Fans of “The Walking Dead” comic books already know and love Michonne, one of the series’ coolest and toughest characters. Now fans of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” can join in the Michonne worship as the character becomes an integral part of Season 3.
The lucky actress who nabbed the coveted role is Danai Gurira, a recurring cast member on HBO’s “Treme,” co-star of 2007’s excellent indie drama “The Visitor” and successful playwright (“Eclipsed,” “In the Continuum”).
Michonne — complete with her zombie “pets” and katana sword — first appeared to a lost and vulnerable Andrea (Laurie Holden) in last season’s finale. Viewers will get a few glimpses of Michonne in action, and find out how she and Andrea are getting along, in this Sunday’s season premiere. But it’s not until episode 3 that we’ll really get to know Michonne, when she and Andrea come face to face with the big bad Governer (David Morrissey) in Woodbury.
We talked to Gurira about what’s ahead for Michonne this season on “The Walking Dead.”
I’ve heard you didn’t really watch the show before you got this part. What did you know about Michonne that made you excited to play her?
Danai Gurira: It was easy to research her just by looking online. The dummy scene I auditioned with was clearly a very tough woman who was also very connected to herself. Her strength was unabashed. I liked that, that’s my type of person.
Were you comfortable with the physical demands of the role?
I’ve always been considered strong for some reason. I was athletically competitive at least through high school. During my grad school training, the combat teacher and circus teacher were always talking about how strong I was. I’ve always loved being very physically engaged, from theater as well. I love action, being physically active, but in ways that are real and gritty. Not in really glossy ways. This kind of was a gift in that regard.
It’s rare enough for a woman to play an action hero, but for women of color these roles are almost non-existent.
That’s what made it so special and so exciting. Not even me getting the role, just seeing the role in existence was really exciting. That’s all a credit, of course, to Robert Kirkman for creating her. I’ve sort of held off on really asking him how he invented her. I’m waiting for that special day when I decide to know. But it’s just amazing that he came up with her.
Did you go back and read the comic books, or did you want to stay away from that?
I’m a researcher, so I wanted to know. I read all the comic books. I was curious about how [Michonne] read on the page and how that can feed my understanding of her. For me to create a character I look for everything that will resonate. I don’t hide myself from information.
How much did you know in advance about Michonne’s arc for the season?
Not too much. I did know some aspects of how she was instrumental in how the biggest conflicts of the season come to pass. I think certain things evolve as we go, there’s a certain degree of planning and a certain degree that even the writers room doesn’t know. I think what’s started to happen in the latter half of the season — I don’t know how anticipated it was in the beginning — but I think it’s really cool.
Will the show explore Michonne’s past, before the walker-apocalypse?
It won’t be revealed in a way that is heavily blatant, but it’s something that can be revealed in her own way of navigating the world.
We immediately have a sense of her strength, but does Michonne have a sense of humor?
She does. You’re not gonna see it right away, I’ll tell you that. It’s a part of a synthesis.
She has to find some other people first?
Well, she’s just in a realm where that’s not easy.
She’s not gonna crack jokes in Woodbury with The Governor.
Exactly! That’s not the place. The situation’s too dire.
Watching Michonne and Andrea form a friendship feels like new territory for women on this show. What can you tell me about working with Laurie Holden?
It’s been amazing. She’s a terrific actress, extremely committed to the show and her character. It’s really an amazing experience to work with her and be initiated into the show by her. The bizarre thing is life imitates art in the sense that we became very good friends off screen. We are both tough women off screen and on, so it actually made the navigation very easy.
This season we see Rick going to some dark places to protect the group. Does Michonne have the same sort of ‘whatever it takes’ philosophy?
She does what needs to be done. If she believes it needs to be done, it needs to be done. In war there’s collateral damage and she’s OK with it. But it’s never doing anything out of some sick, perverse, enjoyment of one’s own power. It’s about practicality and pragmatism.
And does she draw a line between killing walkers and killing people?
There’s no morality to put on it. She doesn’t waste her time with that. With the walkers, they were people, they’re not anymore. They’re actually better off being put out of this very undignified state. Right now what they’re doing is trying to kill other people, and I’m sure in their human form they would’ve hated to be that.
Does living in a world overrun by walkers cheapen life in some way?
It makes it that much more precious and in need of being preserved. But at the same time it’s a war zone. So there might be some damage of the human form, depending on what journey the person I’m dealing with has chosen to take. You’ll see [Michonne] make decisions in accordance with that.
As a writer yourself, what do you appreciate about the writing on the show?
Just the fact that they’ve been able to integrate such rich humanity. [The show has] that feeling of a war zone, the feeling of continued horror, the direness of the circumstance, but then the human connections that can be so palpable. I find that really fascinating. It’s not easy to balance the two things: a genre show and real human connection. I started to think about war zones I’ve researched as a playwright. I’ve researched Liberia when I was writing a play about women in war there. Watching the show I felt resonances of that type of war zone, and women who recreated themselves as warriors a result of trauma and the world turning to crap. To me, it was all very real. A lot of it is in that evolution of ‘Who do you become?’ Don’t judge, because you don’t know who you’d be on the other side of this cushiness.