It went from simply killing walkers to hoarding them in hopes your family would return to normal to treating them Michonne-style and using them as a defense tactic, but now we’ve got Milton and he’s putting the infected to use like never before.
After two seasons on the run, season 3 of The Walking Dead lets us settle in a bit at the community of Woodbury. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and co. thought they had it good at Hershel’s farm and are now pleased with their prison, but Woodbury isn’t just a safe haven from walkers; it’s as close to the good ol’ days as it gets. There’s a community, parties, sporting events – albeit unconventional ones – and even a town scientist named Milton. As far as we know, the picture of Woodbury looks fairly good.
As a brand new character with no roots in Robert Kirkman’s comics, we know very little about Milton’s past. As it turns out, the actor who plays him, Dallas Roberts, doesn’t know all that much, either. Not only did Roberts jump into the role with zero backstory information from the show’s writers, he’s also quite well versed in the art of dodging probing questions. While Roberts was careful to steer clear of spoiler territory about Walking Dead season 3’s upcoming arc, he did have quite a bit to share in the way of how he came to join the cast, his approach to figuring out Milton as he plays him, his hopes to see Milton riding a Humvee armed with a 50 cal., and more.
Were you into the show or the comic before joining the cast?
Dallas Roberts: “I was into both. I was into the comics before the show came out. I think when I started reading the comics, they were up to issue 70, so I just ate them, page after page. And then once the show came out, started watching that obviously and then got the chance to be on the show.”
How did you get that chance? Did they seek you out or did you pursue the role?
“It was just an audition, so I guess, theoretically, they approached the populous in general [laughs], and I sought it out, you know, put myself on tape with my girlfriend in my bedroom and sent it off, and amazingly they called back.”
Do you remember what they had you audition with?
“Yeah, I do. It was a scene not from the show. I didn’t know that at the time. The character’s name wasn’t Milton. It was this sort of completely different set of circumstances so I auditioned thinking ‘X’ and then got to set and found out it was ‘YZ.’”
Milton is a brand new character who isn’t in the comic, so I imagine there’s a lot of flexibility with the role. After you were cast was there any tweaking done to tailor the character to you?
“I would hope that I take in the writers’ vision of the guy and spit back out my version of their version and that they eventually see that and that informs their writing. Milton, he doesn’t do a whole lotta changing though. [Laughs]”
How is it being one of few characters with no source material? Have the writers given you much backstory to work with?
“You would think that they would, but they didn’t. They just sort of plopped me down in the middle of it. The pressure’s off in that sense. No one has any idea who Milton should be. There’s no preconceived notion from the comic books, so it’s been very freeing in that way.”
How’s that for you as an actor? To get into a character’s head-space you’ve kind of got to know where he comes from – so did you come up with anything on your own?
“No, you know, I learned pretty early on in scripted television where there’s no sort of end in sight that the more you make up and decide on early, the more chance you have later on that they’ll write something different and then you have to switch your brain around. I just sort of land with it where it is and move forward rather than come back and try to build it from the back forward.”
How about as he’s dropping hints during the episodes? Last episode Milton mentioned he telecommuted to work. Did you think about what that job might be?
“Yeah, I think he was socially awkward and not a people person at all. I think it was in some form of research, something that he could do and from his safe little room in his safe little place.”
As socially awkward as he is, when I piece together the hierarchy of Woodbury, I end up placing him somewhat near the top. Any chance he’s got some leadership qualities to him?
“I think the Governor’s got all the leadership qualities necessary and I think Milton’s advisor is certainly up there in the hierarchy of the government, if you will. But yeah, nobody wants Milton leading anyone, anywhere. [Laughs]”
How about his relationship with the Governor? They seem somewhat buddy-buddy, but Milton doesn’t appear to be a fan of the brutality.
“I think it’s one of those fun facets to play. He’s definitely loyal to the Governor and on that side, but he realizes that the Governor’s up to stuff that’s quirky to say the least and murderous sometimes to say the most, and he’s not a fan of that – but he recognizes that in order to provide the civilization of Woodbury, they’re out there on the edges and there’s some dirty stuff going on.”
If Milton ever took over Woodbury, do you think he’d keep the brutal tactics in place if it meant the town stayed safe?
“Yeah. He would have to, I suppose. It’s no different than any nation-state. In order to keep the middle safe, you’ve got to protect the outside edges.”
How about Milton’s experiments? He’s a pretty busy guy. He did some work on Michonne’s pets and just did that experiment with Michael Coleman, but both are entirely different. What exactly is Milton’s work about? Does he have a main goal?
“Yeah. You know, once you remove the necessity to keep the walkers at bay and get spooked every night by noises, once you remove that and there’s some safety and some walls, Milton’s allowed to do work of trying to figure out what this is and obviously he’d eventually like to cure it, but, you know, he’s working with not state-of-the-art equipment and not enough electricity, and so he’s just sort of gathering as much information as he can about it.”
Do you think he has some sort of science background? Back to the telecommuting, it’d be kind of funny if Milton was a movie blogger and just running with what he’s seen in the movies or something like that.
“That would be hilarious! To an earlier question, I think the first time you see Milton, he lights a beaker and it bubbles up and I was like, ‘Oh, he’s a scientist,’ and then the director of the next episode came in and was like, ‘I don’t think he was a scientist. I think he’s learning this on the job,’ and then the third director came in and he went, ‘Oh, he’s definitely a scientist.’ [Laughs] It’s hard to say where he was coming from.”
NEXT PAGE: Forming a character in progress…
How is that working with multiple directors on the same character? Is it difficult adjusting to everyone’s visions and takes on the character?
“Yeah, it’s fun though. You get a fresh start and take on it every ten days or so, so that’s fun.”
And now how far ahead are you compared to us? How much of the season have you shot already?
“Yeah, the whole season just wrapped up, so I’m that far ahead of you, I’m nine episodes ahead of you.”
There are so many questions I want to ask!
“[Laughs] That I can’t answer.”
Without spoiling anything, can you give us a hint of what’s in store for Milton?
“Milton’s gonna continue to struggle with his attempt to sort of codify the virus and he’s gonna struggle with the differences between him and the Governor, and which way Woodbury’s gonna go.”
How about relationship-wise? We know Milton is an only child, his parents died when he was young, he isn’t really a social butterfly in Woodbury and he just had that awkward moment with Andrea. Is he interested in any sort of relationship?
“I think the notion of it is so foreign to him that just another human being touching him is such an anathema to his experience that it’s all wrapped up in himself, you know? I’m not sure he’s got the capability yet to really engage with someone in a personal way.”
Does Milton have any scenes with certain characters coming up that you really enjoyed shooting or are particularly memorable for you?
“I’ve got tons of really fun, memorable scenes, but I can’t tell you about any of them. [Laughs]”
[Laughs] More generally, how’s it been working with the cast? Just by following them all on Twitter it’s easy to pick up that they’ve sort of formed a family.
“Yeah, you know, the odd part about Milton so far is he’s in Woodbury and Andrea’s there, but The Walking Dead is over in the prison. Do you know what I mean? The Walking Dead that I’d watched, all those people are on the other side of the earth. I pick up the family vibe because they’ll scrawl notes to each other on the makeup mirror in between and communicate to each other like that [laughs], but yeah, so far in the season, Milton doesn’t even – well, I guess he knows that there are people.”
As someone who watched the show before, did you go into it intimated by any one actor or really excited to work with one?
“Because Milton wasn’t of the comics, I wasn’t sure what his trajectory would be or where he would interface with them. You know, it’s fun and the notion of hanging out with Rick Grimes and Daryl Dixon, the expectation of that was super exciting.”
Milton just needs to go Liam Neeson in The Grey on everybody, tape some broken bottles to his hands and run out there.
“Get out there and do it! I don’t think he’d last very long.”
Or we need to see him in that zombie arena with Merle. Merle’s tough, but I feel like Milton has a chance of outsmarting him.
“[Laughs] Oh, Milton could definitely outsmart Merle, easily, 100 times. It would be like this sort of WWE, the underdog rising up.”
Do you get your hands on some weapons anytime soon?
“I keep begging for weapons, but what weapon would Milton get? I joked with that them that at some point they should just put him on top of a Humvee with a 50 cal. and he’s just great at it for no reason. He’s just amazing with it. But yeah, I think maybe a slingshot with a grape in it [laughs], something like that that’s about all the weaponry Milton’s cut out for.”
Or Milton can invent his own weapon. Something to wipe out walkers near the town wall in one clean shot.
“That’s the idea! There you go!”
Are you excited to be part of the Walking Dead fan community? The show attracts some pretty intense crowds!
“I went to Comic Con, the New York version, a month and a half ago and I wasn’t up on stage. I just sort of filtered in in the back, and just watching the energy and the sort of rabidity of the fan base was really exciting and cool, and intimidating for sure.”
And how about being the show’s mystery character? Is there a lot of pressure in that sense, needing to keep people guessing and surprised?
“It’s fun to get to know someone moment by moment and step by step the way you really get to know people in life, although the clampdown on the information and the secrecy of it makes interviews difficult sometimes. [Laughs] It’s also very good because you’ll discover more and more about Milton in Milton’s time.”
Does the production have any super strict secrecy rules, maybe ways of making sure scripts stay in the right hands?
“There’s trash cans that are specifically for paper that has scripts, sides, schedules, etc. on it. I’m a paperless dude. I work off the iPad and e-mail and that sort of thing. But yes, it could not be more closely held and more tightly lipped than they’ve got it set up over there.”
Now for the perfect follow up to that – do you have a timeline? Are you obligated to the series beyond this season?
“Well, season four hasn’t even been officially picked up, so beyond the end of this one …”
“[Laughs] I know! Right? I think they should probably pick up season nine by now. So, beyond that I can’t unfortunately comment.”
And now not Milton, but Dallas Roberts, should there be a zombie apocalypse in our future, how would you fare?
“Good. I would. I’ve got family now so I understand doing what’s necessary to make it to the next day. Right now that’s just sort of like remembering umbrellas and packing lunches, but I think all you do is amp up the stake, and find a weapon and go. Climb to the roof first, first of all. Climb to the roof!”
So you’re taking the Rick Grimes, load up and defend the family approach?
“Or it’s sort of the Glenn approach. Find the rooftops, sneak around, find safety for people, gather supplies. And then you would hope that you could gather enough people around to start a Woodbury.”
Follow me on Twitter @PNemiroff.
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