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Austin Amelio, The Walking Dead

AMC

After a brief respite from Negan's terror on last week's episode of The Walking Dead, the show dove right back into the uber-villain's dark world with a trip to the Sanctuary. While inside his HQ, we spent a bit of time with Dwight (Austin Amelio), he of the intense face burn and the strong desire to snuff out Darryl's (Norman Reedus) life—or his will to live, at least. In between deliveries of dog food sandwiches to a naked and terrified Darryl, we learned what happened to Dwight and his wife Sherry (Christine Evangelista) when they went back to Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) after their first run-in with our favorite archer. And it was predictably grim.

Rather than watch her husband die, Sherry agreed to marry Negan. And it looks as though, in between heinous murders, he's trying to put a baby in her. To break down the psychological and physical terrors Dwight and Darryl were put through this week, E! News got Amelio on the phone. What follows is our conversation.

At the top of the episode, we get a glimpse into Dwight's daily routine and it seems like he's got a pretty sweet gig with the Who's the Boss? tapes and his table hockey. But we slowly learn that it's not as sweet at it might seem.
All smoke and mirrors. [Laughs]

How do resigned do you think Dwight is to this reality at this point, or do you think there's hope left in him to escape this situation?
Well, there absolutely has to be a little bit of hope or something to hold on to in order to keep living in this world. So, there's definitely a bigger picture involved at this point, for sure. The biggest thing that he pushes down is his ex-wife that he's holding on to.

He and Darryl have been circling each other, and Dwight's finally got Darryl now and has the upper hand. What is Dwight's motivation here to push Darryl so hard and break him? Is it purely Negan demanding it of him?
Well, one, I think it's just as torturous on me as it is on Darryl to keep doing this to another human being. And I would just like him to break so he could see the way he could in this world, and he doesn't do it. And I would like him to break for the fact that I sold out and went against my morals and my code. It's almost like I want another person in the car with me, you know? I want this guy to do the same thing because this is how it's supposed to go—and really would like to get this over with. And he just doesn't break, man. It sucks for Dwight to keep doing this.

I have to ask about that song that consistently plays in those scenes, the "Easy Street" song. Was that playing on set every time you guys filmed? How much did that song personally drive you crazy as it was being used to drive Darryl crazy?
It wasn't playing on set, but I did listen to the song a bunch when we got the script just to get in his mind state and where he would be, and how torturous that would be on a human being, to get it into my state of mind. Just to get into mode a little bit, and I'll tell you what, I listened to it two or three times and I was like, "I don't ever want to hear this song again." [Laughs] It's the worst song ever.

Where is it from? It sounds like it's from a kids show.
It is. It's from some kids show. I can't quite remember, but, yeah, that song is absolutely horrible. If I had that playing for hours, I would go batshit crazy.

Dwight's a pretty hard guy to read in this episode. He turns down Negan's offer of free sex and, instead, chooses to do the grunt work and go after the runner. Is it just that he's still holding out for Sherry that he turns down these offers and chooses to do the work?
Well, it's like getting more sucked into Negan's world, you know? I think he's trying to refrain from that. The deeper you go into the dragon's lair, the scarier it gets and the more power he would have over me. And at this point, he's fed up. He wants to go out and release some emotion and just get out of the Sanctuary for a second.

When he's dealing with Gordon and refuses to kill him, but does anyway once Gordon gives up and agrees to return, is that Dwight putting him out of his misery? Is he punishing him?
I think it's an act of mercy. I think he sees in Gordon what he saw in himself, in the same way that he tried to escape and then came back. And I think the question is, is it better to be dead and gone or to be in the Sanctuary. I think he almost frees him in a sense. I think that's why it's so hard for him.

The trajectory of Dwight in the comics—are you hoping that your story matches up with that?
I would love for it to go in the comic direction. Going back and forth between two groups and having this, like, split personality almost where I'm this guy over here and I'm this guy over here, but it's all coming from an honest place, that would be great. I would love to do that.

The Darryl fans are probably the most vocal and passionate of The Walking Dead's fanbase. What has your interaction with these fans been like, considering what Dwight puts Darryl through?
I get a lot of "f—k you"s and "I want to burn your house down and burn the other side of your face." And I also get a lot of people sticking up for me, too. "Well, if you hate him so much, then he's doing a good job." Which is great. Thank you to those people. But I started wearing the dress early on, you know? I was like, I know if I go toe-to-toe with this guy, I'm gonna get a lot of hate, but that's alright. It's acting, and it's a show, and if I'm doing my job right, I'll get people hating me.

I wanted to ask you about the premiere, filming those brutal scenes. What was it like working on that?
Those were some dark nights. But you got to see the strength of the cast and the crew, and it was kind of enlightening in that sense. It was like, Oh wow, this really is a family and everyone's kind of suffering as a whole and also comforting each other as a whole. Those were, I think, three overnight shoots and they were really sad and heavy. After the nights where we filmed—the deaths were horrible. And then after Andy's performance where he's about to chop his kid's arm off, you could hear a pin drop. Even Greg Nicotero could come up, he could barely give Andy any notes because he was in tears. It was rough on everyone. Very, very strange.

How would you tease the road ahead for Dwight and Sherry this season?
I think you're going to get a better understanding of Dwight and not look at him like a villain, per se. A lot of people are like, "Oh, he's my new favorite villain!" And to me, I think he's just a guy that's misunderstood. So the layers of the onion start to peel back a little bit. I think some people are going to start to maybe empathize with the guy, if all goes well.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.