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Andrew Lincoln's Early TV Roles Set Him Up for His All-Consuming Walking Dead Romance

The Love Actually star has long excelled at making TV viewers swoon.
  • Top: Teachers; Bottom: This Life (Photos: Channel 4/BBC Two; Primetimer graphic)
    Top: Teachers; Bottom: This Life (Photos: Channel 4/BBC Two; Primetimer graphic)

    Romance is probably not the first word that springs to mind when it comes to The Walking Dead, but the newest entry in the sprawling franchise, The Ones Who Live, puts Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne’s (Danai Gurira) epic love story front and center. References to Bridgerton as inspiration click into place, particularly during the fourth episode, written by Gurira. Yes, even during a zombie apocalypse, there is time for yearning and swoon-worthy declarations. While Lincoln is predominantly known for playing The Walking Dead’s gun-toting protagonist, his first leading TV roles on British shows like This Life and Teachers reveal the foundation for Rick’s love story to come.

    Given how nostalgic Netflix’s One Day has made me for the ’90s and early ’00s, it only feels right to revisit Lincoln’s work, a formative adolescence watch. In fact, Dexter (Leo Woodall) in One Day is of the same listless mold as both of Lincoln’s significant early TV roles, and it isn’t only the fashion and music that the Netflix series taps into from this era. While the word “totty” has (thankfully) long been retired, there is no time limit on a crush, as the collage of hot guys on my high school folder proves (yes, I am pretty sure that is Josh Harnett to the left).

    Debuting in 1996 and created by Amy Jenkins, This Life told the story of five law graduates who have just moved into a house in London together. It took the hanging-out-and-living-together sitcom setup of Friends, spinning it into a 50-minute BBC drama reveling in relationship and workplace tensions. Whereas Lincoln was one of the breakout stars from This Life’s ensemble, he was undoubtedly the protagonist of Tim Loane’s 2001 workplace dramedy Teachers, where he played Simon Casey, who was — you guessed it — a high school teacher.

    Throughout its two seasons, This Life didn’t spend too much time in the courtroom or on cases — Ally McBeal and The Good Wife, this was not — and from the jump Lincoln took on the everyman role as Edgar “Egg” Cooke. Maybe that should be “everybloke” as Egg’s personality early on is dominated by his love of Manchester United Football Club, but this was the era of lad culture dipping its toe in sensitivity. Or maybe it was the combination of having a woman at the helm and Lincoln’s performance that ensured Egg’s ennui toward his chosen profession and his need to compare everything to soccer wasn’t too insufferable. Egg’s girlfriend Milly’s (Amita Dhiri) career was taking off, and while the series began with the pair hot and heavy for each other — think blowjobs in the kitchen — work stress soon led to cracks in this seemingly solid pairing.

    Arriving a couple of years ahead of Sex and the City gave This Life the edge on its revelatory portrayal of intimacy, which was depicted up close and personal — quite literally sometimes due to the dizzying handheld camera style. Lincoln casually stepping out of the shower in the pilot after sharing it with Milly, baring it all, and the full-frontal nonchalance is equally striking more than 25 years later. He delivered a nuanced portrayal of mid-twenties inertia through a character who was one of the swoon-worthy leads, taking the overtly horny Egg and then depicting how anxiety impacted his sex drive. Desire didn’t disappear, and sex dominated conversations with his housemates, and they were still navigating these waters a decade later in the reunion special.

    Both This Life and Teachers paved the way for Lincoln’s other famous role: Mark in Love Actually. Playing the lovable f***-up who can get away with anything due to his curls, baby blue eyes, and cheeky smile was part of his early brand, so it made sense that Richard Curtis would cast him during his Teachers reign. In a recent The Ones Who Live panel, Lincoln quipped, “He’s a bit of a stalker, I grant you,” about his infamous Love Actually character when Gurira discussed the Bridgerton influence. Thankfully, Rick Grimes doesn’t follow Mark’s lead in Love Actually when it comes to big gestures, professing his love via cue cards to his BFF’s now-wife, while said BFF is mere feet away.

    Neither Egg nor Simon is cut from the suave cloth, though Lincoln gave flirty performances with a dollop of bumbling Brit rom-com energy that defined the turn-of-the-millennium era. A drunken hook-up on Simon’s 27th birthday in the Teachers pilot turned into a burgeoning relationship (yes, Lincoln’s bare butt makes an appearance here, too), revealing how charm and being inept can go hand-in-hand. Simon was also the kind of teacher who insisted his pupils call him by his first name, marked assignments in the pub, and did the bare minimum to get by. It is the arrested development that, eye-rolling behavior and dated sexual politics aside, proved so irresistible when the show first aired.

    But, regardless of whether you are taking a trip down TV memory lane with Lincoln’s back catalog or The Ones Who Live has encouraged an exploration of pre-Rick Grimes relationship-focused shows, it is clear that Lincoln has always excelled in this department — zombie apocalypse or not.

    Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina

    TOPICS: Andrew Lincoln, AMC, The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live