Lawrence Gilliard Jr.

Lawrence Gilliard Jr. as Bob Stookey in "The Walking Dead" (Gene Page/AMC, Baltimore Sun / May 12, 2013)

Lawrence Gilliard Jr. is going forward and moving back in big ways these days.

Sunday night, the 42-year-old actor who played D'Angelo Barksdale in "The Wire" debuts as the newest member of AMC's "The Walking Dead," as TV's most popular series with young adults starts its fourth season.

And in an interview last week, the Baltimore School for the Arts graduate, who grew up on the city's west side, said he had recently moved back to Baltimore after living in Los Angeles the last nine years.

"Although I was born in New York, I moved to Baltimore when I was young," Gilliard says. "And I like to say New York birthed me, but Baltimore raised me. A big part of my heart was always in Baltimore."

Gilliard said getting the job in "Walking Dead," which films in Atlanta, got him and his wife, actress Michelle Paress (who played Baltimore Sun reporter Alma Gutierrez in Season 5 of "The Wire"), looking east.

"Once I got the job on 'Walking Dead,' I started thinking about how I always wanted to get back to the East Coast," he says.

"My mom lives in Baltimore, and I have a lot of family in Baltimore and New York," he adds. "I went to school at the Baltimore School for the Arts, and now my daughter is going there. ... [S]he wanted to go to my alma mater, and I wanted her go there. So it all kind of came together. My daughter gets to go to a great high school. I get to come back to the East Coast, which I love. And my family's here."

Gilliard says he feels "blessed and fortunate and lucky" to be joining a series that is already one of the medium's biggest hits.

"Last week, we had the season premiere screening in Los Angeles," he says, "and there were so many fans it was just insanity."

But he acknowledges that he wasn't one of those fans before getting the call to audition for the drama about a band of humans trying to survive a zombie apocalypse.

"I hadn't watched the show before I got the part, so I didn't know too much about it," he says. "My wife, however, is a huge, huge fan of the show. She watched it religiously every week when it came on. When I got the audition, I didn't tell her, because I didn't want her to freak out."

Once he got the part, Gilliard says, he "did a marathon" and watched the first two seasons.

"And then, when I got on the set, they set up the third season for me to watch. So I've watched them all and become a huge fan of the show."

Gilliard says the cast has been "great" in welcoming him "with open arms into their family" as a character named Bob Stookey.

"Bob Stookey is an ex-military guy, a medic," he says slowing down and picking his words more carefully in an attempt not to drop any "spoilers" before Sunday's debut.

"I'm sure people who have read the comics and graphic novels [on which the series is based] know that he battled alcoholism," Gilliard says. "So, that's one issue he's dealing with — along with there being a zombie apocalypse."

In the comics, Stookey is white and in his 50s, while Gilliard's TV version is African-American and in his late 30s or early 40s. So don't assume everything from print translates directly to the screen.

"When they find him, they find him alone in the woods," he says of the surviving humans living at a place called The Prison. "They allow him to be in The Prison. And then his story is basically about him trying to fit in — and if they're going to let him fit in, if they're going to trust him enough or, you know, kick him out."

Gilliard says Stookey "does go on a journey," and "it's a very good journey actually." But then he catches himself and says, "I can't really get too deep into it. All I can say is that I think fans are going to find it an interesting journey."

The actor's real-life journey from the west side of Baltimore to the BSA, and then on to Manhattan and the Juilliard School is the one that fascinates and resonates — especially with his return to the city and the symmetry of his daughter now following in his footsteps.