Before he fought zombies on “The Walking Dead,” Andrew Lincoln waged a different battle on weekly television.
Cinemax’s run of the action series “Strike Back” began with what was the show’s second season in its native England. Now the cable network is backing up to present the initial episodes — featuring Lincoln, before he became opponent-of-the-undead Rick Grimes on the current AMC hit, as the Iraq War veteran chief of the covert British spy bureau known as Section 20 – under the title “Strike Back: Origins,” beginning Friday, Oct. 25.
“I was trying to rack my brains to remember the show and even my character’s name,” the pleasant Lincoln admits to Zap2it of discussing his “Strike Back” experience anew. “I had just done a play by Jez Butterworth, a very good writer who’s a friend of mine, with Toby Jones. This was my next job after that, and it was my first foray into the action decade of my career. As soon as I started going gray, people said, ‘Oh … action! Give him the gun!’
“It was also really wonderful to play a character who has a secret,” adds Lincoln of Hugh Collinson, whose actions in Iraq alongside fellow Special Air Service officer John Porter (Richard Armitage, “The Hobbit”) haunt both men in later years, when Porter goes to work for Collinson in trying to rescue a newscaster (Orla Brady) taken captive by the same terrorists they faced earlier.
“I loved the idea of a man at the top of the Secret Service who, himself, is holding one of the biggest secrets of anyone’s life,” Lincoln notes. “It’s secrets within secrets. He’s a complicated cat, and that was one of the most exciting things. Certainly in the 15 or 16 years I’d been working in England, I’d been known for playing more comedic roles, and this was a departure from that.
“The audience meets him in a place of great authority and great power, and how many times do you see these people who reach the apex of their careers without stepping on a few toes? Or even worse? That is the wonderful thing about playing someone that driven.”
Lincoln laughs that his wife nicknamed co-star Armitage “Dishy Dick,” and he’s equally amused that he and Armitage have shared an on-screen spouse: Sarah Wayne Callies, who played Lincoln’s “Walking Dead” mate and recently worked with Armitage in the forthcoming tornado thriller “Black Sky.”
Labeling Callies “the go-to girl for English actors working in America,” Lincoln recalls, “She asked me, ‘Do you know an actor named Richard Armitage?’ And I went, ‘Oh! Dishy Dick?’ I just think it’s lovely that Sarah Wayne Callies keeps working with actors from our country.”
The series originally known as “Chris Ryan’s Strike Back,” named for soldier-turned-author Ryan, started its U.K. run in 2010. It was no surprise to Lincoln that it continued beyond his tenure, since he cites it as “a very ambitious, high-concept, expensive show. It was also very dynamic in the mold of ’24,’ that kinetic, seat-of-your-pants popcorn type of show that we’re not renowned for in England.
“That was the aim, to make something that would bridge the Atlantic in tone and quality. I smiled when I found out that Cinemax had picked it up and it became this bigger thing, because that’s exactly what it should be. It’s all about the globalization of the intelligence service, and why not globalize it in the media, which is the way the world is headed?”
He didn’t know it when he finished what’s now titled “Strike Back: Origins,” but “The Walking Dead” was waiting right around the corner for Lincoln.
“I had been penciled in to do a movie straight after, but as we were going into production, my son was born. As soon as that happened, I just had to be present … and as soon as I released myself from that film, the script for ‘The Walking Dead’ landed on my doorstep. It was a matter of maybe 3 1/2 months between the two shows.”
Some of Lincoln’s “Strike Back” prep has paid off for his work on “The Walking Dead.” He recalls, “When he first handed me a gun, John in the (AMC show’s) prop department said, ‘Where have you been? What have you been doing?’ I said, ‘We were trained in Johannesburg by a subsidiary of the SAS.’ This guy taught us what’s called ‘threading the needle,’ which you see in (‘Strike Back: Origins’) during the hostage rescue, so I knew my way around automatic and semiautomatic weaponry. And then I was playing this country cop.”
While he also has a lasting fan base from “Love Actually” — the popular 2003 romantic comedy movie in which his character pines for his best friend’s new bride (Keira Knightley), ultimately professing his love through handwritten signs — Lincoln has found his success with “The Walking Dead,” which began its fourth season earlier this month, something else altogether.
“It’s astonishing, really,” Lincoln confirms, “and wonderful and bewildering and exciting and thrilling … all of those things combined in one. Funnily enough, there are similarities between Hugh and Rick, an incredible tenacity and a certainty that I really key into. They’re challenging qualities.”