The Governor is played by British actor David Morrissey. So far, Morrissey's portrayal is already a complex mesh of a man: On one hand, he seems like he really wants to protect his people from zombies. Yet, Michonne is highly suspicious of him, he ruthlessly kills some National Guard soldiers and makes suggestive eyes at Andrea. Is he The Walking Dead's next villain? Or just a misunderstood man, trying to keep sane in a brain-eating world?
GQ: Did you audition for the Governor role?
David Morrissey: I was a big fan of the show. I've known Andrew Lincoln [who plays Rick Grimes] for a long time and I thought the pilot was like a movie. I was halfway through the second season and I was in L.A. and my manager said "the casting department from The Walking Dead would like to see you." I was like "wow."
I didn't know the comic book; I'm not a comic book fan, really. As we talked about the role, it was very much this complex person who seemed wonderful to me. You never really knew where you were with him and I liked that idea. Then I read the comic and I was surprised how brutal the Governor was.
GQ: How much are you deviating from the comic character?
David Morrissey: [Creator] Robert Kirkman wrote a book called The Rise of the Governor. The character in that book is a wonderful, complex person. The character that we meet in the comic books is fully formed—his psychotic profile is very much set. The TV version explores the space in between those two stories. That's a very fertile ground for my character, I think.
GQ: After watching the first two episodes you appear in, I'm trying to figure out what makes him villainous. Is he underhanded or just pure evil?
David Morrissey: He's a man who will do whatever it takes to protect his town. He'll do everything to protect his position. He's suddenly in this crazy world and security is everything. When he sees those National Guard guys, there's no way he's going to let soldiers that are combat trained into his place. That's just not going to help his position as a leader at all. He has to maintain his status. That was not a strange decision for me.
What he's done is created a space where mothers and fathers can leave their doors open and their children can run out into the street. That security comes with a price. You see this in our own society: when people are very, very secure, they get complacent. So every now and then, they have to be reminded about what's out there and the danger that's out there.
GQ: I guess he's like Rick in a lot of ways, but with different back stories and histories, so he brings different perspective.
David Morrissey: The real difference between him and Rick is that the Governor has bought himself time. Rick is on his toes—if you can get through the night, you can live tomorrow. With The Governor, he has time to plan, to think about the future. They're starting anew, these people. I don't think he had a position of great power before this event happened to the world; and now he's in this position of power and we all know that can corrupt people sometimes.
GQ: In watching the first episode ("Walk with Me") where you're introduced, there's a lot of mystery around the character. I got this vibe that it could be this cultish society. But it doesn't sound like it is at all.
David Morrissey: Cults suggest people have a choice. There's no choice in the situation the characters are in on the show: you can't choose a cult or go to McDonalds and have a burger. That's not going to happen. There's only two options: Woodbury or out there. That's not a cult. That's an oasis to me. A sanctuary. That's what he's offering.
GQ: I like the idea that science is going on in Woodbury. The Governor seemed very intrigued about how one could control zombies.
David Morrissey: That's nature. That's what man has always done. How can I use this? How can bring this under my power? If you see men working in an environment where there are wild animals, that doesn't stop them from working in there. They develop skills. If they didn't, there would be no change in this world.
This disease, this terrible thing, came from nowhere. In 14th century Europe, when the black plague happened, they built walls around the village to keep people out who they didn't know, because everybody could be carrying the plague. They survived because they locked down their communities. That is what Woodbury is about. I think the Governor is planning on what happens when this thing starts. Who's going to repopulate the world? Tough times needs tough people to make tough decisions and he thinks he's that person.
GQ: Does the Governor get to kill zombies?
David Morrissey: When the helicopter crash happened, you saw those guys turning. And he killed them. That's very important. I consider that my first zombie kill. You never forget your first. Probably if you're doing Mad Men, you feel like you've arrived with the classic cast when you've lit your first cigarette. And for me, it's when you kill your first zombie.
GQ: How does cleaning off the blood go? Do they provide you with towels?
David Morrissey: I think that's one of the trade secrets that I'm not really aloud to pass on, really. There's a bunch of mutual cleaning that we go through that I would not like to pull out as common knowledge. It's very secretive.
GQ: So you're telling me I cannot apply for a job called "Zombie Blood Cleaner."
David Morrissey: Well, you know it's a bit like a fluffer. You sort of have to have years of experience.