Jon Bernthal plays Shane Walsh, former colleague and best friend to Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). In season one, he became close to Rick's wife Lori, who believed her husband to be dead. Shane didn't survive very long in the comic books that the TV show is based on, but now he's a main character in the TV adaptation.
Clearly he's loved by former showrunner Frank Darabont, who made the TV show a success and kept Shane alive, despite the hordes of infectious zombies biting their way through the characters. He's also beloved by bugs that have given the actor a hard time this summer in rural Georgia, where The Walking Dead has set up camp for season two.
"Bugs have always loved me. I'm not going to show you my legs, you'll probably throw up but they eat me, they love me. I have my dogs and when I first got here I was sleeping in bed with myself and my two giant pitbulls and about 350 ticks a night. So that was pretty nasty. Now my wife's here and she's keeping us all clean," he explains.
It's not because of the bugs that Bernthal has a shaven head today. Apparently it's because of something that happens to his character Shane in season two that he cannot reveal. At the start of the interview he's wearing a grey hoodie over his head, looking like he's hiding from crew members who are filing into the room.
He has a boxer's nose to match the hoodie and wears black jeans and large black boots. Friendly and upbeat, the only awkward moment in the interview is when the subject of season two's problems arise. Frank Darabont, clearly much admired by Bernthal, departed the show at the start of filming this season and the reason behind it is not open for discussion, journalists are warned.
What has the influence of the South brought to you?
"You know, I love the South. I used to play baseball and I played in a league that was down here in the South and I think that being in Georgia, Georgia is such a pertinent part of our show. I think the show needs to be set here. There's sort of like this milky, thick, green atmosphere to the woods here and a redness to the clay that I think is so a part of this show. This crew is the best crew in the world. It's a real Georgian crew.
"I think the extras and the background people that work on this show it's so important that they're Georgian. The show takes place there, this is a Southern story, I think it's vital to the story and I think that we're really blessed to shoot it down here. I also think it's better almost to just get the f**k out of LA. We can be together and be away from the bulls**t. Especially with all the bulls**t that's gone down this year [Frank Darabont leaving]. I think it's so good that we can all have this little camp here and this mentality.
"I mean, this year we're not in Atlanta. We're down here, we're far away from everything. I think it's vital to the show. And the heat and the bugs and the sunsets and the trees - it's all Georgia. It's a Southern show. I think historically, not to get too deep, historically if you look at the South and the history of the South there's something about it, there's something renegade and there's something rebellious about this show, about this group going out on their own and I think it really plays, it's essential. It's essential to be here."
Will any of the darkness on set be reflected on the show, will this season be darker than season one?
"Do I think it's going to be darker than season one? The second part of your question, yes. The first part of your question I'm not sure if I understand. But I do think it will be darker this season than season one."
Does any of the troubled time on set bleed into the show?
"Yeah, look, we're living, breathing creatures so everything kind of bleeds in but like I said I'm so proud and I still believe in everything that happened this year, in between action and cut. I think that everyone is bringing it to a different level than they brought it last year. And we all, I think, have fought as hard as we can to make sure that everything that goes on camera, that all the work is protected and we're all going for it with everything we've got and we're not gonna let anything that's happening on the outside take away from that.
"That's our focus, that's our concentration, that's why we're here. But, yeah, I think probably in a lot of ways it makes it better. I mean, I know that things happening in my personal life, having a baby, it greatly influences how I play this part and what I brought. So I think it's impossible not to."
Watch the trailer for season two of The Walking Dead:
Can you talk about the level of gore this season and your stunts?
"Greg Nicotero (special effects make-up supervisor) is the best in this business and I never was... I did dig horror movies as a kid. I've never been a big gore guy. I've never been a huge genre guy in that way but Greg has really changed my opinion. I look at the gore on the show, I look at what it is and I find it beautiful unbelievable well-made art.
"I love what Greg and his team do and it blows me away how realistic and how subtle it is. I know that's a very weird word to associate with gore. It's not simply blood getting thrown everywhere. The wounds are very specific and subtle and nuanced and these guys are so incredible in what they do. I had to get slapped by one of the actresses who just for the life of her could not get it on the right line. I used to be a boxer but she slapped the heck out of me (laughs) and that felt like a stunt. A lot of running and jumping and falling and stuff like that."
What's Shane's journey this season?
"At the end of season one, you find him... the word I would use to describe him most would be lonely. I think he's extremely lonely. I think being in this world anyway you have to face loneliness, all these characters do. They have all clearly lost a lot of people. They are all, to varying degrees, on their own.
"I think Shane's loneliness is its own sort of biting version that can really drive a man to act out. I think it can drive a man to be the best that a man can be and the worst that they can be. There's two kinds of loneliness. There's the kind of loneliness when you are very far away from the people you love or the people you love are dead. And they're gone and you ache for them. I think there's another kind of loneliness surrounded by the people that you love but you can't be with them the way that you want to.
"I think we've all had that experience of being in junior high school and loving a girl or loving a guy and they just don't want you back and you sit there and you pine. I think that's what he's going through. The people he loves most in the world from before the apocalypse are still not only very much healthy they are very much surrounding him. Rick, Lori and Carl (Grimes family). They're all there. But these relationships will forever be tainted. They'll forever be different.
"I think there's an impending sense of doom that they will never be quite how he wants them to be and they'll never even go back to the way that they were. But they are right there and he has to deal with them every single day. So, I think, when you come from a place of real loneliness I think you'll see the best of Shane and you'll see the worst of him."
Shane can be seen as a bad guy but Lori and he thought her husband was likely dead. Shane was a colleague of Rick's and...
"A friend... I don't look at anything that he does as 'bad guy'. Frank (Darabont) and I at the beginning set out to say, look, in the (comic book) character he kind of comes across as a bad guy and we want to avoid that, at all costs.
"With anything where the writing is good and as rich as the work these writers turn out... every single person in this story, just like in any good story, they are all acting, doing what they think is right in the circumstances that they face. I don't think that Shane ever does anything maliciously bad. I really don't think he's a bad guy.
"There will be times that we find him in desperate situations. There will be times when he acts out but he's always going under the banner of trying to do the right thing, trying to be a good friend, trying to be a good man, trying to keep people safe. I think what's really interesting about Shane in this season... in season one he's the first once to start discovering the new rules of the society in which they live in.
"There's the scene where he beats Ed (Peletier) by the side of the water and the way that was written - I'll never forget the way Frank wrote that, he said, 'This should not look like a TV beating. It should look like a man possessed. It should look like a man who takes it too far.' And I think he discovers while he's hitting this guy, you know what, there's no reason to stop.
"I kinda like this. Oh my god, there's no rules here. And I think he revisits that same sort of phenomenon when he's got the gun trained on Rick (in season one). He realises in this moment there's no police, there's no law and order. I can do whatever I want. And when you have that mix with this guy that's coming from this place of extreme loneliness and this guy that thinks all hope is lost in terms of his love, and he'll never have a family,
" I think that's really where this season takes him. It takes him to some incredibly dangerous places. Not bad, not being a bad guy, I think what it does is he realises in this that there's a new world order and things like shame and guilt, doing the right thing and being moral, those things become less and less important to Shane and I think he thinks they are less and less necessary in this new world.
"Things like survival, fighting and making hard decisions those become kind of paramount. He really, out of all the characters in the story he changes the most and becomes a product of this new world. As an actor it's challenging, it's quenching, it's great stuff to dive into.
He's changed physically as well seeing as you have shaved your hair off...
"Yeah that's all part of it as well. There are a few other physical, visual changes that you'll see with him. I don't think any of it really... it's cool, it's not... they were really smart with these changes. They weren't the kind of changes where, Shane's gone off the deep end let's just make him look different. They're all plot points. He shaves his head for a very specific reason. The other changes which I can't tell you about all happen for very specific reasons. So this season is very much about him changing and becoming a product of this new world."
Can you talk about the effect moving to the isolated Hershel's Farm this season has on the survivors?
"Look, in season one you saw a group of survivors living, they had a home. It might be temporary, it might be shoddy and it might not be extremely safe but the camp was a place that for some period of time they had some relative safety, food and water. They started to develop some sort of community.
"I think the scariest thing that can happen to you in this kind of situation where there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide is also being without a base, without a home. I'll think we'll see very quickly in this season that when these characters are on the run, when they don't have a home they'll lose people. It's dangerous. There's no way you can survive without it.
"So the farm represents this unbelievable safe haven, this unbelievable opportunity that they thought they would never have again: not only home and shelter but safety and water and food and home-cooked meals. And other people who are living safely. But just like everything else in the zombie apocalypse things are never exactly what they appear. And we see time and time again on this show, the second these people start to let their guard down in any way it just brings on more and more danger.
"Also, what's conversely interesting about the farm is that when these characters get a chance to breathe and to live and let their guards down and the zombies don't become an immediate threat I think it gives an opportunity for the characters to get way, way more dangerous towards each other.
"The whole first season takes place during, what, three days? People are reeling, they are literally minute to minute trying to stay alive. As soon as you have a second to breathe and look around and take each other in, emotions start coming into play: jealousy, lust, desire - these things, the human condition starts to have an effect on each other. The people will start becoming way more dangerous to each other than the zombies."
Has your acting work made your character, Shane, survive the TV show far longer than he does in the comic?
"Do I think it's because of what I've done? Yes. It's true. (laughs) No, when I first read the comic, I read the pilot script of this and it blew me away. It was the best pilot I ever read. I'm relatively new in my acting career. I went to school to study acting for a long time in Russia, and I was doing a lot of plays in New York. So I'm relatively new to acting in television and film and this was the first year of my career where I actually got jobs, a regular on TV shows.
"But I read this pilot and I loved it so much I turned down those other shows because I hadn't auditioned for this yet. As a young actor starting out you say yes to everything (laughs). It's quite a desperate situation. But I loved this so much I couldn't say yes to anything until I had my day in court, so to speak, for this. So then when I got this job after it blew me away how much I loved it and I met Frank Darabont, one of the most talented filmmakers our country has, then to open the source material and realise that you die in the very first chapter... (laughs).
"You know, it's weird, it didn't concern me much, I trusted in this story and I trusted in Frank so much, I kind of had the attitude going in that whatever happens here happens. It's very rare you get on a show with a cast this wonderful and a story this great you believe in. Then you get onto a network that is turning out the best stuff on TV, so it was very hard for me because here's a show that I love so much and you wait your whole lifetime to be on a show like this and then to find out, okay, you're going to be gone first.
"But I think that because I believed in everybody so much, I don't want to sound like a pretentious, douchey actor but I really look at myself as a soldier to the story and whatever happens with Shane if it's going to serve the story that he needs to die, then I will happily sacrifice, if it serves the overall thing. As far as it going in a different direction than the comic he's obviously been alive way longer than in the comic.
"I think Frank really looked at the source material and said, there's something there. This is really the story about two friends, that's a huge part of what this thing is. It's two friends, and how does friendship endure, not just how does humanity endure and how does love endure and family endure and how does friendship endure? And how does friendship endure when you test it on every single level? At what point does jealousy and betrayal and anger seep into this relationship that never would have under other circumstances. And can friendship prevail?
"I think that's what's so cool about our show's take on the comic. It just holds a microscope up to every little bit. It says really, here's a little wound that's been opened up in the comic, now let's dig it out. Let's dig in there and make it as ugly and hard and tough to deal with... The comic was always a way of holding a mirror up to society and saying, what do you do when all your creature comforts are gone, everything you take for granted is gone. What do you do? That's what the comic does and what I think this does is examines it in a more brutal, more biting and in a more in-depth way. I think Frank always wanted to make Shane explore it a little bit more. We'll see. I'm happy he made that choice because I love my job."
Do you practice your zombie walk just in case?
"(laughs) No, man. No, I do not. I'm not interested in becoming a zombie. But if I'm asked, I'll study up and I'll get it down, yeah."
The Walking Dead premieres tonight (Sunday) on AMC at 9/8c. It airs in the UK on Friday, October 21 on FX.