March 19, 2012 2:57pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'The Walking Dead's' Robert Kirkman on the Casting of Danai Gurira as Michonne
AMC's The Walking Dead caused a major stir in during the final moments of its record-breaking Season 2 finale Sunday night when a mysterious hooded heroine came from out of nowhere to spare Andrea from certain death.
The character's arrival was a complete surprise for indoctrinated fans of the series, but comic book aficionados knew exactly who the sword-wielding woman with chained walkers at her side was: Michonne, the iconic character who to this day continues to serve as Rick's right-hand woman in the long-running Image/Skybound comic series on which the AMC drama is based.
Following the big reveal, comic creator/executive producer Robert Kirkman announced on AMC's post-show Talking Dead that Treme actress Danai Gurira had been cast as the fierce character as a series regular for Season 3. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Kirkman on Monday to discuss how the series kept the casting a secret, what stood out about Gurira and whether she auditioned with swords.
THR: Last night you announced the casting of Danai Gurira as the iconic Michonne. How were you able to keep her casting a secret?
Kirkman: It was very carefully done. The scene was shot -- that wasn't Danai in the costume -- so we held the casting until later so it wouldn't leak because we knew that once we cast Michonne there would be so many agents, managers and casting people that would be aware of it that it would be impossible to keep it under wraps. We waited until later to do it and worked really hard to preserve that reveal.
When had you decided on Danai; what was the timing like?
It was very, very recent -- last week.
What was it about Danai that separated her from the others likely auditioning for the role?
Danai really portrayed the power and strength that we need Michonne to exhibit. Michonne is a very complex character who's dealing with a lot of things and has a very intricate personality. There's a lot to that role, and Danai, more than any other actress, showed us that she could exhibit that strength and show what an intense character she could be and, at the same time, have that emotional core and be able to show a vulnerability to a certain extent that we don't see much of but is definitely there. She really was the whole package, and I think she's going to do a really good job.
Did she happen to audition with a sword or two?
(Laughs.) We were careful not to have the auditions be too dangerous, so we kept the swords out of the auditioning process. She'll be going through extensive training to make sure she doesn't accidentally cut somebody before cameras start rolling in early May.
There were some rumors late last year that True Blood's Rutina Wesley (Tara) could play Michonne. Was she ever in contention for the role? How many actresses were you looking at?
It was a lot of actresses. The True Blood actress, I don't know that she was even available; I think she's still on True Blood. I don't know where that rumor came from, but to my knowledge, she was never involved.
You've done this six-page origin story for Michonne, revealing more of where she was at the onset of the outbreak. Are you interested in telling her backstory on the show as a way to fill in people who aren't familiar with the comics?
The Michonne origin is something that is not that unknown. The story in Playboy shows it for the first time and goes into a bit more detail, but these are all things she's discussed in the comic book series. A lot of that stuff is out there. I'm not really a big fan of going too far into the backstory; I'm more interested in telling stories going forward. Michonne is infinitely more interesting if there's a lot of mystery surrounding her. That's the way we'll be doing things in the show.
What was her response to landing the part?
As I understand it, Danai is thrilled and very excited to be a part of the show and is waiting to get to Georgia and start filming.
Had you seen her work in Treme before she auditioned?
Absolutely. I'm a huge David Simon fan. It's a great show, and she's been great on it.
Has she read with David Morrissey as The Governor yet?
We're going to be doing some meetings where we're going to get her together with Andrea (Laurie Holden) because they're obviously going to have a lot of scenes together. Whether or not Michonne and Andrea will encounter The Governor remains to be seen; I don't want to spoil anything that the characters are going to be doing and when they're going to be showing up and who they're going to be interacting with.
Congratulations on the finale ratings: 9 million total viewers.
They're pretty insane! People obviously really enjoy the show. This is definitely a labor of love from everybody. It's a passion project, and it seems to show through in the work and that's trickling down to the viewers and making it a popular thing.
How do you think Gurira will do as Michonne?