Walking Dead Week: Andrew Lincoln on Playing Rick Grimes and What to Expect from Season Five

Family Man

Oct 10, 2014 Web Exclusive
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This week is Walking Dead Week on Under the Radar's website. Season five of the wildly popular and critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic zombie drama starts this Sunday, October 12, at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. Central) on AMC. In anticipation of the show's return, for this special theme week of coverage we have interviewed around 10 members of the show's current cast and will be posting one to two Walking Dead interviews every day this week.

Even though he has never spoken to me, Andrew Lincoln greets me by saying my name like I'm an old friend. Talk to him for 20 minutes, and you realize it's not an act. He listens carefully, laughs frequently, and thinks deeply about every topic thrown at him, and he seems to genuinely enjoy it all, as if you're doing him a favor by allowing him to reflect on his five years as Rick Grimes. When people talk about the family-like atmosphere and mutual respect shared by the cast and crew of The Walking Deadmuch of which is credited to Lincoln, himselfthis must be the sort of thing they mean. The tone starts at the top.

After watching Rick barely crack a smile for the last three seasons, it's somewhat disorienting to hear Lincoln speak with so much joy in his voice. Though he's often serious, even somber, at points during our conversation, it's a testament to his skills as an actor that he can so convincingly play such a tortured soul and leave him on the set when he goes home at night. In fact, Lincoln appeared to have left Rick back in Georgia when he hit the red carpet for the show's season five premier in Los Angeles. Showing up clean-shaven, Lincoln looked far closer to the fresh-faced 37-year-old who began playing Rick in 2010 than the battered 41-year-old with flecks of gray in his beard we've come to know. On a rare day off from shooting, Lincoln examines the origins of the Walking Dead family, reflects on the show's unprecedented success, and discusses how playing Rick allows him to go home emotionally drained every night.

Matt Fink (Under the Radar): So what's it like doing all these interviews when you can't give any details about season five?

Andrew Lincoln: It's a dance. [Laughs] It's like a jazz riff. We have to do it in large form at San Diego [Comic-Con] every year. We do this crazy juggling act, this misdirection, like "Yea! We're back! But we can't tell you anything." But the wonderful thing is that we can talk about four years past and also give ideas about where our characters are going, so it's not like we don't have anything to riff about. But I agree. It's a crazy sort of striptease where I'm not really allowed to take any clothes off.

Do you find that interviewers try to trick you into saying things you didn't intend to say?

Yes! And they usually begin the questions exactly how you started, like, "Do you find people try to trick you? By the way..." [Laughs]

It must be difficult, because I assume you can't even tell your friends and family about what's going on with the show, can you?

No. It's so funny you say that, because my father-in-law [Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson] was in Atlanta. He's a musician and he was playing last night, in fact. And I came back from work, after a very long day, looking a little bit different. And he was like, "What?" Because he watches the show and he loves it, and he was like, "Tell me!" and he gives me a list of names. And I said, "I'm not telling you!" He says, "It's unbearable." But it has become more and more top secret. I even fear somebody is listening in on this phone call as we speak, and not my publicist. [Laughs]

In general, would you say season five has a different character than the other seasons?

Knowing Scott Gimple, and knowing that he has an ambitionI obviously wouldn't want to speak on his behalf, but I'm going toI think his intention is to keep moving the story forward and changing it up. It's that double-edged sword. We lose incredible characters and beautiful friendships on and off camera, but we gain new cast and new characters and relationships and story arcs as a result. We hit the ground running, and it doesn't let up. If you want a musical analogy, the first eight [episodes] is "Helter Skelter," and the second eight is "A Day in the Life." Maybe it's a few less than eight. Maybe "Helter Skelter" is a little bit longer than eight. Those are two different songs entirely, so anticipate a changing show.

From that analogy it would seem that you're saying that the first eight will be pretty chaotic and the last eight will be a little more reflective.

Nice...there you go. "No comment" is my answer, obviously.

Since you've been playing Rick for five seasons now, do you see him as a fundamentally different character now than when you started playing him?

Yeah, I do. He's not the same guy. And that has been the joy of playing him. It's funny, because I love it when characters talk about the past in the show, and I also love meeting new characters and hearing their stories. I think it builds the world and makes it a bigger world. And I had to do a scene where I talked about the past recently, and it was a very well-written speech and a very beautiful moment. And it was very emotional, because the memory of that guy is so faint now. It's funny because you guys watch it, but we live it. [Laughs] And we feel every bump and scratch and scrapeand also every character and friendship we lose. It was funny, we just flew into L.A., and I was with Norman [Reedus] and Melissa [McBride], and we were texting Jon Bernthal and Scott Wilson and Sarah Wayne Callies to see which part of the family was in town. That's the most amazing thing about it.

Would you say that sense of family has been there since the start?

Yeah. It began at the start. It couldn't have happened without Jeff DeMunn and Jon Bernthal and Sarah Wayne Callies and Frank [Darabont] and IronE [Singleton] and Laurie Holden. I mean, God, there are lists of peoplethis extraordinary ensemble. We were so lucky to get this collection of people who just wanted to take the jump. All of us were like, "Really? We're going to do a fucking zombie show?" And then we all sort of held hands and jumped off a cliff like lemmingslemmings that were very fond of each other. And I suppose when you do something that scares you, there's nothing like fear to galvanize friendships.

When you think back to that first season, did you have any expectations for how the show would be received?

I just wanted to pull off my Stetson and boots and make sure I looked like a cop! That was all I was worried aboutand not to be killed falling off horses. [Laughs] Obviously, when I read the pilot episode, I was mesmerized by it. I had never read anything quite like it. It was so spare and quiet and the scale of it was so big. And then I got on set and met Frank, and then we started filming and I met this extraordinary crew that has stayed. This crew is the same crew, for all intents and purposes, since that first shoot. That's how much they care about the story, as well. When I started filming it, I think we were three weeks in and we were doing a sequence. We were out of sequence, because we had shot a lot of solitary stuff alone, and then we went back and shot the first bit before the apocalypse. Then we shot the waking up scene in the hospital. So we probably had about two and a half weeks of film in the can, and they were starting to assemble it. I remember Frank Darabont sidling up to me and very quietly saying, "I think we might have something pretty special here." And when somebody of that talent and stature says something like that, you take it seriously. But you never know. It's like some bands. Some bands are brilliant, but they're 10 years too early or five years too late. And I think that it just felt like maybe we got lucky.

Was there any particular moment when you realized that the show was breaking through and connecting deeply with people?

I had been so incubated in what I was doing at work. I had been away from my family and had come to America and studied dialect and the whole thing, and they cut together the trailer and we took it to Comic-Con. And I don't watch the show, so I don't really know what it was, but I was standing outside, waiting to go on and be introduced to the Comic-Con audience. And the first three or four seconds of the trailer started and there was a shot, and I just heard this roar that came through the hall. And it came through the wall, in fact, where I was waiting outside. And I was just standing there. Do you know the recovery position you do after a long run? You've got your hands on your knees and you bend over. I was just waiting, and I had no breath in me. And then I heard that, and I remember just sliding down the wall going, "Oh, thank God. Thank God we're not fucking it up."

That's like when Sarah Wayne Callies met me, and just before my first day [on set] she said, "You're a nice guy, Lincoln. But don't fuck it up." [Laughs] [Comic-Con] was, for me, the belly of the beast, because this is their comic book, and it's very easy to not get something right, particularly for diehard fans who admire and think very deeply about that thing. So to get a thumbs up was huge information. But that never equates to what happened [in the ratings], I suppose. What I love about [showrunner] Scott [Gimple] and the writers' roomand all the writers we've had on this showyou've got to keep telling your story. You've got to have faith that what you're doing is right. You're going to please some of the people some of the time, and you're going to please all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time. If ever there was a quote that is apt, it's that, for this show. Because it's a pick and mix, isn't it? You might like the romance. You strike me as a man who has a romantic bone in his body, whereas I like the kickass action stuff. [Laughs] But I suppose it's a plate-spinning thing that those guys have to do and we have to do and all of the crew. But the most important thing is that you're engaged with these people.

It seems like people engage deeply with these characters. I have a theory that people feel so disconnected in modern society that we sort of long to have all of our distractions pushed away so that we can genuinely engage each other again.

Maybe. The more I live on this planet, the more I realize that most of the pain on the planet is because people aren't being listened to. They aren't being heard. Let's not get too deep. [Laughs] I'll jump off my balcony.

Since Rick has really been put through the emotional wringer over five seasons, is it emotionally taxing to play Rick?

Yeah...is the short answer. [Laughs] Yeah, it is. He's had to deal with so much grief and trauma and tragedy and death and war and bad decisions and wrong decisions and guilt and shame. Lookthat's my day job. That's what I go to work to do, and I love it. A great acting teacher that I had called Doreen Cannon, who sadly is no more, said, "Even when you're in the depths of despair in a scene, it's a release. It should be a joyous release." So even if you're pulling on something, it's a release. Some people don't get to do it in a lifetime and end up blowing their brains out. I get to emote for a living. It's beautiful. It means I'm really boring at home, though. I have nothing left! [Laughs] But he has been through the wringer, this poor guy, but everybody else has, too. Everybody has their own trauma and tragedy in this world. No one is unscathed by it.

Since the show has pushed so many boundaries, do you ever worry that the violence is becoming too brutal for viewers?

You know, we take the violence on this show extremely seriouslyyou have to. I want nothing to do with anything that has pornographic violence, and what I mean by that is violence for the sake of violence. It's a sensation. I do think we're incredibly daring with some of the violence in the show, and we're on a borderline with some of it. Interestingly, I think it's a yin and yang thing, where you earn the right to bite someone's throat out if you have a scene afterwards with two men, and one says to the other, "It was worth going through this just because we found you, because you are my brother."

I think, in the right hands, you can push the envelope. You can push boundaries. I think we're very lucky to have Scott Gimple and this very talented writing team and AMC and all these people behind us who take it incredibly seriously. Unless it's pushing a character into a different place or pushing the story into another area that is worthy of going to, then it doesn't deserve to be there. We'll know soon enough if we've overstepped the mark. I think that they're very cautious about all of this, even though it may seem daring, and it is daring.

I wouldn't be lying to you to say that when I read the neck bite [scene] that I called Scott up. And then I did the scene, and it made complete sense, like a lot of times. And then the next scene afterwards with Norman, that's why it's there. It's not there because we just want to bite someone's neck out. If that was our show, we wouldn't be talking now. But it's a very good thing to bring up. I said in an interview that I did want it on record. It was a sort of misquote where I said, "The show has grown up now," and it was in the context that "we're going into the heart of darkness." This is a show that, if we'd begun at this level, I'm not sure it would have stayed. Certainly, there's one episode this season that is the show that I've always wanted to make. But if we had started there, I equally don't think we'd be talking now.

www.amctv.com/shows/the-walking-dead

 



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Christian Movies
July 25th 2016
12:48am

I’m always surprised at how insanely popular this show is.