In the 14 years since British rom-com classic Love Actually was released, a majority of the film’s fans have found nothing weird in the behavior of lovesick Mark (Andrew Lincoln), who’s infatuated with the new wife (Keira Knightley) of his best friend (Chiwetel Ejiofor). In one of the movie’s (often-parodied) touchstone scenes, Mark declares his unrequited love by holding large handwritten cards.
In an EW online poll last year, 66 percent of voters said that Mark was a lovestruck sap rather than a stalker creep. That’s not how Lincoln himself saw it. “In one of the most romantic movies of all time, I got to play the only guy who doesn’t get the girl,” he tells EW for our Love Actually reunion feature. “The story is set up like a prism looking at all the different qualities of love. Mine was unrequited. So I got to be this weird stalker guy.”
Lincoln continues, “My big scene in the doorway felt so easy. I just had to hold cards and be in love with Keira Knightley. And that was my own handwriting on the cards, thank you for noticing. But I kept saying to Richard [Curtis, the film’s writer-director], ‘Are you sure I’m not going to come off as a creepy stalker?'”
At the time, Curtis told him not to worry. Looking back, the director now says, “Retroactively, I’m aware that Andrew’s role was on the edge. But I think because Andrew was so openhearted and guileless, we knew we’d get away with it.”
The sensitive nature of the part might explain why Lincoln was repeatedly screen-tested before he secured the role in the film. “I think it was decided that I looked quite innocent,” he says. “I didn’t have facial hair or wrinkles back then — and I wasn’t starring on a zombie TV show. I didn’t look as, well, creepy as I do now.” (Lincoln, 43, has played Rick Grimes on AMC’s hit The Walking Dead since 2010.)
Regarding that show’s massive success, he adds, “There’s a whole generation in England who think I’m American, thanks to The Waking Dead. It’s an interesting phenomenon of being an actor longer than 25 years because you can tell what people know you from.” At the time he was cast in Love Actually, Lincoln had just appeared on stage in London in the play Blue Orange — opposite future costars Ejiofor and Bill Nighy. “It was very lazy casting on Richard’s part,” Lincoln jokes. “He just came to National Theatre to watch the play and cast all three of us.”
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Another factor that eased Lincoln’s mind while playing Mark was a conversation he had during filming with script supervisor Emma Freud. She’s also Curtis’ longtime partner (they have four children together) and informed Lincoln, “You realize who you’re playing? You’re Richard.”
Reached by phone amid frantic preparations for the U.K.’s Red Nose Day in late March, Curtis lets out a gale of laughter. “Me?” he asks. “You mean, obsessively in love and unable to express it so well? I don’t know about that.” (Curtis cofounded Comic Relief, which has raised more than $1 billion for charities across the globe, in 1985.)
The mini-sequel to Love Actually, titled Red Nose Day Actually and featuring several cast members including Lincoln, Knightley, and Ejiofor (plus a cameo surprise), will air as part of Comic Relief on NBC on May 25. You’ll have to wait until then to see if the passing years have made Mark any less — or perhaps more — of an obsessed creeper.