It’s been 35 years since Sherman Augustus suited up as a Minnesota Viking, but the competitive fires still burn brightly.

“I always have to find a way to win,” said the 60-year-old actor who plays the menacing Nathaniel Moon on AMC’s “Into the Badlands,” concluding May 6 after three seasons. “Even if my character gets killed, I’m going to find a way to go out a winner.”

Augustus reflected on his football and acting careers last month while sipping espresso at a Keys Cafe, his first trip back to the Twin Cities since the mid-1980s when a knee injury ended his professional sports career before it ever really got started. But despite never playing in a regular season game during his short time with the Vikings, Minnesota played a pivotal role in his life.

As a teenager, he earned football scholarships from colleges near his hometown of Los Angeles. But Augustus opted to come to St. Paul’s University of Northwestern, where he could play right out of the gate.

Traveling to Minnesota for his freshman year was his first time on an airplane.

“I was thinking about that as I was flying in this morning. It really brought back some memories,” he said after spending the afternoon shooting pictures around downtown Minneapolis. “Things were a lot slower here than what I was used to. But I was always taught to learn from other people’s cultures.”

Augustus would go on to run track and post 91 tackles in his junior year. But he also took time off from training and studying to see local plays and befriend local entertainers like the Time’s Jerome Benton and Morris Day.

When a pro career didn’t pan out, it was easy for him to switch paths.

“I was always an actor pretending to be an athlete,” he said.

Bringing the work ethic

His first big break came when director Dennis Hopper cast him in a small role in the 1988 movie ”Colors” along with another newcomer named Don Cheadle. Watching star Sean Penn dedicate himself fully to his role as a cocky cop showed Augustus that a thespian could be just as intense as any offensive lineman.

Augustus was equally impressed years later when appearing with Julia Roberts in 2001’s “The Mexican.”

The morning they did a scene in which his character threw Roberts around a bathroom stall, the movie star showed him the bruises James Gandolfini and Brad Pitt gave her earlier in the shoot. She insisted he genuinely throw her around.

“The more you do that to me, the less I have to do,” she told Augustus.

“I wasn’t really a Julia Roberts fan until I worked with her,” he said. “Her work ethic is amazing. Amazing. Nothing makes me angrier than an actor not bringing their ‘A’ game and just waiting for the next line.”

Augustus’ proudest moments on screen came when he went off script and turned up the heat.

He gets animated when recalling how he impressed castmates Donald Sutherland and Jamie Lee Curtis by improvising an obscenity-laced rant during filming of 1999’s ”Virus.” And how he went toe-to-toe with guest star Lorraine Toussaint in one of the final episodes of “Badlands.”

“I’m glad I could take the work ethic I learned in football and put it into the entertainment business,” said Augustus, who has two new feature films in the can. “I don’t call this a craft. This is my trade. The payoff for me is the work.”