After killing some of his own people at the end of season three, the Governor is out there, lurking. What’s he up to in season four?
You’ll have to wait and see. What I can say is when he arrives, you’ll get what type of state he’s in very quickly – no one could do something like that, turn on his own people in that way, without it changing him in some way, and he is a changed man, I can say that.
We’ve seen you in a lot of serious roles – you’ve even played former British PM Gordon Brown – why did you take a left-field role like the Governor?
I’ve known Andrew Lincoln for a long time and when the pilot came on here he was in it and also another great friend of mine, Lennie James, so I sat down with a lot of interest to watch it, and I loved it. I thought it had all the elements that one wanted from a TV show and I watched the whole first season and it just got better and better, and I was half-way through watching the second season when I was in LA visiting a friend when my manager said, “The Walking Dead are interested in you for a role, and I was like, “Right, get me in there”, and I met them, and it happened very quickly. I don’t know the graphic novels, so I didn’t know the role really, what it entailed, but I was more than happy to sign up. I came to it as a fan.
Did you find out later that the Governor in the graphic novels is really psycho?
Yeah, I knew he wasn’t going to be buying anybody flowers in the show. One of the things that was important to me once I secured the role and met the writers’ team and stuff was that the character of the Governor resembled more the character that was in Robert Kirkman’s book The Rise of the Governor. When you read his novels, there are two – Rise of the Governor and The Road to Woodbury – that’s a very different character, a much more complex person, it gives him a human journey. When I met with the writers, I said, if a man’s going to do terrible things, I want to see where he’s coming from, I want to see what his demons are, because nobody’s purely evil, you’ve got to see the wheels turning and the motivations for what he’s doing, and I think the writers delivered that for me and I was really overjoyed with what happened in season three with the sense of giving this man a history and the relationship with his daughter I thought was very, very important.
Is there a point where he broke bad, when it turned for him?
Yeah, I think when Michonne kills his daughter, even though his daughter is a zombie, Michonne takes the idea of Penny from him and in a very brutal way right in front of his eyes and then he loses his eye in a subsequent fight. From then on, I think he’s a brutalised man, I think he’s a man in trauma, I think he’s a man hell-bent on revenge and there’s not a lot of light coming at him from then on, he’s closing down. I think you see here is a man if he ever had any idea of humanity or love or human spirit, it’s closing down very, very quickly. Likewise, I think his final act in the season, when he turns on his own people, that is an act that’s out of character, it’s a schism in his brain, a red mist that falls on him, it was not a premeditated act in any way, and we see him sitting in that car deeply traumatised, and I think in season four, that’s where we pick him up from.
On a practical level, is it difficult to act with an eye patch?
It is, particularly when you’re fighting. We do a lot of stunts – fighting, driving, shooting guns with one eye is particularly difficult. You get headaches and you’re constantly banging into people.
Zombies are usually considered a metaphor – have you given any thought about what they’re a metaphor for in The Walking Dead?
It’s very much about the unsafe world. That idea – without identifying a certain people or identifying the danger – they are a danger that’s lurking out there. That danger can be tribal, chemical, civil war, the idea that we live in an unstable world and we’re worried about the future. We worry about our safety and our future and the future of our children and I think the zombie apocalypse is a heightened place to be able to explore that scenario.
Has it been a surprise to you that a zombie apocalypse series has been so damn popular?
Pleasantly surprised, but when I see the work that has gone into the show, the care that people take about it, I’m not surprised really. It’s such a great show, it’s fun to do, it’s a great character, it’s full of really heightened wonderful human emotions, and it also has these great special effects from [executive producer] Greg Nicotero and his team, with those zombies, I’m in awe of them every day. The guys who play the zombies, the guys that come in, are so brilliant, they take it so seriously, they’re overjoyed to be there. It’s quite an odd thing for me, because sometimes I’ll be walking around Atlanta and somebody will come up to me in the supermarket and go, “You bashed my head in last week” and I’m like, “Did I? I didn’t recognise you without your zombie makeup on.” I’m pleasantly surprised by the figures, I think nobody could have predicted that, but when I look at the show and see the work that goes into it, it’s no surprise to me that people love it so much, because it’s such a great show to do.
You’ve directed film and television in the UK – is there any chance of you directing an episode of The Walking Dead?
I’d love that. I have made myself known to them. There’s no movement on that, but I would love to do that. To be honest, I’d make the tea on the set of The Walking Dead, I love being there so much. Anything that can extend my time there, I’m hoping I’m going to be there as an actor for a couple of years as well, but I would love to direct.
THE WALKING DEAD, TV2, Tuesday, 9.30pm.