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Q&A: David Morrissey of 'The Walking Dead'

British actor talks about his character, the Governor, and what fans can expect

By Mekeisha Madden Toby Oct 26, 2012 11:52AM

'The Walking Dead' '/' AMC


The Governor is making his grand debut on this week's "The Walking Dead" and fans will not be disappointed.


Arguably one of the most anticipated new characters because of his role in the graphic novel, the Governor is the kind of complicated villain the zombie drama needs. And British actor David Morrissey brings a lot of depth and gravitas to the part.


Bing: More on 'The Walking Dead'  | David Morrissey


Get ready for a lot of intense and irresistible exchanges between Morrissey's the Governor and Michonne, Andrea and Rick.


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In time for his much buzzed-about series introduction, the 48-year-old husband and father sat down with MSN TV to talk about his role, how he's adjusted to fan excitement and his newfound southern accent. Season 3 of "The Walking Dead" airs Sundays on AMC.


MSN TV: What can you tell us about the Governor?


'The Governor' '/' AMCDavid Morrissey: He's a man who does everything he can to secure his town and his people to make sure that they're safe and that calls for some very tough decisions. Any leader that we have, you could look at them and say, "He's doing things that I could never do." That's what the Governor does. He does things that I think people won't agree with and think are bad and sadistic or whatever. But he would say it is all  necessary for the safety of this place. I think that's what makes him even more dangerous --  that he can justify it. 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 the Governor's main adversary?


Not his main adversary. Anybody outside of Woodbury is viewed with suspicion and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is outside of Woodbury. But there's also Andrea (Laurie Holden), Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Merle (Michael Rooker). There are a lot of people he has to iron out relationships with but undoubtedly, Rick is the leader of another group, which is not far from him. So there are things that they need to sort out. But I wouldn't say he is his rival.


How much history will we get on Woodbury?


You get a little bit of that. I had to do my own research so I read "The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor" by Robert Kirkman and it's just a fantastic book. It's not a graphic novel, it's a novel and it's wonderful. And that is where I started with the Governor, with that. We will get some back story on him and some back story on the community and how it works and how it's run and the day-to-day schedule and how they get to do what they do. We see that. And that's what makes it work. It has this very specific structure people need to adhere to and that's what the governor makes sure happens.


For Rick and his crew, it's about survival. Does the Governor have a different agenda?

'Rick Grimes' '/' AMC


It's about survival but it's also about beginning. He's looking at how we can begin again as a human race. 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 and it's not just about hand-to-mouth survival. It's about how to cultivate the human race and move it into the future. That's his plan.


Were you aware of fans'  interest in this character when you took the role or was that something you came to understand over time?


I had no idea. I don't read the comic books. I came to 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 director would like to see you for 'The Walking Dead,'" I was really jazzed about that. And then they kept talking about a substantial character but they didn't say who it was. Then I talked to Glen Mazzara and he told me who it was. But I didn't read the comics. I wanted to form my own opinions. I've read the comics since. But the first episode came in and I used that and the book, "The Rise of the Governor," and then I had the little 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 there, he's sadistic and quite out there and quite an evil guy, if you like. My Governor isn't like that. You arrive and he's much more of a leader. Someone who's caring for his community and he's decent and has a humanity about himself. But you as the audience get to know him in a different way because he has private moments with the audience. But he's much earlier in his genesis than the Governor we meet in the book. I think if they had started with the Governor that's in the book, that has a very short shelf life, that guy. He's evil, he's going to do bad things and then he's going to die. My Governor is much more of a politician than anything and he's much more recognizable for that.


Have you experienced this level of fan interest before?


'Doctor Who' '/' BBC 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. So we filmed it, and the episode was called "The Next Doctor" and I was the next doctor. I was a man who thought he was Doctor Who. After we filmed it, David Tennant announced he was no longer going to be Doctor Who. So Russell T. Davies said, "Can we tell everyone it's going to be you?" And I said, "Yeah. Fine." After that, nine months of my life was hell. Because he said to me, "You can’t tell anyone." And I said, "I can tell my kids.” And he said, "No! They'll tell somebody on the playground." So for nine months, my kids were going, "Are we moving to Cardiff?" And all I could say was, "I can't tell you." It was really, really tough. And "Doctor Who" has a huge fan base. So I have had experience in that genre world. Then at Comic Con, the Governor hadn't quite come out yet and all the people who came up to me were "Doctor Who" fans.


What did you think of Comic Con? There wasn't a lot you could say.


I felt like the rudest person in the world. It was really strange. They want to know but also, they don't want to know. But I was tight-lipped because I didn't know anything yet.


What do you think of the role now?


'Governor in comic form' '/' AMCSince I've taken on the role, I've gotten to know how much people care about it. Before I took the job, I was nervous. I was very nervous but I'm nervous before every job. The minute I got on the set, that was taken away from me and I was welcomed with open arms. It's such as great crew, really brilliant crew. Then you're at work and in the family. The one thing about watching the show is I knew it had great actors. I knew it had great writing. But what I didn't know, until I was in Atlanta, was that it had this fantastic crew. Not just the camera and 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." And the other thing that's similar to "Doctor Who" is that there is a lead actor who is fully committed. So you have someone like Andy (Andrew Lincoln) and David Tennant who are the first guys on the set and the last ones to leave. They know everyone. They work with passion and care. And you know as an actor coming in, "He's doing it. So let's all step up."


Is it hard using a southern accent?


It's easier because I'm filming there, because we're in the heart of Atlanta. I have a dialect coach called Jessica Drake. And I just listen to the crew when we hang out and they're just great men and women and Andrew and I stay in accent on the set. The only time my accent broke was during the Ryder Cup when Europe beat the United States and I was giving the crew some stick.


Does being on location help your performance as well?


Definitely. Atlanta is hot, there's a lot of bugs, a lot of snakes, a lot of ants and that type of thing really adds to the show because you're really feeling it and it's pressurized. And I like that. It's tough. And I love Atlanta. It's a great city and unlike in L.A., if you go to a coffee shop, people aren't pulling out their scripts and reading them. There are real people there. My family can come see me and I can go home and see them. We shoot an hour outside of Atlanta so I live in Atlanta and drive an hour to the set and it's a beautiful little place. 


"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.