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, actor David Morrissey (who plays The Governor, the charismatic leader of the seemingly utopian community of Woodbury) talked about whether or not his character is totally bad, how The Governor views Rick, that viewers will got a bit of the backstory for the town of Woodbury and its residents, that he had no idea how much attention the character would get, how the experience he’s had with the fan community from his association with Doctor Who helped prepare him for this, how nervous he was before joining the popular show, and what appealed to him about doing a cable series. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: You’re being described as the big bad for this season. Is your character totally bad?
DAVID MORRISSEY: It’s interesting, that term, because I think that’s what people put on other people. when they don’t agree with their actions. I think he would see himself as doing everything he can, in order to secure his town and his people, and make sure they are safe. And that calls for some very tough decisions. I think any leader that we have, you would look at them and think, “God, he’s doing things that I could never do.” That’s what the government does. He does things that I think people probably won’t agree with, and will think it’s bad and sadistic, or whatever. But, he would say it’s all necessary, in the sense of security for his own place. I think that’s what makes him even more dangerous. He can justify everything. He’s not a loose cannon. He’s not just doing it because he wants to do it. He’s doing it for other reasons.
Is Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) going to be The Governor’s main adversary?
MORRISSEY: No, not the main adversary. Anybody outside of Woodbury is seen with suspicion by him, and Rick is outside of Woodbury. But, Rick has a big community. There are a lot of people out there that he has to iron out relationships with. Rick is the leader of another group, which is not far from him, so there are certain things they need to sort out, but I wouldn’t say that he’s his main rival.
Will viewers get much history, as far as what’s been going on in this town and how long these people have been there?
MORRISSEY: You’ll get a little bit of that. There was a lot of backstory. I read Rise of the Governor, by Robert Kirkman, which is just a fantastic book. It is not a graphic novel. It’s a novel, and it was wonderful. That was where I started with The Governor. We will get some backstory with him, and some backstory about the community, how it works, how it’s run and its day-to-day schedule that these people are on. It’s quite interesting, what they get to do. You will see that. It works because it has a structure. It has a very specific structure that people need to adhere to, and that’s what The Governor makes sure will happen.
Rick’s group is basically just trying to survive. Does The Governor have another objective that we’re going to find out about, or is it also just about survival for him?
MORRISSEY: It’s about survival, but it’s also about beginning. He’s looking at how we can begin again, as a human race, and how we can begin again in this world and function in this world. The town he’s created has a medical center and a school. It’s about that. It’s about starting again. It’s not just hand-to-mouth survival. He actually has a plan about how we cultivate the race and make it work, into the future.
Will The Governor also be associating with any of Rick’s people?
MORRISSEY: Yeah, he interacts with everybody. There is a coming together of the groups, quite a lot. They intermingle.
Were you aware of how much interest there was in this character, from the beginning, or was that something you realized, after you were cast?
MORRISSEY: I had no idea. I don’t read comic books. I’ve seen the show. I came into the show as a great fan. I love the show. So, when I was in L.A. earlier this year and they said, “The casting people would like to see you for The Walking Dead,” I was really jazzed about that. They kept talking about a substantial character, but they didn’t say who it was. And then, I met Glen Mazzara and he talked about it, but I didn’t read the comics. I wanted to form it myself. I’ve read the comics since, but the first episode came in and I used that and the Rise of the Governor book. And then, I had the middle bit of the story that I needed to create myself.
It’s important to say that The Governor in the comic books arrives fully formed. He’s sadistic. He’s quite out there. He’s quite an evil guy. My Governor is not like that. You arrive with him much more as a leader who’s caring for his community and who has humanity about himself. As the audience, you get to know him in a different way because he has private moments with the audience. But, he’s much earlier in his life and his genesis than The Governor we meet in the book. I think that, if they had started with that Governor who was in the book, he’d have a very short shelf life. He’s evil. He’s going to do bad things, and then he is going to die. My Governor is different. He’s much more of the politician, and he’s much more recognizable for that. Those are the main differences. Since I’ve taken on the role, I’ve gotten to know how much people care about it.
Have you had much experience with this kind of fan community?
MORRISSEY: I have. I was in Doctor Who. I did the Christmas special. And given how these things are, we filmed the Christmas special in February. The episode was called, “The Next Doctor,” and I was a man who thought he was the Doctor. After we filmed it, David Tennant announced that he was no longer going to be the Doctor, so Russell T. Davies said to me, “Can we tell everyone that it’s going to be you?,” and I said, “Yeah, fine.” It was nine months of my life that was hell. He said to me, “You can’t tell anyone.” I said, “Okay, but I can tell my kids?,” and he went, “No! They could tell someone on the playground.” So, for nine months, my kids were like, “Are we moving to Cardiff?,” and I was like, “I can’t tell you.” It was really, really tough. And Doctor Who has a very strong fanbase, so I was suddenly in that genre world. So, I have had experience with it before. In fact, at Comic-Con, because The Governor had not come out yet, all the people who came up to me were Doctor Who fans. There was a big Doctor Who fanbase there.
Walking onto such a high-profile project and being a fan, did you have lofty expectations of what it might be like?
MORRISSEY: I was very nervous, but I’m nervous before every job. I was nervous and tense, when I was at home in my hotel room with my script. The minute I got on set, on the first morning, that was all taken away from me. I was welcomed with open arms. They are such a great crew. They’re a really brilliant crew. And that was it. Then, you’re at work and you’re into the family. The one thing about watching the show is that I knew it had great actors and great writing. But, what I didn’t know, and what’s been such a pleasant surprise, being in Atlanta, is that it has this fantastic crew. And it’s not just the camera crew and the lighting crew, but people in the office who facilitate us working on the set. Everything is there that we need. It runs very smoothly, which is similar to Doctor Who. The other thing that’s similar to Doctor Who, for me, is that you have a leading actor that is totally committed. When you have someone like Andy [Lincoln] or David Tennant, they’re the first guys on set and they’re the last guys to leave. They know everyone, and they work with passion and care. And as the actor coming in to it, you go, “Okay, that’s him. If he’s doing it, then we’ll all step up.” David did it on Doctor Who, and Andrew does it on this. He’s a great leading actor, and everything that that means.
What’s it like to use American accent? Does that come easy for you?
MORRISSEY: It’s easier because I’m filming there. We’re right in the middle of Atlanta. I have a dialect coach, called Jessica Drake, who’s brilliant and looks after me and Andrew and Lauren Cohan. But, I just hang out with the crew. They’re all locals, who are great guys and girls, and I just listen to them. That’s when my accent kicks in. Andrew and I stay in accents, on set. We never break that. The only time my accent broke recently was during the Ryder Cup because it was a golfing thing between America and Europe, and Europe won.
Does actually being in Atlanta help you get into character easier, as well?
MORRISSEY: It helps because where we film is hot, and there are a lot of bugs, a lot of snakes and a lot of ants. That type of thing really adds to the show because you’re really feeling it. It’s pressurized, and I like that. It’s tough. And I love Atlanta. Atlanta is a great city. It really is. Unlike [Los Angeles], I can go have a coffee in a coffee shop and the people next to me aren’t getting their scripts out and reading them. There’s real people there. I really love that about it.
Does The Governor have a Cabinet working with him?
MORRISSEY: Yes, he does. He has Merle (Michael Rooker), who’s back this season. That’s one of his main men. And he has a guy called Milton, played by Dallas Roberts, who’s much more of a geeky, nerdy guy. He does all of the day-to-day for how Woodbury can run. He’s a scientist, as well, so he’s looking at how to grow vegetables, and stuff like that. He’s really great, in that way. He’s essential. So, he has that cabinet, and sometimes he listens to them, but sometimes he doesn’t. He is his own man.
Is The Governor still going to have those arena battles from the comics?
MORRISSEY: I can’t tell you anything about that. I know that, in the book, he does some crazy stuff with the arena, but I can’t tell you about that in our show. If he doesn’t do that, he does something similar, maybe.
In taking on a TV show, was it important to you to do something on cable, that has fewer episodes, because you also have a film career?
MORRISSEY: Yeah, but not because of the film career. It’s because I have a family. From a personal point of view, it’s better for me. It means that I can get home or they can come here, and it takes up half my year, not my whole year. That’s important, for me. On the hiatus, I don’t intend to work, at all, really. I think I’m just going to lie down for about six months.
The Walking Dead airs on Sunday nights on AMC.