The world has gone to hell and it’s okay to show a little diabolical side. Kind of. For actor Andrew J. West, the new resident “baddie” of The Walking Dead season five, surviving this dark, cruel, zombified world opens up a grey area of morality. You need a little “bite” to make it through. While his filmography spans a good eight years, West is taking this time to re-introduce himself to the world with his biggest gig yet. Be warned. You probably won’t like him all that much.
It’s been a busy but fun month of press time for the actor who’s seen his share of shorts, TV movies, and series pilots. This fall, he takes center stage on - undisputedly - the most talked about show on the planet. No pressure, though. Today, he’s just focused on what to wear to tomorrow’s LA premiere. “I’m still trying to figure that out. I’ll probably know by tonight,” laughs West. He’s a stark contrast to his character Gareth - more chipper, welcoming, and seemingly void of homicidal tendencies. But, ask him ten years ago and the kid wouldn’t have been ready for such a grandiose role. “My early career in acting was a little convoluted. I graduated from Indiana University and participated in a few plays. Then, I moved to LA with a friend who also acts. At the time, I wasn’t sure about acting but I definitely wanted to write or be in production,” West reveals of his younger self. He’d go on to explore different avenues before realizing acting was a legitimate career path. “I was best suited for it. I was terrified of acting, to be in front of an audience or a camera. I forced myself to do plays in college. I think it’s important for people to discover the talents you enjoy and what you have to offer.”
Apparently, West has much to offer. On the horror drama, he’s not here to deliver a standard, menacing counter to Andrew Lincoln’s battered and bruised, flawed yet empowering hero, Rick Grimes. Expect to do a little self-reflection, you know, in case you ever face a zombie apocalypse and death waiting at every corner. “Gareth versus Rick’s tactics, that’s the heart of the new season. Whose tactics are better and necessary to survive this world? Viewers will decide. Survival is a concept Gareth’s given lots of thought to. We see him literally meditate on it. He’s a philosopher of survival. Will his tactics jive with Rick’s? Now that causes a great deal of tension between them,” West enlightens. As for a real life game of Andrew vs. Andrew? “He has five years head start on me in fighting zombies!” West grins. “Maybe I could take on Andrew Lincoln circa 2008.”
Gareth comes as a revelation for the drama series, which hasn’t seen much of a human opposition since the death of The Governor last December. Lacking the instant likability of a Daryl or a Glenn or a Michonne, West succeeds in pulling off a not-so-trustworthy addition. Still, according to the official season five trailer, Team Gareth wants the same thing as Team Grimes: a road trip to DC. Don’t anticipate much singing on the car ride, folks. “I don’t read parts of the script I’m not in. I don’t know much outside my character,” reverts West from spilling any favorite scenes from the new season. Good call. Just know not everyone makes it…wherever it is they end up going.
Looking back at his journey so far, West could very well be the luckiest actor today, striking a cord with casting directors for a read despite past roles not even coming close to hinting at the insanity that is Gareth. “I don’t think the casting directors pegged me as a comedy guy or a ‘lighter fare’ guy,” refers West to his previous television roles, which included Privileged on The CW and Greek on ABC Family before joining the grittier, darker AMC family. “They called me in I guess because they figured I had a decent shot at ‘villain.’ They give you fake material to audition with and not the actual script to avoid leaks. I got the job days later, but here’s the thing! They didn’t tell me what or who my character was. I flew to Atlanta still trying to figure him out, even as I was trying to guess during costume fittings. A day before the season finale I was given knowledge of Gareth.”
While certainly not winning over any pro-Rick and company fans early on, audiences will get a glimpse of a regular person caught in a crappy situation. A Walking Dead buff long before getting cast West has had a four season analysis of what he’s facing. “I still don’t like Gareth labeled as the ‘villain.’ Look at it this way. All of these characters are as complicated or real as you and I are. It’s not interesting to say one person’s a clean cut good guy or bad guy. You set goals for these characters based on the decisions they make to craft their arcs. No one’s black and white. Each person comes from a place where they think this is how to best survive the apocalypse. You can agree or disagree with them,” opines the actor.
The fan response, though, has been great in West’s eyes. Brand new to Twitter, he is “amazed at how many people are aware of Gareth.” “You only saw him in the season 4 finale. We’ve generated excitement all over the world. The people behind the show - the producers, directors, writers - they don’t take this response for granted. The excitement shows on set.” While the future (And maybe? Definitely? Imminent death) of the main antagonist has yet to be seen, West promises a study of a character that should be remembered for zombie years to come. “You’ll see the evolution of a person in this new world. You’re given a window to the mind of a survivalist. It was fascinating to me reading him.”
And as for West’s life outside of Dead? ”I want to mix it up in different genres and characters…and figure out a way I could match up to Andrew Lincoln,” he smirks before venturing off to figure out that damn outfit.
Find actor Andrew J. West on Twitter at @Andjwest.