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With great pleasure we sat down recently with actor Lew Temple, who’s currently essaying the role of Axel on AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” and what followed was a fascinating conversation with a true Southern gentleman.
Familiar to genre fans for his turns in a slew of horror projects (Trailer Park of Terror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, and Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects and Halloween redux, just to name a few), the prolific Temple has displayed his chops in dozens of non-genre films and series as well, including this year’s big-budget feature films Lawless and Unstoppable and the upcoming Gore Verbinski-directed flick The Lone Ranger (see exclusive stills of him in the latter below along with him in character as Axel).
Now the forty-five-year-old Louisiana native brings his talents back to the realm of horror with his third season addition to the hit series “The Walking Dead.”
“It is always so nice to visit with you and the fans of Dread Central,” said Temple, who had just wrapped an episode of “Hawaii Five-O” at the time of the interview. “Y’all are so well-versed and informed, and I so appreciate and am impressed with the knowledge of your readers as it relates to the (horror) genre, and I am so enthused and blessed to be on an amazing show like ‘The Walking Dead.’ It has really been a wonderful opportunity to be part of such a wonderful cast and production, and to build a character like Axel is a joy, a challenge, and a mysterious ride.”
Discussing his character on “The Walking Dead” (a convict who yearns to join Rick Grimes and his posse of survivors), “Fans of the graphic novel know and have been waiting (for him) to arrive on the television series,” said Temple. “He is a prisoner who has been locked in the commissary of the prison when the apocalyptic riot broke out and was protected in this space with provisions, along with four other prisoners from the penitentiary. None of them have any awareness of what has become of the world when the survivors stumble upon them.”
“Axel is a gregarious Southern redneck-biker type, who has big heart no doubt,” continued Temple. “He has a sense of compassion for his fellow man, but he is not as meek as he might appear, and though he has had to survive with four other hardened criminals, sans Oscar (actor Vincent M. Ward), this brave new world is something entirely different for him. He wants to associate and assimilate into the group of survivors, to the point of trying too hard to be accepted. He has a wry sense of humor and ironic quick wit. He will make you laugh and cry in the same offering. He is, in short, a good friend, but there is something simmering underneath, something more than meets the eye.”
With the narrative of the third season of “The Walking Dead” television series departing from the source material, I asked Temple how the unpredictability of such impacts his performance.
“I like the symbiotic relationship that the television series and the comic have developed,” he replied. “For me they are now proven entities that tend to inform each other. I am thankful to have a blueprint like the comic book to build a character like Axel (from). I am also thankful that the production has the leniency and latitude to allow an actor to bring something to the character that may not necessarily be on the page of the graphic novel. This is the ‘simpatico’ that I speak of, and I feel it is a key ingredient to the show’s success. In most cases the show’s comic book characters have been brought to life by the actors to the fan’s delight, rather than (to their) disappointment. I think this speaks to the sophistication of fans of ‘The Walking Dead,’ who are looking for a diverse take on the characters. This then allows an actor to make in-the-moment choices which his character has never been given the opportunity to explore on the page of the comic. It dismisses all predictability and gets ‘real right now’. Again I think this is the visceral essence of the show. It is exhilarating to be able to not know what is going to happen and to not have any anticipation or expectation when you go to work. It’s a gift, and that is what working on ‘The Walking Dead’ is, a ‘gift’.”
“As I am becoming more and more a part of the team, I understand what they have done to endear themselves to an audience,” Temple offered. “It is a simple formula: hard work. I have never been part of a production that works harder, at all levels: producers, writer, actors, crew, post, you name it. They bring their ‘A’ game every day, every week, and every month. The bar is set high. I was so taken back, and impressed, when I showed up for my first week of work. I have a level of excellence based on the type of work that I have had the opportunity to do, and this meets that without a doubt. That is rare. When there is a question, the time is taken to answer it. When there is a problem, things are halted to fix it, right then and there. It gives an actor confidence to soar with that type of support. The fans have given them that type of support: to soar, to fall, or to fly. No wonder the show does so well, as they do things right. I think this is why the show is so popular as well. Good work is recognized and appreciated.”
With the universe of “The Walking Dead” having expanded into webisodes, the most recent being the Greg Nicotero-directed four-segment “Cold Storage” series starring actress Cerina Vincent (with whom Temple acted recently in the feature film MoniKa), we asked Temple if there were any rumblings regarding folding surviving characters from the web series into “The Walking Dead” proper.
“Greg Nicotero has built these webisodes, and they are fantastic,” enthused Temple of the series (which you can watch here). “I am so thrilled that they have a home, and they are so well done. Greg is not only an executive producer on the show but is also directing episodes, and as you can see, he is very talented. Clearly he has a voice that is to be heard not only on our show, but in the genre. And of course he has been around with an already incredible special effects career. So these webisodes have become their own little private Idaho, and I think that they just complement the entire franchise. I am very impressed with the integrity that Greg and his productions have maintained in the spirit of the show and graphic novel, and I adore Cerina (Vincent). I am a big fan and would love to see her added to the mix, helping Axel defend against some walkers, if you follow me. I think she has the chops to take care of herself in that venue and would be a welcome addition. She is a fine actress, and (genre) fans are going to be so excited to see her work in MoniKa. It is very multi-dimensional and compelling. She is a wonderful talent. Who wouldn’t want to hang out at the campfire with her, you follow me?”
On the mainstream public’s enthusiastic embrace of the genre series, Temple had this to say: “I want to take a moment and address what I think is a big part of the popularity of the show. It is very ‘here and now’, and less a genre-based experience, I feel,” mused the actor. “In other words, it is not a show about zombies or the apocalypse; it is about what is happening in our world right now: civil unrest, distrust of our governments, moral issues, what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ and the line between, which has become grey in the name of survival. At the end of the day, most of our world is just trying to survive. Bring home a paycheck to sustain our families. Zombies are our bankers, our politicians, our mortgages and our one percenters. Zombies are also just a metaphor for cancer; everyone knows somebody who is experiencing the fight to survive that disease or another one as bad. This is why the show resonates in my opinion. It is ultimately about what we face in our every day lives, couched in extreme circumstance every Sunday night. Everyone can put themselves in the shoes of the players on the show and feel that desperation and exhaustion from the fight to survive. Life is a four-letter word.”
As for what’s next on the actor’s plate, Temple said, “We wrap Season Three of ‘The Walking Dead’ soon, and then the holidays are upon us. I was able to slip in an episode of ‘Hawaii Five-O,’ too, which will air around Christmas. Nice work, Hawaii. Mahalo! I am then going to do an independent film called A Fighting Season, directed by Oden Roberts, starring Clayne Crawford and Azura Skye, which shoots in mid to late December. It’s a military film, in the vein of The Hurt Locker. It is a role I have never done before, and I am very excited to take that project on. I’m also doing another independent feature called Home, directed by Frank Lim, with Heather Langencamp. It’s a psychological thriller, very Sixth Sense.”
“The beginning of next year I am attached to a film titled Wicked Blood, which is directed by Mark Young,” he concluded. “This is a great project, and it could be my Winter’s Bone piece. I’ll be working with James Frain and Norman Reedus (of ‘The Walking Dead’) on that one. And of course, I was on The Lone Ranger, starring Johnny Depp as Tonto. It was just a remarkable experience. It changed my life to be three months on a horse in that landscape. Afterwards I never thought I was going to do anything other than Westerns, and now here I am right in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.”
Be sure to tune in Sunday night for the mid-season finale of “The Walking Dead,” and to stay up-to-the-minute on all things walker related, follow @WalkingDead_AMC on Twitter and visit “The Walking Dead” on Facebook. For more be sure to hit up the official “The Walking Dead” page on AMC.com.
“The Walking Dead” Episode 3.08 – “Made to Suffer” (airs 12/2/12)
Andrea steps up as the people of Woodbury are thrown into uncharted territory. At the prison a new threat arises. Written by Robert Kirkman; directed by Billy Gierhart.
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