Before appearing as mysterious katana-wielding zombie-slayer Michonne on AMC's hit drama The Walking Dead, Danai Gurira was best known as an acclaimed New York playwright and stage actress, whose work has earned her an Obie, a Helen Hayes and a Whiting Writers' award. Which is to say, Gurira has a way with words. And yet, here she is playing one of TV's most tight-lipped characters -- a self-possessed heroine who, so far on the series (which resumed its third season in February), has mostly let her sword and scowl do the talking. "That was a challenge at first," Gurira says. "I love language and Michonne really didn't talk much in the first half of this season. But there's going to be more from her as time goes on."
Gurira was born in Iowa, but grew up in Zimbabwe, and much of her work as a playwright has focused on post-colonial Africa. She says her 2009 play Eclipsed, about the lives of sex slaves and female rebel soldiers in war-torn Liberia, helped her shape her role on The Walking Dead, which follows a group of survivors living in a post-apocalyptic zombie hellscape. "What resonated with me when I auditioned for the show was that it was like a war zone," Gurira says. "There was something very similar between the two worlds. With the women I researched for Eclipsed there was a guardedness, they were impenetrable. Who do you become when nothing is the same anymore?"
Friendships with castmates -- including on-screen nemesis David Morrissey, who plays the villainous Governor -- help balance out the role's intensity. No matter that an epic fight between the two on the show's mid-season finale featured one of the most stupendously gory scenes in basic cable history. "We chat between takes," Gurira says. "And then it's like, 'All right, now I'll go back to trying to kill you.'"
***Danai Gurira answers our TV survey:
What is your "guilty pleasure" TV show?
I cannot tell you that, I feel too guilty about it! It's in the reality genre and...oh hell, Millionaire Matchmaker. There.
Do people come up to you to talk about your character? What do they say?
I've heard so many different things. The main one is, "She's such a badass!"
Do you watch your show when it airs?
It depends on where I am with shooting and where my head space is or needs to remain for the thing ahead.
Dress by Lanvin, earrings by Gabriela Artigas for Des Kohan and ring by Loree Rodkin.
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