The Walking Dead audition tapes showing Andrew Lincoln and Jon Bernthal test for the role of Rick Grimes feature in The Walking Dead Season 1: Beginnings, a Sunday marathon revisiting the zombie drama's first season. Starting tonight at 6/5c on AMC, Beginnings presents all six episodes from the show's premiere season alongside special features, including new interviews with the Walking Dead crew and appearances from celebrity fans. In a special featurette to air during the Frank Darabont-directed series premiere, "Days Gone Bye," the show's casting team reflects on the exhaustive search that saw future co-stars Lincoln and Bernthal audition for The Walking Dead's leading man.
"There's not a lot of dialogue in that first pilot episode, so you had to immediately connect with the character and whoever this was going to be," casting director Sherry Thomas says of "Days Gone Bye" in the video captured below.
The episode follows recently comatose sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes (Lincoln) waking up in the zombie apocalypse, where he soon encounters survivors Duane (Adrian Kali Turner) and Morgan Jones (Lennie James). Rick is desperate to find wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and young son Carl (Chandler Riggs), unaware they've fled with Rick's police partner and best friend Shane Walsh (Bernthal).
Adds casting director Sharon Bialy of Rick, "We knew he was the leader and going to be going through so much."
"Casting Rick was definitely the obvious person to start with, and we did a lot of searching," says casting associate producer Gohar Gazazyan. "We auditioned a lot of wonderful actors."
While Bernthal auditioned for both roles, acting out a beat where Rick realizes Lori collected their family photos before leaving home, the actor "had a little bit more of a bad boy quality to him," Thomas says. "I think that that really worked well with Shane."
"We really put him through the wringer testing for two roles, and he ended up getting the role he was meant to get," Bialy says of Bernthal. Adds Thomas, "We didn't get Rick in that first initial test and went back to the drawing board."
While pouring over a list of favorited actors, Gazazyan came across classically-trained British actor Andrew Lincoln. "I really liked his work," she recalls. "We've all seen him in Love Actually, but had seen a couple of other things he had done."
Bialy forwarded the material to Lincoln's agent, and the actor's self-taped audition came as a sigh of relief for the Walking Dead casting team. "Something clicked in his audition when he was talking to Morgan. It was Rick, and we could sense it," Bialy says.
Lincoln "had the qualities we were really looking for," Gazazyan remembers. "A real hero that could guide us through what was happening to the world, and somebody that we could see that good person changed."
For all things TWD, follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter. The Walking Dead Season 10 finale, "A Certain Doom," premieres Sunday, October 4 on AMC.