What was your first film role?
My first film role was a film called In the Heat of the Night with Sydney Poitier and Rod Steiger. It won five academy awards. That led to my next film role, which was In Cold Blood. I’ve been in a lot of films since then.
What was it like to work with actors like Sidney Poitier?
It was awe-inspiring, He was such a great guy, and he was so helpful to me as a young actor. The whole set was great. Rod Steiger was great to work with as well, and Norman Jewison was the director, he was a great guy. I had some big scenes with Sidney. He was more than helpful to me. He would go home and rewrite the scenes he was in and we ended up going with his rewrites. He was very nice to work with, and he was a great man.
What was your favorite role you ever had?
That’s hard to say. It’s like which child is your favorite child. You have one you just don’t let them know it. So, each role was special for different reasons. I just love acting, I love the process of acting I love doing it, so doing something that didn’t quite go the way you wanted it to is still better than anything else I could be doing. I love it.
What was it like to be a part of The Walking Dead?
It was really terrific because if you do a play, you realize the full arch of the character in one night. If you do a movie or a guest spot in a TV show, you see the full arch of the character. However, in a series like this, you don’t because you’re always evolving and always changing. That was exciting, for me, I hadn’t experienced that before. So it showed, you’re never too old to learn and enjoy what you’re doing.
What was it like to play such a loved character such as Hershel?
I didn’t play him to be lovable, I played him as a person of conviction who liked people, and saw the best side of people. So that may be why he was perceived as being lovable. He himself was flawed but he didn’t let his flaws defeat him, and he also saw the best in other people who were also flawed. He helped bring out the best in other people so he was a special character to play. A lot of it is done not through dialogue but through looks, how you respond to someone, and what you say to someone.
What was it like to work with the cast and crew of The Walking Dead?
It was terrific. It was a great cast, when I first agreed to go on it I watched the first season, and I looked at what the actors were doing and I saw the quality of the work that the crew was providing, with the cameramen and the special effects and everything and I said ‘Yeah, I would love to be apart of that.’
What was it like to prepare for a role that is taking place during the Zombie apocalypse?
Well, it’s an apocalyptic tale, and that strips people down to who they really are. You come face to face with who you really are and, there are no rules, there is no one to hold you in check but yourself. I think that is really a part of the appeal to the show, that people are constantly exposing themselves to who they are, and dealing with situations that test who they are. I think a lot of people identify with that because they feel challenged in their life to identify who they are, what they’re doing, and how they should behave. It was fun doing it.
Who did you draw inspiration from as an actor?
We mentioned them earlier; Sidney Portiere, Rod Steiger, these guys were just giants, and I worked with them. Burt Lancaster, George C. Scott, I’ve worked with some really exceptional people, and you learn just by being around them. You learn by the people you associate with.
Back to your earlier work, when doing In Cold Blood did you get to work with Truman Capote?
I met him. I didn’t work with him. He came to town when the press did and we went out and took some pictures with him, so we had some conversation.
Do you have any advice that you can offer the younger generation of people today that are about to go into the world, trying to get into what they want to do for a living?
If you love it, go for it. It doesn’t have to happen right away. When you are young, time seems like it’s going to drag forever. I thought five and a half years was a long time, I did plays, workshops and acting classes. I got my first film interview for In the Heat of the Night and I got the role. I thought that was a long time, now I realize five and a half years is not long at all, if you love what you’re doing then you will be happy. If you love what you’re doing, you don’t have to have other things. I always held enough money to go to acting classes, because I wanted to do it. If you want to do it, you will do it. It’s hard. There’s no blueprint either. Everyone I know has different stories as to how they got started doing what they’re doing. If you want to do it, you will find a way. A lot of good fortune has to be involved. But if you get that good fortune, you better be ready to cash in on it. Be ready to move, because it may not come again. It’s tough, but it’s fun.