Actor Scott Wilson is outside a Michigan restaurant on a phone interview in anticipation of his three-day appearance at Niagara Falls Comic Con when a car pulls over. Wilson has been recognized and the driver wants to chat. The actor patiently takes a moment with the fan.
“He was just driving by and recognized me,” Wilson said with a quiet, almost embarrassed laugh when he returns to the phone.
That instant recognition is to be expected when you played one of the most beloved characters on one of television’s biggest hits, AMC’s post-apocalyptic zombie show “The Walking Dead.”
The veteran actor, who started his film career with impressive roles in the 1967 films “In the Heat of the Night” and “In Cold Blood,” portrayed the beloved Hershel Greene, a kindly veterinarian and farmer, on the series. That he was killed off in the powerful mid-season finale of Season 4 (the show returns in September with Season 6), has not diminished his popularity, but instead endeared him even more to fans.
“The fans totally identified with Hershel and I understand that,” Wilson said. “He resonated as a father and grandfather. He had a moral compass and he also was very understanding and not judgmental of other people, but he was supportive.
“People come up to me and say things like ‘I cried when he died’ and they’ll start crying again,” Wilson continued. “He represented something to people. It’s very nice to know that your work impacts people in a way that is beneficial to them. It makes me feel good.”
That connection with fans also makes Wilson a popular draw on the convention circuit across North America. Before the Niagara Falls Convention, taking place June 4-7 in the Scotiabank Centre in Niagara Falls, Ont., Wilson spent May appearing in such cities as Denver and Dallas; in June, his itinerary includes Sacramento and Orlando. Wilson likens these appearances to old Hollywood and TV when stars traveled from town to town for film openings and mingled with fans.
“I think the public likes it. That’s why there are so many shows and why they keep springing up,” Wilson said. “And the entertainers are realizing there is a benefit to going out and saying hi to the fans. It builds a fan base.”
Wilson said he is pleased that fans recognize him for his long body of work before “The Walking Dead,” including those early films and movies like ‘The Great Gatsby” (1974), “The Right Stuff” and “Pearl Harbor.”
Mention his 1984 film “A Year of the Quiet Sun,” a lovely and bittersweet wartime romance, and Wilson is thrilled. “I loved that film,” he said. “I talked with the director for nine years about making it before we got it made. We went to Poland and it was filmed during martial law. It was quite a life experience. It’s a film that not a lot of people have seen. But it’s one of my favorite films. The reviews were more like love letters than reviews.”
After he was offered a chance to star on “The Walking Dead,” Wilson noted the impressive list of names who worked on the debut season, including executive producers Gail Anne Hurd and Frank Darabont, who also wrote and directed the first season. “Both have been involved with wonderful films and are very creative and I like their work enormously,” Wilson said. “I looked at the first season and thought that the cast was wonderful and I thought Greg Nicotero’s work with the zombies was extraordinary.”
Hershel first appeared in the second episode of Season 2 and was immediately told by then-showrunner and executive producer Glen Mazzara that he would be killed off. As the season drew near an end, Wilson recalls being nervous that his time was near an end, too.
“When the scripts were coming out for the 11th episode, I’m looking at it and I wasn’t dead. And the 12th episode, I wasn’t dead,” Wilson laughed. When he got the script for the season finale, Mazzara told him, “Look at you, you are still alive,” to which Wilson said he replied, “Yes, I am talking to my savior.”
When the call finally came from Mazzara, Wilson almost had to console him over the character’s death. “He said he didn’t want to kill me off, but I said it would be all right,” Wilson said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
In his life after “The Walking Dead,” Wilson has been reunited with Mazzara for the new A&E TV series “Damien,” a follow-up to the movie “The Omen.” Wilson also can be seen in the Amazon series “Bosch,” starring Titus Welliver. And he’ll continue to meet fans at conventions.