This week the star of cult zombie drama The Walking Dead turns leading man in BBC One’s new drama The 7.39
It’s been some year for David Morrissey, who despite being as affable as they come off screen, excels on screen as brutal characters with a glimmer of vulnerability. This might explain his phenomenal success as the inscrutable Governor in the zombie apocalypse hit The Walking Dead. Afraid of nothing and no one, The Governor — who may or may not have been killed just before season four took its mid-season hiatus — slays humans as readily as zombies.
Now 49, The Liverpool-born actor is known for taking his roles exceptionally seriously. In preparation for playing Gordon Brown in The Deal (2003), Morrissey bit his nails to the quick, put on two stone by staying up late eating pasta and drinking Guinness, and even succumbed to a Kevin Keegan-esque perm.
He is also nothing if not versatile. A decade ago, he played the duplicitous MP Stephen Collins in Paul Abbott’s brilliant TV series State of Play. The following year, he sang and danced his way through the BBC’s musical series Blackpool, accompanied with equal vigour by David Tennant. He then turned up alongside Tennant again, this time in Doctor Who, before going on portray a bent copper in Red Riding, the dark dramatisation of David Peace’s quartet of novels.
Like any actor, Morrissey has made mistakes.
In 2006, he appeared opposite Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct 2. Once, he told me that when he took his wife, novelist Esther Freud, to see the film, he waited for her to compliment him on his newly buff body. Instead, she turned to him in the dark and whispered, “That’s the fridge we should get.”
Before we find out The Governor’s fate, Morrissey returns to British television in the David Nicholls drama The 7.39, this time playing an everyday bloke in the midst of a mid-life crisis on his daily commute to Warerloo. We caught up with him to discuss zombies, Morrissey and the fortunes of his beloved Liverpool FC.
After spending most of 2013 as a prolific zombie killer, what appealed to you about The 7.39?
I was sent so many scripts about missing kids and women being chopped up that I really responded to David Nicholls’ script. I loved his novel One Day, and I thought The 7.39 was about a situation many people could identify with. But the fact that the story feels so real doesn’t make it any less dramatic or painful to watch. It was a huge contrast to The Walking Dead, which is on the one hand a survivalist drama with big issues at its heart and on the other inescapably part of the horror genre.
Do you relate to your character’s mid-life crisis in The 7.39? Have you ever bought a silly car or dyed your hair?
I’ve definitely dyed my hair, but I just say it’s for a part. Everyone reaches a stage in their life where they wonder if they’ve taken the right journey. It’s all too easy to live a second life, a fantasy life. I work hard not to bemoan my lot, though it’s hard when I’m away from Esther and the kids.
Will you be returning to Georgia to shoot more of The Walking Dead?
I can’t tell you that. I’m not allowed to. But I absolutely love being in that show. Andrew [Lincoln, the British actor who plays the lead] and I would stand in a field in the 100-degree heat, with ticks burying themselves under our skin and fake blood all over us and say to each other, “How great is this?” I was lucky because I was allowed to make The Governor more complex than he was in the original comics.
How did you elevate The Governor from being merely a panto baddie?
I read books by Blair, Brown, Clinton and Reagan, and by cult leaders like David Koresh. I wanted to know what happened in war zones, so I read Tim O’Brien’s incredible book The Things They Carried, in which good American men found themselves doing terrible things in Vietnam. They got drunk on power. It warped them. The Walking Dead shows that the Darwinian thing about the survival of the fittest isn’t necessarily about the strongest or most agile; it’s about the species that adapts the quickest. The Governor was probably in middle management before the apocalypse, but when confronted with a shit-storm he stands up and fights.
When you appeared at Comic-Con this year, 10,000 fans booed you, and yet you get Tweets from young women all over the world…
Comic-Con was amazing. Overwhelming. As for the Tweets: I get a lot of hatred, too. There were plenty of people who were ecstatic when The Governor got his comeuppance. Or so they think.
You also found time this year to record the unabridged audiobook of Morrissey: The Autobiography. Did you do it in your own Liverpool accent?
That was my first question when asked to do it: you do know I’m a Scouser? They didn’t mind how I read it, but I tried to be as neutral as possible. I came to the book as a fan and loved it. When Morrissey writes well, he’s brilliant.
You’ve had a fantastic 2013 — and now 2014 is looking pretty bright for your football team, too
For once I’m feeling optimistic about Liverpool. I was ecstatic when we beat Tottenham 5-0 away. I worry about the depth of squad compared to Man City, but it’s all about confidence. A couple of seasons ago we’d have lost to Hull and that would’ve been it. This season we come back from a defeat and stayed on course. Suarez is the player everyone looks to, but there’s more than one person in the team. The way we combine going forward really works. My fantasy for 2014 is top three with a tight finish, Suarez stays and we go into Europe. Not much to ask, is it?