The Walking Dead has helped to launch the careers of several previously unknown names. However, just as many of its cast would likely have already been familiar to viewers before they signed on to AMC’s zombie smash hit. Here’s a look at 20 actors – from Andrew Lincoln to Alexandra Breckenridge – who tasted fame prior to their time battling the undead.
20. Andrew Lincoln
Born with the rather Hollywood-unfriendly surname of Clutterbuck, Andrew Lincoln first found fame in his U.K. homeland as law graduate Egg in zeitgeist-defining BBC drama This Life. Then, after taking the leading role in British dramedy Teachers, Lincoln caught international attention when he played Keira Knightley’s secret admirer in Love Actually. However, the actor’s ticket to international stardom truly came when he was cast as The Walking Dead’s protagonist, Rick Grimes.
19. Steven Yeun
Korean-American Steven Yeun’s TV experience was rather limited before he landed the role of resourceful one-time pizza delivery guy Glenn Rhee. In fact, he had had just one TV credit to his name: a guest spot in long-running sitcom The Big Bang Theory. And although he’d appeared in several shorts, his feature-length filmography consisted of just My Name is Jerry, an indie drama about a middle-aged salesman’s mid-life crisis.
18. Jon Bernthal
Before playing Rick’s morally ambiguous compadre Shane Walsh, Jon Bernthal had enjoyed recurring roles in The Class and Eastwick. He’d also starred in Oliver Stone’s 9/11 drama World Trade Center and had guest appearances in CSI: Miami, How I Met Your Mother and Boston Legal. But as a graduate of the American Repertory Theater, Bernthal’s early career was dominated by various regional and off-Broadway plays.
17. Norman Reedus
It turns out that Norman Reedus, a.k.a. The Walking Dead’s killer Daryl Dixon, is a man of many talents. Not only he is a model who has posed for the likes of Levi’s, Lexus and Prada, but he’s also a photographer, video artist and sculptor. And before Reedus joined the cast of the AMC hit show, film fans may well have recognized him from his roles in The Boondock Saints, Mimic and Dark Harbor.
16. Melissa McBride
Before taking on the role of unlikely heroine Carol Peletier, actress Melissa McBride had guested in the likes of Dawson’s Creek, Walker, Texas Ranger and American Gothic. She also appeared on the big screen in an adaptation of Steven King’s The Mist and enjoyed a late ’90s stint as a TV movie regular. However, McBride had spent much of the previous decade prior to joining The Walking Dead on the other side of the camera, serving as a casting director for commercials and movies in Atlanta, Georgia.
15. Lauren Cohan
Lauren Cohan certainly wasn’t a stranger to the horror genre when she landed the role of Maggie Greene in The Walking Dead. That’s because the actress had already enjoyed stints as Bela Talbot in Supernatural and Rose in The Vampire Diaries. But Cohan hasn’t been entirely averse to lighter fare, either, having starred as Vivian McArthur Volkoff in detective dramedy series Chuck and Charlotte Higginson in college-based comedy sequel Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj.
14. Lennie James
Morgan Jones is one of the first humans whom Rick sees after waking up from a coma during The Walking Dead’s premiere, and he was played by one of the show’s more experienced actors. Indeed, Buried, The State Within, Spooks, Jericho and Fallout are just a handful of the TV shows that Briton Lennie James has graced with his presence before joining the zombie phenomenon. James has also appeared in several British films, including Snatch, 24 Hour Party People and Outlaw.
13. Jeffrey Dean Morgan
The ruthless and murderous leader of the Saviors, Negan is undoubtedly The Walking Dead’s most notorious villain. It may be a surprise, then, to learn that the man who plays him, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, has previously appeared in several rom-coms, including P.S. I Love You and The Accidental Husband. The actor has also enjoyed recurring roles in Supernatural and Grey’s Anatomy and portrayed The Comedian in the comic book flick Watchmen.
12. Christian Serratos
Christian Serratos first found fame in her teens when she starred as Suzie Crabgrass in Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide. She then became part of the Twilight phenomenon when she was cast as Angela Weber in the big-screen adaptations of the young adult novels. But, of course, Serratos is now arguably best known for playing arms trainer Rosita Espinosa in The Walking Dead.
11. Austin Nichols
Espinosa’s ill-fated love interest, Spencer Monroe, was played by Austin Nichols. The Michigan-born actor got his big break when he was cast as Julian Baker in One Tree Hill. Nichols went on to take the leading role of John Monad in short-lived surfing drama John from Cincinnati; he has also appeared on the big screen in the likes of tennis-themed romantic comedy Wimbledon and disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow.
10. Pollyanna McIntosh
Pollyanna McIntosh only joined The Walking Dead’s cast in its seventh season but soon made up for lost time with her memorable performance as The Scavengers’ mysterious ruler, Jadis. The Scottish actress spent much of her early career on stage and in 2004 turned director for a production of The Woolgatherer. In 2011 McIntosh got a taste of the horror genre through the leading role in The Woman; she has also enjoyed recurring parts in M.I. High and Hap and Leonard.
9. Michael Cudlitz
Walking Dead viewers were left bereft after the seventh season premiere when fan favorite Abraham Ford died. However, the man who played him, Michael Cudlitz, actually got his start behind the scenes, working on teen phenomenon Beverly Hills, 90210 as a construction coordinator. Cudlitz eventually made the move in front of the cameras by playing Sergeant Bull Randleman in the award-winning Band of Brothers and John Cooper in crime drama Southland.
8. Seth Gilliam
Following in the footsteps of Lawrence Gilliard, Jr. and Chad Coleman, Seth Gilliam became the third former The Wire actor to appear in The Walking Dead when he showed up as Father Gabriel Stokes in the horror show’s fifth season. As well as appearing in the gritty HBO drama, Gilliam has also enjoyed recurring roles in The Cosby Show, Teen Wolf and Oz. His big-screen credits include Starship Troopers, Courage Under Fire and Still Alice.
7. Alexandra Breckenridge
Before being eaten by zombies in the sixth season of The Walking Dead, actress Alexandra Breckenridge, a.k.a. Rick’s love interest Jessie Anderson, had already had horror experience. She had American Horror Story experience, to be exact, having starred in the first and third seasons of the series. Breckenridge got her start in lighter fare Big Fat Liar and She’s the Man, however, before enjoying supporting roles in Dirt, The Ex List and Family Guy.
6. Scott Wilson
Screen veteran Scott Wilson made his acting debut way back in 1967’s In the Heat of the Night. Since then, he’s accumulated more than 50 movie credits, including In Cold Blood, Dead Man Walking, Pearl Harbor and The Ninth Configuration – and picked up a Golden Globe nomination for his performance in the latter film. More recently, though, Wilson has focused on TV, having portrayed casino boss Sam Braun in CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and widowed farm owner Hershel Greene in The Walking Dead.
5. David Morrissey
Like Andrew Lincoln, David Morrissey was a hugely familiar face in his U.K. homeland before showing up in The Walking Dead as the villainous Governor. He has appeared in acclaimed TV dramas One Summer, State of Play and The Deal and also spent years on stage with the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company. Viewers elsewhere may have recognized Morrissey from his turns in Sense and Sensibility, The Reaping, Nowhere Boy and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
4. Michael Rooker
However, Michael Rooker may well have been The Walking Dead’s most familiar face to U.S. viewers. The actor was launched to fame in 1986 when he took on the leading role in Henry: The Portrait of a Serial Killer and went on to star in Sea of Love, Days of Thunder, Cliffhanger, JFK and Mallrats. And before showing up as The Governor’s assistant Merle Dixon in The Walking Dead, Rooker’s notable TV credits included Kings and Pharaohs and Thief.
3. Sarah Wayne Callies
Sarah Wayne Callies had made her name through two very different TV roles before ever playing Rick’s wife Lori Grimes. In 2003, for instance, she assumed the famous part of Jane in The WB’s adaptation of Tarzan, while for several years she also portrayed physician Sara Tancredi in Prison Break. Meanwhile, Callies’ early film credits include The Celestine Prophecy, Whisper and Lullaby for Pi.
2. Danai Gurira
Danai Gurira began her career in theater, both starring in and writing numerous well-received plays. However, she first caught the movie world’s attention when she appeared in acclaimed 2007 drama The Visitor. Then, following roles in Ghost Town, 3 Backyards and Restless City, Gurira landed a recurring part in HBO drama Treme. Of course, she’s now best known for portraying fearless katana-handler Michonne in The Walking Dead.
1. Emily Kinney
Emily Kinney was 25 when she landed the part of Maggie Greene’s 16-year-old sister Beth in the second season of The Walking Dead. Before that, though, she had enjoyed guest spots in Law & Order: Criminal Intent, The Good Wife and The Big C. Kinney has also appeared on the big screen in It’s Complicated and has shown up in short films such as Hot for Teacher and Aunt Tigress.