Jeremy Palko is one of the newest faces on the hit AMC series, The Walking Dead. Season six introduced “Andy” as one of the residents of the recently discovered Hilltop community, and he made an immediate impact with a line that offered some eerie insight on our beloved Rick Grimes:
“The Saviors, they’re scary, but those pricks got nothing on you”.
Before Palko faced the zombie apocalypse, he made appearances in a variety of films and hit TV series. Even before that, he held a very different position in the entertainment world – working for Orlando’s most famous mouse. While we’re still in the dark about Andy’s past, Palko was happy to share a little insight on his career and life, in this exclusive Q&A with Come See Orlando!
You have taken an interesting path to get to where you are right now, and it all seemed to start with an injury. Where would you be today if it weren’t for that fateful knee surgery? Had acting even been a consideration prior to that?
I truly believe that things happen for a reason. I felt deep down, I always wanted to be an actor. Maybe it was my amazing portrayal of “Grumpy” in my 3rd grade play of “Snow White”? On the other hand it was more than likely my true love for movies and the fact that I wanted to be so many things when I grew up. I patiently learned that acting was a way to be all those things I dreamed of as a child. A doctor, a lawyer, a football player, etc. At one point in high school, I thought I was going to pursue football because it was going to land me a scholarship. A knee injury my senior year sidelined me and had me reconsider a lot of things in my life. I continued an attempt at athletics in college only to receive my second knee operation in a lacrosse game. I realized athletics were not in my future and someone was trying to tell me something. That is when I took my first acting class, out of curiosity, in college and fell immediately in love with the idea of pretending for a living. I really don’t know where I would be without that injury. I constantly look back to that moment in high school that changed my future for the better.
Your degree is in Comparative Literature… basically, this combines literature with cultural and world studies. What do you personally consider to be the most intriguing culture, overall? Is there a particular author or culture that has inspired you?
My degree was in Comparative Literature with an emphasis on Cinematic Studies. I fell in love with movies at a young age and this degree allowed me to study many different styles/ genres of film and to creatively write about many topics. It was this freedom of creative thinking, which I believe everyone in entertainment can relate to. Numbers and equations were never my strong suit. Being free and creative is what I believe make actors great. Also, a little nuts. One has to be to be in this business. This is also how I view culture and writing. I believe, like acting, you have to be open minded and willing to change or see things from other perspectives. Not unlike the world today, we are filled with what people tell us the way things “Need to be”. It is the creative ones who seek the truth in other opinions and ideas and are open to change. Am I inspired by a specific culture? Not really. I enjoy learning from anyone or any experience I encounter. Good or bad. I have had many different inspirations in my life from family to friends, to travel experiences, to the books I read, and from the films I watch.
You may not have been born and raised here in Orlando, but you HAVE worked for our “big cheese” in the past, which automatically makes you an official Orlandoan. We love to see Cast Members go on to big things! What is your fondest memory of your time with the Disney Cruise Line, and was this the official “turning point” that led your career into dramatics and entertainment?
I was born in La Grange, GA but grew up in Puyallup, WA (Seattle) I truly loved and continue to love what Disney does. In college at the University of Washington, I took a semester off to participate in the Disney College Program where I was a life guard at Blizzard Beach. To this day, one of the best experiences of my life. 10 years later, I continue to stay in touch with the amazing people I shared time with there. It also led me to work on the Disney Cruise Line for nearly two years after I graduated college. The fondest memories I have are with the people I met. Not only my fellow cast members but guests from all over the world. Most of my time on the ship was spent with a microphone in my hand hosting game shows and deck parties. Disney gave me an amazing confidence in knowing that I in fact could make a living in the entertainment world. But I wanted more, and to pursue that, I had to get back on dry land.
You even had a role in Walt Before Mickey! Is it safe to say that you are a genuine Disney fan? What is your favorite Disney film?
I had a small part in “Walt Before Mickey” shot here in Florida, but my scenes were cut out. It is every actors worst nightmare to end up on the cutting room floor. But that is the business. It was a great experience working with Thomas Ian Nicholas. I am a huge Disney fan and continue to visit the parks to this day! So many great films, but if I HAD to choose one as my favorite, I would go with “Beauty and the Beast”.
From Georgia to Washington – now Orlando. Why Orlando? What do you love about this town? What is your single favorite “attraction” in this land of non-stop entertainment?
Born in Georgia, raised in Washington and now living in Orlando! It has been a wild ride. Orlando has been my home for the past 9 years…geez, it has been that long?? After leaving Disney, I found constant work here in Orlando and great opportunities in film in television in the South East (LA, GA, NC, SC, FL) I have made so many great friends here and I dont feel the need to move anywhere at the moment. As long as opportunities continue to arise, I have no problem with a little bit of flying or driving to get to where I need to be. My favorite attraction here in Orlando has got to be Halloween Horror Nights. Such an amazing event!
Assuming you have experienced Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights in recent years – what are your thoughts on how they portray The Walking Dead?
I have had the amazing privilege in being cast as an actor in the “Bill in Ted Show” at Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror nights for 8 years. So many amazing shows, actors, dancers, and directors. I have seen HHN become bigger and better each and every year. This includes the addition of “The Walking Dead”. They do an amazing job at putting the guests right into the apocalyptic universe of zombies. It is great that they bring set designers and creators like Greg Nicotero down to Orlando to make sure things are as authentic to the show as possible. I will also add, that I am horrible in haunted houses. I am usually cowering behind a friend or some poor unsuspecting guest trying to avoid one of the scare-actors in the houses. Having just recently worked on “The Walking Dead” show, I look forward to seeing what they do this year and going as a guest and not as an employee of the parks.
You just visited Orlando’s newest attraction – Zombie Outbreak. From your unique perspective, is this an accurate depiction of the zombie apocalypse? Would Greg Nicotero be proud?
Zombie Outbreak on I-Drive was so much fun! They were kind enough to bring me and a couple friends in to fight some zombies. Did I mention that I am terrified of haunted houses? This had that same feel, but at least I had a gun to protect myself. It was such an adrenaline rush!!! I think Greg Nicotero and so many others would be proud of what they have accomplished with this new attraction. Hopefully they will stop by too.
You’ve landed roles on some of today’s most popular TV series – Burn Notice, Sleepy Hollow, The Vampire Diaries and The Middle – name one show you would love to add to your credits, based on your own interest as a fan?
I have been very fortunate to land a couple roles on some great shows. I always wanted to be on one of my favorite shows like Sons of Anarchy or 24 but unfortunately these shows are over. But if I could be on a current show, I would have to say “Daredevil” or “Jessica Jones”. I love what Netflix is doing and I really hope to get on a Marvel project sometime soon.
Anyone who makes it to The Walking Dead cast list HAS to feel like they’ve won a lottery of sorts. How does it feel to strike gold in modern pop culture? Is it every bit as rewarding as it seems, to be a part of such a remarkable cast?
I absolutely feel so blessed and fortunate to land a role on “The Walking Dead”. It really is a dream come true. It is a phenomenon of a show with such an amazing following and such a talented group of actors. I would have done anything to just be a walker on this show. But to get a role and be a small part of this world is truly amazing. Like so many of my friends, we work so hard and for so long to get that one line in a show or that day player role on a movie, it feels nice when hard work pays off. It hasn’t really set in on how cool or rewarding it is. I feel as though you can never sit back and say “I’m on a great show, i can relax now” If anything, it has made me more focused than I have ever been in continuing to work harder.
The Walking Dead is often described by cast and crew as being a true “family”. What was your first day on-set like? Who among the cast instantly stood out to you personally?
I was beyond nervous on my first day. I was fitted for my cast first thing upon arrival which made introductions to everyone a little awkward because I was not able to use my dominant hand. I basically high fived everyone. But everyone from the crew to the cast were extremely welcoming and made me feel like a part of their family. And they truly are a FAMILY! I have been on sets before where you show up…say a few lines and go home. You never feel welcomed. This was far from it. Everyone was genuinely kind and i remember the first day heading to lunch and feeling like “the new kid” in high school. I grabbed my lunch and sat in the corner by myself. It wasn’t very long before Lauren Cohan (Maggie) came to me and said, “Come sit with us”. I felt like I was asked to sit with the popular kids. Made all the nerves go away and I was able to relax and focus on doing my part as an actor for the show.
As a resident of Hilltop, what are your opinions on the community, and how it differs from Alexandria?
I would say Hilltop is a quiet, simple community that really has not been tested like the Alexandrian community has. We have seen the Alexandria group defy huge odds and survive so many testing situations while we still know very little about the Hilltop community. They use simple weapons and farm to survive. They have managed to stay alive only by giving in to the demands of Negan and his Saviors for protection. What is in store for Hilltop? I have no idea, and I am anxious and nervous to find out.
Obviously, any insight that you may have about the season six finale cannot be shared, and we understand that, but who would YOU think would be the most likely candidate to meet Lucille head-on (pun intended), and why? (After all of the brutality leading up to it, quite a few of our favorite people did earn it, unfortunately. If you were writing the series… who would it be?)
Who do I think Negan killed? No idea and no comment if I did know. And I dare not venture any kind of a guess. I am truly a fan of this show and am not looking forward to finding out who will be making a bloody exit.
Is there a specific type of scene you’d especially like to have in your TWD future – facing a horde, “turning”, etc.
I am not too picky in having a specific type of scene. I think the name of the game in this show is “stay alive”. That is priority numero uno. I truly hope I will get to explore more of the character of Andy and the community of the Hilltop. But again, as a fan, I can not wait to see what is ahead for all the characters and how the story progresses. As an actor, I just want to work as much as possible with these amazing people.
Who is ultimately scarier – Negan or Rick Grimes?
Rick has come so far from season one. He has really gained some “villainous tendencies”. A governor like comment “Kill them all” last season makes him scary because we have seen his character go to a darker place in the past few years. But…when Negan came out of that trailer….it was pee pee pants city a little and I was terrified. I believe Negan to be scarier only because I found myself kind of pulling for him.
Will we be seeing more of Andy in the future? If you could write his story – what path would he take – peacemaker, badass, etc.
I truly hope to see more of Andy…go figure. I like to work. Where his story goes…I have no clue? Like I said, the priority is STAY ALIVE. That is all I can hope for at this moment.
A tremendous thank you to Jeremy Palko for graciously taking the time to answer our questions! We are also pulling for more of “Andy” on The Walking Dead, as well as much more from Palko in the future! For more information on Jeremy Palko, follow him on Facebook and Twitter, or visit his official website.