It didn't take long for Danai Gurira to make her mark as zombie-killing warrior Michonne in "The Walking Dead." After all, the beloved character from Robert Kirkman's graphic novels can chop off a walker's head with one stroke of her katana sword.
Heads roll again in "Walk With Me," airing at 8 p.m. Oct. 28 on AMC, as Michonne and Andrea (Laurie Holden) keep on fighting for their survival in the zombie apocalypse.
"They have a beautiful bond just based on both being Alpha women who respect each other, compliment each other and have each other's backs," Gurira said at San Diego Comic-Con in July.
In Sunday's episode, the duo come face-to-face with another highly anticipated Season 3 character, the sadistic Governor (David Morrissey), who runs the town of Woodbury. During an August visit to the Georgia set of "Dead," I caught up with Gurira, who has been a recurring cast member on HBO's "Treme" and is a successful playwright who collaborated with Chicago's Goodman Theatre on her play "The Convert."
What was it like jumping into this character that people love?
I did my research and I read about her online somewhat, but I didn't know a lot. So what I went with was what the sides were and what I knew of the world, because I watched the first season as I prepped. I hadn't watched it before.
I just really approached it as creating and building a character. I could see aspects of her just from how she was described and even from how she's drawn. But also just building the multi-layers or the aspects of who she is has to come into play like how I would deal with any character building. And a lot of it was really clear on the page. They created a really brilliant dummy scene for the audition, so I really kind of built it from that.
Maybe there was a benefit to the fact that I didn't know too much. As you know about this show, they don't ever do exactly what's on the comic book page. Hence, it keeps everyone unable to predict anything. So I think with her there's a specificity to her arc that is true to the comic book but it's also new, and I got that from meeting with the show runner and his team of writers and what they were thinking about and then what I thought about as we built her and built the stories that they were building.
It's been a kind of a fresh approach along with a lot of what we already know about her, but it's also been a lot of love. You know what I mean? Like stepping into this character it was kind of like, "Whoa," because there is so much love around her, which I didn't know really at the time. But I thought it's such a fabulous thing. People are so excited to see her come to life and that's really cool. I've gotten a lot of love from folks who are just happy to see her alive or in flesh. So that's been really lovely.
Did you feel any pressure becoming Michonne because she is such a popular character?
Yeah, there is an aspect of that, but I feel like there's pressure with anything you embody. If you are embodying something from scratch, you have to try and make it something that pops and that people appreciate. You know what I mean? You want that to work and then if you're embodying someone whose already existed you want people to be happy with it. But at the end of the day, she is just gonna be what comes through. Do you know what I mean? So I have to just kind of let that go. Otherwise, you can't even be creative.
I think the thing that is great is that she kind of helps me in being her because she's so not a people pleaser. Not even to her fans, I would imagine. So I kind of like go with her lead and be like, "Michonne ain't a people pleaser, so I won't be either." ...
It's been intense, which is good. I'm an intense chick and I like intense. I like challenges. I like intense challenges. Even when I don't, I do because otherwise you don't feel like you're utilizing all of what you could possibly bring.
Let's talk about you sword training. Are you continually working on it?
Initially it was all about just working with the trainer, of course ... It was extremely intense at the beginning, extremely intense. I did not know those muscles were in the body. It hurt and it was exhausting. ... I work out but this was just a whole other thing. You do your little dumbbells and you're getting somewhere but the katana just totally will break you. And I love it for that. But it was a lot of work ...
Thankfully, I felt pretty comfortable with it by the time we started shooting, so I was able to actually contribute to how we put together a scene of killing zombies... That was great when I got to the point where I went from not lying on my back going [Wahhhh!], like crawling. I could walk a few steps. It's very enjoyable and exhilarating but it's extremely intense and there's so much to learn all the time. It's not like I'll ever be at the level of the guys we watch in the movies, and I've watched a lot of movies which is really, really cool to just see how they handle it.
After you did that initial training, did you continue certain types of workouts while filming?
I definitely have to do that and you just work it into your workout. ... They've given me like every type of sword--the hard plastic, the wooden and the real deal. They're all scattered around my house. They just become a part of what I do when I'm exercising. Yeah, you've gotta keep it going.
Have you surprised yourself after seeing your scenes where you're fighting?
Yeah, a little bit. I've just been like, "[Sigh of relief]." Yeah, because it's such a big part of her and you want it to work. Yeah, I have, thankfully, surprised myself in a good way.
How did Michonne learn the katana, or was it just a survival thing?
Yeah, it's a survival thing. You scour around for what you can survive with and that's what she came across and then she started to figure out how to make it work for us all. It was a big part of getting her; the reason why I think she's so connected to it, it got her through some stuff that was a connection that she developed with it. But she also found herself to be pretty good at it. Once you figure out how to use it effectively, she's effective and pragmatic and so is that weapon. And it's and economical. ... [Laughs.] You can take off so many heads.
Have you learned things about her that maybe have surprised you and that have made you think differently about her?
I think as you dig you start to realize how there are a lot of colors to a character and how she is functioning in the world and why. So I think digging into the why has really allowed her to open up more and more to me. Going back a little bit to who she was before it all went down [also helped]. ... She was somebody else before and sort of tapping into that and allowing that to start to come out in aspects has been a very interesting experience and realization.
She talked to a handful of visitors about Michonne and working on "The Walking Dead."
Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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