(Warning: if you haven't seen the first two seasons of The Walking Dead, I'm about to get into major spoiler territory.) As an actor, can you imagine finding your dream role, only to immediately discover that your character was scheduled to die -- not once, but twice? That's what happened to Jon Bernthal, better known to most of us Walking Dead fans as Shane.
Bernthal was so taken with Shane's character, he walked away from two other solid TV offers (including a regular role on NCIS: LA) just to audition for the part. As most of us know, Shane didn't make it to season 3, but he made quite an impression while he was alive (well, and during the brief period he was undead, for that matter).
For all the Shane fans out there, here's some downright gripping insider info on how Bernthal played the character -- and a few secrets about Shane's infamous last episode:
What Jon Bernthal liked about Shane:
There was something about this character that I thought was so unbelievably compelling. I knew he'd become this guy who'd lose it and turn on his friend and if we were following the comic book at all, he's going to come to this part where he's wracked with jealousy and shame. I looked at the opening scene where Frank introduces Shane and you have these two friends sitting there and sharing a couple burgers, and you see this guy with humor, charm and flaws and he's sitting there being the best friend a friend could actually be, trying to help his friend communicate work through his marital problems. And I thought, with knowing where Shane was going, what a beautiful introduction.
How he dealt with knowing Shane's days were numbered:
When I said that Shane was the character I wanted to play, [producers] said, "He's not going to be long for this world; this is based on source material." There's nothing like getting your dream job and sitting down with source material and by the time you finish your sandwich, your character's dead. It was quite a shock.
I knew from beginning of the second season it would be in the last or second-to-last episode; it was a two-season arc. I was able to be strategize about what colors I showed and when. (...) There was a lot of back and forth between Andy [Lincoln, who plays Rick Grimes], Glen, and Robert and I about how this death should be and how it should go down and how it'd have the most impact on Rick. I will say that Andy and I didn't necessarily get our way, but what ended up on the screen was a combination of everyone's ideas.
His idea for how Shane's death should have gone down:
We really believed Shane was not a guy who would take Rick into the woods and not have an end game and come back and say, "Shoot, the prisoner killed Rick and I'm sorry but I killed the prisoner." He was going to go back to the group and say Rick was dead? We felt that that didn't quite ring true. So one of ideas that we had was that Shane's gun was not going to be loaded. That at the end of the day, when Shane was bringing Rick out into the woods to drive Rick to kill him, Rick would discover once Shane turned into a zombie, he'd pick up Shane's gun to kill Zombie Shane and see that it wasn't loaded. The producers wisely decided that it was too much. Andy loved it because it would be an unbelievable weight on his character
(Ooooooooh. That would have been interesting, don't you think? Although I think it was the right choice to not play it out that way, since Rick is already tortured enough as is.)
Shane & Rick's final confrontation was ad-libbed:
Ninety percent of what was said in that last scene between Rick and I was off-script -- we were improvising and making it up as we went along. It was such a thrill for Andy and I to be alone in the woods shooting this scene together. I remember after one take, I walked up to him and said, "Do you think it's bad we're not saying any of the words in the script?" And Andy said, "It's just me and you, brother. Let's just finish this up, me and you."
The secret to some of Shane's intensity:
(After the scene when Carl got shot) I got a call on the way to set from my wife that she was going into labor and Andy said he'd cover me, Sarah grabbed my dogs and I jumped on a plane and flew across the country and got there just in time to see my son born. I was with him for three days, but then I had to go back and right after that we had to play all the scenes where Rick is wondering if his son is going to die. I remember trying to play those scenes with Andy, and both of us are young fathers. After shooting one of those, we just walked out of the farmhouse down the road and were both sitting there crying our eyes out. I put my arm around him and looked at him and said, "Man, if anybody could see us right now, they would think we're stark, raving lunatics."
(Wow. I don't think I could see Shane as a bad guy again, knowing that background info.)
How Shane's death will affect Rick next season:
Of course, I wish at times, "Man I wish they could keep me around for Season 3," but at the same time I get it. The only thing I care about -- and I think the proof's going to be in the pudding next season -- is that this death really resonates and that it affects Rick and sets other things in motion. Just from seeing Andy's performance in Episode 13, I think that you can see that it has; he's already taken on more of Shane's energy. That's really the goal: Rick Grimes needs to harden and become more bold, become more decisive and be rocked by this death and I hope that we earned it.
Now that? Was a great interview. Not only do I have a deeper appreciation for the actor and the character he played, he made me want to re-watch some scenes just for the new perspective on what he brought to the table. I'm also getting SUPER excited for season 3, because between The Governor and Rick's newfound badassery, I'm feeling hopeful that The Walking Dead is about to kick things into high gear.
What did you think about Shane in the show? Were you bummed when he died?
Image via AMC