“I chopped a guy’s leg off in season three.” Andrew Lincoln is alone in a sleepy hotel bar in Hollywood, rubbing his beard. “It was such a trippy experience. Total American Psycho. They had a real actor, but his foot was underneath and they put this fake leg up there for me to chop into. And just hearing him scream and all the blood… I couldn’t sleep for about three hours afterwards.”
He sips his Diet Coke. “Seriously, there are days on this job, when I just think ‘I’m doing something terribly wrong.’”
As the grizzled cop Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead, Andrew Lincoln has found his calling: leading a band of desperate survivors through a zombie apocalypse. Pre-Grimes, Lincoln was recognized as any number of fresh-faced boyish roles like Egg, the housemate lawyer-turned-chef from This Life in the mid-Nineties, or the hapless Simon Casey, from Teachers. His most memorable moment was in Love Actually, which saw him standing on Keira Knightley’s doorstep declaring his love with cue cards, possibly the sappiest moment in a movie made entirely out of sap. Naturally, he didn’t get the girl. As Jonathan Ross has told him, he needed to act a bit more like Rick Grimes for that.
The US, it seems, has made a man of him. “It’s strange,” he says. “As soon as I started going grey, people said, ‘maybe you could be an action hero.’”
It’s manly work, killing zombies, even if it is pretend. The set is out in the sticks, about 90 minutes from Atlanta, Georgia, and the heat and humidity are brutal. Grime is the word. “Yeah, we stink,” he says. “There’s not much romance in the show and you understand why — there’s no showers!”
The intensity of the show is relentless, it’s life and death from minute to minute. There’s a lot of zombies to kill. He’s on 183 so far. “The fans have been keeping count,” he says. “Yes, I’m leading. Kind of happy about it.” And he’s found they work longer days in the US:15 hours and more. It’s the kind of gig where some nights, he’ll drive home at 2am, exhausted, spattered with blood, just praying that the cops don’t stop him. Then there are the pressures of being the lead. “Everybody looks to you, crew and cast and production,” he says. “Look, I’ve gone grey doing this. I’m convinced zombie years are like dog years.”
That said, he’s loving every minute. The Rada graduate from Kentish Town, with the 18 year career in the UK, is quite at home in Atlanta, where he spends up to eight months a year. It’s an opportunity to get closer to Grimes’ culture. “I like to be immersed,” he says. “I don’t want to just hang out with other English actors. I don’t want to know about the football or the cricket, do you know what I mean?”
So he keeps his Atlanta accent throughout — the only exception is when he’s with his wife and two kids, a girl and boy. “It’s the weirdest thing,” he says. “I get off the plane, I have a different currency, a different dialect and a different name.” (He changed his name from Clutterbuck to Lincoln because well… you would, wouldn’t you?)
But his embrace of the Grimes lifestyle has its caveats. He drives a hybrid, for example. “Ford Fusion baby! That’s what I’m talking about!”
Not a pick-up? Surely Rick Grimes is a truck kind of guy?
Lincoln smiles. “I’m just not into cars really. I only passed because my wife wouldn’t marry me otherwise. I was 30.”
Well, then, at least tell me you’re a demon driver… He laughs, “No, I’m like Postman Pat.”
The Waking Dead season four starts in October on Fox