'The Walking Dead'
- When: 9 p.m. Sunday
- Where: AMC
PEACHTREE CITY, Ga. — After three seasons on "The Walking Dead," Andrew Lincoln has finally been pushed to the edge.
It came the day he did a scene for the upcoming third season in which he was forced to chop off a man's leg — or least that was the way it appeared thanks to special effects.
The first take was "too graphic," he says. So he was asked to do it again and again.
"It was one of the most shocking things I have ever had to do," says Lincoln, a British-born actor who retained his American accent for this interview conducted between scenes.
"That night I couldn't sleep. After work, I just got in my car and couldn't fall asleep until 3 in the morning."
As small-town Georgia deputy sheriff Rick Grimes leading a band of human survivors during a zombie apocalypse, Lincoln has rarely been that jarred. He and the rest of the cast have been pressed particularly hard.
Easily one of the grittiest and bloodiest hours on cable, "Dead" is ramping up the gruesomeness this time around.
There's a new setting and the introduction of more outrageous characters (such as the katana-wielding warrior woman Michonne, played by Danai Gurira), bigger threats (David Morrissey, this year's villain, as the despot called The Governor) and surprising returns of past favorites.
"This season," Lincoln says, "has pushed me — pushed all of us — to the brink."
In previous seasons, the pack of human survivors has stayed one step ahead of the zombie hordes by holing up in unsecured shelter without much success.
Season one was on the open road. Season two had them at a secluded farm. Both instances had the survivors driven out when the zombies eventually found them.
Now the story shifts to a new locale — an abandoned, well-fortified prison. Crews worked for weeks to transform a sound stage in the backwoods of Georgia into the setting.
Litter lines the walls. Dirty mattresses are in every cell.
Zombies have found the place already, with dozens of extras staggering outside the steel-mesh fence, staring at the humans inside.
"Season three is fundamentally different," actress Laurie Holden, who plays tough-as-nails survivor Andrea, says of her character.
"I love the writing of this series. (Andrea) has gone from this suicidal woman and this sad, mess of a woman to evolving into a more empathetic leader. It just keeps going, her journey."
The days of making one episode can be long and hard. On this particular visit, it's nearly 90 degrees and most of the 12-hour shooting is taking place outdoors.
Ticks were so plentiful in season one that the cast and crew used to pick the buggers off and throw them in a jar. Once the jar was full, the cast stopped contributing.
Of the grittiness of the work, actor Norman Reedus, who plays redneck survivor Daryl Dixon says, "it's actually a part of our show. You're out there. It's 120 degrees.
"You're sweating. You're scratched up. There's bugs. I don't think we could shoot it in Burbank. You know what I mean? It actually works for us as characters."
"Dead" might be one of the few shows in which being a background extra is just as popular as having an upfront speaking role.
Celebrities have asked if they could be part of the zombie pack. Make-up effects artist and producer Gregory Nicotero refuses to do that.
"What we don't want to do is have (viewers) looking through the crowd (of zombies) and picking out celebrities," he says.
In season one, before the show was established, several dozen extras wanted to be on. Now, thousands turn out for casting calls — including celebrities.
Nicotero says rumors that Bruce Willis will be in a scene are not true. However, "Mad Men" actress Christina Hendricks has made contact with "Dead" producers, who turned her request down.
"Dude," Nicotero says, "there's no way we could make her ugly."
Joining "Dead" this season was a bit daunting for David Morrissey, who's the leader of a town trying to live an idyllic life, complete with white-picket fence, despite the chaos of the zombie-filled world around them .
"I was totally nervous before I started it," says the 48-year-old British actor. "I felt a bit of pressure before joining because I was sort of inside my own head with it.
"The cast and crew made me feel right at home. Now I don't feel all that pressure. I feel right at home."
Holden calls Morrissey's character "unexpected, charismatic and sexy."
Danai Gurira finds the experience "a bit liberating, feeling like it is the apocalypse" within the darkness of the stories.
"Sometimes," she says, "I do wish it was the end of the world."
The sentiment is echoed by even the show's veterans.
After a while, there's hope to be found even when all seems hopeless.
"I'm just like everybody else in this world," Holden says.
"I get up every morning and fight the good fight. It just so happens that fight is with zombies."
‘The Walking Dead’
What: An inside look at the making of the third season premiere of the zombie adventure
When: 9 p.m. Sunday
© 2012, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!