Andrew Lincoln: from happy-go-lucky Egg to star of The Walking Dead
Categories Andrew Lincoln News

Andrew Lincoln: from happy-go-lucky Egg to star of The Walking Dead

THEGUARDIAN.COM – In October 2010 the American network AMC launched a TV drama that started with a sheriff’s deputy walking through a post-apocalyptic landscape of burned, overturned cars before encountering a young girl who turns around to reveal the bloodied, menacing gaze of the living dead.

If the content of the prologue was shocking, the identity of the actor playing the cop in The Walking Dead was arguably even more startling. Almost unrecognisable under the police uniform and growling tones of the American south was Andrew Lincoln, an actor previously most associated with playing happy-go-lucky Englishmen in the TV shows This Life and Teachers, and the Richard Curtis film Love, Actually.

The counter-intuitive casting worked to the extent that The Walking Dead – in which Lincoln’s character leads a group of survivors through an America divided between humans and zombified “walkers” – begins its sixth season in the US and UK on Sunday and Monday night respectively, making Lincoln the latest British actor – as well as Damien Lewis in Homeland, Hugh Laurie in House and Dominic West in The Affair – to become a highly paid American TV superstar.

“He’s brilliant in it,” says Michael Attenborough, who as artistic director of London’s Almeida theatre directed Lincoln in one play and produced him in another. “But I can’t for the life of me work out how they ended up at his doorstep. Why would you have thought of Andy Lincoln for that role?”

One explanation may be that American actors prefer to play characters who are positive role models, leaving unsympathetic parts open to Anglo imports. In their hits, Lewis, West and Laurie respectively played a terrorist, an adulterer and a drug-addicted doctor, while Deputy Rick Grimes, although he has increasingly become the moral compass of the zombie show, is first seen shooting a child in the head.

“I think why it works,” says Attenborough, “is that his basic likability survives even in the darkest roles. He has a combination of charm and danger that is very rare.”

Also unusual is Lincoln’s strike rate in one of the most fundamental – but, in practice, toughest – aspects of acting: the picking of scripts. Whether due to luck, judgment or agents, he has consistently been involved in projects that outperform expectations.

The two series of This Life on BBC2 became one of the buzz productions of the mid-90s, and the educational black comedy Teachers ran to four series on Channel 4. In 2000 his National Theatre debut, as an NHS psychiatrist in the Joe Penhall play Blue/Orange, transferred to London’s West End and was courted for Broadway.

At that point, Lincoln’s run of success stumbled because American Equity refused to allow the London cast to come to New York on the basis that the actors were not sufficiently well-known to trigger the clause that allows a foreign actor to be preferred to a native player.

“I even went to American Equity in person to plead their case,” recalls the director Roger Michell. The union refused to relent, although the director points out the irony that Lincoln, Bill Nighy and Chiwetel Ejiofor have all subsequently became American screen stars.

But although its door to Broadway was closed, Blue/Orange opened others. After seeing the play, Richard Curtis cast the trio in his film-directing debut, the portfolio romantic movie Love, Actually (2003). Lincoln played Mark, who, hopelessly in love with his best friend’s wife, eventually declares his passion by holding up imploring cue cards while posing as a carol singer.

Even projects that made less impact turned out to be wise choices. Playing American characters in the Sam Shepherd stage play The Late Henry Moss and the BBC drama Moonshot (2009), in which he portrayed the Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, reassured US casting directors that Lincoln was trans-Atlantically fluent.

“I think that like a lot of English actors,” says Michell, “he likes doing American accents because of a sort of glamorous swagger it brings.”

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Andrew Lincoln interview: ‘We feel robbed when a cast member dies in the The Walking Dead’
Categories Andrew Lincoln Interviews News Projects The Walking Dead

Andrew Lincoln interview: ‘We feel robbed when a cast member dies in the The Walking Dead’

TELEGRAPH.CO.UK – Back in 2010, when Fox’s apocalyptic survival drama The Walking Dead first hit TV screens, its haunting, surreally American image of a man in a Sheriff’s hat, astride a horse, riding through a zombie-infected wasteland, became one of television’s most memorable sequences. But perhaps the biggest surprise was the identity of the man on the horse. Andrew Lincoln, a relatively obscure British actor, known for his roles in This Life, Teachers and Love Actually, was the unlikely casting choice for the show’s lead man, Southern Sheriff’s deputy turned survival supremo Rick Grimes.

Since then, Grimes – a rugged warrior father, unafraid to get his hands bloody when needed – has become a household name in the US, as well known as 24’s Jack Bauer. Last season, the character battled human cannibals, led an attack on a sinister hospital, blurred the lines between “surviving” and becoming a monster himself – and grew a rather impressive beard. When he shaved it, towards the close of the season, Twitter went into mourning, creating its very own memorial hashtag: #RIPRicksbeard.

When I meet Andrew Lincoln, in London’s Soho Hotel, the 42-year-old couldn’t look, or sound more un Rick-like. He’s smartly dressed in shirt and trousers, the convincing American accent he sports on the show has been abandoned for a British one, and, worst of all, he’s clean shaven. But he’s eager to discuss the fame of his now-missing facial hair.

“I’ve only just found that out – it had its own tweet or something?” he says, endearingly mixing-up his Twitter terms. “This is what I love about our show –the fans. It’s not our show any more – it’s their show.”

Warming to his subject, he tells me how his Walking Dead co-star Norman Reedus, who plays rebel redneck turned loyal team player Daryl Dixon, sends him the latest memes and fan-made artwork, depicting the pair’s on-show “bromance”.

“There’s one of me as Leonardo DiCaprio on the Titanic, and he’s Kate Winslet, and its rather moving… and there’s a Brokeback Mountain one as well. This never existed when I was doing This Life.”

Lincoln’s genuine, if slightly bemused delight at the excesses of the show’s creative fandom, is a product of the actor’s own rigorous control: he doesn’t follow the series on social media, and has never watched it. In fact, he says, he’s avoided watching himself on camera for the past 15 years: it encourages him not to self-censor his acting.

What he is passionate about, however, is how other people watch the show – specifically, about the fact that each episode is shot on 16mm film, rather than digital tape. Paraphrasing “a film director” – Bertolucci, he thinks – he tells me that celluloid “captures not only what is in front of the camera, but all around it” – making it the perfect medium for conveying the “realness” of the show’s zombies (known as “Walkers”), all of whom are played by extras.

“You can smell it, you can feel it, you can taste it. You can definitely get a sense of the show through the celluloid,” he says, with sudden fervency. “I think it’s borne out of the fact that we’ve got extras in zombie makeup. “

“I know [Walking Dead creator Frank Darabont] always said that he wanted that creamy, super 16 texture to help get that across. He didn’t want CGI: he wanted the human behind the monster and the monster behind the human. That’s absolutely what the show’s about.”

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