Exclusive Interview With The Walking Dead‘s Keith Harris
In this exclusive interview, MondayMonday sits down with actor Keith Harris, from The Walking Dead. Keith is best known as Maggie’s doctor on the series. Fans of the show recently saw Simon drag him off to the Sanctuary, after Negan killed his brother in a past episode.
Keith talks about his route to The Walking Dead, and briefly discusses his next film, Shifting Gears.
So, what are some of your current projects? I know you’ve got a role in The Walking Dead, but you’ve got a film you’re working on, as well.
Keith: Yeah, The Walking Dead, I’ve been real happy with that. That’s been a fun, fun time, and it’s been amazing to see how, I mean, truly rabid the fans are. I mean, just really amazing, you know. I’m this guy, grew up in Reidsville, small town guy, and I’ve only been in two episodes that have aired so far, and I’ve gotten fan mail from Germany and Australia and New Zealand, and I’m like, “What?! What?!” It’s amazing. And I’ve had some really, really fun work over the course of my career, but these guys are just rabid for the show, and it’s really humbling. It’s really humbling because you want to do the best that you can, because everybody is so supportive of the show.
The other one I’ve got going right now is… Well, we’re actually in the sales process right now, trying to lock down our distribution, but it’s a film called Shifting Gears, and this is sort of my ode to home. It’s a family sports comedy about dirt track racing. And there was a buddy of mine, goes to my church in Greensboro, he grew up working in a garage, and he kind of kept a rough journal of kind of funny things that happened to him over the years while he worked there, these different people and things that happened. And we met for lunch one day and he kind of had this… Him and some buddies used to run a dirt track car, and he just kind of had this idea, kind of a loose outline for this story about this family and getting into dirt track racing, and that kind of thing. And I read over his journals and his entries, and kind of took that spine of the story that he had and wrote the original draft. And I actually wrote it back in 2005, was the original draft of that script that I wrote. So, that’s how long the process can take.
So Shifting Gears is in the works, but in the meantime viewers can find you on The Walking Dead. What’s it liking working a series that is so iconic and also so secretive?
Keith: It can be interesting. I have gotten used to it because, for instance, I am, at this time, sort of still a peripheral character. The main characters get the entire script. The peripheral characters that are being introduced… I have not passed any sort of episode count threshold or whatever approval to get the entire script, so the only thing that I get, and this is part of the way they protect the series, the only thing that I get is pages that I’m in. And from an acting standpoint, I’m a script analysis guy. I love script analysis, but what’s interesting is, what I’ve kind of come to embrace in the process with The Walking Dead is, technically, I wouldn’t know what everybody else is doing anyway.
So, it makes me go, “What is it in this moment that I can attach to and convey?” And, you know, it just makes you be more in the moment because, you know, how am I going to react and deal with this situation because, really, I can’t care and I don’t know how these other people are. So, that’s been kind of the biggest piece of the learning curve for me, yeah.
And the show’s obviously not exactly the same as the comic, but do most of the actors kind of read ahead and predict what they think’s going to happen with their characters?
Keith: I honestly don’t know. I know, there’s a buddy of mine, Brett Gentile, he’s a Hilltopper with me, he’s from Charlotte, NC, and he won’t touch it. He doesn’t even watch the show. He’s like, “I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know about it. I don’t want to know about what’s going on with my character. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to watch the show.” And he just focuses on his work.
I have come to kind of a middle ground. I have not really sat down and gone page-by-page through the graphic novel, but I have read like every Wiki page about the character that I’m playing that is based out of the graphic novel, and kind of relationships, and just to try to figure out, who is this guy, so I can be honest to the source material.
What’s it like filming in Georgia? I’ve read the cast is really separated this season.
Keith: Yeah. I mean, the crew and the cast are amazing, you know, Andy Lincoln. My first day on set, you know, the whirlwind, there’s the zombies, there’s all this stuff, we had this big scene where they find us and we escape, and all this stuff, and Rick. And Andy was there, and he came up to me and we chatted for probably 15 minutes, talked about life and kids, and all kinds of stuff. And he was very gracious and very receptive and very kind, and I have found that across the board with everybody there, from the cast to the crew. It’s a big family, you know. They’ve been working in the heat and humidity of southern Georgia for, gosh, it’ll be coming up on their eighth season starting here in May, so they’re a tight-knit team and they get stuff done.
How are you kind of handling those letters you get, how you respond to the letters, and have you gone to any Comic-Con events?
Keith: You know, yes, I respond, any one that I get. What happens, typically, is they find my agent and they send stuff to my agent, and then my agent kind of lets them pile up, and then sends me an envelope. So, there have been some that… I have responded to all the ones that I’ve gotten, or tried to anyway, and if I haven’t… No, I take that back. I have, but some of them were, you know, a couple, three months old by the time I got to them, by the time they actually landed, physically, in my hands, so there is a little bit of a time lag there. But, I do try to get to them all, and it’s not like it’s a big volume, right.
What’s it like being on a show this iconic? I mean, they’re kind of talking about 12 seasons or more, and in the comic, they go on well past that.
Keith: Wow. Well, I mean, it’s amazing. I mean, I would love this for the show and my character to be around for season 12. That would be amazing, but, and I think it’s part of the prediction process, you know, I don’t know how it’s going to go or how the fan base will build, but at least in the graphic novel, I’m around through the current episode, through the current novel, so it would be really great if I can have that longevity.
Now, they moved up, somewhat, the death of the other Dr. Carson, so I don’t know. It could be one of those things where I end up taking his fate later. I just don’t know, and that’s in… Actually, I think it might have been an article that you wrote. I saw it somewhere, about the dilemma of the existence of Daryl. That causes ripple effects, you know. I think that the producers and the directors are doing an amazing job with trying to weave the story they’re setting. This is a tough season.
Season 7 is tough because they’re at a point in the graphic novel where the core group has kind of splintered and they have so many story lines to kind of keep track of and continue to move forward as they establish. You know, they’ve established the kingdom and King Ezekiel, they’ve established the Heapsters, and then, you know, Hilltop, Negan, and all those people. And so, there is so many balls they have to push forward, so it’ll be neat to see how they continue to do that.
It does seem like, beyond playing Rick or Daryl, playing a doctor would be good in that world because, at least, most people shouldn’t want to kill the doctor, you know?
Keith: Right. So, I’m hoping. It’ll be interesting to see how next season progresses. I just don’t have any idea until I see it, until I see a script. And, typically, the way it worked last season is, I got a call about two weeks out, checking, you know, “Hey, this is the window for this shoot. Are you available?” And, you know, I’d say, “Yes.” And then, they come back and do the official booking about a week before. And then, when they officially book is when I get my pages.
So, yeah, and they do that, and I’m pretty sure that they do that for damage control because sometimes, you know, they’re casting people and they’re just trying to make sure that nothing leaks. And it could be, not someone with malintent; it could be an actor who’s new to the process that loses a script, and somebody picks it up and then it gets leaked online, and then everybody knows everything. So, you know, if they don’t have the full script, then it minimizes the damage if they lose it.
There’s a lot of chatter online about your character, Dr. Carson at Hilltop, and then the Dr. Carson at Sanctuary who, actually, Negan just killed about two episodes ago. There’s thought if they’re brothers. Is that something that you can confirm or elaborate on at all?
Keith: Well, the answer to that question will be this Sunday.
[We followed up with Keith after the episode aired…]
Keith, congrats on the episode. What’s it like working with Steven Ogg?
Thanks! Steven is one cool cat…intense. Loved working with him.
Your character stayed pretty calm when he found out that Negan had killed his brother. What might he have been thinking?
Anytime family dies, there’s a wound. There was a lot going on at that moment…concern for his patients, anger because Gregory just threw him under the bus, and dealing with the transition to Negan’s compound. In my mind, he’s going into emergency mode. Plus doctors are trained to play all their emotions close to the chest. Don’t think he had a choice in the moment to grieve…
Have the Hilltoppers lost faith in Gregory?
It sure looks like the Hilltoppers are loosing faith in Gregory. I can say for sure that Dr. Carson has!
Where else can people kind of follow you and find out what you’re doing, and possibly hear about what’s going on with Shifting Gears?
Keith: Shifting Gears has a Facebook page and a Twitter following. It’s @shiftinggearsnc, is the Twitter handle, and then we have a Shifting Gears Facebook page. Please go and check it out. I try and keep it as updated as possible. People ask all the time, what’s happening with it, and I don’t have anything definitive on distribution, but I’ve put some fun pictures up, and we’ve had some videos from production when we were in production, and that kind of thing that are up there, as well. So, please go like that and share that. That would be a big help because, you know, we’re a grassroots production and we’re going to need word of mouth to help tell this story to the world, because I think it’s worth it, and it is about people in rural areas and that is something I’m really excited about. But, anyway, Facebook page in there, and I’m on Facebook, as well. I think that answered the question.
All right. Thanks, Keith. We appreciate it.
Keith: No, man. I appreciate it. Thank you so much for having me on.