The hit AMC drama series The Walking Dead has returned for a third season, with higher stakes, more threatening human villains and, of course, plenty of zombies. When things pick back up, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his fellow survivors continue to seek refuge, this time in an abandoned prison, but soon discover that there are greater forces to fear than just the walking dead. The struggle to survive has never been so perilous, especially considering that Rick’s wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), is close to the due date of her pregnancy. Based on the comic book series written by Robert Kirkman, the show also stars Laurie Holden, Steven Yeun, Norman Reedus, Chandler Riggs, Lauren Cohan, Scott Wilson, IronE Singleton, Melissa McBride, Danai Gurira and David Morrissey.
At the show’s press day, actress Danai Gurira (who plays the mysterious and bad-ass Michonne) talked about how much fun it is to play a woman of few words but much action, what it’s like to wield a sword, how she’s always wanted to play an action hero, playing a character that has so much attention focused on her, having to get fake Twitter and Facebook pages shut down, auditioning with a dummy scene, and how it’s safe to say that Michonne will have conflicts with people who don’t sit right with her. Check out what she had to say after the jump, but beware spoilers.
[Possible spoilers ahead]
Question: How much fun is it to play a woman of few words, but much action?
DANAI GURIRA: It is fun, I won’t lie!
Was the sword cumbersome?
GURIRA: Initially, yeah, when I first started training with it because it was new. By the time we started to shoot, it had only been about six weeks, but it was very intense. I remember working on that scene with the director. I had my own swords that I’d gotten with my trainer, but then Michonne’s sword was a little bit bigger and heavier.
Is it a real sword?
GURIRA: Oh, yeah! Well, I have a ton of them. It depends on what I’m dealing with. But, you could hurt somebody or kill somebody.
Have you hurt yourself with it?
GURIRA: No. The sharp end of the blade is not razor sharp, but it’s sharp enough. It could hurt somebody. The tip could really do some damage. These swords are worth about $20,000. They’re built from scratch. They’re no joke. But, they don’t make it razor sharp. It would make no sense to put a razor sharp sword in an actor’s hands. They’re sharp enough to do damage, if they’re wielded at full speed at someone’s neck. They would cut. There’s a half-sword I have to use for special effects, so we switch them out. In every scene that we shoot, I’ll use the full mama because she is so gorgeous and you have to get that full thing in there. And then, for another take or two, we’ll use the one that special effects needs because when it actually slices through things, we can’t be using the real thing. It is a negotiation, spatially. Thankfully, I just have an ability to know [how to judge that]. I have to keep it enough away from the body of the person who’s playing the zombie, so that it doesn’t actually do some damage. You have to swing it fully, but you also have to maintain spacial negotiations and spacial relationships. I don’t know if I was quite trained to do that. It’s just something that, when you’re rehearing it and putting it up on its feet, you just figure it out.
Were you nervous about playing an action hero?
GURIRA: I never really thought about the action hero idea. I never really thought about her that way. And then, I started to realize that’s what she was. Really, it’s something I’ve actually always wanted to do. I’m from theater. I’ve always been extremely physically active. I don’t care about the quality of the film as a whole, but I loved Salt. I loved it! There’s just something about seeing a woman do stuff like that. The way she killed the dude with the chain, when she jumps off the railing and pulls his neck, it sounds horribly violent, but I loved that. I love that stuff! The idea of playing Michonne was thrilling. Getting to play someone who gets to be really physically active and definitive and largely victorious was really thrilling to me because I love that stuff and I’ve always wanted to do that.
Did you have any idea how much attention this character would get, before the season even started?
GURIRA: I had an idea, when I started to audition. The audition process was some weeks long, so I had an idea because I did the research. I had never heard of her. I didn’t know anything about her. I started to look her up online and [realized that]. And then, once I got the part, people were like, “Just don’t look at the internet, ever again.” I was like, “Okay, so I’m stepping into that. Got it!” I’ve had to deal with the fake aliases on Twitter and Facebook, which drove me nuts. Suddenly, I was that interesting. I don’t know why it couldn’t be a fan page for Michonne. Why did it have to be someone pretending to be Danai? That was so frustrating! I really was very frustrated by that. But, AMC got rid of that, thankfully. It was crazy!
Do you know how many other people were also auditioning for this role?
GURIRA: No, but I know they were considering a lot of people, for a long time. They knew they needed a Michonne for a long time, so there was a long process. I was approached to audition, probably about three weeks to a month before I got the role. I did one round on tape, and then waited for some weeks. And then, I did another round with the producers. And then, I did another round with the producers and the network. And then, I did another round of that. So, it was a process. We didn’t just have a chat, and then they were like, “Oh, the role is yours.” It was a process, and I’m thankful for that. As a performer, this is my interpretation, take it or leave it. I don’t want you to take an idea of me. Take how she sits in me and choose that. I’m glad I had to go through the rounds. At the end of it, there were just a few of us in the test process where they were trying to decide between a certain number of people, but those were the only women I saw.
Did you test with any other actors, during your audition process?
GURIRA: No. There was a dummy scene that was very extensive and very specific, and that made it very clear who she was. It’s not in the show. It was a dummy scene, but it was a great scene.
Because of the type of role, did they test your physicality, at all?
GURIRA: Not like, “Okay, run a mile and we’ll test how fast you do that.” They did look at our background, in terms of how athletic we had been and what our abilities are. But, they didn’t put me through a physical test. That would have been funny, though.
Initially Michonne and Andrea (Laurie Holden) seem pretty isolated. How quickly will they start interacting with other people?
GURIRA: They do start to encounter people in Episode 3. As the third episode kicks in, The Governor and the Woodbury world comes into play. Instantly, there are a lot more people to deal with.
Would it be safe to say that Michonne has conflicts with a lot of people?
GURIRA: That would be safe to say. If they don’t sit right with her, she has no time. She’s not a people pleaser. She listens to her instincts. She’s not trying to be your friend. But, once she’s decided on her, like with Andrea, forget about it. That’s really her, in a nutshell, at least initially. I think she has a beautiful becoming. She’s on an arc. There’s a becoming that she goes through this season, that I love.
The Walking Dead airs on Sunday nights on AMC.