Željko Ivanek says his ‘Walking Dead: Dead City’ villain learned showmanship from Negan


Željko Ivanek stars in "The Walking Dead: Dead City." Photo courtesy of AMC

Željko Ivanek stars in “The Walking Dead: Dead City.” Photo courtesy of AMC

NEW YORK, June 18 (UPI) — Oz and Madam Secretary actor Željko Ivanek says the Croat, the villain he plays in the new zombie-apocalypse drama The Walking Dead: Dead City, learned a lot of his leadership style from the franchise’s favorite baddie, Negan.

Premiering Sunday on AMC, Dead City is a six-episode spin-off that follows The Walking Dead enemies Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffery Dean Morgan) as they reluctantly team up and travel to post-apocalyptic Manhattan in search of Maggie’s teen son Hershel (Logan Kim).

Hershel was kidnapped by the Croat, a violent man Negan influenced years earlier when he was leader of the Sanctuary community and murdered Hershel’s father Glenn (Steven Yeun) with a baseball bat in front of pregnant Maggie.

He has been seeking his own redemption and Maggie’s forgiveness since.

“Everyone is in pursuit of safety and protection and they go about it in very, very different ways. Armstrong uses law and order and I use fear and intimidation,” Ivanek told reporters about his character in a recent Zoom roundtable interview.

“The world is such a fearsome place. You’re looking for your allies and to protect your own,” he added. “It becomes about how far are you willing to go in pursuit of that and how far are you willing to divide up the world into ‘us’ and ‘them?'”

Ivanek’s favorite part of the Croat’s personality is his sense of humor.

“It’s a little grim. It’s a little dark. But I think it’s so much part of his character,” he said.

“So much of what he learned from Negan is just how showmanship plays a role in being a leader and holding people together,” the actor added. “It adds layers to it. [The Croat] is not just the big bad.”

Gaius Charles from Roswell, New Mexico and Grey’s Anatomy plays Perlie Armstrong, the cop trying to put Negan behind bars for killing numerous humans, in Dead City.

“I want to bring him to justice,” Charles said.

“He’s got a long rap sheet. I think it’s cool that we are using law and order to try to re-establish the world,” he added. “That becomes a huge obstacle for Negan and for a lot of people in this world where right and wrong isn’t clear.”

Armstrong gets more than he bargained for when he tracks Negan into New York City and crosses paths with the Croat, however.

“One of the things I find that makes [the Croat] so dangerous and so threatening is he can see through people’s facades. He can see through to people’s vulnerabilities,” Charles said. “Somebody who has that high-level psychological manipulation is very dangerous.”

Charles loves that his own character is a family man trying to do the right thing under dire circumstances.

“Here’s a guy who has a wife and kids, but you also see in a scene early on he is trying to mentor the junior marshall,” Charles said. “You see this guy beyond, ‘He’s a tough guy, he’s law and order.’ He’s a guy with a heart, too.”

NCIS: Hawai’i alum Mahina Napoleon plays Ginny, a mute girl whom Negan has taken under his wing.

“Ginny brings out a different point of view for fans, a different side of Negan and Maggie,” Napolean said.

“A lot of fans think that Maggie is the hero and Negan is the villain, but I think that Ginny brings a totally opposite and different perspective.”

Ginny doesn’t really interact directly with the Croat, but he still impacts her.

“He has a really big history with Negan,” Napolean said. “That can play a part in all of our stories.”

The wildly popular flagship show, which was based on a graphic novel series created by Robert Kirkman, wrapped its 11-season run last year. The spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, is now in its eighth and final season.

“I’ve not been a part of anything that had that kind of fanbase going into it. Joining after so many years of success, that was an incredible thing,” Ivanek said.

“You’re creating an alternative world. It’s in the storytelling. It’s in the physical world. It’s in every aspect of the show,” he said. “It was interesting to be doing this during COVID time because of how much it suddenly seems to be not so far off or far-fetched.”

Charles was excited to add new types of characters and locations to the well-established franchise, which up until now, has taken place largely in the rural American South and West, not in a large Northeastern city.

“The whole law-and-order marshall character and the whole community I’m from, we really haven’t seen this kind of perspective,” he said. “I felt they added something new and interesting.”

Napolean enjoyed showing the first couple of episodes to an audience at the Tribeca Film Festival last week.

“It was really crazy to see how many fans are extremely interested in everything,” she said. “It was really cool to be a part of that.”

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