Every time the long-running zombie drama The Walking Dead bids adieu to a familiar face, it welcomes a new one.
In Season 9, back from its mid-season break on Monday (Feb 11), regulars Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohen hung up their respective spurs as Rick and Maggie (Lincoln will, however, return in three Walking Dead movies). Enter Tony Award-winning Dan Fogler, 43, as Luke, a member of a small group of friendly (so far) survivors seeking refuge at Alexandria, the walled community run by Rick.
Calling from LA, the adorkably curly-haired Fogler, best known as baker Jacob Kowalski in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them — and as table-tennis ace Randy Daytona for the 1,103 people who saw Balls of Fury — tells 8 DAYS how the heat and humidity of Georgia, Atlanta, made him fitter; the art of keeping plot secrets; and his dream send-off from the show.
8 DAYS: How did you get involved with The Walking Dead?
DAN FOGLER: I was offered the role. Um, [Showrunner] Angela Kang called me up and I happened to be searching for something to do on the show for a little while, and they came up with this role for me.
You were already a fan of the show?
Yeah, I loved the comic books and I watched a bunch of the shows but I hadn’t caught up with it yet. But I’ve caught up now, I love it a lot. My favourite character is Daryl [played by Norman Reedus].
My least favourite… I don’t know [because] I like a lot of them. My least favourite is that walker that had all the spikes sticking out of him. That was freaky, man.
In Season 9, Luke injects some levity to the show. Was he written that way?
Yeah, he’s a light-hearted soul. I think that’s how he tries to stay sane during the apocalypse and I think people appreciate that.
Do you remember your first day on the set?
Yeah, they kind of threw us in at the deep end when we first got there. It was like the hottest day of the year, so we were just drenched, which added a lot to the scene and we were surrounded by the walkers, flipping out.
[The direction given to us was] that we were about to die, and [our job] was to control the chaos. And I love it, I just love all that physical stuff. I always wanted to be in a zombie show and a Western, so this is like the best of both genres.
How did you cope with the heat while shooting in Georgia, Atlanta?
What’s great is [that the heat] works [to our advantage]. Usually, [the make-up people] are usually wiping off my sweat. They are, like, “Man you’re sweating too much.” But this is like the first show where they are telling me, “You’re not sweating enough.”
They would just spray me down with a water hose because I was supposed to be sweating the brains out. I’m on a health kick now, so I really appreciate running around outside and sweating my brains out. It helps get the calories out. That is cool. It also helped to have a little handheld fan that came in handy.
The Walking Dead is a highly secretive set. How was the secrecy compared to working on the Fantastic Beasts movies?
They are very similar. You’re not allowed to say anything. They’re very strict about that. During the interviews, you can’t say anything. So you got to be very creative. I would just try to keep [my answers] real vague. I never really say much but I’d keep it entertaining.
I often go like this. I’d turn the tables on [the interviewer], “What’s your favourite thing? What’s your favorite moment?” By the time, they shared their response, they were like, wait a minute — damn — they’re out of time! I would then [laugh my way] to the lunch place.
Sneaky. Speaking of food, on the show, Luke says he can whip up “a mighty Ossobuco”. What’s your signature dish in real life?
I can make a mean breakfast. I can make some toast up for you that would just be like out of this world. I would hook up some scrambled eggs and a fruit plate. Holy moly!
My signature dish is the greatest hamburger you will ever have. I’d also make a chicken salad, which is the best chicken salad you will ever have. And the secret ingredient is Dijon mustard. That’s it, I gave it away.
In the ‘Stradivarius’ episode, Luke gave this speech to Michonne [played by Danai Gurira] on the importance of the arts and how it distinguishes man from animals. Was that a difficult scene to do?
I love that speech, so I was very passionate about it. I liked performing it. And I believe in a lot of the things he was talking about. The scene and monologue are long and that’s what I love about it. But it worked.
You got to navigate it and make sure the monologue is interesting and natural throughout. I studied Shakespeare at college, so that was really helpful in handling such a long monologue. I just dug the whole process.
Luke was once a music teacher. He freaks out when a Stradivarius is destroyed. Do you own anything as valuable as that in real life?
I got some signed stuff that I have. That’s pretty precious. I got some comic books which I’d be pretty upset if they were destroyed.
What kind of journey will Luke go on when the second half of Season 9 resumes?
That’s a good question. I feel like we are going to see him at his happiest playing music, settling in. He’s in his element. And then, you’re going to see him, um, really tested and at his lowest and you know you’re gonna worry for him. It’s great stuff. They really made some wonderful changes to take place.
What practical skills did you learn from the show?
If I wanted to ride a horse, I could ride it now. Well, I could trot on it. I could basically have a horse jog. That’s what I can do now; I couldn't go any faster than that, even if I tried.
And what else? I know how to play a few chords on the guitar now. And um, hmm, what else? I know how to kill a walker from several different angles. I know that I’m able to withstand a tremendous amount of heat.
I think you’re ready for a zombie apocalypse. What do you have in your go-bag?
I have a long retractable pokey baton that can be folded into an all-purpose weapon, but it can also be used as a tent pole. And I would have lots of batteries [for the lighting gear]. I also have almond nuts for energy.
What else? Oh, you know what they don’t have on the show, which I think is extremely important — bulletproof, full-body armour. There are a lot of people running around with their arms exposed, looking sexy.
Screw that! I don’t care about looking sexy; cover me up from head to toe with stuff that can protect me from zombie bites.
If Luke were to be killed off, how would you like him to go?
I’d like him to be vaporised, just explode. Because, as much fun as it would be to turn into a zombie, I don’t like to wake up early and there’s a lot of make-up involved. So, I hope I’ll be vaporised.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
The Walking Dead airs Mon, Fox (Singtel TV Ch 330 & StarHub Ch 505), 11.30am & 9am (same day as the US). It’s also streaming on Fox+.
Photos: Splash/Click Photos (Main), Fox, Warner Bros