Casting believable undead is an important aspect of any zombie show, but if you don’t have a great hero blowing off their heads, you might just end up rooting for the zombies. Robert Kirkman crafted a great protagonist for The Walking Dead in the venerable Rick Grimes so finding the right man to breathe life into him on screen would be a challenge to be sure. In the end it was a Brit who had the goods.
“We never thought we’d find our Rick Grimes in the UK,” admits executive producer Gale Anne Hurd. [Andrew Lincoln] was in the UK at the time, and he submitted his audition and we were all blown away.”
“I read it and thought it was well written, and I put myself on tape just for one scene,” says Lincoln. “I didn’t know who was involved at this point. Then the following day my agent called me, and that’s when I got very excited. It’s kind of like a dream list. Then I filmed myself in my bedroom, and then Frank Skyped me that night. So we spoke for about 40 minutes about his ideas for the project, about what I liked about Episode One and then he asked would I fly over to come and test. I flew out a couple of days later and screen tested in his garage. It was brilliant; it was very intimate.”
“The second he opened his mouth and started reading the scene, I knew it was him,” says Jon Bernthal, who plays Grimes’ buddy, Shane. “There was no question. I saw Frank and I knew it. He’s the guy. He’s a wonderful actor, and he’s going to kill it in this role.”
Bernthal’s Shane is one of the most complex parts of the series. We don’t want to give anything away, but fans of the series will understand when I say that Shane ultimately goes through some rather, ahem, disturbing changes. “When I first read the script,” says Bernthal, “I had no idea about the comic. I responded so organically to the script that I didn’t want to be colored by anything else. When I did read the comic, I was shocked. Look, I’m not going to sit here and regret. One of the great things about doing TV versus film is to be surprised yourself, to not let where you’re going color where you are.”
Bernthal read the script amongst a stack of potential television pilots. “The Walking Dead” quickly stood out from the rest of the pack. “[It was] pilot season, and I read everything that was out there,” says Bernthal. “I still remember the day that I got this script. I told my agent that I’d be thrilled to be an extra in this, it’s so good. It just blew the rest of them right out of the water.”
“I love the way that he feels about Rick,” the actor says of Shane. “I love the friendship there. I love the way he uses this unbelievable dialogue that Frank wrote to be a good friend to Rick and to be by his side. Any time you can have a character that starts in one place and go somewhere completely different, that’s the journey that we’re mostly hungry for.”
Darabont and Hurd were encouraged by the fact that AMC gave “The Walking Dead” six episodes to start off rather than just a single pilot. “It’s fantastic,” says Darabont. “These folks committed to production and air and gave us six episodes to prove ourselves. Usually you just get a shot at doing one episode, you shoot the pilot [and] there’s no on-air commitment. At some point they decide whether or not they’re going to air your show or toss it in a dumpster and it’s never heard from again.”
“I’m glad the first season isn’t 13 quite honestly because there’s a learning curve in how to prep for x number of episodes,” says Darabont. “I’m glad we’re getting sort of the half measure to start. I’d be feeling a little overwhelmed. But, you know, if there is a second season, which I believe there will be. I hope I don’t eat shit having said that. I hope I haven’t tempted the fates, but we’ll be on the hook for 13. Now I’ll know really how to get started for that.”
One last part of the puzzle for any good horror show is the right mix of creepy, atmospheric music. “Dead” doesn’t disappoint in their choice there either. “Bear McCreary is our composer,” Hurd confirms. “He’s from Battlestar Galactica.”
The show will also mix in some contemporary music, but Hurd promises it won’t be gratuitous. “It’s not going to have a bunch of Linkin Park. No, we are in a post-digital, post-electronic world, and when there is music, there’s a reason for it.”
Look for Part IV next Thursday.
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