Sometimes Dallas Roberts ends up being more than two people in a 36-hour period. Like most actors, he’s used to switching between who he is without the cameras rolling to who he is when zombies are outside your blissful gated community, but he’s also a busy man who juggles just about every kind of acting work there is. Sometimes that means waking up one morning to play one role and waking up the next to play another.
He’s made an impact in film and television over the past decade (most recently as the weak-livered Milton Mamet on The Walking Dead), and he’s also seen his fair share of the Off-Broadway stage. Now that the third season of AMC’s undead apocalypse is over, Roberts will hit the big screen next in Shadow People and then (most likely) later this year with Dallas Buyers Club. No doubt he’ll be keeping more irons in the fire in the meantime. Fortunately, we were able to grab a few of his free minutes to talk about his goals as an actor and for him to explain the best place to go if you become a zombie.
You have a ton of experience in TV, film and legitimate theater, and on The Walking Dead — like most TV shows — you don’t have a consistent director. What are the obstacles and freedoms there?
The only obstacle is that you have to find a new way of working with someone every two weeks or so. The people who come in to direct The Walking Dead tend to be old pros, so you use the first couple of scenes to find your way in, and usually by the end there’s some sort of shorthand.
But the benefits are constant exposure to new ways of working and to new crazy tricks. We had a director this season who pulled the lens off the camera entirely and was hand-tilting it in, which is not a technique I’d ever seen before. All that stuff gets fun. To sit in someone else’s saddle every episode.
I’m sure you get asked all the time about surviving the zombie apocalypse, but I’m more interested in how you’d fare as a zombie. How would you try to keep your brain stem attached while hunting after your next human meal?
Stay as far away from the characters on The Walking Dead as possible. Don’t go anywhere near the prison. [Laughs]
You know, I was talking with someone about this the other day: my lady and one of my children are both vegetarians, and we were wondering if vegetarian people who turned into zombies would only eat plant life or whether they’d eat people like the rest of them.
There’s a market for tofu brains out there.
Definitely. I guess you’d hope that you’d stumble into some sort of med school where they had a bunch of cadavers, and you could eat like a king for decades and not be bothered.
With all your stage work, is there a play you’d love to bring to life as a movie?
Gosh, you know, there was a play I did about fifteen years ago called “Nocturne.” Adam Rapp wrote it. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of writing that I’ve ever come across. We’ve on-and-off flirted with the idea of making a film about it. There’s not a whole lot of locations, and there’s not a whole lot of action per se, and the character spends a lot of time alone silently, so it would be really interesting to try to figure out how to get that done. But that’s the challenge of it.
You’re also involved with the AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club where Matthew McConaughey lost a ton of weight to play the lead role. How is the movie coming along?
I think it’s all done. I certainly am done, and I have to believe that they’re done because Matthew is now gaining weight back. [Laughs]
It’s a true story. As true as cinematic retellings of events can be. About a guy in the 80s in Texas who contracted HIV, and at that time, AZT was the drug that was given to people with this new disease, and AZT was very effective at killing HIV, but it also killed every other cell in the body. So he found that unacceptable and went and did research, and ended up going to Mexico where he could get drugs and vitamins and supplements that were not yet FDA approved and bring them back for himself.
Once that started to work for him, he started a club where people would give him money, and he’d drive this car down to Mexico to load the trunk up with all these illegal — and by that, I mean just not FDA approved — drugs and drive them back in and make people better.
That started in Dallas but went nation-wide and was really the beginning of starting to beat that disease.
If the right role came along, would you change your body that drastically?
Yeah. I look forward to that kind of opportunity. I look forward to a time in my career where I know what’s coming, and it’s not coming for six months, and all I have to do is focus on that. Whether that’s growing the hair crazy or gaining a bunch of weight or losing a bunch of weight or even — who was it? Ed Helms? Who pulled his tooth out for The Hangover.
And then put it back in. That’s fun. That’s just fun stuff.
Actors are weird.
Yes, we are. [Laughs]
Mr. Roberts, thanks for being weird and thanks for taking the time.
Thanks so much, man.
The Walking Dead is currently appearing in the DVR that you need to clean out.