Arguably the breakout star of AMC’s “The Walking Dead’s” third season, Danai Gurira has brought Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s fan-favorite character Michonne off the comic book page and into live-action history as a mysterious and laconic walker-killer who handles life in a post-apocalyptic world her own way. In recent episodes, though, Michonne has begun to change the way she approaches life, gradually letting down her defenses and allowing herself to care for other survivors. Clearly, she wants to stand alongside Rick Grimes and the rest of the prison-based survivors as they ready for war with the forces of The Governor.
CBR News spoke with Gurira about her turn as a katana-wielding zombie slayer, discussing Michonne’s changing priorities, her character’s impressive instincts and how she thinks new showrunner Scott Gimple will do next season. We also dip into some of the more fun aspects of her role, such as the name she may or may not have given her sword and her take on Michonne cosplay.
CBR News: In “Clear,” we got to see a different side of Michonne, including a little of her sense of humor. Is that going to continue and is this the first step toward a closer bond with Rick?
Danai Gurira: We’ll have to see. What was clear to me is that she had to go through a healing. Really, I think the episode where she speaks to Andrea was a part of that. It kind of allowed her to let go of a lot of the hurt and a lot of the stuff connected with Andrea, even [the stuff] connected, somewhat, to the Governor and just let go and know that she wanted to become a part of this community. That’s why she came back with them.
I think she has, sort of, allowed herself to go through a healing in a sense, and I think that involved stepping back, touching back into who she used to be. Even before anything went down, you know? Trusting and understanding that connecting with people again is not a liability; it’s actually something that you need in this realm. I think she gets that and I think thats what you see her doing; reconnecting who she’s always been. Putting down the mask, really, is what I think that episode was really illustrating.
On that note, I know the show isn’t really keen on doing flashbacks, but is that something that you would relish? The chance to go back and actually flesh out where Michonne came from and her backstory?
It could be interesting. I know what it is in my mind/ I already know, but I know it could be interesting for others to experience.
What I think is interesting about the show is that it touches in on real life, in the sense that, it doesn’t — when I was first researching a war zone for a play I wrote — you’re not going to get everybody’s life story from A to Z. You’re just not, it’s just not how those realms work. People are going to come at you, and you’re going to see them as their fractured self as a result of traumatic experiences that, of course, are the realm that they are now inhabiting. You might not get that perfect clear, like, “everything from A-Z,” “this person from A-Z,” understanding.
You get it with Rick, you get it with people you’ve seen from the beginning of the series, but it makes perfect natural sense that you’re not gonna get it with people you meet three seasons in, you know? That would be unnatural.
I know [there are] folks who really want it illustrated from A-Z so they can know, but I think there is something very real and rich about not knowing everything.
But I’m not sure. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t — who knows what they’ll do with the backstory in terms of showing it to the world? Who knows?
How in the hell did Michonne get in the cafe so quickly to get that picture back? That was some pretty quick stuff.
[Laughs] What do you want me to tell you?
I don’t know, share with me your ninja tricks.
No! [Laughs] Michonne wouldn’t, so I can’t either.
With Michonne’s popularity and her longevity in the comics, do you feel bulletproof? I mean, you have to admit that, right now, it’s pretty unlikely that you’re going to open up a script anytime soon and find yourself suddenly unemployed.
You know, the thing I love about this show is that it’s unafraid to do what it needs to do to tell a great story. I deeply respect that about this show. So you know, you don’t have to really think about allowing great stories to be told in whatever way and knowing that that’s what we signed up for. That’s what’s thrilling about this TV show, that’s what I’ll say.
So you’d be okay if they killed you off?
You know, you do sign up to be a part of a show that is a story of continued horror. So the term “okay?” Ultimately, yes.
One is okay — no one dies as a result of being killed off of a show, but, of course, one enjoys doing what they do, so there is that. No one is okay with it. You enjoy doing what you do, but in the biggest picture of telling the best story possible — if that is aiding and what the story needs, that’s what we signed up to be a part of.
You said previously that you couldn’t imagine being considered this one thing, which seemed to refer to Michonne and the badass action hero type of role. Are you less worried about being typecast because you, as a playwright, always have the option of creating something completely different from Michonne for yourself? Also, would you ever want to write an episode of “The Walking Dead?”
I’m not worried about being typecast. I think that there are a lot of things that I’ve already been a part of that show me in a different light, and I definitely consider myself pretty much a character actor.
I think if you spend 10 minutes with me, you know, okay — she’s not especially the Michonne that we met in the first half of the season. That’s not Danai. So there’s that one thing, and there’s also the aspect of — for instance, the film that I premiered with at Sundance this year that’s going to be out later in the year. The press who saw it have already mentioned how completely, starkly different it is from Michonne. It couldn’t be anywhere near — I mean, this is a chick trying to get pregnant with her husband. It’s just the furthest thing from Michonne imaginable.
So, I don’t worry about that, honestly. I do feel like — as I’ve done before — I can create roles and that’s a different world and people don’t see me in just one way and I appreciate that.
As far as writing an episode, all I’ll say is, who knows?
Aside from honing your physical abilities, what has this role helped you discover about yourself?
I think it’s very interesting how she envisions victory. That’s why she steps into very, very risky situations, because she doesn’t envision herself losing. She doesn’t sit there and go, “Oh God, what if?” and, “Oh, my goodness, what if this happens?” She doesn’t do that. She actually just envisions getting it done and she really kind of does get it done as a result of that.
I find that pretty fascinating. She sits there waiting for the Governor with her sword and she envisions walking out, being the one to walk out of the room, and she is — just barely. She envisions victory, and I find that very, very impressive about her. That’s something that I’d love to — I’m pretty similar, but you know, I could learn a thing or two from that level of confidence that she has in herself and in her abilities.
I think what’s really fascinating about her now, is that I think her instincts — as we’ve all seen — are very palpable. Instinctually she knew — and I think there was a lot of evidence, honestly — she knew that the Governor was bad, and instinctually she knew that Rick and this group was a place where she could actually hang.
Her instincts are very powerful. What I like about what’s happening now — in terms of what we saw in “Clear” — was the idea that her instincts — now, her heart is sort of able to reemerge as she heals and gets past certain things, gets past the Andrea pain and all that. And the fact that Rick really is, kinda, insistent that if you’re with us, you have to not behave the way you’ve been behaving, is good for her. That’s what she needed to hear.
What’s beautiful, what’s happening is her instincts are turning into — I think instincts plus heart equals empathy, and I think that’s what she’s stepping into now. I think she’s stepping into being a person — at least what we see in “Clear” — who can say what needs to be said, you know? She’ll say what Rick needs to hear, touching on his grief issues in a way that no one else has. He needs to hear that he’s okay, and she gives him that, because she can see what he needs. I think instincts plus heart equal that sort of empathetic thing that’s revealing itself now, and I find that really exciting. I find that that makes her extremely powerful, to be so formidable physically but then to also step into that, I think that’s very exciting.
What do you think you’re going to miss most about outgoing showrunner Glen Mazzara and what’s do you think Scott Gimple is going to bring to the role next season?
Well, I can’t go into that. That’s a little personal. But, you know, I think that Glen is very talented, so I’m not worried about his next step — I think they will be great and he will do great things. And I also think that Scott — they brought someone up into the role from within the family, which, of course, makes the transition much easier for us, and you know, Scott wrote “Clear.”
Yeah, that’s the thing that stuck out for me. I thought the episode was — next to the pilot — probably the second best episode of the show’s run.
Yeah, that’s what Andrew Lincoln said as well, and I agree. I think that [Scott Gimple] is a very powerful storyteller. You know, I’ve spent a lot of time with him because he tends to write the episodes that I’m heavy in, like this one and “Hounded.” I think that he brings some very amazing stuff to this world, so I’m excited for him and his ability as well.
Is there any concern that Robert Kirkman might be less involved with the show now that he’s working on bringing “Thief of Thieves” and this exorcism-based show to television as well?
Oh, please! Robert Kirkman is a beast! He’ll be there.
Do you have any plans for the off-season? Are you going to work on anything specific?
I’m running around like crazy! I don’t even know what I’m doing, honestly.
I’m going to Africa in a couple of days. The show is actually very big in South Africa. I’m also going back to Zimbabwe — where I’m from — working on my organization out there, and working on my plays, something I’m writing for screen and for theater out there.
It’s been a lot of moving. I’m trying to get a base out here in LA. It’s been a lot of living and running around. My play is in production in Washington DC, so I was out there for a while. I’ve gone to a few comic conventions, which has been a very interesting experience. And the film that I’m the lead in, “Mother George,” premiered at Sundance and I was out there for that.
Have you seen any good Michonne cosplay?
Yes, yes, indeed. I just forwarded a picture to my best friend and my sister. I was at a Comic Con last weekend [ECCC], and these folks came to have a picture with me and they were all done up like Michonne and her pets. It was an experience, it was an experience. They went all out, let me just put it that way.
Do you have a name for your sword, or your swords?
It’s between me and them. They’d be hurt if I shared it.
I stumbled onto this while doing research — your nameless sword has a Twitter account. I don’t know if you’re aware of that.
Uh, no, I’m not aware of any of that stuff. I tend to not really dip into social media much. I was just asked, “When are you going to do that?,” and you know, it’s kind of not naturally what I would do. It’s kind of not naturally how I put my voice into the world.
I know we’ve had to shut down a lot of fake Danai’s on Twitter, on Facebook and on Instagram. I hate it when people try and pretend to be me, if you want to be, you know, my sword, okay. But when they say this is Danai and they’re pretending to be Danai, it’s like “Whoa, whoa, whoa — can I just have my name?”
But, you know, hey, let the sword have a life. She’s pretty!