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February 15, 2016

Life Among the Undead

Even in the face of a zombie apocalypse, Ross Marquand finds something good in his role on The Walking Dead.

Anna Johnston

Ross Marquand, who plays Aaron in The Walking Dead, would love to be more like his character, presumably without the zombie apocalypse to contend with.

Introduced in a season five episode titled “Them,”  Aaron is a good-hearted and charitable character who strives to see the good in people, despite the adversity he has faced his entire life for being gay, and the atrocities he has seen even prior to the zombie apocalypse.

Based on a comic book series of the same name, The Walking Dead follows former Sherriff’s deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) as he, his son and their small group of survivors attempt to endure the zombie apocalypse by fighting off the hoards, while competing with other survival groups.

Marquand's character Aaron is a former recruiter for the Alexandria Safe-Zone, a community that has been untouched by the surrounding apocalypse. Aaron eventually finds Rick’s group and brings them into the Safe-Zone, where he befriends and trains Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) to replace him as a recruiter.

Marquand was welcomed to the cast of The Walking Dead in 2015 as a recurring role. In the current season,  Aaron has become a main character in the ensemble cast and is tightly connected to the main group.

Marquand describes his role, “Aaron is the never-ending optimist of the group.  He’s a fascinating person because he feels very comfortable going into high pressure, dangerous situations and diffusing them.”

Given Aaron’s nature and his survival skills, developed from years living and working as a politico in dangerous situations in the Niger River Delta, Aaron is a valuable asset to the community and the main group. Marquand explains, “[Aaron]’s a fighter, a strong fighter, and he will not hesitate to defend the people that he loves.”

To help prepare for his role, Marquand first met with the costume designer, delved into Aaron’s background as an abused child and former politico, and worked on the voice.

“Every time I approach a new role, I need to think about where they came from, what part of the world they were born in and where they were raised because that’s all going to influence not only their background, but also the voice. And, for me as an impressionist, that’s the most important thing to tackle before anything else,” he explained.

He added, “The voice is so important to creating a fully fleshed out, believable three-dimensional character.  If I don’t have a handle on the voice, I really feel lost on the character.”

Marquand also explained that he and Jordan Woods-Robinson, the actor who plays Aaron’s boyfriend, Eric, got together to work on elaborate backstories about how the two met and what drives them to do what they do.

He said that now that he’s done the character work and created the foundation, “It’s great to come to set with all of that in the back of my head. That’s the great thing about TV, that you get to develop your character over time.”

When asked if he is anything like the Safe-Zone recruiter, Marquand responded, “I do share his never-ending optimism, even though it gets me in trouble sometimes. I like to see the good in people. No matter what, I always believe that you can find goodness in people, and that’s a trait that Aaron and I share the most.”

Of all his roles, Marquand said, “Truthfully, I feel closest to Aaron. I mean, he’s just one of those guys you want to be like because he’s such a good person.”

Marquand said that he also drew on experience from his own life. As the youngest of three boys growing up in Colorado, he said that he was beat up quite a bit by his brothers. Because of this, he found that he was a particularly gifted performer. “I found early on that one thing that would get them to stop picking on me was to entertain them, so it kind of grew from there,” he explained.

That realization helped Marquand, because it steered him toward his passion at a young age. He said, “I did a lot of acting work for church. I just loved the shared storytelling aspect of being with your friends and family and really sharing in something that’s bigger than yourself.”

He added, “It was a pretty clear cut decision of what I wanted to do since age 7 or 8.”

Marquand plans to continue with The Walking Dead for as long as possible. He also has two additional roles coming up in 2016. He recently finished working on an animated short called Sheep and Wolves with Ruby Rose and Tom Felton. He also appears in a guest role for the show Deadbeat, starring Tyler Labine and Kal Penn.

The young actor is grateful to have found his place on television. Marquand said, “It’s such a wonderful era that we live in. TV really has become, in the last 10 years, the litmus test for quality. Movies are still being made, of course, but all the exciting stuff is happening on TV.”

Marquand said he will continue to strive to be like The Walking Dead’s Aaron. He said, “There are really wonderful people in this world… even if they’ve made you believe that they’re not worth trusting. [Aaron]’s a great character and I continue to love playing him. He’s just fascinating.”

He added, “I aspire to be more like Aaron. He’s always the good guy; he’s always trying to do what’s best for humanity and for the people that he loves and wants to take care of.”

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