My wife thinks I am an idiot
Published 07/02/2012 | 13:23
Andrew Lincoln made his name on British TV in the late Nineties but has taken on something of a split personality since he started breaking records on American prime time.
Peachtree City, Georgia, a place in America's Deep South where alligators can be kept as pets and golf carts are the most common form of transport.
There's an unsettling calm in the air, heavy with the scent of growing peaches, which makes the area an eerily apt setting for The Walking Dead, the modern-day zombie series.
British actor Andrew Lincoln heads up the cast as Rick Grimes, a police sheriff attempting to lead a diverse band of survivors to safety, and he's made himself right at home in the Southern state.
The 38-year-old has decamped his wife and two young children to nearby Atlanta, grown used to the bugs, soaring temperatures and hearty comfort food and, from the moment he sets foot off the plane to when he flies back to Britain for his breaks, talks in an American accent.
It's a formula which works for him. Based on the comic books by Robert Kirkman, its now the most-watched series on American cable, has been sold all over the world and Lincoln has been praised for his authentic and heartfelt portrayal of the small town cop facing big challenges.
But it means that when a group of British journalists descend on set, where he is filming a scene in a ramshackle bar, he's so in character he's unable to revert to interview mode.
"I'm so sorry," he drawls, no trace of his British upbringing, which spanned from London to Bath, via Hull, registering in his voice. "I can't break my accent."
It's some months later that we can finally speak. Back at home in the UK, with months to go before filming starts on the third series, Lincoln now sounds as English as can be, declaring that his wife thinks he's "an idiot" for staying in accent for so long.
He recalls: "The first time she came on set she was like, 'Andrew, what are you doing?'
"I said, 'This is it for the next six months, I'm afraid'. And also, I have to do this because most of the crew think I'm American, and if I change now it's going to freak them out!"
With roles in seminal series such as This Life and Teachers, Lincoln became the poster boy for turn of the century British television, and his new double life as an American star is one he's enjoying.
"I feel a bit like a spy, because most of the time that I'm not working, I'm back here in England. But then I fly over there, I don't have a mobile - I have a cell phone, I have a different dialect which I stay in all the time, and I have a different currency. I have, thankfully, the same wife, but it's an extraordinary schizophrenic lifestyle. I love it," he says.
Keeping his two lives apart also makes it easier to get his head around the astronomical viewing figures, which, with a generous helping of British self-deprecation, he brands "sort of ridiculous".
"Being in a successful show has changed my life in as far as my profile in America has been raised beyond my wildest dreams. But I'm still the same guy and I'm trying to keep my life separate from the zombie slaying as much as I can.
"I think having two children and changing nappies is the way to keep it real," he laughs.
One of the other reasons the series works is because it blends uber-realistic settings and characters with the most gruesome and disturbing zombies, known to the characters in the series as 'walkers'.
Zombie designer-in-chief Greg Nicotero learnt the art from working with zombie supremo George A Romero on Day Of The Dead, and his efforts on the first series earnt him an Emmy nomination.
Lincoln is still in awe of what the special effects team come up with.
He says: "I think they constantly feel pressure to create more ludicrous and offensive ways of killing zombies.
"For us, the more grotesque his inventions are, the bigger a reaction it elicits. So the zombie we found down the well in the last part of the series was the most revolting thing any one us had seen in our entire lives.
"I think they actively go out of their way to create more grotesque things just to shock us and entertain themselves."
As well as making viewers jump off the sofa, the walkers pose an ethical dilemma. Rick and the other survivors are often forced to think about life and death: they've had to shoot down loved ones who have been bitten by walkers, Rick's friend Andrea contemplates taking her own life instead of having to deal with living in a zombie apocalypse, and his partner Lori takes a handful of morning after pills when she finds out she is pregnant, worried about bringing a life into that world.
"It's a bit like storytelling by stealth," Lincoln says. "We go in the guise of a zombie survival horror, when actually, it's a very human drama."
It must be a world away from playing sandwich-maker Egg in This Life, or a man with a secret crush on Keira Knightley in Love Actually.
"This is very all-consuming and it's a huge commitment time-wise. But I haven't forgotten about Egg or Teachers and the great parts I've had in the past," he says.
His next project, apart from a third series of The Walking Dead, is "the school run, tomorrow morning", and he's not ruling out a return to British screens, either.
"I've always wanted to play an American in America, it's the ambition of every actor outside of the USA, if they're honest with themselves.
"I've been blessed with this opportunity and would love to work in both Europe and America until I keel over and die, hopefully not by zombie exhaustion," he says.
EXTRA TIME - ANDREW LINCOLN
:: He was born Andrew Clutterbuck in London on September 14, 1973.
:: His wife Gael is the daughter of musician Ian Anderson of rock band Jethro Tull, and he has a four-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son.
:: Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter Apple was a flower girl at his wedding.
:: He starred in Teachers for three years, which he went on to direct and earned a Bafta TV Award nomination for Best New Director in 2004.
:: The Walking Dead starts on FX on Friday, February 17