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Posted at 11:22 AM ET, 12/ 3/2010

Q&A: 'The Walking Dead's' Andrew Lincoln

By Liz Kelly

Andrew Lincoln as deputy sheriff Rick Grimes. (Getty Images)

You may not be familiar with Andrew Clutterbuck, a man with a name that even he admits sounds more hobbit than human. Which is why, for the purposes of his acting career -- which is suddenly red hot -- he changed his last name to Lincoln. You can catch him on Sunday nights in AMC's newest hit, "The Walking Dead."

Lincoln plays the earnest, and decidedly American, Rick Grimes -- a small-town Georgia sheriff who finds himself leading a group of survivors through lots of gutsy escapades after zombies take over the world.

How did a British actor (one who is most often remembered by Americans as a lovesick friend opposite Keira Knightley in "Love Actually") end up playing a Southern sheriff?

"I always say I got it because my son had just been born and I hadn't slept for 12 days and probably looked like I survived a zombie-pocalypse," said Lincoln when we talked on Wednesday. "I think that helped."

After the jump, we don't talk one bit about the fact that Apple Martin (daughter of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin) was the flower girl at his wedding or about the fact that he's married to the daughter of Jethro Tull lead singer Ian Anderson. What we do talk about is what attracted Lincoln to "The Walking Dead," his newfound love for the American south and the whole Clutterbuck thing.

So, Frank Darabont basically fired the entire season one writing staff this week and reportedly plans to use freelancers to craft next season's 13 episodes. Did you know anything about this?

I don't know anything about that.

It seemed like an odd move considering how successful season one has been.

Well, I think you'll probably have to ask him about it because I don't know anything about it, I'm afraid.

Have you signed on for season two yet?

Have I signed on? Absolutely. I've signed on for many more seasons as well if we're lucky enough to have them. We're all set to go and extremely excited about it.

Do you know when you plan to start shooting season two?

No, sadly, we're still working on that, I think. I think my agent is liaising with AMC and we're sort of working -- I would imagine a similar time to this year, but we haven't got exact dates.

The show's not expected to come back until next October, so that's a big gap.

It's a long time to wait. I know.

"Walking Dead" has been compared with "Lost" on multiple levels. Did you watch "Lost"?

No, I didn't. I heard it was a very good show. Very successful. Is "Lost" about people trying to escape from an island?

It is, but I think where the similarity comes in is in that it's a group of people who are kind of thrown together against all odds.

I suppose psychologically speaking an apocalypse has happened [on "Walking Dead"], so it is kind of radically different. There isn't a safe haven for these people. So I think the mindset is probably very different.

Have you read any of the comic books that the show is based on? If so, is the show faithful to the vision of the original works?

Yes, I have. And yeah, I think that tonally it is extremely faithful and I think that Robert Kirkman, the executive producer and writer of the graphic novel is extremely happy, I think.

Now, some viewers might be surprised to learn that you're English. How did you come to audition for the role of a small town Georgia sheriff?

I know. I keep asking myself the same question. I was sent the script by my agent. I think I played a New York lawyer -- I did a pilot three or four years ago -- and I think that got me on the radar of certain casting directors in America that I could do the accent and, yeah, since then most pilot season scripts have been coming through my agent to me.

I always say I got it because my son had just been born and I hadn't slept for 12 days and probably looked like I survived a zombie-pocalypse. I think that helped.

Do you work with a language coach at all?

I do. I mean, if someone's going to ask you to lead an AMC show in American, I really thought it -- well, I didn't want it to be an issue on set. So I went out early and got a sense of place and worked on dialects and then Frank -- the director -- asked me to speak in dialect all the time so a lot of the crew didn't know. They thought I was from there -- because it was set in Atlanta. It was helpful for me to integrate somewhat.

So what was it about the role that really attracted you to the show?

Umm ... the first thing that attracted me was Morgan's story. It wasn't the character of Rick so much. In episode one, that story.

And we haven't seen Morgan since episode one ...

I know, and [Lennie James] keeps texting me about it! He's an old mate from back home. He's like "How is everything going? Is it all right?" But I'm sure we'll see more of him. He's a good actor, as the boy is as well. And it's too brilliant a story line to miss, I'm sure.

[Note: Lennie James has appeared in scads of movies, including "Snatch" and "24 Hour Party People," but Americans may also recognize him from last year's AMC mini-series "The Prisoner," in which he played the cabdriver who didn't want to know too much about, well, anything.]

But that was the thing that keyed me in to it. Just because I understood what they were trying to do. It wasn't a zombie thing, it was more about an extreme situation and what's left of humanity and having these pockets of beautiful humanity and recognition of what it is -- I said to Frank, if we're going to do a series about the undead it's a great opportunity to say something about what it is to be alive. I think that's what's at the heart of the show for me and what I was excited about.

The show hasn't hesitated to kill off some of the main characters -- like Andrea's sister. It seems a shame to lose such great characters.

I think if you have knowledge of the graphic novel, one of the brilliant things about the novel and why it's had such longevity -- it's been going for eight years -- is the fact that nobody's safe. I think that if you expect an audience to be really keyed in to something and to experience the brutality and ruthlessness of the world that they're supposed to be inhabiting, you have to make sacrifices along the way. Storywise and character-wise. And I think what it does is it very much sets the rules that no one really is safe. And I think that's a very brave thing to do, a very brutal thing, but very much befitting of this brave and brutal show we're trying to make.

So by Sunday night when the season finale airs, will Rick find out that Shane was shacking up with his wife while he was gone?

I'll let viewers discover that for themselves.

So what would you say is the grossest thing you had to do while filming the first season?

What is the grossest thing I had to do? Probably when we were wearing washing up gloves while running through a rain soak, wearing a Macintosh, chopping my way through a field of zombies trying to escape from Atlanta in the sweltering heat. Every time we finished a take we had to drain the gloves we were wearing of sweat.

What is it that is used for the blood and guts? Is it something synthetic or do we not want to know?

I think you have to speak to the Willy Wonka of gore, Greg Nicotero, because he has basically patented his own blood recipe. People are trying to buy his recipe for blood because it's so good.

It is very realistic.

You're telling me. It's one of the realest special effects I've ever had the misfortune to be involved with.

So aside from reading the graphic novels, did you do any other research?

Yeah. I take that very seriously. That's why I went out early to Atlanta, to get a sense of place and speak to people. I read novels. I listen to music. I just try to tap in to a little of the culture. I read a great book by Tom Wolfe called "A Man in Full" which is all about Atlanta. Brilliant, sprawling book which is all about the history of the place as well. I read Steinbeck. I read a brilliant book by Jay McInerney called "The Last Savages," which is about a Southern character. I just, I dig -- that's one of the great attractions of my job is that you get to pretend to be other people and experience ... it's like a project. Actually, some of the most exciting parts of the job are reading around and getting a sense of place and people and trying to imagine a character. I'm like a magpie. I use lots of different things to build a character.

So have you considered moving across the Atlantic if the show continues to be a success?

Well, the great thing about doing cable rather than network is that we're doing 13 episodes, which isn't the full move. My family will come with me next time we film this coming year, but it isn't the full "up sticks" and move out there. And it's also really wonderful to be in a part of the country that I really enjoy. I really like the people there. As a family, we all had an incredibly successful trip out there and I'm really excited about going back. We made some really good friends. Atlanta is an incredibly cool city.

Well, I'll suggest some additional research for you, then. You should check out "The Real Housewives of Atlanta." Everything you need to know. Right there.

I'll look out for that.

So, are you happy with the season finale that we're all going to see on Sunday?

Incredibly. Well, the only thing I'm not happy about is finishing it. I think it's such an engrossing sort of thing to act in and hopefully people watching it are having the same experience. The thing about the graphic novel is that Robert Kirkman has stated that he never wants it to finish. So it becomes not about a linear narrative. It's more interesting than that. He's always fascinated about what happens at the end of a zombie movie. How do they live on? And so it becomes about people adapting and changing and inventing a new moral code to sort of deal with this new world that they inhabit and that is a fascinating thing for the character and the story. Every episode ends with an incredible cliffhanger, which is the nature of serialized television. It's a brilliant device. Similar to what happens in the comic book series, which is probably why it's been so successful.

I have an odd question for you. I was doing my research and looking you up and saw that you were actually born Andrew Clutterbuck?

That is my name.

Why did you change it?

Why do you think, Liz?

Hear me out -- I don't know if you're familiar with a fellow English actor who plays Sherlock Holmes in the new BBC remakes. But his name is Benedict Cumberbatch--

He's a very good friend of mine.

Well, I'm guessing he didn't change his name from something even more esoteric and he's doing just fine.

That's true. I always joke that there was another Clutterbuck in equity. And people go "what?" No, it was my first agent who said, "Oh, come on, you've got to change that, it's ridiculous. Sounds like a hobbit." I think I sort of buckled in. But in one sense it's brilliant because it means that along the road I have a separate identity, which is brilliant to my family and has been very good for privacy. On the other hand, I'm fiercely proud of my name and everything in my life in England is Clutterbuck. If we ever meet I'll show you my credit card, which is Clutterbuck. So, yeah, it's just what happened.

"The Walking Dead" season finale airs Sunday night on AMC at 10 p.m. ET.

By Liz Kelly  | December 3, 2010; 11:22 AM ET
Categories:  TV  | Tags:  Walking Dead  
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Good for you, Liz Kelly, for continuing to talk to him after he confessed early in the interview that he'd never seen "Lost." The Kellys I've known would have shown no compunction about bizzle-slapping young Mr. Clutterbuck for such an admission.

Posted by: byoolin1 | December 3, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

While I appreciate the interview with the talented Andrew Lincoln (er Clutterbuck), you really should've interviewed Jon Bernthal, who is his co-start (Shane) and is a DC native and Sidwell Friends alum. Seems more appropriate for the hometown paper.

Posted by: RL68 | December 3, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

We're working on it, RL.

Posted by: Liz Kelly | December 3, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Spoiler alerts, darn it.

Posted by: j00_suxor | December 3, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse

"I always say I got it because my son had just been born and I hadn't slept for 12 days and probably looked like I survived a zombie-pocalypse. I think that helped."


"I always say I got it because my son had just been born and I hadn't slept for 12 days and probably looked like I survived a zombie-pocalypse. I think that helped."

He is:

a. REALLY sleep-deprived and repeated the same line further in the interview.

b. so PR'ed up that he forgot he used the line in this interview. or

c. the victim of bad newspaper editors.

Posted by: peauxsucent888 | December 4, 2010 12:57 AM | Report abuse

I love this show and love reading your commentary!! Will you be creating a TWD hub? :-) They've already started to deviate from the comic with the CDC visit. Wonder if the trend will continue so they can put together a storyline with an ending-- they haven't gotten very far in the comic book plot line at all, but no complaints here. Don't want it to end! if your taking interview requests, my vote's for Steven Yeun (Glenn)!

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