If you’re one of the many millions who watches The Walking Dead, you’ll likely already be familiar with Daniel Newman. The 36-year-old Atlanta-born actor played Daniel - weird coincidence, I know - on the hit series, although it didn’t start off all too smoothly.
“When I first started they were so secretive, they had code names for everything and everyone, and refused to tell you anything about the script or your character until the day of filming,” he laughs of how the journey with The Walking Dead began. “The costume designer met me and said that ‘everyone’s been dying to see who got your role for years now. You must be so excited, you’re the new lead star of the show.’ I asked her what character I was playing and if she knew anything about the plot. She revealed I was Negan, the new villain the entire show revolves around. I began preparing for the role, doing comic book research, fandom research, and went to set to begin delivering my lines until the director shouts ‘CUT. What are you doing? You’re supposed to be a white knight, good guy!’ I replied that I was playing Negan and everyone on set started laughing hard, until he finally filled me in on my actual role. It was embarrassing and funny as hell.”
First falling in love with acting after finding an “escape [from] the farm” – the small town in Georgia he was living in – through watching TV and film, Daniel’s journey to stardom started at a young age when he came across a book called Acting In America at the local library. “It had a list of all the local headshot photographers, agents, casting directors, and upcoming film and TV productions. So I started mowing lawns and saving money. I called and booked an appointment with a local headshot photographer and I remember my mum walking into the dining room saying asking if I’d made an appointment with a photographer,” he laughs. “She was impressed, I booked it and earned money with mowing lawns so she drove me to do the shoot, helped me get headshots printed and took me to the post office to mail them out to all the agents, and I started getting calls for interviews.”
Finding out there wasn’t much work in Atlanta, Daniel once again took it on himself to continue his acting dream, researching what was being filmed locally and breaking onto sets, pretending to be an extra. Eventually, this paid off and he was signed to an agent at 15 and subsequently moved to Los Angeles. However, it wasn’t until he began modelling that his career really took off.
Moving to New York and Europe whilst being snapped up by designers including Calvin Klein, Dior and Louis Vuitton, he continued going to auditions (“Like, over 600 over the years!”) until his mum was diagnosed with cancer and he headed back to Atlanta to look after her. While there, he got the call that would change his life. “I got a call that the team at The Walking Dead had written a role for me,” he reminisces. “I thought they meant an audition, so I said no since I was trying to spend every free moment with my mum. Then they said since I had met with them so many times for other roles, that they remembered me and wrote a new role for me. Since it was filming in Atlanta, where I was living and it was very flexible since there’s a big cast and my mum was excited about it, it was a perfect job to do while spending time with her. They got a great response from the fans and the network so they kept me on year after year!”
On the show for two seasons, fans fell in love with Daniel and his character. However, not content with just basking in his new found fame, he decided to use his platform for good and made the decision to come out publicly about his sexuality. “I saw how much attention I was getting from the show and knew I was in the spotlight, and I just felt a responsibility to use that as a platform to empower other LGBTQ people and youth, the way I dreamed of being represented as a child,” explains Daniel. “I always wished actors, athletes, and celebs would live openly and be proud to be LGBTQ. I was volunteering at a youth shelter with LGBTQ youth and I just felt like a hypocrite being silent about my sexuality and the life that I was so proud of and happy about. I decided even if it just mattered to a couple kids, I would tell my truth and share it with the fans on YouTube and social media so that it would be permanent and clear.”
With his coming out video on YouTube now having over two million views, and the tweet in which he proclaimed to be #OUTandPROUD having amassed thousands of likes and retweets, it’s a reaction that even Daniel didn’t expect. “It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” he smiles. “The industry flooded me with offers, the community got behind me and showed me love and support – I was expecting the opposite reaction when I came out. It made me realise how much we owe to our forefathers that paved the way for all of us to have the rights we have now – the acceptance and love in mainstream society. It makes it clear how responsible you and I are to carry that around the world to locations and generations of people that still don’t have the love and acceptance we have. It’s so easy to take things for granted so I just encourage everyone to think about the people that are living in your shoes back before we found our voice, power, and visibility in popular culture. We owe it to give back as much as possible.”
He continues: “Building my entire career to be a public actor definitely hurt my willingness to be open for a long time. I felt brave telling my family and a few friends over the year, but I just always believed it’s not professional in any industry to talk publicly about your sexuality. I thought it’s not anyone’s business, but I was so wrong. I had no idea how important it is to be proud of yourself and your culture in all aspects that make you who you are. When you’re hiding something about yourself, erasing it – particularly something as common in our culture as sexuality – you’re saying to the world that it’s wrong to be the way you are.
“Your sexuality is a huge part of your identity as a human being, and therefore it’s so important to embrace your community, love yourself the way you are, and be open and proud about your identity. It’s not only the healthy way to live for yourself, but – just as important – it’s vital for the hundreds of millions of us in our society to have visibility, equality, respect, power, and to be role models for our community and the next generation. It’s easy to oppress the invisible. It’s easy to steal the rights from people who are silent or hate themselves. Power comes in loving ourselves and being visible and people of integrity, support and love for one another.”
Now working with GLAAD and Human Rights Campaign as a speaker and ambassador, Daniel’s also in the process of creating a new TV show highlighting incredible LGBTQ icons. “The purpose is to edify the community, put it on a pedestal in mainstream culture, to show questioning kids and LGBTQ members around the world that are remote, out in the suburbs and rural places around the world, that they can be anything the dream of,” he tells of the show’s goal. “We want to show them and the whole world LGBTQ success, history, and, besides exciting LGBTQ celeb success stories, we want to tell the stories of all of the people that until now haven’t had a voice or much visibility. From Europe, Africa, Middle East, USA and everywhere else, we’ll really focus on our diversity, our power, and our dreams to empower our community, and our next generation.”
Already a huge role model for many in the LGBTQ community, Daniel currently balances his time between helping the community in any way he can, running his own tech company, producing new TV shows, and creating his own music. But what else does the actor have planned for the future? “I want to make as big of a difference in the world as possible,” he tells us. Well if he carries on like this, it’s a goal that is certainly destined to be achieved.
Photography - Michael Beckert
Fashion - Heather Newberger
Gay Times May 2018 Issue