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New York - Danai Gurira, with her dark skin and average sized body, is something of a creative tour de force. As a playwright and actress her body of work is the result of an eclectic lineage and is an investigation of the immigrant experience in America.
She herself on the subject has already written plays such as The Convert, and even stars in Andrew Dosunmu’s forthcoming film, Mother of George.
The daughter of Zimbabwean immigrants, Gurira is something of a cultural expat. Speaking about what it is that regularly attracts her to this subject matter Gurira notes that it is a need to understand the identity politics around her.
“I like being a part of creating stories around the immigrant experience because that is my background,” she says.
“And I feel like they are unique and they are not something that we regularly experience in the culture, so we need to acknowledge that and the best way to do it is through art.”
Now, however, Gurira is taking on a challenge of a different kind.
She is in South Africa promoting her new role as Michonne in The Walking Dead.
As one of the lead characters in the series, she is at the front line of the TV apocalypse.
Speaking about what it has been like to visit Mzansi, she says this is not her first trip, but she has enjoyed how well received the series has been here.
“It’s always good to visit other countries and see what they think of the work we do. So I have really enjoyed being around South Africans and seeing how much they love the show,” she says.
Gurira says taking the role of a sword-wielding zombie slayer was a lengthy process and not as romantic as one might assume.
“I had been initially approached by the casting agent to audition for the part. But after I had done several auditions things went silent and I thought I didn’t get it,” she says.
But get it she did and she has already made a name for herself as one of the most endearing characters in the series with witty one-liners and intricate fighting sequences.
Speaking about some of the strange reactions she has got since taking the role, Gurira notes that she has been surprised by the fact that women find Michonne to be an empowering character.
“Even as I am playing the role I thought a lot of people would hate this character,” she notes.
“But I have been pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of women understand Michonne and that she is a very guarded person. And they relate to that, so that has been refreshing.”
It hasn’t all been a walk in the park, however. Gurira has been subjected to a strict training regimen and has even helped choreograph some of her own scenes for the series, something which she says has been a learning experience for her as an actress and as a person.
“It’s hard, especially with the acting and then the physical aspects of the role,” she says. “I have had to work with two trainers and have had to learn to handle the weapons I use correctly ”
Gurira says what has also been interesting for her is knowing that she is able to adapt herself to stage, TV and film, something which she feels adds a lot of value to her repertoire as an actress.
“TV is definitely more demanding, but I think each of them has their discipline and I have to give my all to each one. So it’s important to be versatile and take things that interest and challenge you,” she says.
Among her plans Gurira says she is looking forward to the theatrical release of Mother of George and seeing public reaction to the film as well as working on her own TV series. “It’s been a really exciting to work with Andrew Dosunmu on Mother of George because he has such a strong directorial vision,” she says. “I have also been approached to write a TV series but am still thinking about that and hoping to get it together soon.”
* Season three of The Walking Dead is on TopTV’s FX channel. The series, which is based on the comics of Robert Altman, airs at 9.15pm on Tuesdays