Cooper Andrews relishes role as Jerry on ‘The Walking Dead’

Cooper Andrews as Jerry – The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 3 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Posted Monday, November 13, 2017 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his MyAJC Radio & TV Talk blog

In a show like “The Walking Dead” packed  with ultra-serious drama and gore, light-hearted characters are few and far between. King Ezekiel’s human sidekick Jerry fit that mold when he first appeared last season, a goofy, cobbler-loving big dude who seemed more likely to hug you than kill you.

The role, despite its relatively modest size, stood out and became Dunwoody High School graduate Cooper Andrews‘ big acting break. Though he moved to Los Angeles two years ago, he has spent most of his 32 years in Atlanta.

“I love this part,” said Andrews in an interview Saturday before he left to see Jim Gaffigan at Philips Arena. “The fan in me was really really trying to make this character special without taking up all this space… I know it’s an ensemble. I’m like the pretty mailbox in a picture with a big house and yard. I’m that guy.”

On Sunday night’s episode, Jerry survived the massacre of the Kingdom by the Saviors in time to save his majesty. And he got to use that axe of his in a serious way, literally splitting a Savior in half.

“He is a kid in the candy store getting to swing that axe!” said Khary Payton (King Ezekiel) on “Talking Dead” this past Sunday.

Khary Payton as Ezekiel, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Cooper Andrews as Jerry – The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 4 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

A relative acting neophyte, Andrews said this episode was the first time he really felt like he captured what he wanted. “I gave 120 percent,” he said. It was a grueling week, he said, given the circumstances but he also enjoyed the action.

As for Jerry himself, Andrews has chosen not to spend much time filling in his character’s back story in his head.

“In order to be happy in this world, Jerry’s learned to move on,” Andrews said. “I didn’t want him carrying any ghosts.” Jokingly, he tells folks he owned a cobbler delivery truck or trained Pee Wee football before the zombie apocalypse.

Fellow Atlantan Lil Jon, who was guesting as a super fan on “Talking Dead” this past Sunday, thinks Jerry was a Waffle House cook pre-apocalypse: “He’s so jolly and happy. Wouldn’t you want to eat his food?”

Born on Long Island, Andrews moved to Atlanta at age 11 with his mom, who works as a pension actuary. He attended Dunwoody High School, where he did one-act plays and little films before graduating in 2003. (His high school has generated quite a few famous folks, including former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest, local Fox 5 reporter Marissa Mitchell and “Remember the Titans” actor Kip Pardue.)

Andrews never attended college. Instead, he went to work as a contractor/handyman. He said he wasn’t very good at that. He soon became a bartender at the old Park Bench in Buckhead and began working on crews for more than 50 movies and TV shows, including Dean Cain’s “The Way Home.” He was even did some second unit crew work on “The Walking Dead.”

His first recurring role on a TV show was on AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire,” which was also shot in Atlanta. “I was a computer coder,” Andrews said. “There was a lightheartedness to him, too. But he wasn’t as happy as Jerry.”

The role on “Halt and Catch Fire” led to AMC auditioning him for Jerry. He tried to play Jerry in different styles. He did an obvious “tough guy” version, then a more hip-hop Biggie Smalls take. But “I wasn’t a fan of it that way.”

Cooper Andrews as Yo-Yo – Halt and Catch Fire _ Season 3, Episode 5  – Photo Credit: Tina Rowden/AMC

When he did a table read, show runner Scott Gimple told him that he remembered Andrews as a truly happy guy in previous auditions. “When you don’t smile,” he told Andrews, “you’re kind of scary.” So Andrews opted for his more natural happy-go-lucky persona for Jerry. And it worked.

“I get this question all the time: ‘How could he be so happy in the apocalypse?’ Andrews said. “It’s not the apocalypse for him. This is the new world. This is how life is now. He’ll find the optimism where he can, the light in every dark side.”

The Kingdom Ezekiel designed was effectively a great place to live. “I would totally love to see what their fall festival looks like,” Andrews said. (Probably a lot like something that would happen at Stars Hollow on “Gilmore Girls.”)

As for the Kingdom armor, it’s more to protect them from zombie bites than anything else. “It’s like we went to an old Sports Authority and found these old BMX pads and football pads and softball pads. It was our uniform. It unified us,” he said. Too bad the outfit doesn’t stop bullets.

He said Melissa McBride, another fellow Atlanta actor who now plays Carol, helped him and others to shoot guns more realistically. After seven years on the show, McBride is now a pro. “She looks so natural with a gun,” he said. “I’m not much of a gun person.” McBride, he said, “always has this mischievous smile between takes. She’s always been kind to me and really nice.”

Khary Payton? Of course, the two of Georgians and fellow Falcons fans are “bros. We just have so much fun. There are times he has to say “Jerry!’ meanly because I say something inappropriate but he has a hard time doing it.”

RELATED: My Khary Payton interview from March, 2017

Andrews said he has had his signature smile going back to his baby years. “My mom told me people would be surprised that all photos of me are of me smiling. I rarely cried,” he said. “I was Giggles McGirk. I was always laughing about something, always finding something fun and funny. Jerry is that amplified.”

ON TV
“The Walking Dead,” 9 p.m. Sundays, AMC

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