The Walking Dead celebrates 10 years of TV history on October 31, 2020. In celebration of this historic milestone, we I nterviewed several actors who have participated in the show over the years. These interviews started to be published in early September and run until the end of October, are being launched daily. When we will end with a big surprise that we prepared exclusively and with great affection for the fans.
Our guest today is Matt Mangum, who played D.J. during seasons 8, 9 and 10. The actor told us about what it was like to work with Andrew Lincoln and Melissa McBride, about his audition process for the series, about deleted scenes of his character with Michonne, about the stake massacre and more!
Without further ado, check out our exclusive interview with Matt Mangum:
It’s an honour for us to talk to you in such a special moment for The Walking Dead. It’s not just any show that get to its 10th anniversary. Can you start by telling us how was the audition for the show? How did you hear about the part? Did you know the show beforehand?
Matt Mangum: Yes I knew about the show beforehand and was a fan of the show. I had seen every episode up to when I was cast. I started auditioning for the Walking Dead in season 6. Read for a couple roles in season 6 and for a couple in season 7 so I felt like they liked my stuff and were looking for a place to fit me in. I was very clean cut and decided to stop shaving and stop cutting my hair only for the reason to try and book the show. In season 8 I read for the show again and ended up booking DJ. I do think the hair and beard helped and that’s why when we first see DJ as a saviour he’s very rough looking with the long hair and beard.
D.J. used to be in lots of intense scenes with Rick and Carol. How it was to work with Andrew Lincoln and Melissa McBride? Also, how was the set with Andrew and how did it change after he left The Walking Dead?
Matt Mangum: I think everyone knows what those two are like and how amazing they are to work with. Two of the nicest people around and amazing actors who know their stuff and know how to prepare for whatever a scene might require of them. They also know how to have fun with it. When you have actors as good as they are even when the scene is intense and you have to get worked up for it you have to be able to leave some room to be lighthearted in the middle of all of it. It takes a lot of actors to get somewhere emotionally and stay there and when you can have fun or take a breath in the middle of all of that it helps. Those two are great with that.
The show honestly didn’t change that much other than the obvious that Andy wasn’t there. The culture of the show was laid very early by Andy. When you are #1 on the call sheet you are the leader of the show, the cast, the crew everyone. They all look to the #1 to set the tone of the show and Andy made it feel like a family and I think that is evident in the way it is extended down to the fanbase. Other cast carried that same culture to, Norman, Melissa, Danai, Lauren, Jeffrey. Anyone who came onto the show helped grow that family culture so when Andy left it was a well oiled machine and the family culture is still there.
From Rick’s group’s perspective, the Saviours were a cruel and tyrant group, perpetuating barbaric acts to keep their power. However, they were also a big community, filled with people that not only feared Negan, but also worshiped him. Why do you think your character was able to establish himself in the Saviours? How do you define D.J.’s vision of Negan?
Matt Mangum: I think DJ ended up with the saviours the way most people probably did, out of survival. The whole purpose of the show in general is survival in this world. Surviving the initial outbreak, surviving the walkers, surviving other people and different groups so I think you had a lot of people who became parts of different groups simply for survival. I also think DJ was a very strong lieutenant. That’s what helped him rise in the ranks with the saviours under Negan and the same traits that helped him rise in Alexandria under Michonne. I think he was loyal to who was in charge and we saw that when he helped capture Simon for Negan to deal with. His vision of Negan was his leader. Maybe he didn’t agree with the way Negan did things but it would be easy to rationalize in your mind that no leader is perfect in that world and that he was willing to do what needed to be done to survive. Just like when he teamed up with Jed to steal weapons from Carol. It wasn’t that he saw Carol as bad, DJ felt like he needed weapons to survive and was willing to do what it took to do that.
Although he was part of the Saviours in the past, D.J. was able to adapt and become a part of Hilltop and Alexandria, becoming a trusted person in the communities. What do you think made him open up to this new lifestyle? Do you think he found what he was looking for in the new group?
Matt Mangum: Kind of going back to the previous question I think it ultimately began with survival. I think his loyalty to the new group and Michonne was evident in the way he kind of became her right hand man in certain situations. There were a lot more DJ and Michonne interactions that didn’t make the screen that I would have loved for people to see. I also do think he found what he was looking for which was a somewhere to belong, somewhere to survive, a family to be a part of and I think that’s what led him to ultimately be willing to give his life for them.
In the barn, D.J. and the other Alpha’s victims fought bravely for their lives, but unfortunately couldn’t save themselves. Can you tell us how it was to prepare for such an intense and dramatic scene?
Matt Mangum: That was a long day. First we shot the pikes in the daytime and then moved into the barn that night. Some of the other pike victims I hadn’t met or worked with yet but we all seemed to immediately have a connection knowing what we were all going through as actors and having to say goodbye to these characters we loved. It was a long night of stunt rehearsals and blocking and it was November so it was freezing which I think kind of added to the whole feel of the scene. It’s weird though, as an actor because there’s almost something in you that turns off once the camera is rolling and action is called. You just literally go into this zone and become this character you aren’t in order to get the shot and make it all work. That’s where preparation comes in. Once action is called everything you do has to be second nature and that’s generally what takes over for scenes like that.
About the stakes scene, how shocking was it to see your own head there? I imagine it must have felt weird! Did you take your head home?
Matt Mangum: Haha. Yes definitely weird and just amazing to see how good Nicotero and his teams are at making that stuff. I did not take it home, I didn’t even think to ask about it but Nicotero has told me he could get it to me if I reach out to him and I just haven’t….maybe I should.
You had the chance to be on two of the biggest arcs of The Walking Dead – The Saviours and The Whisperers. Which one was your favourite and why? What nice memories can you share from both sets, the Sanctuary and Alexandria?
Matt Mangum: I did love being a part of the saviours but the downside was I almost exclusively shot on the stages at the sanctuary. It wasn’t until all out war in 816 that I actually got to get out and go on location for the final battle. Which by the way was the same location we shot the pikes. And pretty much all of my stuff was with Negan and the savrious. Once season 9 I got to do a lot more away from the sound stages and pretty much had scenes with everyone. Had a lot with Danai and Melissa and a couple of great scenes with Andy and Norman and then was almost exclusively with Yumiko and Magna’s group for 4 episodes once they came in. The post saviour stuff was more fun just because I got to work with almost everyone on the cast at some point even though not all of the scenes made the final cut. I would have loved to be around longer and have DJ play a role in the whisperer war but, I’m also glad he got to go out in such an iconic way with the pikes.
Do you remember your first day on the set? What about your last one? We’d love if you could share some details of your reception and farewell on the show!
Matt Mangum: Definitely remember my first day on set. It was an overnight shoot from I think 808 when the saviours were attacking and destroying Alexandria. I rode in the van from base camp to set with Andy who, like he does with everyone, introduced himself to me right away and welcomed me to the show. He was genuinely happy for me to be there. I had actually done some crew work on the show in seasons 3 4 and 5 and a lot of the crew is still the same so it was fun to be back and see those guys but finally on the acting side which is what I wanted to do from the start.
Farewell was hard. Like it is to leave any family or as actors to leave any job that you love and aren’t sure if the next job will be as special. It was a long night of goodbyes, I mean 10 of us all had a farewell the same night so it was very emotional. A few cast members who weren’t in the scene came out to see us shooting the barn and be there for everyone’s final moments. It was a good night. But….DJ also was back for 2 flashback scenes in season 10 so my final night ended up not being my final night.
If D.J. had survived longer on the show, with which characters would you like him to interact with? Is there any actor you’d like to have worked with more closely during your time on the show?
Matt Mangum: I would have loved to see DJ and Negan interactions post saviours. I’d love to know Negan’s perspective of DJ integrating with the group. Although we now know Negan does as well. There were a couple of Wisperer War comic book storylines that I wanted DJ to fall into. The one I really wanted was in the comics when Dwight throws Lucille to Negan during the Wisperer War, I really wanted to see that on screen and be a part of it. I would also have loved to see more of DJ and Michonne. There were more of them that were cut and I feel like there was a trust and respect they had for each other that was deeper than what played out on screen. Getting back to the previous question. My actual final night of shooting ended up being recreating the lineup scene when we see Michonne as a saviour when she’s hallucinating. That night was me, Danai and Jeffrey filming and it was pretty fitting for me that my actual last night was with those 2. The 2 people I probably spent the most time with during my time on the show.
Looking back at your time on the show, which one would you say was the most fun episode to shoot? What about the most challenging? Why?
Matt Mangum: My fav episode was 907 which is when DJ Michonne and Sidiq are taking the new group from Alexandria to Hilltop. Michael Cudlitz directed that episode and he is an amazing director. What was challenging in that one was that infamous Georgia summer weather. It was close to 100 if not hotter and we had a 12 hour day of running and fighting through a walker hoard. It was hard but incredibly fun and rewarding. I mean, I also got to drive a horse and wagon on screen. Never thought I would do something like that. Had to do hours of training learning that and hours of horseback riding although we didn’t end up seeing DJ on horseback which I was disappointed about.
Talking about a zombie apocalypse… What would Matt Mangum have in his survival kit? Choose 5 indispensable items! Would you be more of a community survivor or a lone wolf?
Matt Mangum: Oh man. Non perishable goods, like maybe chocolate pudding, many guns, definitely a baseball bat, an array of knives and full body armour. I would probably try to be a lone wolf but, I’m not sure how well you could survive like that so I would fold into a group. Maybe somewhere high in the mountains surrounded by snow.
Now that is was announced that the 11th season will be the last season of The Walking Dead, how would you like it to end? What would you like to see happening?
Matt Mangum: I think we all want to see the same thing which is for whoever survives to find Rick. I mean come one…..we all want that.
We know the pandemic postponed a lot of projects. How did it affect you? Were any of your projects postponed? How have you been taking care of yourself?
Matt Mangum: I had 2 things lined up, once was fully cancelled and one postponed indefinitely. Not sure what will happen with that one but that’s where we are. We are all in the same boat, we’ve kind of lost a year of our lives and it’s been hard for everyone but it’s all about persevering and getting through this year and hopefully turning a page for 2021. Like everyone else it’s been a lot of time at home, a lot of family time and I have to say that I didn’t hate that. That’s time with the family that will never be duplicated and will be remembered forever so, although I wish the pandemic didn’t happen. It was nice to try and make the best of it.
To wrap it up: here in Brazil we are particularly fond of The Walking Dead and all of its cast and crew, past and present. Brazilian fans are very passionate! Does this love get to you somehow, through conventions or social networks? Can you send a message to your Brazilian fans?
Matt Mangum: Yes it absolutely does. I LOVE the social media interactions from fans all over the world. Come find me, come follow me and let me know where you are. I love when fans comment and tell me where they’re from or comment with their countries flag on my feed, it’s awesome. Brazil is DEFINITELY present. Outside of the US I think Brazil absolutely has the biggest presence. Obrigado pelo amor Brasil!!