Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes of 'The Walking Dead') marvels over good fortune

By RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com, filed Dec. 3, 2010

Until a few weeks ago, Andrew Lincoln was a successful actor in England best known in the United States for a role in "Love Actually" a few years back. Then "The Walking Dead" dropped in his lap. Now as the lead character, the determined cop Rick Grimes, he's on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. The magazine dubbed the zombie drama  "the best new show on TV."

"Even in my wildest dreams, I never envisioned this," said Lincoln, in an exuberant interview earlier this week. "It's kind of rare when everybody gets the gist of the show and has the same excitement and enthusiasm you have. We're all kind of emailing and Skyping each other and just pinching ourselves."

The series, shot during the summer in Atlanta and based on a series of graphic novels, opened at a surprisingly robust 5.3 million on Halloween. Its fifth episode last Sunday hit a series high 5.6 million. These are double the numbers of AMC's heralded "Mad Men" and better than many network shows.

Unfortunately for AMC, there are only six episodes to open the first season. Next year, expect 13.

When publicizing the show before it launched, many folks joked about how ridiculously hot it was in Atlanta. Lincoln himself had lost weight for the role and lost even more because of the outdoor shoots in punishing 90-plus degree weather. "I probably shouldn't say this but I had a great time out there," the Brit said. "We just hope it's not another record-breaking hot year next year."

The season one finale this Sunday was primarily shot inside the former Sci-Trek space downtown at the Atlanta Civic Center masquerading as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The outdoor portions were shot at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

It was the only one of the six episodes in which the actors were in air conditioning. "We used to walk around joking, 'I'm not sweaty enough! We're not hot enough!" Lincoln said. "We felt like rats trapped in this sterile environment. We were used to grunging it up in the countryside."

Not to give too much away, but Grimes & Co. may soon been leaving Atlanta proper into more rural areas to get away from the high concentrations of zombies. "But I'm loathe to pre-empt what [executive producer] Frank [Darabont] and the team have in store. Frank's written this exquisite thing. I'll do whatever he says!"

While they were here for more than two months to shoot six episodes this past summer, a 13-episode shoot should take five or six months next year. Lincoln can't wait to put on the cop uniform and play Grimes again.

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"He's driven by this instinct to protect," he said. In Sunday's episode, "you realize how tautly wound this guy is. He has a public face he has to keep up as the leader. People look up to him. That puts undue pressure on him. He needs to keep moving. He needs a mission or a goal or he'll die. Some characters just give up. I think having a family is vital to keeping him going, to give him momentum. He has to look after them. "

In a later press conference, Lincoln said he was unaware of Darabont's decision to possibly drop the writing staff and rely on freelancers, news broken earlier in the week by deadline.com. He said he implicitly trusts Darabont.

Robert Kirkman, who created the graphic novels and is actively involved with the TV series, clarified the issue a bit in TV Guide, saying any news about how the writing staff will be configured is premature.

On TV

"The Walking Dead," season finale, 10 p.m. AMC Sunday