By Neal Justin
Before she was zapping zombies and harnessing a pair of armless, jawless slaves on “The Walking Dead,” Danai Gurira was slaying audiences as a playwright and actress in the Twin Cities.
Gurira, who was born in Grinnell, Iowa, and raised in Zimbabwe, graduated from St. Paul’s Macalester College in 2001, but not before making a name for herself with a collection of monologues and an appearance in a critically acclaimed production of “Colored Girls.” She earned raves for a moving performance in 2007’s “The Visitor.”
But Gurira is best known these days as the tough-as-nails zombie killer Michonne, a beloved character in the “Walking Dead” comic books who has finally entered the TV series in its third season. Gurira’s first show drew 14 million viewers, making it the most watched episode of a drama in cable history.
Now that’s scary.
Gurira, 34, took a break from beheading creatures last week to talk about her moment in the spotlight.
Q. So, what’s it like to play TV’s baddest character?
A. I don’t think that’s really the case. I guess she’s tough, but she’s also very complex. She’s not just one thing. Her heart is very pure. She’s not needy. That’s a rare thing for women characters. The fact that she’s as capable as men is right up my alley in my search to play strong black women.
Q. What about your slaves? What kind of relationship do you have with those actors?
A. We’re cool. The first day I met them, they were in character and someone handed me their chains. We’ve actually become buddies. We had to. I’m yanking on them and they have to be cool with that. The actors have to wear these colored contacts, so they have to rely on me to get around.
Q. Are you able to separate yourself from the character or do you drive home still in kill mode?
A. It’s funny. When the wardrobe guys are prepping me, they have to come at me gingerly. When I feel like I don’t want them to touch me, I know she’s around. But when I step out of her, I can be the goofiest person on set. They call me “The Voice,” because I really can’t sing.
Q. Does Michonne’s sword help you get into character or is it just a prop?
A. The training really did help me. My body has to come alive for me to slip into a character. Even if it’s Shakespeare, the language has to come from the physical side. No one speaks just from their head. I got to a point where I was very comfortable and the sword wasn’t just this heavy thing that hurt me.
Q. What’s it like to be surrounded by zombies?
A. I was initially pretty weirded out. When you see them at lunch it’s sometimes not that appetizing.
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