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Name: Ross Marquand
Cool Hand Ross: Marquand portrayed actor Paul Newman in a 2013 episode of Mad Men
By the time you read this, there’s a chance Ross Marquand will have experienced a violent, gory death. Well, not Marquand but Aaron, the character he plays on The Walking Dead. Unexpected, blood-spurting ends are kind of a theme of the AMC zombie drama, cable TV’s highest-rated series. But even if Marquand meets an early demise, The Walking Dead, which concludes its sixth season this month, has injected life into the Littleton native’s once-moribund career. Since debuting on the series last year, Marquand has starred in Impress Me, a Pop TV show about impressionists trying to make it as dramatic actors, and grabbed headlines for his celebrity-impression videos. With Marquand poised to break big, we caught up with the University of Colorado Boulder alum to discuss impressions, surviving Los Angeles, and zombie-killin’.
5280: How did you develop your gift for impressions?
Ross Marquand: As a defense against my brothers. They used to beat the crap out of me when I was a kid. If I could make them laugh, they’d ease up on me.
I’ve seen you labeled as an actor and a comedian. As a theater major at CU, did you study drama or comedy?
The wonderful thing about CU was we were all over the place, everything from Bertolt Brecht to Neil Simon. It was a wonderful blend of comedic and dramatic acting.
You moved to Los Angeles after graduating from college in 2004. What were your first years in LA like?
It mostly consisted of doing survival jobs. Cater-waitering. Medical studies. You name a terrible job, I did it. I had to limit myself to $12 a week to live on, and that wears on your spirit after a while.
What was the strangest medical study you took part in?
The last one I ever did was for MRSA [infections], to test the efficacy of a drug. I got so sick. It started with 20 people. At the end there were just four of us left. We were a mess.
So things were pretty dire before you got The Walking Dead gig?
Actually, I was a month away from taking an indefinite break from acting and moving to New York City to pursue art and photography, which are other big passions of mine.
One of the best parts of the show is the innovative ways people kill zombies. Do you have a favorite?
The license plate kill. There’s something about swinging a license plate repeatedly into a zombie’s head that was so satisfying. The stunt performer I worked with did a really good job of knowing the physics of the hit. That’s really what sold it. It’s such a ridiculous way to kill a zombie, but I love it. It’s so much fun.
Aaron enters the series during season five. He’s not the first gay character, but producers definitely shined a spotlight on his sexuality. What sort of reaction did you get?
There was a backlash that I was quite surprised by. But I love when I go to conventions now and people say, “At first I didn’t like your character. I didn’t know if I could trust him. But now I really like him.” Aaron challenges people’s perceptions about what it means to be gay.
The Walking Dead is known for killing characters off. Did you think your character, Aaron, would get whacked quickly?
They follow the comics that inspired the show to some degree, and my character is still alive in the comics. But it’s kind of up to the producers’ discretion. I try not to worry about that so much, because I think it interferes with the job.
Make a prediction: Which Walking Dead character dies next?
Oh, I’m not going to play that game. That’s a surefire way to lose some friends.