Jeffrey Dean Morgan talks playing Negan and his amazing career
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a legendary actor across the board, breathing life into characters like William Gallagher, Denny Duquette, John Winchester, and of course — the polarizing, leather jacket-wearing Negan on The Walking Dead.
Morgan first brought Negan to TWD during the season 6 finale of the series, and he’s still with us today, albeit a bit different. So what exactly is it like bringing a character like Negan to life, and how does Morgan work to peel apart his layers? He lays it all out in a recent chat with John Russo at Gio Journal.
When asked if he would have imagined how incredible the journey of playing Negan would be, he explains that he didn’t see it coming.
“I came in at the end of season six, so whenever the fuck that was. It’s now season eleven, which is really season twelve, because this year we are doing 30 episodes. But I think I have been here for seven years. But no, I didn’t think I would be here this long, it’s so rare that shows go this long anywhere. But when I signed to do Negan we had talked about three seasons. And that was all she wrote, I thought he would just walk off like he did in the comic books or they would kill him. And here I am man, still here.”
Negan is definitely still here, and still stealing scenes as the character fans love to love/hate. Of course, that has a lot to do with his character’s incredibly violent entrance to the series; he came in swinging his bat and took away two beloved characters, something some fans have never forgiven him for.
Glenn and Abraham weren’t just special characters to fans, they had bonds and families on the show, and those who loved them are forever changed in their absence. Russo asked whether Morgan would have changed anything about Negan, and if he’d play him the same way given a chance to start over.
“Over the years we’ve shown different sides of him obviously and people have called it this sort of redemption path that he’s been on. I don’t know if I would go that far, because Negan is still Negan if that makes sense. But would I change anything that I did, man, it would have nice to maybe, no you know what, fuck it, I wouldn’t change a thing. (laughter) I was going to launch into something about how violent he is and all this shit and his introduction to being so brutal. But I think that that was part of the storytelling process and that also gave me room to grow or Negan room to grow. You start at this worst spot you can. And the fact that everybody hated me and only like fifty percent of the people hate me or Negan, is a kind of a testament of the journey he has been on. And I think as long as there is a journey in a character as an actor you are fucking thrilled to play that and it means that there’s growth and all that crap which is fun to play.”
The journey of his character is what keeps fans coming back for more Negan. There are layers to him, and the arc that exists might not be a redemption story in Morgan’s eyes, but it has undeniably been an evolution of sorts. So which season has been his favorite with Negan? The answer may surprise you — or it might be exactly what you expected from Morgan.
“Man, I liked Season Seven, my first full season because it was just, we had met Negan at the last episode of Season Six so I remember we started off Seven and it was kind of all Negan all the time and Negan torturing Rick Grimes, Andy Lincoln’s character. And we sure did have fun, I loved working with him, he’s no longer on the show but I loved fucking with him.”
Of course, working with people like Lincoln and Norman Reedus, who has become chosen family to Morgan, makes the experience memorable. Morgan spoke fondly about the experience of TWD, when asked about the bonds built with these talented people on set.
“I think that’s another reason why I am still here, is that other than this year where we have been kind of fucking isolated, I mean generally when I am down here, we are down here for like six months out of the year, we do sixteen episodes, and this year it’s been 30 and it’s a lot more time. But we spent a lot of time together, and this year we haven’t spent a lot of time together off set because of COVID. But I think why I am still here is my love of this cast. It really is a kind of family atmosphere with the exception of this year because of COVID, we spent so much fucking time together, I actually spent a lot of time with Norman Reedus. And yeah, he is much a part of my family as anyone else.”
The bond built within the community of The Walking Dead is as special to fans as it is to those who created the series. With conventions and social media spheres, there is a unique space for those who have loved the series to coexist and share their appreciation.
Morgan talks about the effects of the COVID pandemic on the entertainment realm, being outspoken with his beliefs — and the journey to getting there, and shares love for his family in the rest of the interview, which you can read at Gio Journal.
You can catch Morgan as Negan on the final episodes of The Walking Dead, with part 2 of the grand finale airing Sunday nights on AMC. Isle of the Dead, Negan’s next adventure, is sure to be an exciting one, and we’ll keep you updated as we find out more.