The First Time David Morrissey Killed a Zombie

Just in time for Halloween, everyone’s favorite zombie apocalypse show, The Walking Dead, returns for its third season this Sunday. This year, the survivors are faced with an even more perilous future as they face not only brain-crazed zombies but another group of the living, led by the peculiar “Governor,” played by David Morrissey. While the Governor promises a safe haven from the end of the world, not everything is as it seems in his fortified suburban fortress. Morrissey is a veteran of film and British television, but his turn as the Governor is his first foray into the world of American television. We caught up with Morrissey to talk about his first zombie kill and a few of the frightening things that can happen when your co-workers include the undead.

GILLIAN MOHNEY: How is Atlanta treating you? It’s a bit hotter down there than in England.

DAVID MORRISSEY: Oh, conditions are tough, but it’s great. I think it all adds to the show. I mean, they’ve got a really good unit down there. I didn’t know Atlanta at all and it’s a great city. I came to the show as a fan. I knew by watching it that the production values were brilliant [and] the cast was brilliant. But the thing you don’t know going into a show like this is what is going on behind the set and how it’s run. Sometimes you can really hit the boffers on a big show like this; [but] on this, you never do. I’m loving it actually, it’s great.

MOHNEY: Since you were a fan of the show itself, did you know anything about the Governor before you took on the role?

MORRISSEY: No, I had never read the comic. I only came to it as a fan of the show and the whole comic-book, graphic-novel thing of the comic has surprised me… Once I got the role and they told me what it was, I was very excited about it. I think the main difference between the two is that in the comics, the Governor is fully formed. He’s quite a sadistic man, and he looks pretty evil and all that. I think what we’ve done is we meet him earlier in his genesis. That’s great for me as an actor, because I can play with that and make it much more complex and give him reasons for his behavior. I think the Governor I play is somebody who is trying to do right by the people he is leading because he wants them to survive in a very brutal situation. I think he would never describe himself as bad, he’s just doing what he has to survive.

MOHNEY: So you’re becoming a little defensive of the Governor?

MORRISSEY: In all honesty, we all want our fantasy selves to be the best people. We all think in a time of crisis, we will react heroically and with humanity. But it might not be the case. We don’t know what we’re capable of… The thing I did read is a book by Robert Kirkman called The Rise of the Governor. It’s wonderful, and I use that as the template for my character. I think none of us know how we’ll react in a challenging situation, and I think that the Governor reacts in a very survivalist way. He steps forward and he decides he’s going to live. He will have a doctrine that he will live by.

MOHNEY: Since the show has diverged from the graphic novel in a bunch of ways, is there something you’re hoping for that isn’t in the novels?

MORRISSEY: Well, yeah, I hope he doesn’t die. That would be the one thing. I’m really enjoying the show. I really love playing him and being him. There’s quite an easy thing to wish for in a zombie apocalypse, is that you stay alive. I think I’m joining everyone else in that hope.

MOHNEY: Were you worried about joining the cast two seasons into the series?

MORRISSEY:  It was really nerve-wracking. I was very nervous and sort of apprehensive before I started. [But] from day one, I lost all apprehension and nervousness. They couldn’t be more welcoming as a cast and crew, so that was dispelled very quickly. The thing as an actor is you get a sense of what a show is like the minute you walk on the set. The minute I walked on I thought, “Oh I can work here.” It’s a conducive atmosphere for good work. Everyone wants the best for the show, and that’s been a joy for me.

MOHNEY: Has anything been surprising about making a TV series in the US versus the UK?

MORRISSEY: The day-to-day challenges are similar. The difference is I’ve never done a 16-episode job in the UK. The longest TV show I’ve done in the UK is eight episodes… The budgets are better here. You know, the budget you have for this show for an hour is phenomenal compared to what you have in the UK. It’s great to have this much money and to see them use it. It all goes on the screen. The production values are unbelievable, and I think [head of special effects] Greg Nicotero, what [he does], is unbelievable.

MOHNEY: Definitely, I’m usually covering my eyes for half the show.

MORRISSEY: I know! Well, you try walking down the corridor and you see one walking towards you.

MOHNEY: Are you used to seeing the undead at your office, then? 

MORRISSEY: Oh, it freaks me out. My family was here, and my eight-year-old said, “Can I come to the set?” I was like “Well you can but I’m worried you’ll have the experience I had on my first day,” which was opening the wrong door and going “Oh, God.” It’s someone turning around and looking at you [with an eye hanging out.] That’s pretty scary. But they can do that because they have budget and it’s wonderful. [That’s] the other thing about the humidity and the heat. I turn up on set and I’m hot, but you can’t complain about the [weather] when this guy has been there since four in the morning and he’s covered in blood and he’s got flies all over him.

MOHNEY: Do you have a favorite moment among the zombies yet? 

MORRISSEY: I think the thing about it is everyone gets their moment. It’s a very democratic show that way… I have to say I do have my favorite zombie kill, which is my first one. You never forget your first. It was I think my third day, and I really felt I had arrived once I got it. It was a big number. The whole nine yards, it was great. That’s when I felt I had earned my stripes.