Ryan Hurst joined the cast of “The Walking Dead” Sunday as a menacing new villain, Beta, who plays the right-hand man to Samantha Morton’s Alpha.
Though you can’t see his face yet on AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” you probably know Hurst for his previous roles on “Outsiders,” “Bates Motel,” and as Opie on FX’s “Sons of Anarchy.”
INSIDER spoke with Hurst about how he landed the role of Beta on “TWD,” bringing the character’s iconic look to the show; Beta’s complicated relationship with Alpha and his mask; and whether or not we’ll ever see his character ride a motorcycle on the show. (Don’t bet on that last one.)
How Hurst wound up on “The Walking Dead”: He simply asked.
Acuna: How did you come to be a part of “The Walking Dead”? What was the audition process like and how long did you know that you were going to play Beta?Hurst: You know, it’s a very strange story. I had, probably about a year ago, I had this premonition that I was going to be on the show. It was so strong that I actually called my agent and my manager, and I said, “Hey, can you call over to ‘The Walking Dead’ and tell them that I’d like to be on the show?” And they were like, “Uh, that’s not how it works. You actually have to audition.'”
And I said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, but just cold call the producers and say, ‘Hey, Ryan Hurst would like to be on the show.'” And they did. And the producers got back to them and they said, “No, he can’t be on the show right now. We’ll let you know.” Slowly but surely, a few months go by, and my agent calls me back and says, “You’re never gonna believe this but they want to offer you a role on ‘The Walking Dead.'” And I said, “You see?”
You can read more on how Hurst was cast on the show and how his pal Jeffrey Dean Morgan almost ruined the casting surprise for him, here.
Designing Beta’s look, his trench coat, and why he has gold teeth
Hurst: I’m sort of a bit of a self-diagnosed polymath. I sort of do a little bit of everything. I had a clothing design company for a very short time, so I had some ideas on how to change the look a little bit from the comic book. So Elaine, the costume designer, and I got together, sort of worked with that, and sort of worked with [executive producer and makeup supervisor Greg] Nicotero on the mask a bit with some addings. Beta has gold teeth in the show. We worked from the outside in for this guy a little bit on exactly how we wanted him to look and differ from some of the other Whisperers.
Acuna: Were the trench coat or any other additions to your character some of your ideas? Because that’s probably my new favorite clothing item for a character on the show.Hurst: We custom made the trench coat. But that’s not my addition. There’s some small little Easter eggs in his costume, if you take a look, that we sort of stole from other characters on the show. Anytime I’m designing a character, I have an image of the character as an action figure in my head. If you can shrink it down, then you can blow it up. I wanted it to be very sort of particular on certain items of his clothing. And I think we really hit the nail on the head, Elaine and the other costume designers.
At the end of the day, we all stepped back and said, “Oh wow, we created something really sort of beautiful here.” And Nicotero, when he saw the mask and the costume all put together, he said, “I’m betting right now that this is going to be the next cosplay for the coming years.” And I was like, “I think you’re right.”Acuna: Oh, certainly. You mentioned some little Easter eggs. Do you want to share what some of the inspirations were that we see on Beta?Hurst: I can’t. This early on, I can’t tell you too much. I’d ruin the surprise.Acuna: Something else that people were asking me about were the gold teeth. Is there any symbolic meaning behind those?Hurst: Symbolic meaning? Yes. But I won’t tell you too much. I always just thought, if there’s a zombie apocalypse, you’re going to need three things. One, you’re going to need, like Forrest Gump, you’re gonna need a comfortable pair of shoes. Two, you’re going to need layers. Right? Zombies can’t fight you if they can’t fight through 10 layers of clothing. And three, you gotta have good teeth. So, look, it’s a pragmatic decision outside of looking super cool. How long are you gonna survive if your teeth are rotting out of your head? So I was like, wouldn’t it be cool if this guy had gold teeth?
Did the show do anything to manipulate Hurst’s height on the show? Nope.
Acuna: In the comics, Beta is very tall. He’s about seven feet. You already tower over Samantha Morton. I think you’re 6’4″, 6’5″. But, people are wondering if the show did anything to manipulate your height at all to make you seem even taller?
Hurst: No. I mean, I do have a big set of boots on, but I think it’s just that Sam [Morton] is rather short and I’m sort of tall. But no, they haven’t manipulated anything.
Beta’s relationship with Alpha
Acuna: How would you describe Beta’s relationship with Alpha? In the comics, he’s extremely loyal to Alpha. Also, we see that on the show, even as she breaks her own rules. Is that the vibe that we should get here, is that kinda the same?
Hurst: Yeah. The way that I always describe Alpha and Beta is it’s very, very intimate, and it’s very complex. She rules with an iron fist. But if she has a safe place left in her, it’s with Beta. And she knows that, and he knows that. Outside of being her enforcer, and her consigliere, and her right hand, he’s the one who, if she has a shortcoming, he knows what it is. But for whatever reason, we don’t really get into it these first couple episodes, he is loyal to her. And exactly why that is is gonna remain a question mark for a little while.
Acuna: OK. Interesting. I was going to ask, because I kinda get this vibe a little bit, and I know that’s not how it is in the comics, but is there a romantic partnership between the two at all, or is it strictly platonic? She doesn’t seem like the type who gets caught up in romance at all.
Hurst: Well, I can’t really say too much. But as you saw in the backstory episode, she likes a man with a beard.
Acuna: That is true.
Hurst: But I can’t tell you much more than that.
How many Whisperers are there? Hundreds.
Acuna: We get to see the Whisperers makeshift home on Sunday’s episode. Do you know, or have an idea, of how many people are a part of the Whisperer group? Or a rough estimate? It’s obviously more than 10 or 20.
Hurst: I would number it in the hundreds. I would number it in the hundreds really easily.
Does Beta have a backstory? Yes.
Acuna: In the comics, Beta is very protective of his mask. He sort of seems that way so far, from what we’ve seen on Sunday’s episode. We don’t see him kill anyone who tries to take it off or anything, but is this show’s version of Beta also protective of his face and mask, or is that something that we may see moving forward?
Hurst: When I first met with Angela [Kang], the showrunner, she thought that I would have an aversion to having the mask on all the time. She was like, ‘Yeah, there might be some times when you take off the mask.’ And I was like, ‘Well, let’s talk about that.’ Because, in the comic book, he does not take off his mask. And the reasons why are never really fully explored.
I said, ‘Well, let’s discuss him actually keeping it on all of the time.’ I think that that’s such a beautiful enigma of what happens to a person after the end of the world when they decide to don the skin mask of a dead human being and keep it on all of the time. I think it’s such a beautiful mystery of who and why does somebody decide to do that? And I think, you only lessen things if you have him take off the mask. So, I think you’ll see him in that mask for a greater portion of Beta’s time on “The Walking Dead.”
Acuna: OK. And did you and Angela work together to come up with some sort of backstory for Beta? Because, as you mentioned, we really don’t know some things in the comics, especially his reasoning behind keeping that mask on all the time.
Hurst: Yeah. I can’t tell you, and I can’t tell you what the event is, but we came to a consensus. I had a really wild idea that I brought to the table, and we had a few meetings about it, and where we landed is somewhere I’m very happy about. But yeah, his backstory is solidified and hopefully we’ll start to see little bits of that at some point. But I can’t tell you more than that. It’s cool. That’s all I can say.
Will we get to see a little “Walking Dead”/”Sons of Anarchy” crossover with Beta on a motorcycle? Probably not.
Acuna: I also asked fans if they had any questions for you. They had a bunch, some of which I already asked. But one that really stuck out is, people want to know if we may ever see Beta on a motorcycle? A little nod to your “Sons of Anarchy” character.
Hurst: I don’t think that we’ll see him on a motorcycle this season. I would love… I don’t know if he’ll ever be on a motorcycle. Who knows? Maybe a moped, maybe a scooter. Maybe there’s a Segway around that you’ll see Beta just popping around on. I have no idea.
Acuna: Well maybe he can swipe Daryl’s. Although, I don’t know if there’s really any more fuel out there in the zombie apocalypse. It’s been a while.
Hurst: I know. Beta’s in a Tesla somewhere driving around.