With just a few days to go until the third season of The Walking Dead picks up again HeyUGuys thought it was about time we tied down one of the show’s leading stars David Morrissey to discuss his role as the Governor and what’s next for the town of Woodbury as well as some of his other projects.
We start with Welcome to the Punch and work our way through The Walking Dead and onto his future projects including his potential return to directing.
HeyUGuys: What can you tell us about Welcome to the Punch and what it was like to shoot it?
David Morrissey: My character is a police commissioner who’s main man is James McAvoy’s character who has been hurt in the line of duty and against everyone’s advise the commissioner wants to bring him back to the force. It all kind of goes wrong when James’ character goes native and tries to get revenge on the man who hurt him in the first place. There’s also a whole conspiracy thing going on around it too. Eran Creevy who directed it did also directed a film called Shifty, which I loved so I knew I wanted to be on board. Welcome to the Punch is very big, it looks like a $150 million budget film even though it’s not. What he’s done with the budget is superb.
How did you land the role in The Walking Dead?
I was in LA this time last year and I went to see my friend, Ian Hart, who was living there while he worked on a TV show. At the time I’d just signed up to my American manager who told me there was an audition going for a role on The Walking Dead. It got me pretty excited as I was always watching the show and I absolutely loved it. The next day I went off to the audition and by the end of the week I’d been offered the role. It was a very quick turn around so I had to make some big decisions very quickly which was scary. The good thing was that the show was already huge so I already knew its production values and its ambitions. Two months later I was living in America and shooting my first episode.
How did the crew describe the character of the Governor to you?
They didn’t at first. At the first stage of auditions they kept it very quiet and just told me I was in the running for a new major character. When I landed the role the one thing they did say was don’t read the comic because the role was going to change. I’ve since read the comic and I’m glad I waited. In the original story the Governor has very little back-story and he arrives fully formed from very early on and I wanted to give him more complexity than that in the show. What I did do was read Rise of the Governor and The Road to Woodbury which are Robert Kirkman’s two novels and that made me realise that was the character I wanted to play. They wanted to start the Governor earlier in his journey seeing him as the man he once was and what he turns into which not knowing anything about him in the comic helped me achieve.
Do you still remember your first day on set – what was it like?
I do! I was kind of eased into it really because prior to my first day I’d had to do all these promo photo shoots dressed up in the role of the Governor so even before I was on set I’d got some practice in. It forced my mind on what he looked like and his persona. My first scene was talking to the helicopter pilot and I was very nervous. The man who played the pilot was only there for that episode but he was the first actor I met and he was just so great, he really helped ease my nerves. The day went by so quickly because I was so nervous.
The Governor seems to be acting from a point of complete moral certainty. Do you think that’s what makes him so dangerous?
I don’t think he does have moral certainty. What he’s good at is stepping forward into a crowd and presenting things like he’s certain. Like all leaders he knows you can’t look to have any wavering opinions in public, you can have it in private but not in private. His priorities change over time too, there’s some humanity when we first meet him. He does have a sense of community too and a belief that he has something to live for – his daughter – and the idea that something might change in the future. Once that’s taken away from him that’s when his humanity begins to close down. There’s enough there though for the audience and some of the other characters to see that deep down he’s a good man.
The Governor is set up now to have a face off with Rick Grimes. Do you think it’s as simple as being a battle of good vs evil or does it go deeper than that?
What’s interesting about Rick this season is that he faced a real moral dilemma in series one about killing the Governor but then in season two he throws him out to be eaten by the walkers without a flicker of concern. They both have much more complexity than it just being a battle of good or evil. There’s similarities between them too – they’re both fighting for their people. Rick would love an environment like the Governor has to live in with his people so I think there’s an element of jealousy there too. I think Rick is threatened by him especially when he takes over the prison which he was always told was uninhabitable.
Do you think it’s a necessary evil to try and maintain control over Woodbury?
I don’t think it’s evil but I do think it’s manipulative. You have to do things that you might not be proud of to keep control. Power is a corruptive force and he has power so it could corrupt him but I think we can see that in all our leaders. Power corrupts all the time especially at a time of war or insecurity things are done which you might not be proud of but you think it’s for the greater good.
British actors are doing so well on American TV right now, why do you think that is?
America has always been good at taking talent from all over the world for all its industries. There’s a lot of TV in America, it’s a hungry beast so there’s a lot of work to be had. I think us Brits are reaping the rewards of what actors like Hugh Laurie and Dominic West have done, not just in their performances but also in their professionalism and how hard they worked. It’s certainly a fashion at the moment but I couldn’t put my finger on one reason why.
Looking to the future now, do you have any plans to return to directing?
Yes I do in the long term. Directing for me is something that happened because I really wanted to get involved in it so I’ll definitely go back to it. I also started producing my own stuff which was great so I hope to do more of both of those things. I can’t talk about the specifics at the moment but lets just say there are a few things on the back burner.
What lessons did you learn from your first foray into directing?
Loads. My first attempt was a show I did with the late, great, Catherine Wearing who was producing a TV show I did for the BBC called Sweet Revenge. The camera man was called Sean Bobbitt who has since gone on to work with Steve McQueen on Shame and those two held my hand throughout the process and the things they taught me I’ll be carrying through to all my future directing jobs. I learnt just how important the development process was, working with the writers from start to finish, because if it’s not on the page you can’t shoot it!
You’ve tried your hand at film, theatre and TV but do you have a favourite acting form?
No, not at all actually. The role is what’s important to me. If it’s something I’ve not done before and I know it’s going to challenge me then I’ll be interested no matter what form it’s in. Of course time plays a part too, theatre is a long commitment and I don’t always have time for that. I’m very open to everything really as long as the role and the job is right. Acting is a very insecure profession so I like to jump around and not settle in one place for too long because as an actor you need all these jobs being thrown at you to ease your insecurities.
Are there any roles in particular that you haven’t had the chance to play yet that you’re on the look out for?
All the Shakespearian roles I think every actor would love to play. Richard III and stuff like that. For me there’s always the sense of trying to find a project where I can work with the writers to develop the character and see the development through to the end. I really enjoy doing that and if that’s something a role can offer me then I’ll be interested.
You’re very involved in the UK film industry – what do you think of the recent restructuring of the UK Film Council and the BFI?
I think there had to be a restructuring. Any business can have administrative difficulties and I don’t think the changes put us in a bad place. What’s difficult is that you can make a movie for $50-60million as long as you have four movies behind you already. It’s harder to make a film when you’re stuck in the middle ground with just one or two films behind you. I’d hope the restricting helps those people – the people who aren’t first time filmmakers but aren’t really experienced either. They’re the people making films that are seen as low budget but they still need $20 million to go ahead with the project. That’s not really low budget is it? The talent is there and I think the changes could actually help those people.
Lastly, what can you tell us about The Return of Captain Nemo?
I can’t actually tell you very much at all. The film was something I signed up to ages ago because it was such a great script. They had the money, then they didn’t have the money but the script is still amazing and they need a budget that can help them create the effects it requires. I still hope to do it but I don’t know if they can raise the money or not.
The Walking Dead season 3 returns to FOX on Friday 15th February at 10pm