R.I.P. “T-Dog.” You did good keeping the group alive!
Now back to the real world. Actor IronE Singleton is known for his role in AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ as “T-Dog,” but the actor has moved forward writing a beautiful and contemporary memoir of his early life that shaped him to becoming a man with uncompromising positive attitude. While he might have grown up dirt poor -literally, he details a life that you wouldn’t wish on an enemy, yet somehow it shapes him into the kind of person you would call friend.
What sets him apart is his unfailing belief in God, and his mission to leave the world a better place than when he entered. In his new book entitled, â€œBlindsided by The Walking Dead,â€ you learn about how he was able to see others around him making mistakes and bad choices, and somehow see his way through them to making his own decisions that led to a career in TV and film.
In this exclusive CultureMob interview I get to the heart of who IronE is, and what’s his mission in life.
Allie Hanley: Your new book that you co-wrote withÂ Juliette Terzieff tells the story of your tough upbringing in the Perry Home Projects outside of Atlanta. I was surprised at how open and honest you were about your life. Can you tell me about your real name and your nickname. And what does IronE stand for?
IronE: Ha, ha. Yes, it’s Robert. That’s my government name. IronE, is my stage name. Actually I’ve had several nicknames in my life. To this day if I see some of my college friends they still call me “Hustle Man.” “Hey Hustle Man!” I have the reason why in the book. My team mates in High School called me “Psycho.” When my coach wanted me to play linebacker he told me he needed someone who was psycho. Although I wasn’t really big, I was crazy enough to play it. He came to me and sat me down. He said, “I need someone crazy enough to play this position. I know you don’t have the size but I know you have the mindset, so I am looking at you to be my linebacker.” I was going into my junior year. I was 178 pounds at the time and from that point on my team mates and friends started calling me “psycho”. I didn’t care who I had to go up against. I just knew I had to get the tackle. I had to battle against 250 pound lineman every single play. Then I had another one, “Tone.” They just dropped the “Single” from “Singleton” and added an “E.” So I’ve had several nicknames that have stuck.Â Now IronE comes from the fact that I am still alive today and that I am not on the corner selling drugs. That I am not in prison today, or getting out of jail and that I am alive. Now that’s the ironic part, because coming from my background, statistics said I would be in at least one of those categories. In-and-out of jail, or on the street corner selling drugs or something like that. And I am none of the above. A true blessing; and at the same time not only have I physically removed myself from that situation, but mentally and spiritually as well. That is the main thing that I am so thankful to God for, the spiritual enlightenment and wakening I received as a result of my Mother’s death which has been quite incredible.
Allie: You discuss in your book how in the Singleton house everyone scrambled to make money – selling food on the weekends, etc. While others around you in your neighborhood hung out waiting for a check or selling drugs. What was it about your family that created the ambition, the motivation, and the hope that doing more than waiting for a check was an option?
IronE: You know I think we were an ambitious family but we had very limited means. So there was as only so much we could do to provide. And one of those things was hustling. My Grandmother selling her fish plates, and her other endeavors selling candy and chicken plates… and she had me selling candy for her, I would take the candy to school and sell it. Everybody else did their illegal hustles. I sold candy for myself… peanut brittle, chocolate nut clusters, you name it. I sold with the best of them. We always had a hustle mentality. It was either do or die. Â We just can’t survive waiting on the welfare check every mouth. Now my Mother received a welfare check every month, and my brother and I got a little bit of that. She got a little over $200 a month and when we turned 12 she started giving us $50 of that check every month. Now when my brother turned 18 they decreased the check and I got pretty much all of that. It was about a hundred dollars a month until I turned 18. Then it was cut off but I still had my legitimate hustles.
I want them to understand that won’t get them ahead in life. It’s only going to produce the same results. If you do the same thing over and over again and expect the same results – they call that insanity. I think that just by sitting around every month waiting for a welfare check is only going to get the individual the same result. So the frustration, the nightmare that they are living in, I would presume it’s a nightmare for many people living in that situation because of how I grew up, and lots of other people are living in that situation now.
Some people come out of it if they find a legitimate job or business. Just don’t expect life to get much better if you are just sitting around waiting on a welfare check. You have to want to do more and you have to DO MORE. Although it might be inside you that you want to do more, but that’s not enough. You have to actually get out there and actually do itâ€¦some kind of way! Don’t hurt anybody else in the process of doing it.I know some people have the mind- set, “well I am going to go out there and rob someone. That’s how I am going to make it happen.” You don’t want bad Karma coming to you. The only way God is going to bless you is if you go out and do it for yourself without hurting anyone. And you do it with good intentions in your heart. When you do it like that, then good Karma comes back to you.
Allie: In your book you don’t hold back, even describing your first sexual encounter with a girl named Shondra and how she was winking over at your brother Tracy the whole time. You also discuss how your mom, Cat, would bring fellows home to the room you shared with your brother. How does your view on sex as a child experiencing that, and the view you want your children to have of sex differ?
IronE: It forced me to be more open about sex. Along with my life and studies it made me say that we are sexual beings… I learned something like that in a class in college like human sexuality or something. So anyway, we are going to have those impulses or desires. I remember having those desires as a kid if not I wouldn’t have been lying down at the age of 12 to have sex. It applies to my kids also. I just want to be open and up front and talk about it. No one ever did that for me as a child. Not from my mother or my brother. If I ever received anything about sex it was more so like I guess sex was actually being advocated. No one ever said you should wait. In fact, it was like the first chance you get you should jump on it. It made me realize that I wanted to do things differently with my kids. From day 1 I was going to be very open with my children early on. I don’t care if you are 3 years old and just learning to talk. If you say the word sex I am talking to them about it. I won’t give them more than they can handle. If it doesn’t come up, then won’t say anything but if it comes up then I will talk about it.
It’s interesting that you mention that because with my daughter, my 12 year old daughter has started sexting! Now my 15 year old daughter is so naive. I don’t have to worry so much about her but my 12 year old; it’s been on her mind for a long time <in reference to sex>. Now I’m here in LA right now and my wife called me. She said that something told her to go look in our daughter’s phone. And she saw that she had been sexting and that she sent a picture of her breast with her phone! So we talked about it a bit with her, asking her why she did it? She answered, “I don’t know. It just popped up on my Instagram.” I mentioned on twitter last week that parents have to be careful of this new age technology you can stumble upon on the internet. My wife is really good with technology and we have everything locked up with parental controls at home like our tv’s and phone. She thought it was totally locked down. She didn’t know you could Instagram pictures. She opened it up, started watching Porn. Then someone commented to her, “Hey are you a boy or a girl.” And she doesn’t know… she thinks she’s talking to someone her age. I explained to her she could have been talking to a stalker or a rapist, or even the FBI. I said you don’t know who you are talking to. They could get the urge to come and track you down. So you have to be straight up about everything.
Allie: Your first big major break in acting came in the role of “Alton” in the film The Blindside alongside Academy Award winner, Sandra Bullock. You describe how she came up to your after the days shoot in your book and how kind and gratifying you felt from her comments that day. If you ran into Sandra Bullock on the street or at a party what would you say to her? What was that three years or four years ago?
IronE: Well we shot that about three, no four years ago coming up in April. I know what she would say to me, “Who are you!” I would just say “Hello to her, I don’t know if you remember me or not.” She would probably say “Of course I remember you!.” She’s a really nice person. I would tell her that it was a really nice experience and that was the one that really opened the door for me.
Allie: On your role in ‘The Walking Dead’ what was it like to know you were off the show and be surrounded by people who wanted to know more about your future on the show?
IronE: Oh man! Well you know I just had to turn into a politician and work around it. People would come up to me and ask, “You’re not going to die, tell me!” I would never lie to them. I would say, “You have to watch the show.” The pressure didn’t bother me. I was just amused that people loved the show so much. I was like, Wow! People really want to know what’s going to happen to my character. It was a really good feeling to know that so many people cared about my character. It didn’t feel like pressure to me. I guess it was a slight relief once it happened. I could just talk about it openly. I wouldn’t have to think twice about what I say. I guess my only thing was I didn’t want to blurt out something at a convention during a panel, “Ya, you know when T-Dog died… or something.” I didn’t want that to slip out. And then I didn’t mean it like that…. then somebody would have taken it and run with it.
Allie: In your book, you talk about how Sarah Wayne Callies (Lori Grimes – TWD )would host death dinners for cast mates who were killed off on the show. Since you both died on the same episode – what was that dinner like… excluding her reappearance as the ghost… thing – ha ha ha in Rick’s mixed-up mind.
IronE: Ya. It was a sad supper, a sad supper but it was uplifting too. We laughed and joked and once we had a couple glasses of wine it was fun.And then the crash came later…after dinner we left and went home. I don’t know about Sarah .The validation set in and I was like “Wow I just had my death dinner and it’s over, wow the run is over.”
Allie: The fantastic thing is your character is immortalized on that show. It plays on Netflix and all over the internet. Everyday someone new comes to the show and watches it for the first time. “T-Dog” lives on in comics and DVD’s and in some fantastic way, your character doesn’t die, he goes on and on through the new people who discovery the show. How does that strike you?
IronE: Fascinating. That character will live on forever. It seems like over-night â€œT-Dogâ€ has become a house hold name. It’s amazing how many people know about him. Some people are really affected by it. I was at a convention in Mc Allen, TX and this young lady came up to me and started crying…. “T-Dog… T-Dog is dead.” I didn’t know what to do so I just got up and hugged her. I was astounded at the reaction I got. That character will live forever.
Allie: What do you have coming up next for us besides this awesome book?
IronE: Well I can’t say a lot but I did sign a letter of intent for something. It’s a lead role but I don’t want to speak on it now, could destroy the whole thing you know.
Allie: Sounds like something big.
IronE: It’s a zombie flick so… it’s too early to say and it’s a leading role. My top priority right now is my book. I would say this isn’t my signature achievement but it’s my crowning achievement.
<writer note – I had a recent interview with Danny Boyle, director of “Trance” which is now playing. He told me he was going to make another film in the “28 Days Later” world. Could this be the project?>
‘Blindsided by the Walking Dead’ is currently available at www.ironesingleton.com(including autographed copies) and available for purchase through Amazon.com ($20).
Co-writerÂ Juliette Terzieff is a combat-trained former foreign war correspondent, human rights journalist, fiction and non-fiction writer and public speaker. Juliette writes and edits newsletters for SmartBrief on development, humanitarian aid, public health concerns, veterans’ issues and international policy, and serves as co-founder and commander-in-chief of theÂ Zombie Survival Crew.