2011 flashback: Scott Wilson (Hershel, "Walking Dead") interview

Posted October 25, 2011 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

From "Dead Man Walking" to "The Walking Dead," Atlanta native Scott Wilson has made the acting rounds over 44 years. But at age 69, he's still very much alive, a classic "character" actor you recognize but whose name you can't quite place.

“I have people who come up to me who think we went to high school in places I’ve never been,” Wilson said in an interview last week.

On ‘The Walking Dead,” he plays the seemingly avuncular veterinarian, Hershel Greene, who owns a farm where Rick Grimes and his ragtag group of survivors use as a sanctuary for at least a few episodes. Wilson’s character was introduced this past Sunday as he helped save the life of Rick’s son Carl, who was shot accidentally by one of Wilson’s cohorts in the first episode of season two.

Hershel took a bullet fragment out of Carl’s side but said he needed more medical equipment to ensure Carl’s survival. The guy who shot Carl and Rick’s best friend Shane go to a local FEMA aid station to get said equipment but  are trapped in a building, surrounded by zombies.

So far, Scott’s character seems friendly, warm and helpful, as well as optimistic that mankind could overcome the zombies despite losing his wife. Rick isn’t quite so cheerful about the future. I get the impression first impressions may not be our last impressions of Hershel.

I spoke with Wilson last week while he was down in Senoia, where the show is currently basing itself. “The Walking Dead,” which began shooting season two in June, is nearing the end of the shoot with Wilson still working on set. It’s a fair presumption his character will be around awhile.

“The farm is kind of a Shangri-La,” Wilson said. “There are a lot of interesting story lines that come out of this… It’s good for me to be at my age working with such young, creative people.”

He isn’t giving away any spoilers. “To tell you the truth, I don’t know what’ s going to happen to my character.” Job security on a show featuring zombies is not a sure thing, especially as a secondary character. “Zombies may not win 100-yard dashes,” Wilson said, “but they’re persistent.”

In 1961, Wilson left Atlanta at age 19 and hitchhiked to Los Angeles with a friend. The friend came back to Atlanta. Wilson did not.  He ended up in an acting class and liked it.

In 1967, he played a murder suspect in his first film "In the Heat of the Night" starring Rod Steigerand Sidney Poitier.  He played a character who murdered Robert Redford's Jay Gatsby in 1974.  He received a Golden Globe nomination in 1980 for his supporting role in "The Ninth Configuration." He was the chaplain in Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon's "Dead Man Walking" in 1995. He was a victim of Charlize Theron's serial killer in 2003's "Monster."

He has done films in South Korea, Japan and Spain. He did a movie based on a play John Paul II wrote. He’s played governors, generals and the president of the United States.

“I’ve been in a lot of interesting films,” he said.

He never became a break-out star.

“It’s been up and down,” Wilson said. “It’s always been. You have dry spells. At different times, you are starting over. If you love it, you stay with it. That’s what I’m doing.”

He is happy with his place in the acting world. “I’ve accomplished more than I would have hoped to have accomplished,” he said. “I don’t want to be a big movie star. I can be someone who walks the streets and not get mobbed. Yet I want to be as fine an actor as I can be. I am still striving for that – to be as good as I can be.”

Wilson said “The Walking Dead” opportunity came up while he was in Georgia visiting his mom, celebrating her 97th birthday. “My mother’s a fan of the show,” he said.

He said he knows nothing about why Frank Darabont, the creator, left in August. "That's out of my pay grade," he said. "He put a lot of wonderful people together. I think his imprint is still on the production."