'The Walking Dead' star Michael Cudlitz shares his one regret about Abraham's death

Kimberly Potts
Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Michael Cudlitz as Sgt. Abraham Ford and Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha Williams in AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ (Photo: Gene Page/AMC)

To celebrate the Oct. 22 Season 8 premiere of  The Walking Dead — the series’ 100th episode — Yahoo TV will be posting a new TWD-related story everyday through the season opener.

Today’s release of The Walking Dead Season 7 on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital HD means the chance to deep dive into the season that started off with the devastating deaths of two of our most favorite characters and ended with our group having fought their way back to a hopeful place. The story of apocalyptic warrior Abraham Ford also bookended the season, and Yahoo TV talked to Abe portrayer Michael Cudlitz about his only regret about bidding The Walking Dead adieu, getting the chance to hear from fans how much he and Abraham meant to them, and what he’s working on next.

Cudlitz also reveals whether or not he’s kept up the tedious process — dye jobs every 10-12 days — of maintaining Abraham’s signature bright hue hairdo.

Your DVD commentary on the Season 7 premiere is excellent, lots of insights, and not just into your scenes and Abraham’s story …
Oh, awesome. I have to actually listen to it. When we’re in the middle of it, it’s kind of like having a conversation with a bunch of friends while you’re watching something you did. So I should probably go back and listen to some of the crap I said.

It also makes me think there is directing and producing in your future because, again, you have all these great ideas for and insights into the whole storytelling process. Is that in the works?
It is in the works. I’m looking to direct. I’ve been trying to direct since Southland. I was scheduled, we were all slated. Regina King, myself, Benjamin McKenzie, and Shawn Hatosy were all slated to direct had we gotten another season. Yeah, so it was headed in that direction, and so now it’s just a matter of finding the right situation for that. Producing, I have produced a feature [2012’s Dark Tourist], and right now am in the midst of developing something as a producer with Warner Brothers. We’re not really allowed to talk about it yet because it hasn’t officially been announced, but it is something that has moved forward with a series of folks… we’re going to take it to pilot and see what happens.

Will you star in it as well?
No. Right now I’m just producing it with my buddies. I’m sure there will be an actual announcement at some point when it warrants that. It definitely is moving in that direction, and I’m excited about it, and I’m not done acting… just expanding my opportunities to work in a field that I love working in. There’s always something going on, I think, if you’re doing it right. You know, there’s always stuff in the works. It’s mostly marathon stuff, you know… it’s the Crock Pot of working in the film industry. You don’t really find anything out real quick, you sort of throw it all in the Pot and let it simmer for a good 15-16 hours. It’s fun. I enjoy the people I work with, I enjoy telling stories, and I enjoy being around people who love to tell stories.

You also, for the last year since we said goodbye to Abraham, have been doing a lot of fan conventions, a lot of the Walker Stalker events. You really have had a unique experience in that you’ve gotten to meet and interact with fans after exiting the show in that very dramatic, heartbreaking way, and to hear how they felt about your character. What has that been like?
It’s been great. You know, I sometimes spoke with [TWD showrunner] Scott Gimple when I first came on the show. He had laid out very clearly that they were trying to get back to the nuts and bolts of the graphic novel with our entrance, myself, Josh McDermitt, and Christian Serratos. Those three characters coming in sort of marked, for him, him really putting his mark on the series and showing the fans of the graphic novel that, “We have not forgotten you. We are going to be paying homage to the graphic novel as we move forward, and not sort of wandering all over the place with it.” It had gone a little bit away from the graphic novel so far as its linear narrative. All the characters of the world were there, all the places were there, and I think now, we’re following the roadmap of the show so far as where they go logistically, with what has been done with the characters that have been added and characters that are taken away, the ones that were still there in the graphic novel at this point in the story. I think that’s opened up some cool ways to tell the stories in a new way. But [Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita] marked kind of the return to sticking closer to the graphic novel, and with [Scott] telling me that information, I knew, having read the graphic novels, that there was a ticking clock on Abraham so far as his life in the show. I was not surprised to have it all come to an end within two and a half, three years. That’s the timeframe I had in my mind.

So I was fine with leaving the show. Not that I wanted to leave the show, but I was fine, because I felt like [my story] had run its course, and we had done what I was there to do, and I had a wonderful experience, and it was time to move on. It’s nice to hear the fans say they wish I was still there. I personally wish Abraham would have lived a little bit longer, into “All Out War,” because I would have loved to have seen him — especially as the only real soldier that we know of in our group — be a soldier for at least a few battles. But we didn’t go there, and that’s fine, too. There’s a million ways to tell these stories, and I love the way that Scott tells the stories. So that argument could be made for any of these characters. I would have loved to see what Shane would be doing now, you know? So you can’t really hang on to all of that.

That being said, the fans, as you said, are able to come up and say how they feel about me, how they’re handling the loss of the character… in a really cool way, you get to see what that character did and the effect you had on the storytelling. Even when you thought it was minimal, from the performance standpoint, the audience sort of simmers that all down, and they get out of it what they get out of it.

When you found out that Abraham was going to be killed off in the Season 7 premiere, did you know at that time that he would be back for the season finale?
I did not. That I didn’t know until, I think, two episodes before they shot it. I got a call… or maybe it was one episode before, like 10 days, 12 days. [My reps] said, “Hey, The Walking Dead is calling to check on your availability.” I said, “Is this a joke?” And they went, “No,” and I go, “Oh, sh*t.” They go “What?” and I go, “Somebody’s dying.” I knew Sasha, Rosita, or Eugene would be dying. I didn’t know who. They called me, and said, “We’re checking on availability, we are pretty sure this is what we’re doing, but we’re not 100 percent sure yet.” Because the scripts do change often, right up to the end… they had two options, I think, or three options, of how they wanted to tell Sasha’s final story, making sure that having me in a flashback wouldn’t detract from her death, but also Scott has said that he wanted to make sure that the audience was able to have closure with Abraham as well, through Sasha. I think they achieved that wonderfully, and it was a big surprise to me. So it was fun to go back, it was a lot of fun to go back.

Did it feel especially appropriate that you got to help see Sasha and Sonequa [Martin-Green] off as well?
Yeah. Though, trust me, Sonequa Martin-Green does not need my help. She is an amazing, amazingly talented woman. Smart, funny, talented. But I was honored to be able to be part of her leaving.

Sasha and Abraham had forged very quickly this relationship that fans loved. But we didn’t get the middle, the really good part of that relationship. So at least we got, as you said, a little bit of closure.
Agreed.

Michael Cudlitz as Sgt. Abraham Ford and Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha Williams in AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ (Photo: Gene Page/AMC)

And then there’s that alternate, Rick’s dream, sequence, the happy family dinner. At what point did you shoot that? Before or after the death scene?
We shot that… I feel like we did the death on day one in shooting. No, maybe not. No, no, we didn’t do the death on day one, because we did tests. Well, maybe. We were testing in our first week. My instinct is that we did the deaths early on, and the picnic was later. So it was much more of a celebratory, nice, clean day. A day that, very rarely, we all get to be clean. Nobody’s getting bloody. It’s just, “Yeah, it’s nice.” You know, there’s a crane, the sun’s out, we have kids on set. It was a really nice day.

Was it also a tough scene to shoot, given everything that was happening with Abraham and Glenn, and obviously, you and Steven [Yeun] leaving the show?
Yeah, but I just think it was a celebration of everyone being together. We had such a long time to mourn the loss of these characters and to say goodbye to each other. Sonequa and I found out the August before, and then we finally shot it in May [2016]. You know, so we had a lot of time to process and say goodbye. Everybody was in a good place about it.

I saw a photo of you that I think is recent, and so your hair and mustache is back to your normal color? You’ve gotten rid of all the orange?
The orange has all been cut away.

Are you missing it at all? I’m guessing not.
No. The orange? No. I have a little bit of red in my hair, and, as I’ve gotten older, it’s been replaced with white. But no, the red is gone.

Did you have to go back and have it re-dyed to shoot the Season 7 finale last fall then?
That’s the other crazy thing is I had told everyone in the press … the season had premiered, and we had not shot the [season finale] yet. So I was in red [hair], still telling a lie. I said I was going to keep the red until we had done the big Atlanta [Walker Stalker Convention], and I had a couple of big conventions towards the end of the year, and I said I want the audience, you know the fans, to be able to say goodbye to Abraham. We do photo opportunities at these things as well, and I thought it would be nice if they get to have one last photo with the full mustache and all that. So I was keeping it for a couple of events that I had to go to, but had no idea that they were gonna still use it [on the show]. They were able to do it and not have anyone be surprised that I was still red with the mustache and all that. So it was a win-win.

The Walking Dead: The Complete Seventh Season is available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD from Lionsgate and Anchor Bay Entertainment. The Walking Dead Season 8 premieres Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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