She started out her journey on “The Walking Dead” as the katana-wielding, zombie-attached warrior Michonne, but during last Sunday’s episode Danai Gurira peeled back an exceptionally revealing layer on her character when she held baby Judith Grimes.
There were the emotional scenes last season with Andrea and the fiery battles with The Governor, but seeing Michonne with baby Judy, seemingly a hint to the character’s own past (Danai isn’t saying), was perhaps the actress’ most emotive and heart wrenching work on the show to date.
It’s something AccessHollywood.com asked her about when spoke with her this week. The actress and playwright also addressed fun questions about Rick and Michonne’s chemistry (stale M&Ms anyone?) and those sneak peeks showing a herd on the way. Plus, she addressed the as of yet unseen in Season 4 figure, The Governor, and what Michonne’s intentions are toward the former Woodbury leader (and sociopath).
AccessHollywood.com You had some big scenes in the last episode. Many people were brought to tears over the revelations about Michonne. Tell me about filming the baby Judith scenes. Clearly we’ve come to realize that Michonne was once a mother.
Danai Gurira: Well, I can say nothing [as] to what that scene connotes, as you know, but it was great. …. Me and [‘TWD’ showrunner] Scott Gimple really went through her backstory a lot and I got to like really enhance it in really interesting and cool ways and we really went through … this moment and what this moment really was for her and how it culminates. And it’s connected to so many things. … I feel like that sprained ankle, for her, is her kind of getting grounded a little. She keeps escaping and getting on her horse and going into her sort of man cave adventure and there is a point to that, but there’s also a point to staying connected to the community and not leaving two seconds after she gets in. So, there’s something about having to really kind of face some stuff that you’re [forced] to do when you can’t move. … Whatever that stuff [was], we’ll see, but that moment, I think, was definitely the culmination of her having to stay in one spot for a minute.
Access: Why do you think Michonne was mad that Carl and Maggie stepped in to save her? Was it that she thought they were stupid, or she wasn’t worthy, or she just has never had people care about her like that in a long time?
Danai: It’s a couple things. It’s definitely not having had people care about her… to feel that sort of love back towards herself is something that sometimes, it’s hard to accept when you’ve built up such a strong, sort of guarded sense of self. But you want to accept it, your heart wants to accept it, but there’s so much stuff that you have to get past, and so it almost feels hard to receive it. … She likes to look at herself as the person who ventures out into the most dangerous situations and can handle it and can actually take care of others, protect others. That’s how she sees herself, so to actually be in a place of need and to actually see other people in a place of risk for her is something she finds very difficult to process.
Access: Back at Comic Con you guys said that in Season 4, we would get to know characters in new ways. Obviously we saw some great scenes with Michonne and Andrea last year, but I feel like you’re being given some new breathing room here with this woman.
Danai: Absolutely. It’s great. The great thing about episodic TV is you get to do an arc. You get to create dimensions and have people see you one way and then oh, there’s something else. … Last season she brought herself into the world in a way that she was shut down, she was impenetrable, but she was a machine. She would do what [needed] to be done and you knew she could be pretty formidable if provoked, or even if not, but there [were] other sides to her, but it was gonna take time meet those sides because she wasn’t willing to give it up that easy. So it’s been very interesting to break her open a little and there’s so much mystery to her that we — we as the show, the writers and I know what it is, but it’s great to actually get to like tweak it out now. That’s really enjoyable.
Access: One of the things that seems to be blossoming this season is how Michonne is relating to the Grimes boys (Rick and Carl). What do you think about the interest fans have in a ‘Richonne’ — that some people want to see Rick and Michonne as a couple?
Danai: You know, I think it’s great. I always say this — I always say I appreciate folks want Michonne to get some. You know what I’m sayin’? I appreciate that for Michonne and I think that it’s great. It’s great that they’re seeing some sort of a chemistry or connection between characters that makes them want to see that come to fruition. I think that’s all a fantastic thing that they’re picking up on, whatever they’re picking up on, but they’re invested in these characters and in wanting to see them happy. … I appreciate that. Now, whether or not that ever happens, you’re not gonna hear that from me. … But I will say, her connection to the Grimes boys… it’s very rich… There’s something she just really loves about Carl and how he’s this boy growing up in this world and he’s a survivor, he’s a thriver. He’s so tough and he’s so smart and he’s resilient and he’s an asset to people in this realm. There’s something about that, but also, seeing he’s a boy stuck in this time — I think that really, really touches her and she has a certain degree of respect for him, for how he’s this young man, really thriving in this realm.
And for Rick, the fact she knew from the moment that she met Rick that he was a good guy, just from the moment she met The Governor that he was a bad guy. She’s just very perceptive and she knew this is a man who I can actually respect… I can work with this guy’s leadership… and seeing how he’s working so hard to take care of his family, I think that is something she really respects in this realm. She respects how he’s keeping it together, and that’s not easy.
Access: She respects him enough to say she’d get him stale M&Ms, which was such a great line.
Danai: Right (laughs). And to get him something to help with his beard — a beard clipper.
Access: What do you want to tease about what’s coming up in this week’s episode? Obviously, people saw a trailer on ‘Talking Dead.’ Your characters are heading off in a car and a herd is coming. A big herd of walkers seems to be finally coming. How bad is it going to be?
Danai: We’ll have to wait and see, but I will tell you one of the many things my boss is doing amazingly is that juxtaposition of quiet character moments juxtaposed by terrifying actions and this week’s episode coming up is no exception, I can promise you that.
Access: How intent is Michonne at this point on getting The Governor? She was obviously doing leg lifts… actually, I’m not sure what those are called.
Danai: You know what that exercise actually works? It does work your leg, but it really works your glutes because your glutes are never touching the ground. But it does work your thighs because you can only lean on your calves. … She was just doing what she could do with a broken ankle because she just had to feel active. So that’s a big part of how she always has to feel active and involved in something. I have to go out on the mission to the Big Spot; I have to go out and look; I’m stuck in a cell, I have to still work out. I can’t elevate the damn ankle, but I’ll work off the other leg.
But I will say that he is a big loose end that she needs tied. It’s beyond anger, it’s beyond revenge. … She knows he’s a sociopath… David Morrissey might tell you something else about him, but I’m gonna tell you, Michonne thinks he’s a sociopath so she’s gonna say this guy needs to be brought down and he’s a liability to the people that I care about, he’s a liability to the prison that he’s still out there and we haven’t brought him down yet. That’s how her mind works, and it’s pretty smart, but it’s beyond revenge, it’s beyond anything emotional. … It’s about doing what’s pragmatic, doing what is preemptive, doing what is protective and that is where her mind is. She’s like, ‘We can’t settle here too comfortably when that dude is at large. And he knows exactly where we are.’”
“The Walking Dead” airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on AMC.
-- Jolie Lash