Previously, on AMC’s The Walking Dead: David Morrissey, a British actor who until now was best known to American audiences as Sharon Stone’s man-chow in the misguided Basic Instinct 2, stormed onto the fledgling network’s highest rated show, and took that shit over. The first half of Season 3 (the second half premiers this Sunday) belonged to Morrissey’s The Governor, who emerged as the show’s true villain. The character’s popularity must come as a relief to the show’s producers, but also to Morrissey himself, who faced predictable backlash when his casting was announced. The Governor is iconic to fans of the original comic series, and Morrissey, a tall, distinguished gentleman, did not embody the ferocious illustrated version of his character. He then proceeded to teach all his doubters about a little thing called acting. The 48-year-old stopped by our office last week to tease the rest of the season, and to delve into his character’s heart of darkness.
And you guys finished shooting the third season?
It’s all done.
Was the hiatus so you could actually shoot more?
No we don’t get a hiatus, so when we shoot, we shoot straight through. So we’re working all the time. The hiatus I think is for football, so the Superbowl can happen and then we can come back. But also we don’t get a break. I wish we did, but we just work straight on. The second half of season two is minutes after first half of the season it’s like one scene for us.
And then this season is going to lead into the fourth?
I can’t really talk about the fourth season.
So let’s talk about the third. People who are reading this interview will obviously want some sort of nugget of what’s going to come. Is it being set up as a confrontation between the Governor and Rick?
It’s certainly being set up as a confrontation between those two communities. The one thing that is true about this world is that the Walkers are uncompromising. They only have one aim. Their aim is to eat you. And they’re not going to be wily about that or set traps for you, they just walk up to you and that’s it, whereas human nature is very different. You can adapt yourself to the Walkers and put barriers around yourself, but when you come up against them in the community, that’s when it becomes different than a terrorist action. And the idea of whether or not to have a preemptive strike rather than a dialogue is always interesting
When we first met the Governor do you think he’s evil, or has be become that over the course of the season?
He’s a man playing a part. He’s not naturally a leader. It’s been thrust upon him by circumstance. I think he has some sort of a plan, but he is making it up as he goes along. This is being thrust upon him. He also has this thing where he’s created this secure place for this community and they owe him, and he likes that feeling.
Will we see him become much darker than he already is?
What I can say about that is if he doesn’t listen to the benevolent forces around him, like Andrea or Milton, then he could go to a much darker place. The second half of season is about whether the goodness of him can be rescued by the people around him, whether he can be pulled back from the brink and listen to reaso. But in order for that to happen the other community, Rick’s community, has to be able to do that as well, because they’re on the front foot, they’re attacking. I think Glen and Maggie want revenge. Things have happened to them that were brutal, and they want revenge for that. So it’s a train that’s been set in motion, a domino effect and it could very easily become tit for tat.
Do you think there’s a love between him and Andrea’s character, or are they using each other?
I think there was. He’s slightly closed the door on that moment. He considers Merle a betrayer because he told him he’d killed Michonne, and he hadn’t. I think he can also feel that if he hasn’t let Andrea and Michonne into this community then none of this would have happened. I think he genuinely loved her. She was part of his rebirth and regeneration and sense that things might be okay. He does have a sort of idea that humanity will grow out of his community, that this is the beginning, that it’s for and to them to rebuild the world. It’s such a megalomanic theory for him to have but he’s indulging that, and I think that is where his ego is going. He has an idea of himself that people will talk about him as the savior of Earth.
So he sees himself as a Biblical figure?
Definitely and that is quite a megalomanic thing for him to have.
You mentioned that there was some sort of fan uproar when you were cast. Have you noticed a shift?
It’s shifted on the Twittersphere, but when my first episode came out I’d just gone back to the UK. The show runs in the UK but not like it does here. And this trip to New York is my first time back, and I was walking down the street going into shops and my phone wasn’t working so I went into T-Mobile and the guys were like crazy when I walked in. And since then, people have been reacting but in a very positive way. I was in Atlanta and this woman ran across the street and just went, “I love to hate you.”
What is it like to be a veteran actor and have this new following at this stage in your career?
It’s great! The show is personally wonderful. I knew going into the show that it had great actors. I knew that it had great screenwriters. What’s been a great surprise and a joy for me is the crew. The crew is fabulous. You get down there and those guys they facilitate the show, they love it. It’s their baby and they’re really proud of it and they work so hard. So the success of the season is such a joy to all of us because people are working their asses off to get it up there and in really hard conditions. The success of it has been a payback for everybody.
What’s it like being around all the fake death and gore?
It’s so bizarre. The scene where my daughter gets killed, but also in the scene where I’m brushing her hair, that to me is a great scene. It’s a scene where a man’s trying to capture some sort of normalcy. Because his wife died in a car accident, she didn’t die at the hands of the Walkers. So there was a period there where it was just him and his daughter. And I could imagine conversations he had with his daughter after his wife died saying, “It’s just you and me now, honey, Daddy’s gonna protect you, I’m gonna look after you, we’re gonna get through this.” So when this awful thing happens and she turns into a Walker, he’s got to carry on fulfilling those promises. So things like brushing her hair just broke my heart, it’s just great.
Greg Nicotero, whose team is the team that creates those zombies and all their special effects, watching those guys work, and sometimes on my downtime I spend time with this guy. They had to know all about how long this flesh has this been rotting for? Is it a fresh Walker? The hours they put into that and the care is amazing. It’s not just throwing a bucket of blood over them. It’s always different. Each killer is different. You’re really seeing their joy in challenging themselves. It’s quite a surreal experience. The guys who play the zombies are just unbelievable. They have a lot to contend with. They’ve been there since 4 in the morning, they have the blood, the gore, the flies the ticks, the heat, the humidity. And they would do it again tomorrow. They love doing it. It’s a big gig for them.
You had a stint in American movies that didn’t turn out so well, with Basic Instinct 2. What has this show done for you as an actor in America?
I think it’s reintroduced me. Basic Instinct was a painful time. It was slightly ridiculed which is always hurtful but par for the course. It so happened that just after Basic I stayed in the UK because I was producing some stuff of my own, so I didn’t get a chance to say, Hey, I can do this as well. And this is coming at a great time for me. The great thing about it is it’s not a zombie show, it’s about the characters. So it’s giving me the chance to play really big grown-up characters that have a great journey. I’m enjoying that, we all are. The other thing about cable is you’ve got 16 hours there. So in an ensemble show you can give each character their due course. You have time, you can let them in, you can play them in different ways, give them different complexities.
Photography by Gary Little