April 25, 2024

NEW YORK, MARCH 3 (UPI) — Matthew Jeffers says that for a long time, he didn’t believe he would get to play a character as important and well-developed as Nat on The Walking Dead: The Ones That Live.

“Over the course of entertainment history, it’s really bleak for people with dwarfism. It’s pretty bleak for little people in terms of representation on screen,” Jeffers told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

“In college, I fell in love with Tyrion from Game of Thrones,” the New Amsterdam alum said, referring to the iconic character played by Peter Dinklage, who also has dwarfism.

“It was the first time in my life where I was like, ‘There does exist a fully fleshed-out, dynamic, flawed, complicated, witty, charismatic character who can lead a mega-show. That was a watershed moment. I didn’t know if it would happen to me, but it meant it could happen.”

Ten years later, Jeffers was cast in the pivotal role of Nat in the latest Walking Dead zombie-apocalypse spinoff, The Ones Who Live, airing Sundays on AMC.

Nat is a brilliant and resourceful inventor and repair man who joins a group led by Michonne (Danai Gurira) as she searches for Rick (Andrew Lincoln), her husband who went missing years earlier.

Jeffers said landing the role of Nat was like “getting the keys to an Aston Martin when you’re used to seeing 1984 Buicks.”

“It is a huge difference,” he added. “I really hope this trend continues because I think people do respond when they see genuine stories, not just tokenism. ‘Let’s put a little person here for the visual and to cross off the diversity bucket list.'”

Nat is someone who prizes loyalty above all else.

Abandoned as a child by a dad who was disappointed to have a son with dwarfism, Nat grew up angry and destructive until his stepfather, nicknamed Danger, harnessed Nat’s talents for building instead of burning.

“His father’s loyalty and love taught him how to weld and how to build and fend for himself,” Jeffers said of Danger, who didn’t survive the apocalypse.

“When he comes across Michonne, it’s like that saying ‘real recognizes real.’ He sees across the room a genuine person who is also a loner and out in the world fending for themselves, paving their own way. I think both of them see that in each other.”

Nat and Michonne have each other’s backs, but also make each other laugh.

When they are forced to part ways, Nat offers Michonne his most prized possession — a Zippo lighter Danger given to him years earlier.

“Nat passes that lighter on to Michonne, so that whenever she comes across a tough time, she can light that lighter the way he did to remind himself that there is love,” he said, adding it is a symbol of how, even a desolate landscape, people can find others and places where they feel like they belong.

Jeffers said he wants the show to remind viewers about how essential hope and community are.

“I think a lot if people feel our communities are fractured. And, ultimately, it sounds puerile, but we are one community and this exemplifies the power that we do have when we come together and decide to work together measurable progress happens,” he added.

“Yes, this is entertainment, yes this is a respite [at the end] of people’s workdays, but the goal is to change people’s lives and make them think a little differently about something and make them feel seen and not like they are alone in the world. When you have that opportunity, you should take that very seriously.”

The Walking Dead marks a reunion for Jeffers and Gurira, who worked together on the “Shakespeare in the Park” production of Richard III in New York City in 2022.

“She demands excellence,” Jeffers said of Gurira, whom he hopes to work with again in the future.

“She takes the work really seriously. She cares profoundly about the role, about the world, about telling a good story. I think that’s one of the reasons why we came together. She saw that I had very similar values in the same way that Michonne and Nat have similar values,” he added.

“It was a beautiful journey to be able to go with her. We held each other when we needed to be held and challenged each other when we needed to challenge each other.”

Jeffers also can be seen opposite Succession alum Jeremy Strong and The Sopranos icon Michael Imperioli in Amy Herzog’s reimagining of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, which is scheduled to run through June 16.

“I just finished [watching] Succession a few weeks ago. I am a huge fan of Jeremy Strong’s work and Michael Imperioli’s, obviously, so it has been a joy,” Jeffers said.

“I’ve been really fortunate in the last few years. I feel like I have been taking a master acting class of being in the room with highly, highly accomplished actors and getting to learn from them and work with them. I don’t take that for granted,” he said.

He said he is particularly enjoying the energy that comes with performing on stage in front of a live audience.

“The audience is this ‘X factor,’ this rush of adrenaline and they are as much a part of the story as the actors on stage,” he said.

“Every night is so different. It’s like going on 100 different dates. You communicate differently. It’s an added challenge.”

2024 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This story was originally published March 3, 2024, 9:01 PM.

source: star-telegram

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