Actress Danai Gurira equates the vast success of “The Walking Dead” — the AMC drama that broke a basic cable record with its midseason premiere by drawing 12.3 million total viewers — to a far different phenomenon.
“It’s become like a family show,” the 35-year-old actress told fans in the packed main event hall Saturday at Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle. “It’s like ‘The Cosby Show’ or something.”
Co-star Michael Rooker had his own memories of Bill Cosby’s influential 1980s sitcom. “Didn’t they do a dance at the beginning?” he asked from his side of the interview couch. “We should have a dance!” he added, visibly excited.
The actors, who portray zombie-chopping fan favorites Michonne and Merle, respectively, doubled up for the second of ECCC’s three “Walking Dead” panels. The show, now in its third season, is based on the Image Comics series by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Tony Moore. Adlard, who has drawn “The Walking Dead” for more than one hundred consecutive issues, joined the panel and sat between Gurira and Rooker for the latter half of their panel.
Though the crowd was hungry for spoilers, none of the panelists would divulge much about where the TV series is headed — though Adlard confirmed that Merle, who has no analog in the comic, never will.
“I don’t know if I wanna be in a comic,” said Rooker, a highly visible film and TV actor since the mid-1980s. “Especially the ‘Walking Dead’ comic. Everybody’s all dirty all the time.”
Gurira is a newer face on television, first appearing in the “Law & Order” franchise in 2004. Her character is one of the most visible and highly lauded in the comics series, but Gurira only began to familiarize herself with the “Walking Dead” show after her casting.
“I always knew it had great critical acclaim — it wasn’t just a zombie show for people who like zombie shows,” she said.
Ultimately, she saw the show’s environment gives great leeway for character development. The actress found the premise had echoes of Liberia, the subject of a trilogy of plays she’s written that examine life during that country’s violent civil unrest in the years since 1980. “It’s like a war zone,” Gurira said. “Who would you be in this circumstance?”
Rooker — and Merle — approach the situation more laconically. While Michonne’s backstory remains a mystery thus far in Season Three, Merle is already a backwoods survivor when the walkers erupt in Georgia, and Rooker knows the type.
“I don’t need no motivation to play Merle,” he said. “A lot of people have Merles in their family. A lot of people are like, ‘Oh my god, you’re like my uncle! We don’t invite him over too often, but you’re like my uncle!'”
Rooker first approached the role as a one-off, since he was only cast in two episodes of the first season and then vanished under bloody circumstances. His return in Season Three was foreshadowed by a vision experienced by his brother, Daryl (Norman Reedus) — but he turned up with less of himself than there used to be.
Having no comics history to draw on — unlike Michonne — contributes a freshness to Merle’s presence in the show, Rooker said. “That’s what’s cool about my work — you don’t always know what’s gonna happen.”
When Merle returned to the show with an amputated hand, he augmented himself with a prosthetic blade. That proved a bit easier for Rooker to use, apparently, than Michonne’s katana was for Gurira when she was first cast.
“Initially it was really, extremely, extremely, extremely painful,” Gurira said. “I thought I was athletic until the day I picked that up. Even just learning how to hold it right, that in itself is not simple.
“Now I just work out with in my living room, because I really enjoy it,” she said. “But initially, it hurt.”
Stay tuned to CBR News for more coverage from Emerald City Comic Con.