Andrew Lincoln, the English actor who plays deputy sheriff Rick Grimes on AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead,’ doesn’t want to be seen as the show’s star. “I’m not the star,” he confesses. “I just have a lot of action.”
He also refuses to view his own performances. “I just don’t watch myself,” he modestly admits. “I haven’t watched myself for a long time.”
But he should. Critics have been raving about both Lincoln and the series (which covered last week’s Entertainment Weekly under the headline “The Best New Show on TV”), and audiences have followed suit. Last Sunday’s penultimate episode scored season-high ratings, with 5.6 million viewers tuning in.
Wednesday, ‘Dead’ executive producer Frank Darabont made headlines for reportedly firing the hit zombie-drama’s entire writing staff. Lincoln claims to be in the dark regarding that decision, but maintains “I trust Frank implicitly.”
With a 13-episode second season pickup already ordered, Lincoln talked to us about the successes of this past season, what lies ahead in Sunday’s finale, and how he felt with a Walker foot necklace dangling over his shoulders.
On what convinced him to take this role:
I think it was a lot of reasons. I sort of understood what they were trying to do by setting up this extreme environment. Then when the human characters interact, you realize what’s left. I anticipated that it was going to be thrilling and scary, but I didn’t anticipate that it was going to move me so much, or be so funny. That combination only makes for really good drama. I think it was Morgan’s [Lennie James] story in that pilot episode that really keyed me in. It made me realize why such an extraordinary team of people was involved. If you’re gonna do a series about dead people, then maybe there’s an opportunity to say something about what it is to be alive. That really excited me.
On whether he sees Rick as immortal:
I never see him as that, really. You certainly can’t play him as that because then you’d be second guessing the future. Hopefully one of the things that has appealed to so many people is the fact that it is so in the moment, and so raw, and so emotional, because people are living second to second. One of the great things about playing him is that he’s not this superhero. He’s just an ordinary guy trying to do right by his family.
The thing I love about all the performances in this season is that everybody is so damn good. [It’s] one of the strongest ensembles I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. Hopefully one of the great things that’s going to keep people watching the show is the fact that the camera pans onto someone who’s never even spoken, and they kind of break your heart. It’s a double edged sword. Obviously you want to have a loyalty and care about the characters, and it will be as difficult as it is for us to say goodbye to certain characters. We started grieving when we lost three very important characters in episode five. You imagine the audience will feel that as well. It’s this raw, grungy, brutal world inhabited by these people.
On whether or not Rick will find out about Shane [Jon Bernthal] and Lori’s [Sarah Wayne Callies] affair:
Will he ever find out? That’s an option. There are many ways of dealing with a painful situation. I think denial is a powerful human attribute. I’ve used it quite well many times in my life. The obvious way to go would be to go for conflict, but I don’t necessarily think we’re in an obvious show. I think the beauty in the way it’s being played is that it’s a three-way love affair. They all love each other. I don’t necessarily think Rick is that aware as yet of an indiscretion. For me it’s a much simpler journey. Obviously in season two it could get more complicated and more satisfying to play. But I wouldn’t want to second guess what Frank [Darabont] is going to do.
On the break-out success of the series:
I’m wise enough now to know you can put your heart and soul into something and it can just miss the boat. You may have done some extraordinary work and it just doesn’t catch fire. I’ve been lucky enough to be in a few [shows] back home in England that have caught on. This one felt like it was just so different from anything I’d ever read before, so it always felt like a bit of a gamble. I always knew the caliber of the people was so good, that’s the reason why I said ‘Yep, I trust you.’ While we were filming it, I started to get excited because there was some incredible work going on. You always hope that people get it. Because I think Frank’s vision was so clear, and AMC let it breathe, I think we were confident we had something unusual. But you can never second guess an audience’s reaction. We’re just absolutely thrilled that people are investing in it.
On the gruesome zombie-hacking (and subsequent entrails necklace) scene in episode 2 making it to air:
We filmed that at 4:30 in the morning, just because it’d been a long day and we had to get it shot. It felt like we were doing something incredibly wrong. It was like one of the scenes in ‘Sweeney Todd’ with the demon barber. I looked at [makeup effects supervisor] Greg Nicotero while I was chopping up the body and I just said, ‘Straight to DVD?’ And he nodded. And this is a guy who’s not unaccustomed to gore. Then I saw the scene and it was all in there. In one sense it is like nothing else out there — it’s so grotesque and so brilliant because of that. The scene is so brilliantly written because you have a man who is about to chop up a human being, [then] forgetting that it’s a human being, then reminding everyone that it’s a human being. Then you’ve got this great gag. It’s so anchored as an important plot device to save their lives. It’s an extraordinary coup. I know Frank [Darabont] was extremely excited when he saw it.
On any grotesque scenes that didn’t make it to air:
I’d like to see what’s on the DVD, because there are some extraordinary scenes. Every day I went to work I was met with something that I know will never be done again on TV. It felt like we had cinematic firsts every day we went to work. I don’t actually watch the episodes, so I don’t know what has made it. There was a scene in the camp where Carol [Melissa Suzanne McBride] is pickaxing her husband. That was a moment in the shoot, I think we’d had so much of the Atlanta heat, and we were trying to get some semblance of shade. We were all in the van and I think I was delirious from the heat and I went, ‘Is it just me, or is that just really really bad?’ Everyone was kind of looking with their hands over their mouths at that scene, because the acting was so exquisite. I mean, she was breaking down. She’s a victim of domestic abuse weeping while she puts her husband out of him turning into a zombie.
On the show’s dark humor:
I certainly think it’s one of the pleasures of the genre, that if you can make people buy the world then you can push the envelope. I think that’s one of the titillating things about the show. You can get some great jokes in. I’m one of those people who thinks you can’t sit through an emotional barrage without it being alleviated by some joy or humor or wit. If it was unremittingly bleak, it wouldn’t work. It has to have some levity. I think the humor is a very important part of the show.
There was a brilliant bit that [makes me] bow at the alter of Darabont. There’s a scene in the pilot where I’m leaving the house with Morgan and his son and I’ve got a baseball bat. We shot it in a very conventional way with a steady cam, and then I kill this Walker and we move on. What I realized is that Frank used a wide shot. It is this very suburban house with a picket fence, and [then] there was a zombie lying down. It made me giggle because I thought, That’s so mad. The symbolism of it – that you have this apparently safe haven of domesticity and yet there’s a zombie at the gate. That’s when I realized we had such a good captain of the ship. I found it extremely witty. It was just after a very emotional scene. That’s when you realize that whoever’s in charge has a very deft lightness of touch, which is essential for this subject matter.
On concerns viewers would be turned off by last Sunday’s big kill:
I think the further we went on in the shoot, and if you know the graphic novel, then you will know that those characters — for wont of a better expression — [have] quite a brief shelf life. It’s one of the coups of the writing of the graphic novel that it means that no one is safe. In the same way in the graphic novel my character loses his hand, nobody is safe. It’s a very important device. It’s the first time you see their predatory nature en masse. You see it with the horse [in the premiere], so you get a sense of the danger, but it’s the first human [kill]. It’s an incredible double blow because you live with these incredibly good characters. The other thing to bear in mind is it’s just after this scene of levity. It’s almost like a collective sigh. They’re all eating at the camp. That’s probably why they all get attacked, because their guard is down somewhat. It’s an incredibly shocking plot twist. We all felt it on set. We didn’t want to lose them. They didn’t want to go. We all had a farewell dinner with people. We set the precedent that if it goes to a second season, whenever we lose someone we have a meal — we go family style.
On whether the actors knew early on who would be killed off:
No, we didn’t. It was always quite a tense time when the new scripts came through, for obvious reasons. It’s one of those jobs where anyone can bite it at any time, and people want to live. It was very shocking. We never once doubted that it would stop people from watching. I think any dramatic scene in my experience has never turned me away from it – it’s engrossed me more. I’ve never been involved in a show that’s gone more [ratings-wise] than its premiere in five episodes. It’s astonishing.
On how much he knows about season two:
I know nothing! I’m as excited as everybody else to find out where what and how we’re going to survive this zombie apocalypse.
On what to watch for in the finale:
I would just say as always with this show, don’t get too comfortable. Things are not as they seem.
The season finale of ‘The Walking Dead’ airs Sunday, Dec. 5 at 10/9c on AMC