SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Guardians” episode of The Walking Dead.
Another big Walking Dead comic book character made the transition from page to screen on Sunday’s “Guardians” episode of the show, and when we say big, we mean that both literally and figuratively. The towering presence of Beta finally made his debut, and while he initially appears to be Alpha’s right-hand man in the Whisperers, Ryan Hurst — who is playing the enforcer — promises there is much more to come with his character.
Hurst, already beloved by TV fans for his role as doomed Opie on Sons of Anarchy, talked to EW about joining the show — revealing along the way the cast member that mistakenly spilled the beans to him that he had landed the role, the fact that his costume contains several TWD Easter eggs, and that Beta and Daryl may have a face-off down the line. Read on as we break down Beta’s big debut with Hurst. (Also make sure to check out our episode Q&A with showrunner Angela Kang.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you end up landing this part on The Walking Dead? What was that whole process like?
RYAN HURST: It was one of those weird things. It was probably about eight months before I was offered the role. I literally had this strange premonition that I was gonna be on the show, so I literally called my agent, and I was like, “Can you call The Walking Dead and just ask them if I can be on the show?” And they were like, “That’s not how it works. Usually, you have to audition for a role.” And I was like, “I know, but I think I’m gonna be on the show, and I know I sound like a crazy person, but why don’t you just cold call them and tell them that I’d like to be on the show?” And they were like, “Okay, I guess.”
So they called them, and then they call me back, and they were like, “Yeah, there’s nothing for you on this show.” But a little bit of time went by, and I’ve been friends with Jeffrey Dean Morgan for a long time. And I started getting these strange texts at like two o’clock in the morning that were these really ambiguous texts of him just going, “Dude, this is fantastic. What a great thing.” And I was like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and supposedly, he had known that I was offered the role way before I did, and then somebody said, “You can’t text him. The deal hasn’t gone through yet.” So he was like, “Oh, nothing. Never mind. Talk to you later.” So I was the last to know. It was like Norman, and Jeffrey, and [Greg Nicotero] — everybody knew before me! And then two weeks went by, and then they offered me the role. And so it’s just been a blessing.
Did you go back and look at the comic books at all?
I went and looked at the comic book, and then I just started rapping some stuff with [showrunner Angela Kang] about how they wanted to differ from the comic book and kinda run from there, but as everybody knows, the comic is just such a tapestry of character and the beautiful world that they’ve created. I’m just so amazed to be a part of it.
I was talking to Angela, and she said that you helped come up with some of the look and the costume for Beta. What was your input in terms of that?
Yeah, I’m a little bit of a self-diagnosed polymath. I do a little bit of everything. When I was on that show, The Outsiders, I designed all of the tattoos. I just kind of stick my thumb in everybody’s pie, but Elaine’s the costume designer. I’m a bit of a clothing designer, as well, and I told her that, and she was just like, “Well, fantastic. Let’s get together.” And I was actually there shooting a different project in Georgia at the time, so I had about three weeks prior to filming where we all kinda got together and went over some looks together to really meticulously put this guy together.
I wanted to just steal a bit from all the best people on the show. There are little tiny Easter eggs if you look really closely at Beta’s costume. There are some little Easter eggs in there of little pieces that may resemble other characters on the show, and that was sort of done consciously. I’m not gonna really reveal much more than that.
Speaking of costumes, Beta’s whole thing is that, unlike Alpha, he never takes his zombie skin mask off, so you must spend a lot of time in that thing. How does it feel?
I wish I could say that I hate it, but I love it! Nicotero is a master teacher when it comes to zombie stuff, and it’s so comfortable. Even though you’re in Atlanta in 110-degree weather, I love wearing that mask. I really, really do.
It doesn’t get hot under there, and you got the big overcoat on and all that stuff?
Every single job that I seem to do for long periods of time, I’m in 10 layers of leather in 110-degree heat. I don’t know why the universe has sort of put that in my path, but I’ve sort of accepted it at this point. It’s like, “Yeah, you’re gonna be on a bunch of hit shows, but you’re gonna be sweating your ass off.”
What was your first day on set like? What it was like getting a feel for the place?
Well, I’ll tell you. I heard all the stories about how wonderful Andy Lincoln is, right? And I’d never personally met him, and I heard so many stories, like in the press when all the people were like, “He’s the best guy in the whole world.” And I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everybody sort of says that. Of course, he’s the lead guy on your show.” And then I show up to one of my first days of rehearsal, and Andy — who had already been off of the show — shows up to the set and welcomes me to the show and hangs out for the whole rehearsal, contributes to the scene, and I’m like, “This guy’s really cool!”
He says, “Let’s all go out to dinner.” We go out to dinner, and I’m sitting here talking, chatting this guy up. He’s welcoming me to the show. Remember, he’s not on the show anymore. And then he sits down and teaches me how to play backgammon. By the end of this night, I’m going, “I think I’m in love with Andy Lincoln!” Literally, it is a really beautiful family atmosphere. I know you’re making this show about the end of the world, but the communal atmosphere of that show is like nothing I’ve ever really been a part of. It’s so supportive. It’s so unbelievably welcoming. I was really floored by how everyone bent over backward to welcome me to the show.
By the way, the reason why Andy was teaching you backgammon is because he’s gonna take all your money when he comes back to direct next season. I know he and Norman have some pretty high stakes games they get into.
They sure do.
So who is Beta? What’s your take on this guy and how you wanted to approach him?
My take on him was he’s very close to Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. Everyone in the Whisperers wears masks for different reasons, and I’m not gonna reveal too much, but Beta especially is not only is not playing with a full deck, he’s playing with six full decks from five different games. The guy’s sort of impenetrable because he’s just not playing by the same set of rules as anybody else. And more so than a lot of characters on the show, like his sense of humanity is so completely and totally fractured that he lives underneath this mask.
So what audiences have to look forward to is really that the more you think you know about Beta, the less you do. Only in these coming seasons do we really start to explore, “Really who the hell is this guy?” He’s gonna be a bit of a mystery for quite some time.
What can we take from this first episode in terms of how he sees his role in relation to Alpha and the group? Because we see him as an advisor and as a lieutenant almost. How does he see his role in the hierarchy here?
I think that he’s sort of the consigliere, like you said, to Alpha, and we start to drop some little hints about why this enormous, imposing figure would follow this woman in the first place. But yeah, he’s definitely her right hand. In the first couple of episodes, we get introduced to him and see him a bit as an advisor and a bit as an enforcer, but as time goes on, we start to reveal more about this character.
What is working with Samantha Morton like?
I’ve been a fan of Samantha’s for as long as I can remember, so when I heard that she was playing Alpha, I was over the moon, but we vibed together really, really quickly. We kinda come from that same school of, “It’s all or nothing,” in terms of approaching something. So she’s just a fantastic actress, and when I saw the moves that she was using with Alpha, I was just like … Again, anytime that you can work with an actor or actress who makes you bring your A game, it’s always a beautiful experience.
Beta says to Alpha in regards to Lydia and Henry, “If she feels something for someone like him from somewhere like that, you need to know.” Often people close to people in power try to drive wedges between them and other people close to that power to solidify their own position. Is that what’s happening here at all? What do you think he makes of Lydia? And does he — like some of the others — view her as maybe an Achilles heel for his leader?
All I can say is that’s a good question. As she sort of mentions, she’s breaking her own rules in doing this, and Beta, being the only one who can really bring that to the forefront, I think he’s not so subtly saying, “Look, we’re putting ourselves at risk going after your daughter.” And also, again, I’m sure that it really gets — pun intended — under his skin that she’s always referred to as Lydia. “Look. We don’t have names, right? You’re Alpha. I’m Beta. We’re animals. Why are we calling this chick Lydia? We have our own set of rules here, and why are we going against them?” We survived by following this decision to really be animalistic in nature, and he understands that the pack is the most important and that anything that we do to put that at risk is not necessarily worth it.
What sort of tease can you give us in terms of what we can look forward to with Beta coming up?
The best thing that I can hint at is one of the things that I was excited about; the entire cast is so phenomenal, and what I can hint at is, I guess, to say that Daryl and Beta cross paths, and they see that they’re very similar and very different at the same time, but that they’re worthy adversaries. It’s probably one of the first worthy adversaries that the show has presented to Norman’s character because he’s just such a unique badass, but I guess that’s the best thing is we sort of little by little start to see more and more about who Beta is and put him in some really badass scenarios.
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AMC’s zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.