Q&A: Danai Gurira of 'The Walking Dead'
Actress talks about being Michonne, fan reaction and katana swords
Danai Gurira always wanted to be an action hero.
And when she landed the role of the katana-yielding, zombie-slaying Michonne, one of the most beloved characters in "The Walking Dead" comic-book series, the Iowa native's wish came true -- but not without some really weird fan interactions on the internet that she never saw coming. (More on that below.)
In time for a laconic Michonne's awkward heart-to-heart with the Governor (David Morrissey) on this week's installment of "The Walking Dead," Gurira, 34, sat down and talked to MSN TV about tapping into her inner badass and learning the way of the sword.
Season 3 of "The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
MSN TV: You're one of the best action heroes on TV, especially in regards to being a woman action hero. Did you think about that when you took the role?
Danai Gurira: I never really thought about her that way. And then I started to realize that's what she was but it's always something I wanted to do. You know, I'm from theater, I've always been extremely physically active. I loved "Salt". I was like, "OK, she can't really beat up guys that quickly." But I still loved it. There was just something about seeing a woman do something like that. Like the way she killed the dude (Liev Schreiber) with the chain. When she jumps off the railing and pulls his neck.
That was awesome and Michonne is like that. She would and could do that.
Stuff like that, it sounds horribly violent, but just stuff like that, seeing a woman be active like that? I love that stuff. So the idea of playing Michonne was really thrilling. Playing someone who gets to be really physically active and definitive and largely victorious was thrilling to me because I love that stuff. I've always wanted to do that.
Did you know how much attention Michonne would get and how much the fans wanted to see her?
I had an idea once I started to audition. The audition process was some weeks long so I had an idea because I did the research. I'd never heard of her. I didn't know anything about her. I just started to look it up online and I was like, "Oh. Oh. Oh." Then once I got the part, they were like, "Whatever you got online, if you're on an internet dating site, whatever you're doing, just shut it down. And don't look at the internet ever again." And I was like, "OK. I'm stepping into that. Got it." I had to deal with the fake aliases on Twitter and Facebook, which drove me nuts.
Fake aliases? People were pretending to be you?
Yes. Suddenly, I was that interesting. It was very upsetting.
Wow. That's not something that happened when you were on "Treme."
No. It was definitively Michonne. Suddenly, it was "Oh, she doesn't have a Twitter feed? I'll be her Twitter voice." And, "Oh she doesn't have a Facebook page? I'll be her Facebook voice."
The sword should have a Twitter page.
Exactly. But I don't understand why they couldn't just make a fan page for Michonne. Why did it have to be you pretending to be Danai? That was just so frustrating. I really was very frustrated by that. But we got rid of it. AMC did.
That's not something a normal person would think, that "Oh, she better watch out because someone will get a Twitter page and pretend to be her."
Yeah. But that's exactly what happened. Crazy.
You talked about the audition process, but did you know what other actresses tried out?
No. I know that 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 probably three weeks before I got the role. I did one round on tape and then things went on 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 another round with the producers and the network so it was a process. It wasn't, "Have a chat and the role is yours." And I'm thankful for that. As a performer, this is my interpretation. I don't want you to take an idea of me. Take how she sits in me and choose that. So, I'm glad I had to go through the rounds. At the end of it, there were a few of us on that final day.
And did they test your physicality?
Not in any run a mile sort of way. No one said, "Show us how fast you can run and kill zombies."
So no "Wipeout- type obstacle courses?
No. (Laughs) They did look at your background in terms of what your abilities are. They didn't put me through any physical test of sorts. That would've been funny though.
And what about the sword training? Was the katana sword cumbersome?
Initially, when it was new and I first started training with it. By the time we started to shoot, I'd only been using the sword for six weeks but it was very intense though. That scene where I kill the three zombies in the drugstore, I remember working on that scene with the director. I'd had my own swords I had gotten from my trainer when I was here (Los Angeles). Michonne's sword is a little bigger, a little heavier.
Is it real?
Oh, yeah. Well, I have a ton of them. It depends on what I'm dealing with.
But what about the sharpness of the blade? You could cut yourself.
Oh, you could hurt somebody. You could kill somebody.
Have you cut yourself?
No. (Laughs) But the sharp end of he blade is not razor sharp. But it's sharp enough. It could hurt somebody. And the tip could really do some damage.
I'm picturing like "Kill Bill" dangerous.
Yeah. It's the exact same type of sword. These swords are worth like $20,000. Built from scratch. They're no joke. It's the exact same type of sword. But they're not going to make it razor sharp. That would make no sense to put a razor-sharp sword in an actor's hands. But they're sharp enough to do damage, if they were wielded at full speed on someone's neck, yes. (Chuckles) They would cut.
You could narrow down the cast that way.
No, no. Thankfully, none of that has ever happened and no one has gotten hurt. But there are times when there's a half sword I have to use for special effects. So we switch them out. But in every scene that we shoot, I'll use the full momma because she's so gorgeous and you have to get that full thing in there. And then for another take or two, we'll use the one special effects needs because when it actually slices through things, we can't use the real thing. So it is an interesting negotiation because I have to know spatially -- and thank God I've been able to know -- that when I swing it, I have to keep it far enough away from the person playing a zombie's body so that it doesn't actually do so.
Was that part of your training?
I don't know if I was quite trained to do that. It's just that when you're rehearsing it and putting the scene up on its feet, you just figure it out.
What about Michonne's interactions with the Governor? Is it safe to say she doesn't like him much?
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 and she's not trying to be a friend. That's really her in a nutshell, at least initially. She has a beautiful becoming arc that she goes through, which I love.
It's not like a reality show, right? She doesn't ever say, "I'm not here to make friends"?
No! (Laughs) That's me talking about her. But she doesn't befriend people easily. She's very particular. But once she's decided on you? Forget about it. Like Andrea (Laurie Holden). She's going to be there for her no matter what.
"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.