We're more than halfway through the first half of The Walking Dead's seventh season, and what an emotional rollercoaster ride it has been so far! We’ve already seen characters drastically evolve from where we left off earlier this year, and we’ve also had to endure the devastating loss of some of our favorite people on the show. It’s funny to think that we've become so familiar with these actors playing these specific characters on The Walking Dead, that it's hard to imagine them as anything else, but some of the cast of AMC's ratings-smasher have pretty prolific resumes to their name. I’ve picked out some of the most surprising works from these actors, most of which are either relatively forgotten, unknown, or just the opposite of who they portray on The Walking Dead.
For instance, did you know Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes) was famous for his role in a romantic drama before signing on to be everyone’s favorite zombie-killing sheriff? Or that Melissa McBride, who plays the bona fide ass-kicker Carol, used to be a casting agent and was a friend of showrunner Frank Darabont way before The Walking Dead even began production. Check out these 15 actors and the roles they had before (and sometimes during) the show, and you may be pretty surprised at what you find out.
15 Andrew Lincoln - Rick Grimes
Okay, get ready to have a barrage of trivia thrown in your general direction. Fans worldwide have shown their undying (no pun intended) love for Rick Grimes ever since he woke up from his poorly-timed coma, and I think we can all agree that the show wouldn’t be able to survive without this character taking charge as our fearless leader. In fact, actor Andrew Lincoln does such a bang-up job at playing Rick Grimes on screen that you’d probably never suspect that in real life, he isn’t even American to begin with! He’s a British actor who puts on one helluva southern drawl to transform into the sheriff with the coolest beard in town. That’s trivia number one. Trivia number two is that, his name isn’t actually Andrew Lincoln… it’s Andrew Clutterbuck, and I don’t blame him for changing it one bit!
You’ll probably remember Andrew Lincoln from the movie Love, Actually where he plays Mark, a hopeless romantic who falls in love with his best friend’s wife… which is ironic considering his whole rivalry with best pal Shane (Jon Bernthal) started when the latter “stole” Lori from a comatose Rick. This is starting to sound frighteningly close to a daytime soap opera. But let’s wind back the clock a little more, and you’ll see that Andrew Lincoln also starred in a lot of British films and TV shows such as N7 (Andy), Teachers (Simon Casey), and This Life (Edgar “Ed” Cook). His most notable TV role before The Walking Dead was a recurring role as university lecturer Robert Bridge on the show Afterlife back in 2005, in which the character also landed himself in the hospital. The only difference was he didn’t wake up to the sight of a zombie wasteland a couple of months later.
14 Jon Bernthal - Shane Walsh
While his two most notable roles are Shane Walsh from The Walking Dead and more recently Frank Castle aka The Punisher on Marvel’s Daredevil (which is an amazing show), actor Jon Bernthal has had a very busy calendar over the last few years with a slew of big roles still to come. Before he was playing everyone’s favorite wife-stealing antihero on AMC’s flagship show, Jon was doing smaller roles all over the place, appearing in shows like Law & Order: Criminal Intent (Lane Ruddock), Mary / Mary (Manny), and even How I Met Your Mother, in which he played a guy named Carlos in the “Purple Giraffe” episode back in 2005. But I think the role that most people missed and would be surprised to find out is when Jon Bernthal played famous criminal mobster Al Capone in Night at The Museum: Battle For The Smithsonian. Al Capone would appear in black and white throughout most of the film.
Not enough trivia for you? Jon Bernthal is a professional trained theater actor who attended The School of Moscow Art Theater and graduated in 2002 from the American Rapertory Theater with a Master of Fine Arts. Since then, he has appeared on Broadway a bunch of times, and even started his own award-winning theater company, Fovea Floods. Talk about a “jack of all trades” AND a master of some! Jon Bernthal can be seen in several big movies including The Wolf of Wall Street, Sicario, and went toe to toe with Ben Affleck in The Accountant.
13 Steven Yeun - Glenn Rhee
Here’s a wild theory. What if The Big Bang Theory and The Walking Dead exist in the same TV universe, and by the time the zombie apocalypse starts everyone on TBBT has been hacked, slashed, or turned into a walker? Everyone except… Sheldon Cooper’s short-lived roommate named Sebastian… who is played by none other than Steven Yuen, who also plays the only character more resilient than a walker on The Walking Dead, Glenn Rhee. Bazinga!
What’s more, Glenn is probably the only character who gets laid as much as any normal person in a non-apocalyptic world, so kudos to him for that. The man knows how to stay winning. Interestingly enough, Steven Yuen never intended to be an actor. He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the Kalamazoo College in 2005, and only found an interest for acting before furthering his studies in medical school. Steven got himself involved with improve groups around Chicago and New York City and took on small roles on My Name Is Jerry (Chaz), Warehouse 13 (Gibson Rice), and Law & Order: LA (Ken Hasui) before finally landing the big one on one of the biggest shows in TV history, The Walking Dead. Needless to say, Steven is pretty damn happy that he isn’t a doctor.
12 Norman Reedus - Daryl Dixon
While newer fans may know Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, the biggest bad-ass on The Walking Dead, the actor has been around the block many times and has been honing his craft for quite some time now. And when I say craft, I don’t just mean acting… I mean the man has dabbled in all sorts of art forms and methods of expression. But we’ll get to that later. Norman Reedus was famous for his role as Murphy MacManus in the cult-hit Boondock Saints and its sequel, Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, but he also had a major part in Blade II as Scud, alongside Wesley Snipes. Scud is probably his most unique role when compared to the rest of his credentials. And get this, Jon Bernthal isn’t the only Walking Dead cast member who has played The Punisher. In 2013, Norman Reedus voiced Frank Castle in the animated Iron Man movie, The Rise of Technovore.
Apart from acting, Norman Reedus’ resume also includes time spent working at Harley Davidson (which is apt considering a lot of the characters he plays love motorcycles), a life as a painter, photographer, video artist, and a sculptor! He only started trying out for film and television back in 1997, scoring roles in Dark Harbor (billed as ‘Young man’) and the cult-classic, Mimic (Jeremy). But that’s not all. Norman Reedus also worked as a professional model, with major fashion icons like Prada slapped proudly on his curriculum vitae. As if all that isn’t incredible enough, the man is probably a vampire because much like Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves, the man doesn’t seem to age. As of the time of writing, Norman Reedus is 47 years old!
11 Chandler Riggs - Carl Grimes
I wasn’t too sure about adding Chandler Riggs in this list since he’s only a teenager and couldn’t possibly have done much before The Walking Dead, but there’s one credential on his profile that I thought was worth mentioning. Riggs, who plays the young character who is perpetually under a hat, Carl Grimes, was exposed to zombies and the likes before he even stepped foot on a Walking Dead set. Back in 2006, an even smaller Chandler Riggs played Egon in a low-budget film with a pretty spectacular premise called Jesus H. Zombie. The movie portrays a man on a mission to defeat the beast in the ultimate sacrifice of his favorite chicken dinner. See, I wasn’t kidding. It’s a batsh*t crazy one-man-production film about Jesus, zombies, and chicken dinner… or something. But Chandler’s connection with The Walking Dead doesn’t end there. In 2011, he played a character named Daniel in a short-film titled Terminus. Doesn’t that name ring a bell? If you’re a fan of the show, I’m sure it does, and I’m sure you’re feeling a little sick in your stomach right now. Of course, some of the more mainstream of us will remember Chandler as Tom from the movie, Get Low which came out in 2009, starring Bill Murray and Lucas Black.
10 Melissa McBride - Carol Peletier
Melissa McBride is a sweetheart, much like her character on The Walking Dead, Carol Peletier. Unless of course you’re a pesky kid, in which case she’ll either scare the living sh*t out of you by threatening to tie you to a tree while a walker eats your insides, or if things really need fixing, she’ll ask you to turn around and look at the flowers. Here’s a tip… never look at the flowers! Before she turned into a major ass-kicker on The Walking Dead, Melissa helped promote Ford vehicles as their spokeswoman. And even before landing that gig, she used to appear in Rooms To Go commercials. She soon decided to try out acting and landed roles in Dawson’s Creek (Melanie), Pirates of Silicon Valley (Elizabeth Holmes), In the Heat of the Night (WPMM reporter), and most notably in Walker, Texas Ranger as curly-haired doctor, Rachel Woods.
What’s more interesting is that she soon became a casting director for numerous other shows, before finally grabbing her magnum opus in 2010 when The Walking Dead cast her as Carol Peletier, who has had one of the most extreme character arcs on the show thus far. And in case you’re wondering, no, she didn’t cast herself in The Walking Dead. In fact, it was her working relationship with ex-Walking Dead-showrunner Frank Darabont in the 2007 Stephen King adaptation, The Mist, that prompted Frank to ask Melissa to audition for Carol a couple of years later. What's more interesting is that Melissa wasn't the only member of The Walking Dead who was on The Mist... in fact, two other characters from the original crew on The Walking Dead were there with her! Both Laurie Holden, who played Andrea on TWD, and Jeffrey DeMunn, who played Dale on TWD, shared the screen with Melissa on The Mist. I guess it's from one apocalypse to another for that crew.
9 Lauren Cohan - Maggie Greene
Much like Andrew Lincoln, Lauren Cohan also does a damn good job at masking her natural British accent on The Walking Dead. That’s right, actor Lauren Cohan moved to the UK when she was 13 and now transforms every word into a southern drawl in order to seamlessly slip into the role of Maggie Greene, everyone’s favorite member of Hershel’s family and the woman who made Glenn’s time in this post-apocalyptic sh*thole not as horrible as everyone else's. But The Walking Dead isn’t Lauren’s first dive into the world of undead monstrosities. Fans of Supernatural will most definitely recognize her as Bella Talbot; a con artist, mercenary, and thief who specialized in occult amulets back in Season 3. And that’s not all. When it wasn’t zombies, Lauren was spending her time around bloodsuckers in The Vampire Diaries as Rose, a recurring character who had spotty appearances from 2010 - 2012. She also had a six-episode run as Vivian Volkoff on the underrated series Chuck back in 2011, and voiced Juliana in four episodes of the wildly hilarious animated show Archer a couple of years ago.
But here’s the role that takes the cake that most people missed and might not know of. Lauren Cohan had a brief, almost fleeting, but extremely pivotal role in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as… *drum roll*… Batman’s mother, Martha Wayne! And can you guess who played her husband and Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas Wayne? I’ll give you a hint… it’s another member of The Walking Dead! Keep reading to find out.
8 Danai Gurira - Michonne
It seems like a lot of stars of The Walking Dead have had roles in at least one of the Law & Order shows. Before she was walking her own pet walkers as the katana-wielding ass-kicker, Michonne, actor Danai Gurira landed a recurring role as a journalist with an attitude on Treme, the HBO show that centered around the people and problems of post-Katrina New Orleans.
But let’s rewind the to a time way before that. Back in 2004, she played Marei Rosa Rumbidzai on Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and then played a completely different character named Courtney Owens on the original Law & Order a few years down the road. Funnily enough, Danai’s background isn’t related to acting at all; she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Macalester College, and only found an interest for the screen soon after. But The Walking Dead isn’t Danai’s first exposure to the horror genre. In fact, her biggest role pre-Michonne was some work she did for none other than Wes Craven, one of the icons of horror cinema, when she played Jeanne-Baptiste in My Soul To Take. Onwards and upwards is the name of the game here, and things are only getting bigger for Danai’s career. Her next major role will be on the big screen in Marvel’s Black Panther (2018), in which she’ll play a character named Okoye. Can’t wait!
7 Sonequa Martin-Green - Sasha Williams
One thing’s for sure… DIVA Universal must adore Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays the intense, perpetually confused, but valuable character nonetheless, Sasha Williams, on The Walking Dead. But before she started sporting a cool buzz-cut and going apesh*t on the living dead, Sonequa was involved in small plays in the New Jersey area after graduating with a degree in theater from the University of Alabama.
Her knack for delivering intense performances, especially with that glaring stare that could burn a hole through your eye sockets, landed her recurring roles on a bunch of notable shows before she made her debut on The Walking Dead. Back in 2009, she played Kanessa Jones in Army Wives for a few episodes, before playing Courtney Welles in The Good Wife, in which she made appearances spanning two years of the show (2009 - 2011). She then played Michelle Terry on the lesser-known series NYC 22. However, her biggest role before her time as a zombie killer was on ABC’s hit fairytale themed series, Once Upon A Time, in which Sonequa played Tamara; a mysterious "magic assassin" who made regular appearances in multiple episodes back in 2013. Like I said, DIVA Universal must have really liked family-friendly pre-apocalyptic Sonequa.
6 Scott Wilson - Hershel Greene
You may only know him as the ever-lovable and sorely-missed "veterinarian with a solid moral compass" Hershel Greene on The Walking Dead, but actor Scott Wilson’s career is far more extensive and way more illustrious than just that. Scott is an accomplished character actor who has taken on a myriad of roles over the course of his impressive career spanning a whole five decades. That’s right, five decades! It all started when the quietly handsome young actor stole the show with his chilling portrayal of Harvey Oberst in In The Heat of the Night back in 1967!
By the time he got to his creepy zombie-hoarding farm in The Walking Dead, Scott Wilson’s resume had covered everything from sci-fi to horror to crime dramas. After playing a doctor who also happens to be a murder suspect on a bunch of unrelated movies, however weird that sounds, Scott would take on a number of guest roles in big TV shows. As far as the big screen is concerned, fans of The Exorcist may remember Scott as Dr. Temple from The Exorcist III. And fans of both The Twilight Zone and X-Files might remember him as Matthew Foreman and Rev. Orison respectively. However, his most notable role on television pre-Walking Dead was on none other than the original CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, in which he played Sam Braun, a suspiciously d*ckheaded casino mogul who’s also the father of Catherine Willows, one of the leading characters on the show. But really, none of that matters when you’ve played Ambassador Swanbeck alongside Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai.
5 Sarah Wayne Callies - Lori Grimes
Unanimously awarded "Most Annoying Character on The Walking Dead" by fans of the show all across the planet, Lori Grimes’ emission from the show was embraced albeit it being a seriously tragic and F-ed up moment. But that just goes to show how good actor Sarah Wayne Callies is at her job… if her job called for her to play a frustratingly-confused woman who tore up what could have been an amazing tag-team made up of two best friends on the show. Heck, we could have had an awesome buddy cop action series instead of the Shane-less seasons we have now. But I digress.
Yet another actor with Law & Order under her belt, Sarah Wayne Callies isn’t new to the world of highly-rated television shows. While her time on the TV series Tarzan - the one where there’s a wild man on the loose in the urban jungles of New York City, unrelated to Disney’s far superior take - is best left forgotten, her role as Dr. Sara Tancredi on Prison Break is what most people knew her for before she became Lori Grimes. Sarah would also make one-off appearances in the highly-acclaimed House M.D. as Julia and as Agent Kim Hall in the short-lived Numb3rs.
4 Michael Rooker - Merle Dixon
Arguably one of the most loved characters in The Walking Dead despite being a complete douchebag is Merle Dixon, Daryl’s gruff older brother who seemingly wanted to teach him about tough love or survival or something along those lines, and got himself bit in the process. Way to go, champ. Nevertheless, Michael Rooker played the character insanely well and as an actor, he’s one of the most fun to have around. While he can be seen next on the big screen reprising his role of blue-faced Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 in 2017, Rooker’s career has been on a steady track since the late 80s. The charismatic and oftentimes menacing Rooker got noticed when he portrayed the titular character in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer back in 1986, and has been showing up in movies and TV ever since.
One of his most notable roles, however, was as Robert Marshall in The 6th Day, led by Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which Rooker plays a resilient and noteworthy adversary to Arnold’s leading man. But that’s not all. Rooker-roles are peppered all over big Hollywood productions. He has been on Stargate SG-1 as Colonel Edwards, in Mallrats as Svenning, and in the big Denzel Washington starrer, The Bone Collector, as Captain Howard Cheney.
3 David Morrissey - The Governor
Negan might be the “big bad” that several seasons of The Walking Dead has been leading up to, but the benchmark to beat as far as notorious villains on the show goes belongs to none other than the eye-patch wearing Governor of too-good-to-be-true Woodbury, brought to life by actor David Morrissey. Few antagonists, including a band of cannibals, have popped up since the exit of the Governor, but none have been able to match the sheer tenacity and presence of David’s villainous character.
Given that he looks like a charming, trustworthy guy, it’s not surprising to learn that David Morrissey played the opposite of a villain when he portrayed Little John in Robin Hood back in 1991! I guess the innocent demeanor is what makes The Governor’s true nature all the more sinister. But The Walking Dead isn’t David’s first dip into the world of massive television shows. Morrissey once played a character who assumed he was the next Doctor on Doctor Who, only to realize he wasn’t. That sounds like a bummer, but at least his character on The Walking Dead wasn’t as fleeting or as ambiguous, and he’ll go down as one of the most menacing villains in television history. David’s other credentials include Blackpool, Basic Instinct 2, and The Other Boleyn Girl.
2 Michael Cudlitz - Abraham Ford
While actor Michael Cudlitz - who played the rough and tough ex-soldier with a penchant for poetic profanity, Abraham Ford, - gained popularity on the highly-acclaimed HBO miniseries, Band Of Brothers, he also showed up many years prior to that in D3: The Mighty Ducks and a myriad of other television shows. Back in 2001 when Band Of Brothers was making waves as the hottest show on HBO, Cudlitz would often chew the scenery as Denver “Bull” Rendelman. He was perfect for the role and it solidified him as a muscle-type actor who could bring some gruff to his characters. But way before that, a much younger Michael Cudlitz would show up as Cole, one of the jerks on the opposing team in D3: The Mighty Ducks. But let’s wind the clock back even more, because what most people don’t know is that Michael has been in the business for quite a while now.
Back in 1991 - 1992, Cudlitz showed up in Growing Pains as Chucksteak, but it wasn’t until the original Beverly Hills, 90210 came about that good ol’ Abe would land a recurring role as clean-faced Tony Miler on the flashy, pop-infused show. What’s funny is that I haven’t gotten to the most interesting part yet. Michael Cudlitz isn’t new to massive ratings-smashing shows. In fact, he played a minor yet pivotal role in LOST as ‘Big’ Mike Walton, Ana Lucia’s (Michelle Rodriguez) partner who is gunned down; an event that leads Ana on an emotional downward spiral soon after. Don’t believe me? Check out the episodes “The Beginning of the End” and “Collision” and see for yourself.
1 Jeffrey Dean Morgan - Negan
And there he is; the most hated man on television right now. Never have I hated a villain as much as I do Negan, played by none other than Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who is so perfect for the role that he makes me wonder if the physical hate I felt in my chest for Ramsay Bolton was actually just minor heartburn. I don’t even have to list this out for you, I’m pretty sure you’ve seen Jeffrey Dean in at least a couple of shows sometime in your life. He plays John Winchester, dad to both the leading Winchesters in Supernatural. Ironically, he’s also fond of a baseball bat in that one. He’s also the nefarious "Comedian" in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, a character that gets killed in the opening scene of the movie and yet, is the most important piece of the plot. Oh and who can forget Denny Duquette! Denny Duquette from Grey’s Anatomy is probably the very first character on the show that got fans worldwide genuinely teary-eyed… but none more than Katherine Heigl’s character, Dr. Izzie Stevens. He didn’t break her heart, but his heart was simply broken. Literally.
And then there’s the lesser-known gems, like when he shows up in PS I Love You as a strapping Irish lad named William, a character that gently swoops into Hilary Swank’s character’s life to fill the void that Gerard Butler’s character left when he died. Talk about a soap opera. But here’s the kicker... Remember when I mentioned how Lauren Cohan plays Martha Wayne, Batman’s mother, in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Well guess who plays Batman’s father, Thomas Wayne, but isn’t credited in the movie? Jeffrey Dean Morgan! Which is great since he’s perfect as Thomas Wayne if they were to ever dive into the "Flashpoint Paradox", but the fact that he’s married to Lauren in the film is weird in every way considering the current circumstances, don’t you think?