Fresh off a game-changing episode of “The Walking Dead,” franchise creator Robert Kirkman and new cast member David Morrissey, who plays the dreaded Governor, sat down to talk about the path of the season, the future of the show, the Governor and his aquariums.
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.
Could you could talk a little bit about the character of Milton, the kind of doctor/scientist who’s doing the experiments with the zombies? It felt like this is a character that should definitely be there, especially since they all know that they’re infected. Is this a plot line that we’ll get to see a little bit more of?
Robert Kirkman: Oh absolutely. Milton is a really interesting character for us. He’s not necessarily a scientist per se, but he is a very intelligent individual who more than anyone else, is kind of looking around in this world saying, “You know, wait a minute, this is a problem that is not going away. Let’s do our due diligence to try and figure out a little bit more about these things and possibly a little bit better ways of handling them.” And he’s come up with a lot of theories and as the season progresses we’re going to get to see a lot more of him, and also a lot more of some things that he’s come up with to try and help them survive and cope in this world. So I’m really looking forward to everybody seeing that stuff.
David Morrissey: Plus, I think the one thing that’s the real difference between the Governor and Rick is the Governor has built Woodbury. It’s given people time. They have time to think about the future in a different way to Rick’s group. Rick’s group seems to be just trying to get through the day; whereas the people in Woodbury have time to think about where we go from here. This is the start of something new and how we deal with that, and Milton, is very much part of that.
Woodbury is just fascinating, how it was introduced with the gardens and the flowers and the birds chirping. It was this idyllic place…and then later on we get the zombie heads in the aquarium. It feels kind of like a mirror to the Governor’s personality.
David Morrissey: Yes, maybe, but you walk out onto any suburban street in the US or the UK or anywhere and you never know what’s behind those drapes. So, I feel it’s reflective–it can be reflective of any community, and ourselves as well. But I like that the audience has a different relationship with the Governor than the other characters in the show. We get to see him in a personal place where the other characters don’t. So we as an audience have a relationship with him that nobody else has, and that’s what I really like about it.
The last episode was all about Woodbury? We didn’t jump back and forth to Rick and his crew. Why was that important that we spend the whole episode there?
Robert Kirkman: I think it really just shows how important this side of the story is for this season of “The Walking Dead”. As we progress you’re going to see that Woodbury is almost featured as heavily as the prison cast and this is going to be a season of television where there are two camps. And those two camps are eventually going to interact to certain degrees that will be revealed later, but it’s very important to get to know these characters. And we also wanted to do something different. We’ve had two very successful seasons of this show and I’m very proud of the fact that for our third season we’re not going, “Hey we’re still in the woods killing zombies. Isn’t that cool? That’s what you guys all want, right?” We’re doing new things and going into new territory and the fact that we can have an episode like this and it be received well is a testament to how cool this show can be.
It took two seasons essentially to cover the first year of the comic and obviously both are two completely different animals. The next 36 issues are kind of the source for this season and maybe future seasons. How did you break it down?
Robert Kirkman: Well, that’s really just a matter of getting into the writer’s room with Glen Mazzara and the rest of the team of writers. We basically sit down and we go, “Okay, here’s the best stuff that happened in this era of comic book.” And deciding how long we want those stories to be and what pieces of those stories we adapt. It’s really part of the process. And so once we have all of that kind of stuff mapped out and we know what we want to pick and choose from the comic book we just kind of sit down and craft our whole story for the television show based on things that happened in seasons one and two and different things that we want to do and new things that we want to throw into the mix. So, I guess you can say, “Oh, the first year of the comic was the first two seasons and the third season of the comic is going to be a different arrangement. It’s not going to be these 12 issues or these 15 issues. There’s going to be different things moved around in different order and it’s an adaptation. We’re going to be changing quite a bit but there will always be key things that are thrown in that the fans will be wanting to see.
How much of The Rise of the Governor was spoken between the two of you in developing this character or maybe more additional material that you haven’t even shared with readers of the comic or the novel as far as creating the TV version of the Governor?
David Morrissey: When I first met the writers that’s what we were talking about, a complex character. It was interesting when I first met everybody, I didn’t even know what the character was. I just knew it was a substantial character in a TV show that I loved, so I was very happy to be sitting there and going for it. But as it emerged who this character was I didn’t know either the writer of the Governor or the comic book at that time. I just knew seasons one and two which I loved. And Robert and the writers’ outline of the characters was this very complex man who is a leader of the community in this very challenging world. And that is where it came out of for me. I didn’t read the comic Governor for a long time. I just stayed with The Rise of the Governor and that’s where the writers were coming from for that character as well. So for me it was just a very brief discussion and then the scripts arrived and I was overjoyed by the scripts.
With getting to see the aquarium at the end of the episode, how was it to see something that insane, that you created, brought to life on screen?
Robert Kirkman: Well, in regards to the fish tanks this is a question I get asked a lot and it’s extremely hard to answer just because I don’t really have any kind of frame of reference for how to describe it. All I can really say is it’s completely indescribable. To see Charlie Adlard’s drawings of those fish tanks that I wrote in a comic book eight years ago now coming to life and existing in three dimensions…and I can actually walk into a room and touch them…it’s very strange to think all of this stuff that we did. We were having fun. We were making a comic book. We never thought that this would spiral into this. And so it is sometimes strange to be on set surrounded by people dressed up like characters that you’ve been writing for years and walking through the prison and actually going into cells and locking yourself in and being like, “Wow, I’m totally in a cell from this prison. This is ridiculous.” So it’s a very strange experience and I wish more people could experience it so that they could tell me how to describe it.
Robert, it seems like everything you touch lately turns to gold. Thief of the Thieves has been a huge success and things are happening with that. Has that played into your writing at all in the back of your mind? Do you go, “Oh that would be a cool scene to see.” Or are you able to compartmentalize the TV Kirkman and the comics Kirkman?
Robert Kirkman: Well, I like to think I’m not getting too fragmented as a human being. But yes, it’s sometimes hard to manage it all. I try to keep my comic book writing separate so that I’m not constantly thinking, when I’m writing “The Walking Dead” scenes, “Oh, and that will be cool in the TV show” or “I should change it because it will work better in the TV show this way.” The comic book existed for so long without the show. I do try to put the existence of the TV show out of my mind while I’m writing the comic just to try and maintain the purity of what it was before all of this stuff happened, which sometimes is a little bit difficult. But it’s something that I really try to maintain because it’s pretty important to me to make sure that the television show doesn’t change what I’ve been doing before because I think what I’ve been doing before facilitated the show existing, and I just don’t want to change that for any reason.
David, you’ve done a lot of British television. Did it prepare you for this?
David Morrissey: Yes, the basic playing a character is the same whichever side of the Atlantic you’re on. You create character in the same way, or certainly I do. But challenges are the same. For me, the real difference between doing American TV and British TV is the budgets. The budgets of “The Walking Dead” on RSTV is much more than on RSTV in the UK. Surprisingly, the one thing it doesn’t buy you is time. The time we have to shoot on RSTV is exactly the same but we have more cameras and there are bigger sets and things like there are more people to help us do it. So the infrastructure is more than the UK and that’s great. But as far as from an actor’s point of view, the character and how you get into the work is exactly the same. I don’t think there’s any difference there and I don’t think there’s any difference from an actor in any medium. You know you go into the theater and you go into film or you go into TV your approach to character and how you create character is exactly the same.
Are you going to account for the electricity which seems to be in good supply there in Woodbury…a little bit more than maybe the generator operating off of rare gasoline would supply. Are you going to get into the whys of that?
David Morrissey: Yes, I think you see that in the set there’s a lot of where we glide along and use a lot of solar panels there. But the idea of power source does come up yet. There’s a whole thing about it later on. So yes, keep watching for that.
We’ve seen that the Governor has issues with empowered interlopers like the National Guard. Are we going to get into the psychological makeup of why that is? Why he’s so hell-bent on being the authority?
David Morrissey: Yes, I think you’ll get into the psychological makeup of him quite deeply as we go along. But, I think anybody would know why it’s probably not a good idea to have a gang of soldiers coming into your community when you’re the person who wants to run it. I think that’s a very logical thing for me. What he’s created there in that town is very idyllic and it run rights through him, it’s about him. It works and people are very grateful for him. It’s a delicate balance that he’s creating there and he wants to choose the people who come in and he really wants to choose the people who go out. He doesn’t want anybody else making those decisions for him.
How is gender going to play a role in Woodbury? The Governor has kind of surrounded himself mostly by men and his kind of inner circle. And then he has these two women come in that intrigue him. Is there going to be something that’s played throughout the season about the Governor’s view of women and his expectations of gender?
David Morrissey: Yes, I think it’s fair to say that gets played out. At the end of last week’s episode you see that he sees these two women in his community who obviously have differences of opinions about the town. But I think he would like to think of himself as someone who could welcome both of them in and they would both be very valuable to Woodbury. It certainly does play out that sort of gender politics though.
Is the prospect of a traveling “The Walking Dead” experience something that you’ve toyed with especially on the convention circuit since everyone wants to experience part of the television show in person?
Robert Kirkman: Well, speaking of the complete sell out, I would be totally fine with something like that existing. But yes, we’re having a lot of fun with “The Walking Dead” Escape and the thing at Universal Horror Nights. But putting that stuff together is all possible but I wonder if it’s above my pay grade. I just don’t want to focus on that kind of stuff. If it happens it’s kind of cool, but I don’t know; we’ll see. It certainly seems like it would be a fun thing.
David, you’ve directed in the past. Would you be interested in taking on directing an episode of the show?
David Morrissey: Yes, I’ve been in that for seven months from the adventure on the set and I would make the tea in order to be on a set of “The Walking Dead.” So whatever they wanted me to be I would be–I just want to be part of this experience in any way I can. So yes, directing it or making the coffee, drive the trucks, sew the costumes, whatever you want, it’s a show that’s a real trip to be on and I’m loving every part of it. And it’s a very tight-knit group of people down here and I’m very privileged to be part of it. So anything they want me to do I’m there.
Robert Kirkman: We were going to have you direct on season four; but now that we know we can just get you to make tea…
David Morrissey: You’ve not tasted my tea though.
With the success of this series and with the success of the Marvel Films has there been any inkling of you coming on to do some sort of Marvel Zombies project such as a video game or a short or a film of any kind?
Robert Kirkman: No, not at all. I mean I don’t know that there are any plans to do that but if there are I certainly haven’t heard from them. But, that’s a Marvel project controlled by Marvel and I’d certainly love to see something like that happen. It would be pretty cool. But I don’t know what level of involvement I would have in it if any if it were to happen; but who knows.
The Governor did some bad things but he’s not quite the despicable character that we know just yet. Was the decision to change the visual of the character from the comics to the TV show to help that play out a little longer?
Robert Kirkman: Well, I was wholeheartedly supporting the idea of getting David Morrissey to have plastic surgery so that he would look more like the comic strip but he was oddly extremely against it; so that was frustrating. I will say that the visual of the Governor isn’t necessarily the most important aspect of him. And to force an actor to have a certain kind of look only to match it to a comic book is not necessarily the kind of thing we would do. Despite the fact that we do have characters in the show that look remarkably like they did in the comic which is more of an accident really. In the effort to find the best actors for the roles we kind of stumbled across people that fit the image of the comics. We cast David because of his talent not because of his specific looks. He’s a handsome guy though, don’t get me wrong.
David Morrissey: Not because of my mustache. But the important thing for me is that that the guy, when the people meet him for the first time, they’re not being tipped off in any way or they feel they have any other agenda within the fact that they are in a safe place…that this is a safe place and that’s the presentation he has gives them right off the bat…you are safe here. This is a good place. So that was the important. That’s where the start of the look came from. He was someone who looked strong, dependable, and he was a man with his community’s safety in mind.
Like Robert said, you look like a very nice guy and you play very nice, but you kind of have that concealed rage in your eyes; especially with that ‘never say never’ scene last week.
David Morrissey: Yes, like I said before I think it’s important that the audience watching the show have one relationship with the Governor and the characters in the show have a different relationship. I think the audience knows the Governor better than anybody else because they see him in his private moments. Not just looking at the heads, but the other moments that you have with him. And I think that’s important they have a strong opinion and relationship with him, much more than anybody else in the show.
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