The Walking Dead Interview: Meet The Governor, David Morrissey

The Walking Dead season three sees the highly-anticipated debut of the comic series’ most notorious villain – The Governor. To find out what to expect from the small screen version of the character we spoke to the actor who plays him, David Morrissey about empathy for the devil and how his experience as “The Next Doctor” in Doctor Who prepared him for The Walking Dead.

SFX: So we understand when you were cast as The Governor the first thing you did was read the prequel novel…

David Morrissey: “I did, I read Rise Of The Governor by Robert Kirkman. I’m not a graphic novel fan. It’s not something that’s got me, really. And also the graphic novel showed me where The Governor was going, and I wanted to know where he’d been. That’s what all my questions were about – how did he get to this place, emotionally as well as physically. And Robert said, ‘Have a read of that.’ And I said, “Okay.” It’s a brilliant book. It deals with a group of people in the very early days of the crisis and that character and that world started to give me the basis of the character really. And then the writers came in with stuff. So after I read the novel I went and sat with them and we talked about how the character would develop through the series. And of course I wanted to give him complexity and motivation for the things he did.

“Then I read the comic book and what happens in the comic book is he arrives fully-formed. He’s quite sadistic off the bat. He’s very out there and dark and evil. My thing was I wanted to explore the ground in-between The Rise Of The Governor finishing and the comic book starting. There’s a whole lot of history right in the middle of that that I felt was very interesting that I wanted the character to explore.”

How much of your Governor is from the page, and how much is what you’ve brought to it?

“I think there’s quite a lot of me bringing stuff to it. They’ve given me the character that they have been working on for a while now and it’s about me shaping what they have given me. When people talk about him as a villain and evil, they’re terms that you put on to people, and you give to their motivations, whereas people don’t tend to think of themselves in that way. They might think of themselves as uncaring or they might have a block about caring for you, or a sadistic sense of themselves, but I think they have a reason behind what they’re doing. My whole thing with The Governor was making sure he did things for his good reasons, that they were absolutely paramount for him, and necessary for him to function, and his community to function. And I think we’ve done that.”

Then do you empathise with him?

“You don’t have to sympathise with him, but I have to empathise with him. I have to make sure I know that everything around him is right for him making the decisions he makes, so if he has an element of paranoia about him, I have to make sure that is there and it’s real for him. If there’s an element of insecurity about him: why is that? I think he’s driven by fear, which in this world isn’t a bad thing; everybody is driven by fear. But you meet him in a very successful place. He is physically in a successful place because he is in a secure village that he’s made secure. He’s built walls around it. Your kids can run out in the street and you don’t have to go crazy and run after them, you can let them do that because in this world he has created safety and security.

“But he’s also in an emotionally secure state because he is a successful leader. He’s created this for his people. And what that gives him, unlike Rick, is it gives him time that he can contemplate, that he can think about the future, that he can build and plan and think about where we will go as a race. Rick doesn’t have time. He just has to get through today, particularly after where we left him at the end of season two. He’s nomadic and has no roots at all. He’s just trying to make sure everyone survives for the next 24 hours looking for quick shelter and quick food. Whereas The Governor has an infrastructure that works, so he’s successful. But also, that gives him power, and power is a terribly corruptive influence and he’s not immune to that. I don’t think he in any way has a god-like status, but he certainly has an idea of himself which is about rebuilding the world.”

How does Rick and the gang coming in affect that ideal situation?

“The Governor has his own place and his own idea of himself in the place that he plays up to. I don’t think he existed with that much power and security before the world went to shit. I don’t think he had that. The situation has given him that, so it’s a relatively new position for him, which he’s enjoying. Woodbury has a hierarchical way of working and he’s at the top. Any other group that comes in will have to work within that hierarchical group, but of course sometimes that doesn’t work! So it’s that type of oil in the water thing, that’s what we deal with this season, and that’s what’s interesting.”

Because people have read the comics and they think they know where this character is going to end up, are there going to be surprises?

“Yeah, big, big surprises. It will be interesting to see how he lands with fans. I was at Comic Con in New York and people were saying, ‘You’re playing this bad ass guy!’ And I was like, ‘Oh, okay, you’ll just have to wait and see.’ As I said, what’s interesting for me is exploring the ground before he arrived in that comic. And I think it’s important that when he goes off into the world and comes into the world of The Walking Dead TV show he is a character that is complex. The character in the graphic novel, if you arrived in the TV show as that character you have a very short shelf life, you could hit a creative ceiling very quickly there.

“It’s also important to say the other characters in the show have a relationship to The Governor that is very different to the relationship he has with the audience. The audience see him in his private moments and those private moments can be all different types of emotions, but you have a personal relationship with him that nobody else in the show has. And that’s different from the comic. So it’s going to be interesting, but my responsibility, of course, is to the TV show and the character in the TV show. The comic book is out there, you just have to get on with that.”

How has your experience been with The Walking Dead’s rabid fanbase?

“At the moment I’m in this sort of bubble because people know I’m playing the role, but it hasn’t hit the screens yet. So when I went to San Diego Comic Con, on the first day I was with Andy, Laurie Holden and Laurie Cohan, I think. We went down and people went crazy for us, screaming at us as we were driving along outside the hotel. It was like being with a rock band. I’m a big fan, so I’m in there, driving along like the roadie.

“So we get there and I said to one of the girls who was looking after us, ‘Can I go on the floor and have a look round? No one knows me yet so it’s fine.’ So, I went out onto the convention floor and was walking round fine, no one troubles me at all, until I get to the Doctor Who stand and there’s lots of Doctor Who fans and they get me. Then you sit down and you do a signing, these things go round the table for you to sign, and you suddenly saw how much the fans love the show. Really love it. And have ownership of it. That’s going to be interesting for me, but I love the fact they are involved in the show so much, and care about it, care about the people in there, and that’s a great place to be. Season three just opened in America and got the biggest audience of any cable show in the history of American television, which is just phenomenal, and that’s because the fans really engage with the show in a very caring way. They really care what happens to those characters and I love that.”

ON THE NEXT PAGE: David Morrissey reveals how his Doctor Who experience prepared him for the The Walking Dead in an unexpected way…