Remember when comics were just for nerds? If you can’t, that means you’re under the age of twenty-five, but believe you me, son, us old-timers can clearly recall a time before Marvel became a Disney company and even Iron Man was considered a lesser known hero. Nowadays readership is up 2.1 million, studios fire out a new superhero movie every month, and spotting a graphic novel inspired series on the small screen is relatively commonplace at this point. But through all the dust kicked into the air during the stampede of comic adaptations, one series has stayed clearly visible.
After six years and seven seasons, The Walking Dead has proven itself to be one of the most popular shows on television. Week after week, 10 million plus viewers tune in to watch Rick Grimes and company dodge gangs of cannibals, rampant disease, and of course, decaying chompers of the undead. The show benefits from well-written scripts, well-produced episodes, and a standout cast who have brought the pages of the original graphic novel to life, but what if those faces had been different? It may be difficult to imagine at this point, but TWD began with a script and a pitch just like any other program broadcasted through that glowing box, and believe it or not those now iconic faces weren’t even the producers’ first choice. Hell, some of them weren’t even the second choice. Here’s a list of 15 Actors Who Were Almost Cast in The Walking Dead:
15. Jon Hamm as Negan
This may be considered too good to be true fantasy casting to some, but it was farther from happening than many bloggers let on which is why it’s all the way back at number 15. About a year ago when casting for the leather clad, bat-wielding villain began, it was rumored that Jon Hamm was on TWD creator, Robert Kirkman’s shortlist to fill the character’s boots. When asked about his interest in the role during an interview with MTV, Jon Hamm said, “People ask me if I would do these things and I always say, ‘Yes’ that’s why I’m in 100 things. It would certainly be fun, though.” I wouldn’t consider that an audition, but it was more than enough to set the internet a buzz.
14. Ethan Embry as Rick Grimes
“Who the hell is Ethan Embry,” I mumbled to myself while researching this article. “Oh, yeah, him,” I answered after a quick Google image search. If you’re like me, then you remember Embry from his high school days when he confessed his love for Amanda Beckett after graduation in Can’t Hardly Wait. If you’re unlike me then you may remember him from Empire Records, That Thing You Do, or more topically as, Carter, the suspicious Alexandria construction worker in The Walking Dead, a character who met his fate at the end of Rick’s knife. However, in 2010, there was a very good chance Embry would one day be doing the stabbing himself. Apparently, Embry was a strong contender for the leading role of Rick Grimes and continued to audition for other TWD roles until he landed a one-episode stint as Carter. Showrunner, Scott Gimple said that the character is an example of what Rick Grimes might have been if he was an original member of the Safe-Zone. I hope Embry can find some solace in that.
13. Garret Dillahunt as Negan
Turns out everyone and their mother is a fan of The Walking Dead and when the popular villain, Negan, was announced to be introduced to the series, everyone and their mother wanted a chance to play him, and Garret Dillahunt was certainly no exception (I’m not sure about his mother, though). The former Raising Hope star took to twitter in 2015 to publicly announce his interest in the role while simultaneously admitting that he was up against many other worthy men of the stage, and although many fans believed him to already be cast in the role, he, in fact, came up just short of that final callback. And we know the rest…
12. Laurie Holden as Lori
Don’t get too confused. Yes. You’re right. Laurie Holden was on The Walking Dead. She was a main character for quite a while as the Governor loving blondie, Andrea, but that wasn’t the original plan. “I got a call very early in the process from Frank Darabont,” Holden told The Hollywood Reporter, “He asked me to put myself on tape for the role of Lori. I donned a dark wig, put myself on tape for the network, and then got offered the part of Andrea.” What really matters here is that both characters met an untimely death brought upon by getting gnawed on by hungry zombies, so, the paychecks would have ended up stopping regardless of who she ended up playing in the series.
11. Chad L. Coleman as Morgan
Before he totally lost his sh*t on a New York subway (see YouTube for more info on that situation) Coleman was the beloved Tyreese Williams on The Walking Dead, a role the actor misses dearly since he was bitten and killed off in season 5. “I miss the interaction with the cast and crew and the production team,” said Chad Coleman, “just being around them and being able to create with them, that’s what I miss most.” As lovely as Coleman’s longing is… it’s made even more bitter because he originally auditioned for the role of Morgan Jones, and if he had gotten the part, he’d still be creating with the cast and crew to this day.
10. Matt Dillon as Negan
Matt Dillon was pretty huge in the 80s, kind of a big deal in the 90s, somewhat noteworthy in the 00s, and just kind of around in present day, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been the best Negan, right? Well, it kind of does because he wasn’t cast and fans are pretty much in unanimous agreement that Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s version of the character is spot on perfection. Since his rumored audition, Dillon hasn’t had much to say on the subject, but like many of the others on this list, there is always the possibility he pops up for a future episode or two, just in time to have his flesh nibbled off. We’re not complaining though.
9. Jon Bernthal as Rick Grimes
Jon Bernthal is still best known for portraying, Shane Walsh, the cuckolding best buddy of Rick Grimes who got a much-deserved knife in the chest via said “best buddy” and a bullet in the brain via said “best buddy’s” son in the season two finale. It’s kind of funny to think back on it now, but if Bernthal had it his way, he would have been the one clenching the handle of that deadly knife. Apparently, Bernthal originally auditioned to be the leading man throughout the series rather than a jerk that turned into just another dead body by the year 2012, and who can blame him? Still, the part went to Andrew Lincoln and the rest, as they always say, is history.
8. Timothy Olyphant as Negan
Timothy Olyphant pretty much nailed the role of Raylan Givens on FX’s Justified for six entire seasons. I dare you to find someone who would disagree with that statement, and if you can, then that probably means that person is the casting agent for The Walking Dead because apparently, the show didn’t think he had the acting chops to pull off the barbed wire bat wielding, Negan. Well, at least not better than Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Prior to the end of season six, fans were almost convinced that the former cowboy drama gunslinger would bring his talents down to Georgia. Unfortunately for them though, they’re not in casting.
7. Jamie Bamber as Rick Grimes
No matter how you cut it, The Walking Dead is sort of a nerdy show (in a way, at least). I mean, it’s based on a graphic novel about monsters, so let’s call a spade a spade here for the sake of this article. That being said, fans must have been ecstatic when one of their favorite actors from another rather nerdy show was rumored to be cast as the one and only Rick Grimes. Jamie Bamber had played Lee “Apollo” Adama on Battlestar Galactica for six years by the time he got word of a new AMC show about zombies that was casting, but even those credentials weren’t enough to beat out Andrew Lincoln for the role. Do you think he could have done a better job?
6. Norman Reedus as Merle
It may surprise many of you (okay, probably all of you), to find out that many viewers out there don’t know Merle Dixon never appears in the original comic, and if they don’t know that… they certainly couldn’t have imagined his brother, fan favorite and overall badass, Daryl Dixon never shows up either. Show writer, Frank Darabont, took it upon himself to create Merle, the older of the two brothers for the show, and when Norman Reedus got a look at the script he knew he just had to be a part of it. The would-be-star read for the part twice before Michael Rooker was cast in the role, but showrunners were so impressed with Reedus’ audition that they decided to create the role of Daryl just for him. Turns out talent and persistence do pay off.
5. Rutina Wesley as Michonne
Most people remember Rutina Wesley as Tara on HBO’s southern vampire drama, True Blood, but back in 2011 rumor had it that she was set to be remembered in her new role as the katana sword swinging femme fatale, Michonne, on The Walking Dead. According to every zombie loving blog on the web, the actress had basically accepted the part. The only problem was not one of these “reputable” digital publications could cite a source, and by the time Danai Gurira was cast, Robert Kirkman came out to say Wesley’s schedule halted her from even being considered for the role. What a shame…
4. John Hawkes as The Governor
John Hawkes is a renowned character actor and a Hollywood casting favorite. That’s because his talent and overall look allow him to play everything from a 9mm toting drug dealer to a 19th century politician. That’s called range. So, when he was offered the role of the one-eyed tyrant known as, The Governor, for season 3 of TWD, it wasn’t really a shock. However, when he turned it down only one week later, well, that seemed odd, and his reasoning for doing so can only be considered as some admirable sh*t.
“I have to be careful of what TV shows I choose, particularly ones that have commercials in them,” Hawkes told Movieweb.com, “because it’s going to be a different kind of television show. There are going to be sponsors. No matter how good the show is, if there are commercials, it’s going to be a different show, to me.”
3. Stuart Townshend as Rick Grimes
Rugged yet baby-faced Irish actor, Stuart Townshend, had his name on the shortlist for Rick Grimes before filming began for season 1. Back then his two biggest resume standouts (which stand true today) were 2002’s Aaliyah vampire rock star mash up, Queen of the Damned, and 2003’s silver screen adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I don’t want to say Townshend is bad luck, but Aaliyah died shortly after filming wrapped for QOTD and Sean Connery basically quit acting forever after TLOEG flopped, so maybe it was for the good of the series that Andrew Lincoln beat him out for the role. But hey, in all fairness the guy was married to Charlize Theron for the better half of a decade, making Stuart Townshend the spokesman for the expression, “you win some, you lose some.”
2. Thomas Jane as Rick Grimes
Andrew Lincoln wasn’t exactly known before he was cast on TWD, and by not exactly known, I mean he wasn’t known at all. He was in Love Actually seven years earlier, but besides that he has only bit parts to his name. So, when casting for the AMC series began it makes sense they would have wanted to bring some star power to their lead role. Apparently, original showrunner, Frank Darabont, wanted Hollywood vet, Thomas Jane for the part. With one comic adaptation under his belt after he played Frank Castle in The Punisher, Thomas Jane was at the top of the list to step into the boots of the zombie slaying sheriff but turned down the offer so he could star in… get this… Hung. If you don’t remember Hung you’re lucky, because it was an awful HBO show about a teacher turned gigolo that was canceled after three seasons. Meanwhile, The Walking Dead has been nominated for 16 Primetime Emmy Awards. A swing and a miss, Tom. A swing and a miss.
1. Henry Rollins as Negan
If you’ve ever noticed a physical likeness between Negan from the original TWD graphic novel and punk rock legend, Henry Rollins, you’re not alone, and there’s good reason. Turns out illustrator, Charlie Adlard, based the character off of Rollins himself, so it made a whole lot of sense to have the Sons of Anarchy actor come in for an audition. Unfortunately, as we all now know, Rollins lost the role to Jeffrey Dean Morgan, but according to an interview with Forbes, Rollins holds no resentment at the choice. “I later saw a photograph of the guy who did get it and he looks almost exactly like the comic book rendering,” he admitted. Think about that. Admitting a competing actor looks more like an artist’s rendering of you than you do. Now, that’s class.