panel one time. I’ve taken that and run with it. What I have found in doing it and seeing a little bit of playback is it is really unsettling because it just shows this kind of comfort and casualness that Negan has in these horrendous situations when he’s doing his thing.”
Morgan also addressed the notion that the Negan in the comics is more manic and less laid back than his small-screen portrayal:
“This is unlike anything I’ve ever done as far as a character. I mean, Negan is just an original. I could try to draw parallels with say, the Comedian, and I’ve done a couple of other bad guys, but I’ve never done anybody like Negan.
And as far as similarities with the comic book, yeah, he might be a little bit more manic, but understand that I’ve got to connect those panels together and how Negan does that, there’s not a script for. So the writers will give me the material and then it’s about okay, well, how can I make that work? I’ve got to make this guy real, you know what I mean?
I think that was the key — if I just make this guy manic and kind of one dimensional then I don’t have anywhere to go. So I thought, for me, and especially after doing that first episode, the introduction, and some head bashing, there had to be a place I could go. I try to make every scene a little bit of a rollercoaster so you don’t know. So it’ll keep you on your toes of where Negan is, and I only have so much I can go on working on the comic book. Then I get all this dialogue. How can I make that make sense and make it effective for the other actors that I’m working with?
So what we’ve created is very disarming. I think there is this f—ing charm and devil may care, but you’re going to do it my way. But he does it with a smile. But when that violence comes, there is no doubting what this guy is going to do and how he’s going to do it, and I think we’ve established that very early on, that at any given moment you can die in front of Negan. What I hope is that it does make it scarier. I think after the premiere airs this year, I think the audience is going to get a very good idea of what Negan is capable of. So if there’s a scene where he’s smiling and people are like, “What the f—? He’s not a badass.” Well, just watch, because at any given minute, you know, Lucille is going to take your f—ing head off and he’s going to do it with that same smile. That’s the thing.”
Whether one agrees with how Morgan has chosen to interpret the Negan character, it’s hard to argue that he’s not putting a lot of thought into it. Also, there is something to be said for maintaining a sense of unpredictability about Negan, instead of just having him be a straight up raging psychopath. Still, fans have only gotten a small taste of Morgan’s Negan so far, with next month’s Walking Dead season 7premiere offering viewers their first real chance to get an extended look at what truly makes this violent man tick. There’s also that whole “finding out who he kills” thing that a lot of folks seem to be interested in.
The Walking Dead season 7 premieres October 23 on AMC.