How ‘The Walking Dead’ star Andrew Lincoln snagged the role of Rick Grimes from another fan favourite

After appearing on more than 100 episodes of ‘The Walking Dead,’ Andrew Lincoln is leaving the show. Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
  • INSIDER spoke at length with “The Walking Dead” casting directors Sharon Bialy and Sherry Thomas in summer 2017 about various cast auditions on the AMC show.
  • In honour of Andrew Lincoln’s final episode Sunday, we’re sharing how Andrew Lincoln wound up on the zombie drama.

Fans will say goodbye to Andrew Lincoln on this Sunday’s “The Walking Dead,” but it could have been a different actor in the now-iconic role of Rick Grimes.

While Ethan Embrey (“Can’t Hardly Wait”) auditioned for the role, Jon Bernthal, who wound up playing Shane on the AMC show, was the only other actor close to landing the role of the sheriff.

“So many actors audition for ‘The Walking Dead’ and I think a lot of rumours get out there that he [Embrey] was close to the guy [for Rick],” the show’s casting director Sharon Bialy told INSIDER during an interview in 2017 . “Really the closest person was Jon Bernthal who [then-showrunner] Frank [Darabont] knew was more right for the role he played [Shane].”

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‘The Walking Dead’ casting directors said Jon Bernthal (left) was the closest to playing Rick Grimes over others before Andrew Lincoln came into the picture. AMC

“But I would say probably Jon was the closest to get it, ’cause we tested him,” Bialy continued. “There’s a big difference… between auditioning for a part and testing. Being in that final three that do either a screen test or a chemistry test, is a very different process than just auditioning and coming in the room with us.”

So how did Lincoln land the coveted role on “The Walking Dead”?

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Andrew Lincoln during the first season of ‘The Walking Dead.’ AMC

According to Bialy and fellow casting director Sherry Thomas, they were racking their brains to think of other people who may fit the role right, when someone suggested Lincoln.

“I think everybody was really searching for that perfect person and at the time Andrew didn’t even have an agent in this country. I think it was like 11:30 at night, and we’re all up thinking, “Who have we not thought of? Who have we not thought of?” recalled Baily. “Kudos to our associate at the time, Gohar Gazazyan, Gohar said, “What about Andrew Lincoln?'”

When Bialy was reminded Lincoln played the heartthrob who professes his love to Keira Knightley’s character in “Love Actually” with cue cards, she was immediately on board.

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Andrew Lincoln appeared in the holiday movie in 2003 and stole a lot of hearts. Universal Pictures

“I was like, “Oh my God, he’s perfect,” so we reached out to his British agent and sent her the script,” she added.

They asked Lincoln to send in a tape of himself and knew Lincoln was their guy. But they weren’t sure if Lincoln’s tape would be enough to convince then-showrunner Frank Darabont so the duo asked if he could submit another tape the following morning after giving him a few notes and tips.

Lincoln did it immediately and they flew him out from London to test and was an immediate fit.

“I think Andrew Lincoln accessed what it meant to be a father, because he had just become a father,” said Bialy. “So, that’s what he honed into in the audition, about being a father, and also being tired.”

There weren’t any hard feelings from Bernthal. “The Punisher” actor told The Hollywood Reporter when Lincoln stepped on set “everyone knew that he was the guy.” He told THR he knew he really wanted to play Shane. Embry, meanwhile, appeared briefly on the series as a hostile Alexandrian Rick eventually killed.

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Remember the guy to the left of Rick? That’s Ethan Embry. He briefly played Carter on season six. Gene Page/AMC

On the series, Grimes was not only a father to his son Carl (Chandler Riggs), who he watched grow up on screen, but also Judith, who he cared for with Michonne (Danai Gurira) since her birth.

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Rick, Carl, and baby Judith on the fifth season of ‘The Walking Dead.’ Gene Page/AMC
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Rick puts his arm around Michonne on the season nine premiere of ‘The Walking Dead’ while visiting Maggie at the Hilltop. Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

After eight seasons on “The Walking Dead,” Lincoln announced in July at San Diego Comic-Con he would be leaving the show during season nine to spend more time with his family.

“These guys have been the best surrogate family I could have hoped for. But I do have a real family and it is time for me to go home, but Norman [Reedus, aka Daryl] and Danai [Gurira, Michonne] send me scripts so I can keep one eye on the series,” said Lincoln. “It’s been everything to me for 10 years.”

You can follow along with our “Walking Dead” coverage here. Lincoln’s final episode airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.