Earlier this year, I was one of a handful of people invited to visit the set of The Walking Dead Season 3. During that time, I was able to check out the prison, watch the filming of a scene, and interview some of the cast and crew. You’ll see multiple features from my set visit, starting with this interview, and more that will lead up to the premiere of The Walking Dead Season 3.
Fans of The Walking Dead comic book series are excited to see some of their favorite characters and storylines introduced in the third season, so I thought I’d start things off with Danai Gurira, who plays Michonne. Out of all the characters we’ve seen on the show, it seems like Michonne role has the most physical requirements and I talked to Danai Gurira about preparing for the role, including her sword training.
Can you tell us about the audition process? Did you know much about Michonne before auditioning for the role?
Danai Gurira: Even as I was preparing to audition for the role, I didn’t know a lot about the character. I went with what I knew of the world from watching the first season. I really approached it as creating and building a character. A lot of it was really clear on the page when I auditioned, so I kind of built it from that. As you know about the show, they don’t do exactly what’s on the comic book page. There is something about her arc that’s true to the comic book, but still new.
Did you feel any pressure because Michonne is such a popular character with fans of the comic book series?
Danai Gurira: I feel like there is pressure in anything you embody. If it’s something you embody from scratch, you have to try to make it something that pops and people appreciate. If you embody something that has already existed, you want people be happy with it. At the end of the day, you have to kind of let that go or you can’t be creative. What’s great is that Michonne is so not a people pleaser, so I kind of go with her lead.
What has it been like to play this character, when many of the other actors have been around for the last two years?
Danai Gurira: They’ve been amazing and embraced “the newbies” from the get go. I was overwhelmingly embraced by them, starting when I was first cast. Working together has been taking it scene by scene, engulfing myself in this world that they have so amazingly created. Of course, I come in here humbly and with a great deal of respect, because they have so beautifully built this genre. It has taken everyone’s sweat, determination, and a pursuit of excellence. They’ve set a tone and it’s a tone that you want to be a part of.
Would you say any of this experience has been overwhelming?
Danai Gurira: It’s been intense, which is good. I’m an intense chick and like challenges. Even when I don’t, I do, because then you don’t feel like you’re utilizing everything that you can bring.
Can you tell me about your sword training? Is it something you still work on regularly when filming?
Danai Gurira: We always work on it, but it’s situation by situation. Initially, it was all about just working with the trainer. My first trainer was in LA and I’ve worked with a couple of trainers here. It was extremely intense in the beginning and I did not know some of these muscles were in the body [laughs]. I work out, but this was a whole other thing. The katana will just break you and I love it for that.
I was more comfortable with it by the time we started shooting and I was actually able to contribute to how we put together a scene of killing zombies. It’s very enjoyable and exhilarating, but there is so much to learn all the time. I’ve watched a lot of movies to see how others handle it. The katana is such a big part of Michonne and I really want it to work.
Do you keep up with the comic book series?
Danai Gurira: Kind of, but not really [laughs]. Glen [Mazzara] told me I could read them or not, but I’m a researcher, so I wanted to know some of the stories on the page. I haven’t read comic books since I was a kid, so it was interesting to read something with such dire stakes. It’s amazing how some moments are illustrated and really stick with you. They gave me up to book 7 and a few that came after that, so I’m maybe 15-20 behind, but I’m told if anything major happens.
We’ll have a steady flow of exclusive content leading up to the premiere of The Walking Dead Season 3, so keep an eye out for multiple features and contests next week. Catch up on our recent coverage with the following articles: