The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live's Matthew Jeffers breaks down [SPOILER]’s death: “That’s tricky, as an actor”

Jeffers debuts in this week’s episode as Nat, a companion for Michonne as she searches for Rick Grimes.

Matthew Jeffers as Nat - The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live _ Season 1, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Matthew Jeffers as Nat - The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live _ Season 1, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /
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In the series premiere of The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live, we focused on Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and where he’s been since he disappeared back in The Walking Dead Season 9… Ending with – spoilers past this point – him finally meeting up with his wife Michonne (Danai Gurira) again. In this week’s second episode, titled “Gone,” we flash back in time to see how Michonne got to the point where we met back up with her at the end of “Years.”

We also meet up with a few companions of Michonne’s, in the episode written by Nana Nkweti & Channing Powell and directed by Bert and Bertie. Most notably, we meet Nat, played by Matthew August Jeffers, a mechanically inclined survivor who spends a full year with Michonne in a mall after they get chlorinated by the villainous organization CRM (Civic Republic Military). And then, about two-thirds of the way through the episode… Nat dies, shot by the gun of a CRM soldier.

“I filmed my death on day two,” Jeffers told Bam Smack Pow. “That's tricky as an actor, if you don't really know your character and you're shooting the end of the story at the beginning, you're starting from behind, literally. I didn't know the shooting schedule, but that's why as an actor, it is so crucial to do your homework. It's so paramount to understanding exactly who this person is so that on any given day, when you're required to shoot the most dramatic moment, if that comes on day two, you're ready.”

To find out much more about how Jeffers helped craft the character of Nat, working with Danai Gurira on Richard III, and much more, read on.

Bam Smack Pow: I know you were in Richard III with Danai Gurira. I assume that's at least part of how you got cast on The Ones Who Live.

Matthew August Jeffers: That is how I got cast. We had a couple of scenes together and it was very clear that we worked really well together and that there was this kismet and synergy that the two of us shared onstage and offstage. And it's so interesting. I'll give you a little anecdote. I was up for my first series regular role. I was really close to getting it, it was a pretty big production, and my head was starting to kind of yo-yo like, "Oh my gosh, what is this going to do? I'm going to move to..." It was all of the things that I was feeling. And then I got a call from my agent a couple of weeks later saying that it was a respectful pass. It was just devastating as an actor feeling that close to something you want so badly. And two hours later I had to perform.

And in the warmups that day, I went up to Danai and I was like, "I feel really vulnerable right now. I'm really hurt. I was this close to something really big, and I know that you've had that journey, what was that like for you and how do you get over that?" And she offered her wisdom of it's always going to set you up for something else, and it's part of the journey, and it's not linear, it's like that. She gave some great wisdom and then walking away, she turned around. She was like, “but something's coming. I know something's coming.” And I took it as, hang in there, something will come. I had no idea that she was literally saying like, "I'm about to cast you in the Walking Dead."

So unbeknownst to me, that was beautiful. And then Scott Gimple came to one of the productions and they talked and they were like, “Let's bring him on.” It was a beautiful story of what acting can do. You can take you from 15th-century England to post-apocalyptic zombie apocalypse. It was a great journey to go on.

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Matthew Jeffers as Nat - The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live _ Season 1, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

Even with knowing Danai and having that camaraderie with her, it's a very different thing entering the Walking Dead universe. What was the first day on set and how much did she prepare you for what was about to happen?

We had a couple of table reads together. We had a couple of meetings with Danai and Scott and I. We would just go through the scripts, and what was so beautiful about that is it felt like theater because we broke it down. We went page by page. What's the subtext? What are his goals? What are the intentions? It felt more like a theater rehearsal. And so even though we weren't actually getting on our feet and rehearsing, we were really getting our fingernails dirty with what the scene was about and what the tone is and Nat's background. Scott Gimple is a walking encyclopedia of all things Walking Dead. I brought some stuff that I had created for Nat, and then he gave me some deeper backstory. It was this really rich, invigorating, informative meeting that we had together. So that a week later or two weeks later when I was out on set, I felt like I really knew who this person was.

I did my whole method thing where I created journals and really fully that's how I tend to work, is I really try to fully flesh out who this person is and find him in myself. And so by the time it got to being out in the cold in New Jersey on set, I felt as prepared as I could to tell the story.

The first few takes were really intimidating. I think the very first take is when I see the CRM and I knew that that was a really heightened moment. And so obviously every scene you want to get 10 out of 10, and sometimes there's more pressure than others. I definitely felt that, but credit to [directors] Bert and Bertie also who were so communicative and open and made me feel like I belonged on that set. And of course, as did Danai, and it was great.

Danai and I, just like Richard III, we created this ritual before every take. We would clap three times, we'd give three high fives back to back to back. Just these little moments of we're both locked in, we're both going to tell this story and, action. It's great to find those little moments together.

Well, you can really feel that from watching it. That first moment where you burst in fully formed as this character who clearly has this whole backstory behind him, so you can really feel that in that first scene. But from what you're saying, it sounds like you filmed the end first. So did you film through your death scene and then went back and filled in the rest?

Yeah. I filmed my death on day two. That's tricky as an actor, if you don't really know your character and you're shooting the end of the story at the beginning, you're starting from behind, literally. I didn't know the shooting schedule, but that's why as an actor, it is so crucial to do your homework. It's so paramount to understanding exactly who this person is so that on any given day, when you're required to shoot the most dramatic moment, if that comes on day two, you're ready.

Every show should be gifted a showrunner like Scott Gimple who has the information and the lack of ego to really sit down and hash out a story like... Scott Gimple has created this world, has been in this world for years, and here I am, pretty much a no-name coming in and telling him who I think Nat is.

Another showrunner would've been like, "No, no, no, no, no. Let me tell you who this person is and what this story is about." But working with Scott was like, "Oh, yeah, no, that's a great... Yeah, sure. Maybe Nat does do that." Every show should have a showrunner like that, that's A), that successful, and B), that collaborative, open to collaboration and sharing new ideas. And like I said, getting your fingernails dirty of what the story really is about. I experienced all of that on this show. It was really great.

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Danai Gurira as Michonne - The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live _ Season 1, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

Watching a character over the course of the episode, really falling in love with him, and then having that horrible, shocking death moment… What was that like for you knowing, ”Hey, great, I get to be part of the Walking Dead!” and two thirds of the way through the episode that's it for your character?

As an actor, selfishly, you always want to tell stories, right? You always want to continue to tell stories, but I think it's your job to tell the story that is the story, and whatever that was, I was going to go full gas.

I grew up watching The Walking Dead. I moved to New York and I'd have Walking Dead viewing parties. So to have been given the chance to step into this world with such a fully dimensional character as Nat is a gift. I'm so fortunate to have been given that opportunity.

I hope to work more with Danai in the future. She's just a beautifully talented human being. And more to come. I mean, I don't know, but I'm saying down the line, wherever I find Danai in the storytelling world, I can't wait to continue to tell stories with her. She's amazing.

I did feel a little bit of a thrill when in the episode Michonne said, "Hey, you go to Alexandria. This is where I'm sending you.” Because I started playing through all the scenarios of the characters he could interact with. Personally, I'd love to see him play with Eugene. I think that's a perfect fit. Did you have, if there was some sort of continuation or alternate reality,, some character that you'd like to see Nat interact with?

I mean, I think Rick and Nat would've made a really great duo. I say that just because I fell in love with Andy as well. Both of these, they're just great and so genuine and passionate about his work all these years later, still just showing up on day one. So yeah, I think Rick and Nat would've had some interesting interactions, but in an alternate universe.

You have that montage after they get chlorinated where they're in the mall that takes place over a course of a year or so… How intense was it to do that, with all of those different setups and costume changes?

Look, I've had a lot of surgeries over the course of my life, some life-threatening and some minor, and I am no stranger to feeling vulnerable and weak in my body. So it touched on some real pressure points for me, looking at myself in the mirror and being really bloodied and messed up. And yeah, it was intense. I mean, it was intense. It was cold and dark, and the set was right for getting into the mindset of we were just on our own and having to pull ourselves up and battle on.

Also in the middle, back to the theatricality of it all, you've got this really beautiful monologue where you reveal his whole backstory with his stepfather. I imagine a lot of that just came down to preparation and repetition, but what was it like working on that for you?

Yeah, you always dream of good writing, and when you have good writing, then it makes your job significantly easier because then it's just about delivering the lines. And I believe that this is a beautifully written episode, and that monologue was really beautiful and vulnerable and open and raw and real. It felt very real and it felt like not so distant from some things that I would say as Matthew. So yeah, it was challenging because I was acting, but it was also profoundly easy to sit around a campfire and spitball, and unzip the jacket a little bit and let people in. And I knew that that was an important moment for Nat's backstory for people to understand where he comes from and where he gets his hard edges. But again, Bert and Berties, the whole crew set me up for success, so I'm really grateful for that.

Just to wrap up here, we talked about an alternate universe scenario, but there's also the Tales of the Walking Dead prequel-type stuff. If there was a chance to see a little bit more of Nat's backstory in a one-shot special or something like that, is that something you'd be up for?

Look, I love acting, my friend. It's what I believe I was put on this earth to do, is tell stories. And so if there's ever an opportunity to tell a compelling story, I'll be in line. And I'm always game. It's a beautiful thing to offer to people.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC and AMC+.

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