‘Walking Dead’: David Morrissey on Governor’s trauma, ‘complicated’ path

Nov. 18, 2013 | 5:00 a.m.

So now we know what happened to the Governor.

“The Walking Dead” continued its season four focus on character-driven episodes with Sunday’s “Live Bait,” a standalone installment that charted the one-eyed villain’s time out on the road after his fateful showdown with Rick and his band of survivors, a conflict that ended in surprising, horrifying violence. British actor David Morrissey said even though the Governor, now living as Brian Blake, has blood on his hands, he’s struggling to cope with his guilt and wrestling with the realization that great darkness dwells inside him.

Hero Complex caught up with Morrissey to chat about having the chance to more deeply explore the complicated psychology of a man at the end of the world, and what might happen next now that the Governor’s past has caught up with him.

Those who missed Sunday’s episode, be warned. Spoilers are ahead.

Hero Complex: Did you know at what point the character was going to return to the show?

David Morrissey: Yes, I did. I didn’t know the details of what was going to happen. I had a very loose picture of it. I knew that I wasn’t going to be in the first four episodes.

HC: What was your reaction when you read Nichole Beattie’s script for “Live Bait”?

DM: I was just overjoyed. Nichole Beattie, I’ve always loved her writing. She’s one of the best, I think. When I found out that she was writing that episode, I was just overjoyed. And when I got it… it’s like a movie. As an actor, it’s asking so much from you. You go through this whole range of emotion, and it was so wonderful to play. It was physically very difficult, just given what you have to do, but also emotionally really difficult. I loved it. It’s exactly what you need as an actor. I think it’s what this season has done very well. It really gives actors meat. It gives them something to go for. It has all its big numbers, the walker moments and the horror and all that, but it has this great human roller coaster inside it.

HC: The episode really gives you an entirely different window into the psychology of this man.

DM: What happened at the end of season three was a terrible violent act, but it wasn’t a premeditated act. It wasn’t this man planning the destruction of his own people. He was a man who went into blackout, like a red mist came over him. I think what we see in this season, certainly in episode six, is a man deeply traumatized by his own action. He’s now in this very strange Jekyll-and-Hyde like existence, and just like Jekyll and Hyde, the good side of the man, the Dr. Jekyll side of the man, has that sense of going, ‘When is this darkness going to come out?’ I don’t know. I’m victim to my dark side. It’s interesting to see a man fighting himself and trying to reinvent himself. The question is, can we reinvent ourselves?

HC: He seems to have almost compartmentalized what happened in Woodbury and he’s perhaps returned to the person he was before the apocalypse.

DM: I think that’s what the desire is. There’s a bit where he’s looking at a photograph of himself and his wife and his child and he folds over his face because he’s trying to rub that way, erase that out of his memory. He’s just looking at the goodness of his past, which is his wife and his child. Then later on when he’s committed himself to Lilly and Megan and the family, he burns it because he has to burn the past. He has to commit totally to this new life, he is a different person now. He has to take on the idea of being Brian 100% because he can’t look backwards. Backwards, there’s a lot of darkness there, and he doesn’t want to have that.

HC: Previously, the moments that we saw the lightness in him had to do with his love for Penny. He now  appears poised to have a chance to be a father figure once again, though I fear it might not pan out so well…

David Morrissey playing the Governor on the set of"The Walking Dead." (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

David Morrissey playing the Governor on the set of”The Walking Dead.” (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

DM: I don’t know about that. It depends on what pan out means. I think there’s a sense of that his duty is to protect those people. That’s what he thinks, his duty to make sure that these two women and the girl get to safety. We’ll have to wait to see how he achieves that or if he achieves that.

HC: Do you know early on where the season is heading or specifically what’s in store for the Governor?

DM: Not really. We have very little idea of where it’s going. Sometimes you’ll sit down with Scott and he’ll say this thing will happen, but he didn’t give a lot away, and I think I’m not alone among the actors. I quite like not knowing. In life, I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. If forces you to be in the moment. You’re making decisions on a scene-by-scene basis rather than a season-by-season basis. That’s good for me from a discipline point of view with an actor.

HC: Did it feel different to play this incarnation of the Governor/Brian?

DM: It felt different, but it didn’t feel a different man. The work I did on season three, I did a lot of work on the man before the zombie apocalypse. I did a lot of work on what this man’s life would be before it all went down leading up to him becoming the Governor of Woodbury. I think because I’d done that work on the man when we got to this season, I was able to tap into that side of him. We all have different sides to us and I was able to tap into that side. It made sense to me to try to get back to that.

What I like about it is the fact that you have these two women and this girl who see him as one thing but the audience has knowledge that the other characters don’t have. The audience knows what this man’s capable of so they see his internal struggle. There’s a bit of a secret going on between him and the audience, which is about his internal struggle. I think when he kills the old man with the oxygen tank, there’s a glimmer that he’s enjoying that too much. There’s a bit at the end of episode six where he attacks the zombies and he fights in such a visceral way. You know that this man is used to fighting. Those things are slightly worrying for the audience, I would hope. Then at the end, he meets Martinez, and that’s literally his past catching up with him. What’s he going to do now? How’s he going to still be Brian when there’s a man standing there who knows everything about the Governor?

HC: How is he going to do that?

DM: You’ll have to wait to find out. The only thing I could say is that his life suddenly gets much more complicated given the arrival of Martinez and how he decides to play his past catching up with him.

– Gina McIntyre

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

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