Last week’s unexpectedly shocking episode of “The Walking Dead” featured the newest addition to the cast, actor David Morrissey, who plays the unscrupulous Governor. Both Morrissey and series creator Robert Kirkman were recently interviewed to discuss the direction of the show, the Governor and his bizarre collection of aquatic trophies.
Can you talk about the merging of the Governor’s character from the book and then what we’re seeing in the show and how those two characters, or versions of those characters, have come together?
Robert Kirkman: I think that people that are familiar with the comic book Governor, that he’s kind of the pinnacle of villains in that series and he’s really just kind of a devious, horrible, terrible human being. He’s a villain that you absolutely love to hate. When it came time to adapt that character into the television show, we’re really doing everything we can to try and add as much more nuance into that character as possible. And so, we’re accentuating the politician side of the character. We’re trying to show that he can be a lot more seductive than he ever was in the comic book series. And I think that David Morrissey is doing a fantastic job with that.
It seems the Governor trusts some people and not others, and maybe has his own criteria of who can be helpful and who can be a threat because he’s definitely intrigued by Andrea. Can you talk about that criteria and if it’s something we’re going to find about…what that is for him and how he decides?
David Morrissey: Yes, I think any leader of a community knows that certain people have to do certain jobs. They have to do certain functions within the community for the community to exist successfully so you can pinpoint those people. I would say after last night’s episode also it’s not just Andrea. I think he can recognize that she’s someone who’s very valued and could be very valuable to Woodbury as well. He doesn’t want the National Guard there obviously but he wants other people there who can help out and not challenge him and his authority, but can work in this sort of structure that he’s laid down. And I think what we explore is what Robert wrote a wonderful book called the The Rise of the Governor, and the Governor appears in the comic books and the time in between those two books is where we’re exploring the character…where he leaves from The Rise of the Governor to the beginning of the comic book. So this space in between those two books that we’re exploring.
It looks like you’re taking his character almost to a cult leader status. Like how he’s got these people wrapped around his finger…especially with Merle, he’s sort of molding him into a weapon in a way. Did you look into figures like say Jim Jones, to build upon that as a jumping off point from Rise of the Governor?
David Morrissey: I looked into many ideas of leadership, not just cults but also in standard leaders that we have ourselves. I think any leader, any successful leader, has to be able to sort of know the people around him and how he can manipulate them and how he can trust them, whether he can mold them to his vision. I think also any good leader cannot be frightened by people who are strong around him, both mentally and physically. He has to know that those people can go off and serve him in a good way. So, yes, there’s an idea of looking at cultish leaders but I think it’s a bit safe to say to say cults because we all like to believe that we don’t live in that type of domain. Whereas, I think all of us are subject to certain types of leadership. Essential leaders play with us. We are played with in that way in our societies whether we like it or not. It’s how we’re manipulated by our own leaders. So I wouldn’t want you to feel too safe with the idea of a cult because I think some of the tactics that the Governor comes up with are tactics that are used in every day parlance all the time.
Obviously the Governor is very secretive. Are you going to be getting into who he was prior to all of this? Will you be folding in any of the Penny storyline from the books?
Robert Kirkman: Well, I can’t really speak definitively as to whether or not Penny is going to be included on the show. All I can really say is make sure that you stay tuned and keep an eye out for that kind of stuff. But you know I will say that his backstory is something that is very interesting and there will be snippets of it revealed as we move forward. So I think that his story will kind of unfold as we tell things that are happening in the current time.
Michonne is obviously a tricky character to play. You want her to be fierce, you want her to be stoic, you want her to be bad-ass. But will there be some point where we learn something about her? Will there be a moment down the road where she kind of lets the walls down just a little bit?
Robert Kirkman: Yes, I mean we’re kind taking the tactic of introducing her as this cold, calculated and mysterious character that we don’t really know much about. But like all characters in “The Walking Dead,” she’s very nuanced and there’s quite a bit about her yet to be revealed and that kind of stuff will start to come to the forefront as we get to know her character a lot more.
David, in your first episode we got quite a few zombie and human kills from you. What did you do to prepare for the physical aspects of the role? And do you enjoy jumping right into this world and taking part in those action scenes just as much as the character acting?
David Morrissey: Yes, that’s the great thing for me about joining the show is that you do get to jump straight into this world. And not just actors do that, but also Greg Nicotero and his team create those great zombies and the people who come in and play them. They are totally committed to their work and that really adds a lot for me. It just creates the world brilliantly. Physically, it’s just a case of the heat took me slightly by surprise down here in Georgia but we’ve been able to cope with that. And I think the conditions that we work in add to the show. You know it’s very hot; it’s very buggy, there are snakes and ticks and chiggers and all sorts down here. But that’s the world that my character would be living in and so that’s the world that I inhabit as well. So it’s a challenging environment but it adds to the show and I love it.
When it comes to weapons, shooting, handling knives, did you have any training for that?
David Morrissey: Yes, a little bit, but I’ve done that before. I mean I’ve shot guns many times. I did a whole summer of BSAS in the gulf shooting guns–hand guns are a little different but I’ve done that in the past as well. There’s a great guy on the set that does all of that for us and we often go down to the shooting range and get some weapons that require different disciplines. But yes, safety is paramount all of the time of course. It’s really the whole world is one that’s heightened in violence when you’re defending yourself against this enemy. But that’s all fun for me. I think in the next episode the weapons are different for me so you should see that now.
David, could you talk about your accent. Did you model this on any American politicians perhaps?
David Morrissey: I listen to many, many politicians. I have a great accent coach in Jessica Drake. But I think there are certain things in there that I’ve listened to, certain politicians from this region of the south of America, so I don’t know whether you’re picking up on those things. But yes, I listen to not only political leaders but also other characters from the south. It’s also a great advantage to me that I film where it’s set. Filming here in Atlanta is essential for me so I can just listen to those guys all of the time. That helps.
If I told you I heard Bill Clinton in that is that a compliment to you?
David Morrissey: Yes, I mean his audio books I listen to quite a lot. I did listen to them as well as many others. But I wouldn’t be equating the Governor with Bill Clinton in any way. So I have to say that right off the bat. There might be some vowels and syllables that are Clinton-like, but that’s as far it goes.
About the final scene in last week’s episode, what does that tell us the Governor?
David Morrissey: Well, for me there is a sense of: if you’re going to survive in this world you’d better have a thick skin and be able to desensitize yourself to the things that you are going to see around you. And I certainly think there’s a sense of the Governor doing that. It’s also his plaything. It’s his man cave. It’s where he goes, so it’s about where he looks into the deepest place inside himself and that’s where he goes for that. That room is very special to him.
Check your local listings and time on Sunday to watch AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”