True Bromance On “The Walking Dead,” AMC’s megahit series filmed in Georgia, no one is safe from the zombie horde. Not even, we fear, its two biggest stars, Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus. The two pals talk about Atlanta food, roadkill, crazy fans, and how it all could end at any time. by Steve Fennessy
Photograph by John Russo
Back in August I had lunch at Miller Union, where co-owner Neal McCarthy had heard that we were trying to get The Walking Dead stars to appear on our November cover. Turns out the entire cast had just been at the restaurant a few nights before. Why? Each time another character is killed off, the actors gather to toast their departing comrade and, no doubt, wonder when their own time is up. After all, the first rule of a zombie apocalypse has to be that zombies don’t discriminate when it comes to mealtime. So while it was no shock to learn that at least one character will die this season, we’ll have to wait to see precisely who gets the ax. Hershel? Glenn? Carl? Surely not Rick! Or Daryl!
Well, who knows? In Los Angeles in early October, I got to talk with Norman Reedus (who plays Daryl, the enigmatic redneck with the crossbow) and Andrew Lincoln (who plays Rick, the deputy sheriff who, until last season anyway, led the ragtag group of survivors). Both Daryl and Rick have suffered almost preposterous losses (Rick, for example, had to stab his best friend, and his son actually had to shoot his own mother, Rick’s wife, after she gave birth. If you have to ask … ) In the three-plus years since they first met, Lincoln and Reedus have become close friends, which is obvious when they’re together. Both bust each other’s chops (Reedus tends to sign his bar tabs with Lincoln’s name and then send Lincoln a picture of his raised middle finger), but both are generous in their praise of the other. Most jarring while talking to Lincoln is getting used to his British accent, which he suppresses on set so successfully that some crew members didn’t realize until after the first season that not only is he not from the South, he’s not even American.
Atlanta figured prominently in our discussion. Both actors live here during production—Lincoln in the city with his wife and two children; Reedus south of it, near Senoia, where much of the show is filmed—and both seemed genuinely saddened when I brought up the idea of production moving outside of Georgia. (The graphic novel on which the show is based moves the action to Washington, D.C., but there has been no word yet on when or if that will happen in the show, which does not follow the book religiously.)
In the meantime, Lincoln and Reedus have hit the publicity tour for the show’s fourth season. Both actors say they’ll be attending the Walker Stalker convention in Atlanta in early November (walkerstalkercon.com), and Reedus is releasing a book of photography on October 31.
The Walking Dead is filmed in Georgia in the heat of summer. Does part of you wish you could film it here in Los Angeles, with the milder temperatures, the temperate breezes? Andrew Lincoln: I love being in Atlanta. So much of the success of the show is because we film there, away from the industry. We’re in a bubble in Senoia. You’re not caught up in the whole business end of things. We’re on location, so it forces us to get closer as a unit. It was a part of the country I’d never been to before, as well.
What was your perception of it before? Lincoln: My perception was always a terrible cliche—the Southern hick kind of town. Then you go to a metropolis like Atlanta, and you think, This is incredibly sophisticated and very urbane. But my reference point had been “Dueling Banjos” in Deliverance.
That’s everybody’s. Lincoln: But I was struck by the manners, the family attitude, the very respectful generational attitude, which a lot of the world has lost. I also love the mix. It’s an incredibly culturally diverse city and it’s got great food. I mean, Miller Union, Chai Pani, all these amazing eclectic restaurants that I love. It’s also got the best coffee shop in the world, Aurora Coffee.
Has the way you’ve interpreted your character changed at all based on having lived there? Lincoln: No, it’s a completely different thing. It began as very much observational. The speech, the dialect, you’re slowed down by the weather. People speak slower. I worked hard at getting that sound right. As you spend more time with this guy, you build other things. Senoia helps. The studio is very protected. And I commute. My family lives in Atlanta. [My kids] go to school there. And I have a Georgia license!
You stood in line? Lincoln: I had to go straight from work after doing this incredible fight scene. I was full of blood. I wiped it all off—I thought. And then they took the picture of me and I look like a serial killer. There’s blood on my neck, blood on my head. The woman said, “You had a bad day at the office, baby?”
I read you don’t watch the show. Lincoln: It’s not just this show; it’s been for the last fifteen years or so. I watched a little bit of This Life [a BBC drama Lincoln starred in during the mid-1990s], and maybe a couple of episodes of Teachers [another British series]. And now I’m done. It just doesn’t help. If I watch something and I like something I do, then I’d try to replicate it. That’s self-consciousness, and I’m trying to put myself out of the equation. I don’t want to be in it. The enjoyment and satisfaction I get is from the doing of it.
So how can you understand the obsession people have with this show when you don’t even watch it? Lincoln: I get it because I live it, man! You’re just watching it. I get to live it. I adore this job, and I’m deeply invested in this job on so many levels because of the friendships I’ve made. When you work on a set, you get to see people sick, you get to see them well, you get to see marriages break up, you get to see them reunite, you live all the other aspects of doing the job with a community of people. Two hundred fifty people work on this show. They become part of your daily life. And I sacrifice so much, time wise, from my family, that if I didn’t care about it as much as you guys do, there’d be something wrong.
You just turned forty. Any revelations? Lincoln: No, just grayer. And my joints ache a little bit more in the morning. There’s something about having a midlife crisis and being able to zombie-slay in the middle of it. Yeah, people buy Ferraris, and I choose to rid the world of the zombie horde.
Did you do anything? Lincoln: Well, my birthday forevermore has been hijacked by my daughter’s. She’s four days before me. So it was all about her. It was her sixth birthday. I flew back [to England], got back for her birthday, and on my birthday I took my wife and twelve six-year-old girls to the circus. That was my fortieth.
There are degrees of mania with this show. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen? Lincoln: Norman gets all the weird stuff. He’s the weird filter.
So what exactly is the appeal with him? Lincoln: He’s one of the rare people the more you get to know him, the more is revealed. Most people spend their time trying to describe themselves to you. “This is who I am.” And invariably as you get to know them better they become less interesting. [Norman’s] one of the few people who becomes more interesting. He’s an extraordinary actor and he does it effortlessly. And it’s going to sound pretentious—because always when you talk about acting it sounds pretentious, which is why I generally don’t talk about it—but he’s a minimalist. He does the minimal amount of effort for the biggest reward. It’s very refined and very brilliant. A lot of people say, “Oh, he just does cool.” The first time I met him, I was like, “You just went to cool school.” But the more you get to know him, [you realize] he’s very sensitive. He’ll hate me saying this, but he has a very good heart, he’s very loyal and incredibly bright. His instincts are some of the best I’ve seen in an actor.
We were just talking about you. Reedus: Son of a bitch! [To attractive server] I’ll have a Jack and Coke. Do me nice, do me nice. Server: [Laughs] Okay. Anything else for you guys? Reedus: And a pack of Parliament Lights.
I polled women who watch the show and asked whom they prefer—Daryl or Rick? There was only one who said Rick. I’m sorry about that, Andrew. Reedus: [Laughs] She was probably the only one that was of age.
How do you feel about that, Andrew? Reedus: [Looks at Lincoln] You know I’m charging all this to your room? Lincoln: [Shakes his head] You know what he does every fucking year? We get per diems here.
And he uses yours? Lincoln: Every single time! Then he takes a photograph of this huge check, and does this [flashes a middle finger] and it’s $500! And he’s been here just a day? What, has he wrecked the bar? [Reaches for a nut.] So what do I think about that [that women prefer Reedus]? I wholeheartedly agree.
Norman, you tweet a lot, but Andrew, you don’t tweet at all, right? Lincoln: I don’t know what that means. Reedus: I’m a tweet-a-holic.
There are websites devoted to pictures that you’ve tweeted of yourself with your cat. Reedus: My best friend. My fat cat. The bastard.
There’s one photo of Norman’s character holding a baby, which is Rick’s daughter. He’s feeding the baby from a bottle. Someone wrote a caption that says, “Did you hear that? That’s the sounds of thousands of vaginas simultaneously exploding.” Reedus: I love that sound. Lincoln: What’s that sound like? Reedus: It’s horrifying. Lincoln: That’s amazing. [To Reedus] How do you feel about that? Reedus: It’s fun! The problem is, most of those [fans] are underage. Or overage. Look, we’ve had four years to develop these characters. People know them. They just get invested in all of it. All of my son’s friends like him best [motions to Lincoln]. They hate some characters. Lincoln: But there is something neat you do with him. You could have played him as a redneck. You’ve done something completely different and detailed and beautiful and broken. [Appears to realize something] You really are alone, aren’t you? You’re a confessed loner. Reedus: That’s why there’s all those pictures of my fucking cat. Lincoln: Him alone. That’s his life. Reedus: That’s exactly right. Now I’m going to go kill myself. Lincoln: One of the many things I dig about the show is that it reminds me of, say, The Magnificent Seven. You’ve got all these disparate people who should not fit together. They’re misfits, they’re loners, they’re broken, they’re fucked up, they’re tortured. And they band together. And then there’s a core—five or six of them—that you just root for. Some of the finest moments are not the killing or the slaying, it’s the tiny bits of generosity that you help someone through the day with. I had a line where I said to Daryl, “Thank you very much; I know what you did for me,” and he said, “You would have done the same.” Those are the bits you mine for. Reedus: When Lori [Rick’s wife] dies, and Maggie comes out with your baby, and you break down? Hands down, that’s one of the best acting moments on our show. Ever. I was in the background, and it was hard to determine if Daryl felt bad for Rick or if Norman felt bad for Andy. I was choking up, going, “Man, not my boy Andy.” We’re so close. Lincoln: That’s the truth. I didn’t want [Sarah Wayne Callies, who played Lori] anywhere near that set. Because I was going to go, “She’s gone.” You forge these incredible friendships, and also these incredible friendships between characters that you lose. You honor the dead when they go. And you’ve got to give it everything you’ve got in your engine, because they’ve done such a marvelous job.
I was at Miller Union a few weeks ago and they said they’d hosted a dinner for the cast because that’s what you do every time a character is killed off. That must be tough. And it all started in the writers’ room. Reedus: It sucks. And not only that, the writers of that episode will be on set. And if they’re responsible for killing off one of your friends, you’re not like, “Hey great to see you”; it’s just: “Dick.” When certain characters die, their storyline could have gone on. You think, God, if they’d kept that character alive a little bit longer, you could have got so much rich story out of that person. But like life, if everyone is at the end of their story when they die, it’s not as interesting. Lincoln: That’s a really good point. I’ve seen a lot of big movies recently and there’s no jeopardy. You know they’re going to make it. There’s an elaborate chase sequence or battle sequence—and no one dies. So I agree. There’s something incredibly interesting about when someone in your life, for real, gets taken away from you. It changes you, irrevocably. In those scenes, when you talk about the dead, it’s the easiest thing in the world to act that, because you have history with these people, and so does the audience. Reedus: It helps that we shoot where we shoot. Out in the woods in our own little bubble, it’s just us. We’re so tight down there. I don’t think you could ever do the show again like this. It’s lightning in a bottle for all of the right reasons.
It kind of broke my heart to see Merle [Daryl’s brother, played by Michael Rooker] die. Reedus: Me too. Rooker is a tornado of a man. He’s somebody who brought a lot to the show. There was an unpredictability about him that kept all of us on our toes all the time. You’d put a wall around him and he’d just bounce off of them. It was a drag saying goodbye to him. Rooker is different. He’s the Tasmanian Devil.
We can see and hear on TV, but we can’t smell. In the depths of a Georgia summer, what are we not smelling? Especially in that prison? Lincoln: Prison’s not so bad, because we have air conditioning. Reedus: The smell is part of us. It’s on us. It’s in us. It’s rot.
Do you finally get to smile this season? Lincoln: [Grins] Yes, I do. This season starts in a different place. The writers have been really smart. They’re dialing it back in and beginning again. It’s almost like you’ve got this new civilization. Rick has renounced leadership and has taken up pig farming.
For real? A gentleman pig farmer? Lincoln: I don’t know about that. It doesn’t go that well. There was one day where I was up close with these little piglets— Reedus: Best day ever. Lincoln: —and it was me, him, and five little piglets. One called Chaps, because it had black legs. One called Bandit, with two black eyes. Very cute little pigs. Two other ones with the unfortunate names Pork and Chop. They were very quiet. But my personal favorite was the runt of the litter called Truffle. Beautiful little pig. [Pause] It’s a real shame what happened to it. No, no, no! No animals were harmed during the filming of this.
How many wardrobe changes do you go through? Lincoln: None. We wear the same shit. I’ve worn the same boots. They’re falling off my feet. I have one pair and they don’t know what to do. They’ve been resoled six times. If I haven’t had two resolings in one season I haven’t been working hard enough.
All of these shops you can plunder in the zombie apocalypse but nobody gets decent clothes. Reedus: We’re not trying to impress each other with our new fashionable clothing. Lincoln: Yeah, I don’t think it’s their first thought. Of course, practical footwear is. Reedus: We’re all in New Balance sneakers. We’re all in Gucci one day. Lincoln: There are more pressing issues, like staying alive.
Who has the better Southern accent? Reedus: This one. Listen to him. He’s not even American. He’s by far the most talented with the accents. Lincoln: Oh, shut up. It’s only because I have a dialect coach.
Do you? Reedus: I don’t. I came off The Conspirator where I had one so I just kept that growl going. But when people find out he’s British, they go, “He’s fucking kidding me.” Lincoln: This is the only time he hears me speaking in this stupid [British] accent. The rest of the time [on set] I do a general American accent with Southern sounds, then I crank it up very specifically for the scene. So it’s a transitional sort of thing. I’ve got a general light Southern, then I’ll do a Georgia. Reedus: He shows up at work like that. He talks like that in between takes. He’s a split personality. Lincoln: I just found it really helpful to stay in it. But it took awhile. You have to get through the shame factor and the fraudulency. If you can buy a coffee in your coffee shop in your dialect, that’s your first step.
And did you do that? Lincoln: Yeah. And the weird thing is, now I go to Aurora coffee shop with my family or other people who are British, and I have to do the [Southern] dialect because I feel weird because they know me as this person. Eddie [Evans, the key grip] on our crew, after our first season, he saw me do an interview. Eddie is born-and-raised Georgia. He just freaked out. He couldn’t work it out. I now feel very coy when I do that. I feel kind of shy doing it, because they know me as one person. It’s a very strange, schizophrenic kind of life I lead.
So it’s always a work in progress? Lincoln: There are things I want to get right. For example, Greenville. If you’re in general America, you say GreenVIL. If you’re in the South, you’d say GreenVUHL. I like knowing that. I like getting that right. I want people in the coffeeshop and people in the street to appreciate and come up to me and say, “You’re getting it right.” I saw a movie on the plane over and I saw an English actor doing it, and they go hillbilly.
So how long can this go on? Reedus: At least another week. [Both men laugh]
Maybe that’s a joke I’ll get in a few months. Reedus: As long as the writing is there and the desire and enthusiasm are there, it’ll go on for a long time. I’d be Daryl Dixon till I’m eighty-five years old. Lincoln: If he’s still in it and I’m still in it, I’ll keep doing it.
There’s a possibility of you losing a hand to the Governor [Rick’s antagonist]. That’s what happens in the book. Could Rick die? Lincoln: That’s one of the strengths of the show. No one is safe. That’s hopefully why people tune in each week, to make sure their favorite character does stay alive. There is real jeopardy. I love that. It’s one of the cruelest parts of the job, as we’ve said before. You have to say goodbye to your friends. But if my time is up and it serves the story, I will go, but I’ll go kicking and screaming. Reedus: They’ll have to drag my ass out by my hair. And then I’ll probably burn the place down. And I’d keep showing up every day anyway.
Have you seen Norman’s photographs of Georgia roadkill? Lincoln: Oh yes. We were all involved in that. We’d have to call him up and say, “We’ve got an armadillo on 16!” Reedus: Wired magazine asked me to do a show in Times Square where all the proceeds would go to Oxfam. They wanted behind-the-scenes footage of the show, which I can’t do. But I ride a motorcycle to the set every day on the back roads, and I saw all this roadkill. So I’d stop and take little glamour shots of roadkill. By the time the show came around, I was like, I got all the stuff you need. Jeffrey [Chassen, Reedus’s publicist] freaked. He said, “These are holiday shoppers—they do not want to see cats with their eyeballs popped out!” But all of them sold within an hour.
Not one in your house, I assume? Lincoln: No, but my daughter wants one from his new book. Reedus: I gave you a stuffed duck, though. Lincoln: For my last birthday he gave me this stuffed duck, a tiny little baby duckling, in a glass thing, stuffed. It was a very beautiful little duckling. I was trying to get that through Customs. For all I knew, he’d stuffed—God alone knows. I was basically his mule. It’s now in my living room.
What would it mean if the arc of the show took us outside Georgia? Lincoln: Well, in the book it does move to D.C. My first concern would be the crew. I’d say 80 percent of the crew have been on it since the beginning. They know the show. They get a sense, an energy, when everything’s going right and capturing it. Just selfishly, that would be a big concern for me. Reedus: I would hate to see some of those people go. We’re so tight. Andy and I can do a scene together. He knows if I’m off; I know if he’s off. Without saying anything, we have this way of reeling ourselves into the moment of what we need to be in, but we have that also with some of our crew. We can look at Mike, our camera operator, or any of those guys and they’ll be like, “You got it,” or “Try this,” and I’ve never been on any set before where the camera operator can do that. Lincoln: It’s funny. My job is to serve my character in the scripts that I’m given. I just read two scripts, both of which I’m not in. And I think they’re the greatest episodes we’ve ever had. There’s a depth to it. Character pushes story this season a lot more. We’ve got a very good combination of great storytelling and action sequences. Glenn [Mazzara, last season’s showrunner] did a magnificent job pushing the pace and making it a thrill ride. Now we’ve got this collision of those two things. It’s a different season. There’s more space in it. There’s still action, but it feels like we’re jumping off into another depth. We’re going into deeper, more terrifying waters. Reedus: Interesting you said “space.” You’re so right. The show started off, and there was a hyperventilating energy to it. Then it got even more frantic. Then it started to breathe. Now it’s starting to branch out internally. It’s about the stories of these characters in this zombie world. How can you keep that interesting? We’re on the inside reading scripts, going, “Holy s—t, did you read that?” Lincoln: The latest script I just read, I couldn’t sleep.
This is one you’re not in? Lincoln: Yeah. We’re both not in it.
Should we be worried about this? Reedus: Yes. You should always be worried. Lincoln: If you notice, I have a beard in the show.
But there was a bit more to it. It was fuller [than today]. Reedus: That’s what he’s saying. Lincoln: That’s what I’m saying. What does that mean? Reedus: Where’s your beard? Lincoln: “Where’s your beard?” Where’s my hand? What’s going on? Reedus: What’s going on?