Love is complicated, especially when you’re trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. Just ask the cast of The Walking Dead, AMC’s new horror-drama, which is based on the popular comic book series of the same name. Andrew Lincoln stars as copy Rick Grimes who awakens in a hospital following a serious gunshot wound only to discover that his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son have abandoned their home to travel with a group of survivors that includes Rick’s former partner Shane (Jon Bernthal).
The three actors sat down during a recent New York visit to promote The Walking Dead, where they talked about some of the major emotional beats coming up in the show’s first season…
Without giving too much away, your characters are pretty much split up for the first few episodes of the season. Does that help inform your performances as actors?
Sarah Wayne Callies: I think it’s a great addition to the comic book, because it’s one of the things we don’t see in the comic book. We don’t see the life at camp before Rick gets there and I got a chance to know Andy for six weeks before we worked together so that reunion scene; I was so happy to see him!
Andrew Lincoln: There was a camp fire scene [later in the season] and we had already done the bit before, where they’re cops and just going about their business before the apocalypse and [to Bernthal] you said, ‘You look like you’ve seen some s**t, man!’ because by that time we had seen some dark s**t. All of us had.
Sarah: You lost weight! Somebody took your cheeks out during the pilot.
Andrew: But I think Frank [Darabont] has done a beautiful job of crafting, pushing and exploring the characters and environment and the structure of the story. There are sequences in the pilot episode where he’s adhered to the big iconic images from the comic book and then he’s thrown a couple of curve balls in there as well.
Could you talk about the triangle that emerges between your three characters?
Jon Bernthal: I don’t know whether or not it was a diversion from the comics and maybe it was supposed to be there anyway, but I think the fact that there is some sort of exploration into what their past was. They grew up together and were all very close friends. I think that makes the dynamic much more interesting for lack of a better word- and a lot more painful.
What is really important, at least to my character is that you see first and foremost, primarily before any of this goes down, how close we are. It’s not just police officers who are partners, but they’re also childhood best friends and I think that adds so much to it.
But there’s a very real question about whether or not Shane is helping out his best friend by taking care of Rick’s family, or if this is the opportunity he had been waiting for. Wouldn’t that make him a bit of a predator?
Sarah: I think the three of us spent a lot of time getting to know each other as people and a big part of his decisions- if I’m off-base about this, feel free to chime in, but these relationships feel like Camelot. You take those three people and you’d be hard-pressed to figure out if there was any two of them that loved each other more than the other pairs. These people care so deeply for each other that they really destroy each other, so that’s what happens.
Part of what’s great about this story existing in a zombie apocalypse is that Shane and Lori would have lived the rest of their lives together with no thought about being anything but friends. When the world ends, there becomes a desperate need to affirm a sense of familiarity and humanity. That turns something that could be otherwise a tawdry soap opera kind of storyline into something that makes a lot of contextual sense between two honest people trying to survive. And then there’s the fallout.
Jon: For you to ask that question… look, I’m not going to get into what my truth is and what my intention was in whether he was predatory or not but just the fact that you’re asking that question, however potentially off-base I might think it is in terms of my playing it, I think it’s great that you’re asking the question.
I think our goal is, as more of the episodes unveil, I think you’re going to be asking more and more questions. Some things will be answered and some things won’t, but I think that’s really our goal. I think you will think one thing in one episode and the next episode will serve to tell you that the exact opposite is the case and hopefully we’ve been successful in doing that.
Were you at all worried about the fact that The Walking Dead comic book already had a loyal fan following that might be comparing your work to the original version?
Sarah: For what it’s worth, I don’t think we’ve really experienced the comic book community as far as being prickly. When we went to Comic Con in San Diego, I was fully prepared for, and wouldn’t have held it against anyone if they were like, ‘Welcome, don’t f**k it up!’ That would have been totally fair. They’ve put their hearts and souls into this book.
Andrew: That’s what you said to me the first time we met!
Sarah: I say it almost every day when we go to work. But instead, they were lovely. We did signings and they were so supportive and kind and generous.
Andrew: The fact of the matter is, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the fans. It wouldn’t exist, so I think we absolutely have to honor the tone of the book but Frank Darabont’s team is immaculate.
Sarah: We all love the book and you want to honor it, because it’s fantastic.
Andrew: And the characters are so rich and complicated and flawed and real and human. They’re human beings, so we’ve all thrown ourselves into this like you wouldn’t believe. It’s been one of the most satisfying and exciting shoots I’ve ever been involved in just because it is so different. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen or read before, certainly when I read the pilot. I would go on set each day and think, ‘My God, they’re actually exceeding my expectations of when I read it!’ and that’s very rare.