Photo Copyright: Gene Page/AMC

Following the success of the Walker Stalker event, in which almost 20,000 The Walking Dead fans herded into the Olympia Grand in London, VultureHound was lucky enough to catch Andrew Lincoln and producer/director Greg Nicotero for an uncharacteristically civilized chat over coffee and cupcakes.

What first attracted you to the role of Rick?

ANDREW: One of the greatest attractions to me was that we have this physical embodiment of law and order. This family man with a moral compass, and then as he inhabits this world, the environment changes him continually. So he develops this new moral code. It’s interesting to look back on Rick in season two when he was still very much anchored to the “now”, to the old world, whereas Shane had already had a couple of formative experiences that made him reevaluate and say “no, this is where we need to be.” Since season four or five, however, he’s positioned himself more extreme than Shane. And now there’s a recalibration in leadership again. For an actor to get the opportunity to keep modifying and exploring different parts of this guy is a huge privilege. I’ve never lived playing a character for six years before, and the reason why this one has been so satisfying is because of the writers and the team behind it. And the source material. Maybe that’s why there’s this enduring strength of longevity; it keeps rising like the phoenix from the flames in a new landscape, or with new characters coming, or everybody changing as the group dynamic changes. I love it man! I get to wear cowboy boots and slay zombies for a living! Who wouldn’t love it! I see old buddies from drama school and they ask me how I got this! I remember Frank Darabont; I was under the tank in that first episode and he leaned under the tank and he said “You’re classically trained right?” I nodded and he just started to cackle. It’s a hoot, and the wonderful thing is that it’s not a procedural drama. Every day is different on this show. That’s why I think everybody is so enthusiastic and loves doing it so much, because we could be doing a courtroom drama instead. When we’re doing a seventeen hour day and there’s three thousand zombies. It’s carnage. But it’s fun!

andrew-licoln-1Gene Page/AMC

ANDREW: I told Frank Darabont to give me an education in the undead, so he gave me a hit-list of the movies that I definitely should avoid, and the ones I should watch. So I did a little bit of research, because I don’t think we have that same sort of horror culture here. We’re more Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. Doing this job though is sort of an education in itself really. I mean, I read around things, but I think the genre… When people say this is a genre show I think it’s a western. If there’s anything we’re akin to, it’s that genre. Yeah, it’s scary, but the way we shoot it, it’s a western. It’s never really been a zombie show, it’s always been about survival.

Did you have to become a zombie expert to prepare for the role?

ANDREW: I told Frank Darabont to give me an education in the undead, so he gave me a hit-list of the movies that I definitely should avoid, and the ones I should watch. So I did a little bit of research, because I don’t think we have that same sort of horror culture here. We’re more Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker. Doing this job though is sort of an education in itself really. I mean, I read around things, but I think the genre… When people say this is a genre show I think it’s a western. If there’s anything we’re akin to, it’s that genre. Yeah, it’s scary, but the way we shoot it, it’s a western. It’s never really been a zombie show, it’s always been about survival.

Why do you think we have such a fascination with the zombie apocalypse? There have been so many films made about the undead, and yet they just keep coming back for more…

GREG: It’s the same as nuclear war. There’s always this number one idea of something that’s unknown. Like how would you survive? We can sit around and say “You’d make it, you’d make it, you no…” So, at least in America, everybody thinks they’d make it. Everybody’s absolutely convinced it wouldn’t happen to them, it’d happen to somebody else. So you put yourself in a situation where actually you probably wouldn’t make it. I’ve had so many people ask me what I’d do in the zombie apocalypse? Where would I go? And I say, well, you’re supposed to traditionally go to the place where no-one else would ever go because that way there wouldn’t ever be any zombies. So, you gotta go to the dentist’s office! Nobody ever wants to go to the dentist’s office. You can live forever there! So there is a fascination I think with the whole idea of someone that you love – and as you get older and you create this bond with your children – the idea that that person becomes something else. The sort of Body Snatchers aspect of looking right at someone you love and they’re gone. How does your brain process the fact that it’s not someone you love. As a father, that would be the most terrifying thing in the world; to look at my children and have them not be who they are, even though in the exterior that’s what we’re seeing. I think about that a lot. When we did season two Frank sent me the outlines for the episodes up to the Sofia moment in the barn, and I read them in two hours. For the rest of the weekend I was getting my earthquake kit and all my shit together in case something horrible happened. I had to protect my family!

The kids’ deaths in the show have definitely had some of the biggest impacts; you mention Sofia, but then we also had scenes like Carol’s “look at the flowers”. In the comics, there are scenes, especially with kids, that are even more harrowing. How do you choose which scenes go in the show, and which are just too dark for TV?

GREG: You mean like Hershel’s daughters? I think it’s really a matter of picking and choosing. In the comic book, Lori is shot at the prison carrying the baby. I remember reading the comic book before the show was even picked up and there were these moments… The panel of Lori being shot I remember vividly. The panel of Carl being shot in the eye. There are those moments that are such a haunting visual. I was sitting next to Steven (Yeun) at Comic Con a few years ago when issue 100 came out with Glenn and Negan, and I hadn’t read it yet. I was just angry! I was like “how could you do that to Steven??”

 andrew-licoln-2Photo Copyright: Gene Page/AMC

ANDREW: Robert (Kirkman) told me actually at the premiere of the first season that in issue 100 he was going to take out Glenn, and that it was going to be horrendous. He told me that then. He had planned it something like two years before the issue came out. He had it as an end game even back then. Sick man…

GREG: So I don’t think you can do all of them. And I think there are some things, like decapitation a couple of little girls, or killing Judith, those are things that would’ve pushed us into a different place that we may not have recovered from. We’re relatively dark, but it’s still dark in a fantasy way. Killing walkers, that’s different.

ANDREW: We’re moving into an area that’s pretty ambiguous though.

GREG: Yeah, Traditionally, most of the violence has been against walkers, but we did have Terminus. We pushed the envelope last year; the episode with the trough. That was something I pitched to Scott. I wanted these guys that were handsome and good-looking and had charisma, but they’re doing this horrible thing. So we came up with the idea of the trough, and seeing them bleeding people out. The juxtaposition of that with the everyday work…

ANDREW: The real banality of the violence. I was really shocked that we got away with that. I remember shooting it and being physically bound up. I looked down the line of everyone kneeling over and I couldn’t see the rig. It looked unbelievably real. It was really awful that scene. I was sure we would never get away with it!

GREG: And the guy’s behind Glenn with the baseball bat…

ANDREW: Which is shadowing the comics…

GREG: Which I did on purpose because I wanted people to think that maybe we were modifying the comic book. We did that all on purpose. The reactions are real though, because none of the actors were expecting what they were expecting. So when Veronica Cartwright gets sprayed with blood, that look is sheer terror. So when these guys were all tied up, I wanted them to see the blood coming and react!

The social side of the show is huge; phoning your friend after saying “oh my god, so and so has died!” really is a big part of the The Walking Dead experience. How does it feel to have had such an impact?

GREG: The fans are so dedicated to the show.

ANDREW: They really watch it man, and they have their own theories. I suppose it’s been interesting, this show, because it feels like social media has grown up with the show, and it’s probably fueled it to a degree that creates a sort of tribal nature to the fans. They all have their favourite character and follow them, and even live and die with them. They have so many theories it’s crazy sometimes.

GREG: The scene we shot with Rick kneeling next to Carl, and he’s holding his hand doing the “there’s a new world out there” speech, there was a little heart-shaped blood splatter on your sleeve. So somebody took a picture of it and said “did you put that on there because it aired on Valentines Day??”

ANDREW: And what did you say?

GREG: I said of “of course!” (laughs) If it’d been Halloween there’da been a little pumpkin-shaped blood-stain!

ANDREW: Or a bat…

GREG: I don’t feel fan pressure though. I just feel the pressure to make the show great. If we felt the fan pressure, nobody would ever die. Everybody would miraculously come back to life. Everybody would be fine. It’s a communal experience though. It’s like going to a bar and there’s hundreds of people who watch the show together. No-one wants to sit in their living room alone; they wanna watch it with their friends. We shot the stuff that’s going out now back in August and we can’t talk about it! To me, that’s the really hard part. Especially once a show comes on the air, like the whole thing with Glenn and everyone’s like “I can’t believe you guys did this!”, we can’t tell them to relax, that it’ll be fine, just wait a couple of weeks. It’s hard, because I know everything that’s happening in the rest of the season, and I’m excited to get there, but not being able to talk about it, and having that excitement… It drives me crazy!

The Walking Dead, Mondays at 9pm on FOX