Actor Chad L. Coleman, who plays Tyreese on AMC’s The Walking Dead, talks about learning his own survival skills and why he’s a natural mediator between Rick’s people and the Governor’s.
Q: You’re one of many new characters on-set this year. What helped you get up to speed?
A: Well, Danai [Gurira] and I had done Broadway together; August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan. So we already had a relationship and that helped. But everybody was just amazingly good people. It was just easy that way. Many of them were fans of The Wire, and on some level it helps when people appreciate what you do and know your work.
Q: Who would you rather have by your side in the event of the apocalypse: Cutty, your character from The Wire, or Tyreese?
A: If I had to choose one I would choose Tyreese. Cutty had a chance to find himself, but he also has a sense of his own limitations. With Tyreese, I really feel the sky’s the limit. Cutty says all I can really do is be in the gym and try to help these kids if they come. He recognized certain restrictions in himself, and I don’t see that in Tyreese, who’s a bona fide leader that can probably find his footing in any situation.
Q: Are your survival skills in any way comparable to Tyreese’s?
A: I spent four years in the United States Army between 1985 and 1989, and I certainly learned how to survive out in the woods. I served at the Pentagon and at Fort Leavenworth — my job was video cameraman, and that allowed me to travel to places like Korea, Japan, Alaska, Germany and the Netherlands. But for my training, I learned everything: firing M-16s, working with grenades, bivouac, first-aid, concealment, doing the low-crawl, working around barbed wire, rappelling. You name it, we did it.
Q: Do you have a sister, and if so, are you two at all similar to Tyreese and Sasha?
A: I got four sisters. They’re all very fierce. In terms of my baby sister, yeah, she’s a very strong-willed lady and I can certainly see some aspects of her in the character. She’s going to assert herself and I’m going to gently correct. Now, Sonequa [Martin-Green] is also very much her own woman and I love that. If you watch, you’ll see us checking in with each other; I don’t just play her straight as a baby sister. We’re a team. I just felt like a natural bond with this young lady from the beginning.
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Q: Tyreese has spent time getting in with both camps of apocalypse survivors. Are you the type of person who can fit in with different groups of people?
A: I find myself in situations like that all the time. I’ve always been a person who tries to build bridges and not walls. Whether it’s my ex-wife and my step-son, or my daughter and my ex, I’m that guy in the middle and I try to make sure we all stay together. I think that honestly when you grow up in a foster home, in one respect you learn to sit back and observe. You start to understand a lot about human behavior. For me, it’s incredibly important that we find a way to co-exist in a peaceful way. You live to fight another day and live to fight in a different way.
Q: Tyreese is a former football player. Is that another thing you share with him?
A: When I graduated from high school I was 5’8” 140 pounds. The talent was there and I had done really well in drama. But I was running track then; the mentality is that you’re small so you should run long distances. But for Tyreese, I didn’t have to worry too much about the physical part too much. If you go look in the graphic novel at the way he looks, I’m pretty close to looking like him.