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We Give Jon Bernthal of The Walking Dead a Heavy Dose of Hard Questions

On AMC's zombie opera The Walking Dead,Jon Bernthal plays Shane Walsh--the former partner and best frenemy of Rip Van Winkled cop Rick Grimes. In celebration of season 2 (which flies to your flatscreen this Sunday, October 16), Bernthal dropped by Maxim HQ to talk about simulating on-screen sex, what zombie blood tastes like, and why he hell his head is shaved. 

So, I saw the first episode of the new season. It’s awesome, bloody as hell.
Yeah, right?

You guys  really upped the gore factor.
I think so. I think in the first episode you sort of catch us on the run and I think that being on the run in a zombie apocalypse, you don’t have a home, I think it just makes things very very dangerous. I think it is sort of a high octane, action-packed beginning. But what’s cool is they find this temporary safe haven in the second episode and when things slow down for a second and the relationships are allowed to play a little bit and things start to get really dangerous between human and human, and not just human and zombie.

So you know you guys have a lot of blood splattered on yourselves. What did that blood taste like?
Um, its like sugary, a lot of sugary, like corn syrup-type stuff.

Do you guys have like a blood guy, a guy who makes the blood?
Well, there’s a guy named Greg Nicotero, who’s just a fuckin' genius. He’s the best in the business. He won the Emmy last year. He does all big movies and shit and like what’s cool to me, is that really it’s become art and, it’s beautiful. That being said, I mean, call me a douche bag method actor, whatever, but I fucking hate Zombies. I hate them. I hunt them all day, I’m being chased by them and I’m chasing them. So when I go to press events and publicity events and there’s like dudes paid to be zombies for the day and they come creepin' and I’m like "Hey man, just stay away from me, alright?" I get totally method on them.

So I heard you used to be like a pro baseball player?
Ah, yea, I mean you can call it that. I played baseball in college and then I went to Russia to study acting and played some pro ball over there.

So did the baseball bat swing skills come in handy with the zombies?
Yea man, I guess they do I guess they do. I never was much of a hitter.

But you had the form down.
I got the form down. I guess that’s all that matters.

You’re in this love triangle through all of the first season going into the second. It seems like one of the reasons is that there aren’t that many eligible women around in the apocalypse.
That’s what I thought I was like: "What’re you gonna do?"

You know, I'm spoiling a little bit of it I guess, but in the second episode your guy talks about running off to avoid this issue. Does he think he's gonna find any women anywhere else?
That’s a really good question, man. I think that really is part of this thing. In this world, do you have hope of finding somebody else? And I think what’s weird is that the people that were most important to him in the world before the zombie apocalypse are still alive. It’s just that the relationships are forever tainted and forever screwed up for an extended period because of what went down. But yea, I think having that sort of taste of what his best friend’s wife (?) was like in that way messes things up.

Taste?
Yeah. Well I think it’s something he never thought about before and now that he’s had it and, you’re right, there’s not that much out there. I think that that probably plays into the extreme feelings that he has toward her. You know, there’s really not that much other opportunity out there.

So I see your head’s shaved, is that for something in the show?
Yes.

Spoiler?
You’ll see man. It’s very messed up. It’s messed up what happens. Just sayin'

So far this season, it seems like they’re taking the fact that  the show is getting these great reviews and is critically loved as almost an excuse to put in as much blood as they can. Like: "Hey, we’re nominated for Emmys so we can do what we want to do."
As far as violence and gore’s concerned, there’s no holds barred. You can show literally whatever you want. You can have little girls getting their heads blown off, you can get people getting stabbed in the eye, but when it comes to sex, like last year with my scene of when Sarah Wayne Callies and I are in the woods, they’re so strict about not showing any nipple or any ass crack. And the most important thing is that you can simulate sex but you’re not allowed to thrust with your hips.

No thrusting.
I had just met her for the first time. So the first scene is in the woods and, again, not to be all method, but I don’t know how to turn my hips off and I just had producers and directors screaming at me in the middle of the scene: "No thrusting! No thrusting!" 

No thrusting.
No thrusting.

So what was it like meeting someone for the first time and then having to simulate having sex with them?
Well I had met her a little bit before and she’s such a game actress. She’s such an awesome, just bad-ass actress who I love working with and I know her husband really well and he’s a great guy. There’s literally  no weirdness between us at all. So we were actually able to do something really cool with that scene and there’s a lot of trust there so it was pretty awesome. But it is hard to just turn off the thrusting thing because you’re trying to get into it and you’re body wants a response so to try and turn off your hips in that moment is a very hard thing to do.

So do you personally like slow zombies or fast zombies? Which one?
I think slow zombies are way creepier. Not to sound like a douche-y film critic, but I think that zombies have always sort of served as a metaphor for whatever sort of plight is ailing society at the time. Whether it’s racial injustice or the nuclear holocaust or a natural disaster. So zombies, are a slow-moving, all-encompassing, ever-present threat, and I think that for it to be slow and creeping and always there is so much more scary and daunting then one that just sort of runs at you.

It’s sort of hard to classify The Walking Dead zombies as either. It's like they’re slow, and then they’re fast?
Well, the closer they get to food, they faster they get.

Exactly. And in a real Zombie Apocalypse how do you think you’d handle yourself?
Man, I don’t know. Everyone asks that. I feel like I’d do alright. And I think the show has prepared me for it a little bit.

It's good training.
Yeah, right? But the one thing that I know is that as soon as I would start seeing those weird news stories on the news about an outbreak here and outbreak here, I would hightail it and get to some place safe. I would definitely not wait around.

They should make a movie like The Three Amigos where an actual zombie apocalypse comes and they get the actors who played survivors in a zombie movie.
Yeah! Nice.

In the show, you guys have these guns but  can’t always use them since they make too much noise. So are we going to get to see some really creative ways of offing zombies?
Yeah. What’s really cool is that in the first episode, they find this set of knives and there’s like hatchets, machetes, axes.That really comes in handy as far as decapitating and eye-stabbing and brain-puncturing.

So I’m trying to find out the zombie rules for the show, it seems like your characters get a lot of blood on them. So the blood doesn’t cause infection?
No it doesn’t. It doesn’t.

It’s kind of a tooth-borne illness then?
Yeah, you have to be bit.

At the end of last season, Rick gets whispered something mysterious by the doctor. Is it going to be like one of those Lost In Translationthings where we just impose our own thoughts on it, or are they going to actually tell us what was said?
I think you’ll think it’s one thing, but by the end of the season you’ll find out what it really is.

You character has already lived a lot longer than in the comic books. When you went into the show did you think you were going to die sooner?
Well, you know how it is. You get a gig like this that’s so awesome and you’re working with Frank Darabont and it's AMC and its just this show that you love so much. And you go to the source material and realize that you bite it on like the third page. So that was a very daunting thing. But they decided to keep me around and I’m super grateful for it and I think what they figured out was that the relationship between these people is a sort of open wound. So keeping me around is just cutting into it and it just makes it so much more dangerous and way more complicated. So I think that ultimately it was the right choice and I’m grateful for it.

I read on Wikepedia that you’re cousins with the wrestler Kurt Angle?
You know, my blood cousin is Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne, but Kurt is my wife’s uncle.

So did you go to a lot of wrestling events?
I have gone to a lot of wrestling events and Kurt is a great guy. 

So are you a little traumatized from all the zombies all around you? Do you feel like you're always on guard?
You know man, I hate them. I hate zombies.


Follow Seth Porges on Twitter: @sethporges