Danai Gurira: Newest Addition to AMC's 'Walking Dead'

PHOTO: Danai Gurira plays Michonne in the AMC TV show, "The Walking Dead."
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The third season of AMC's "The Walking Dead" gets underway Sunday with a new addition -- actress Danai Gurira as the sword-wielding Michonne.

Fans of the post-apocalyptic zombie drama, based on the popular comic series, got their first glimpse of Michonne in the closing moments of last season, when she turned up dragging two armless zombies in chains and then saved Andrea (Laurie Holden) from near death by beheading an attacking walker.

With that auspicious introduction, Gurira, who starred in HBO's "Treme" and the indie favorite, "The Visitor," takes on one of the comic series' most beloved characters in one of this season's major story lines.

"She's pretty formidable," Gurira told ABCNews.com. "She is not a people pleaser and she's not afraid of her own rage. She's fueled by strategy and sometimes rage. She's a very active individual."

Gurira, who is finishing up filming the third season, wouldn't give away much about what's ahead, except to say that Michonne "is going through a becoming."

So, too, is Gurira.

The role is a challenge for the 34-year-old actress who was born in Iowa to Zimbabwean academics and later raised in Zimbabwe. Not only did Gurira, who has an MFA in theater from New York University, have to learn how to fight with a Japanese katana sword, she had to get over her fear of all things horror.

"I've always been a big scaredy-cat," she said. "As a kid, I couldn't watch horror films. I always found them terrifying and terrorizing."

For that reason, Gurira had never watched the critically acclaimed "Walking Dead" until she got called for an audition. Once she turned it on, she couldn't stop watching.

"I just got sucked in from episode one," she said. "The zombies were terrifying. But it was so about something more than them. It's about people trying to navigate dire circumstances. It started to feel like a war zone. When everything shuts down, who do you become? I love how the show explores that."

Still, that first night after a marathon viewing of the show, she had to remind herself that zombies "can't open doors that are locked or climb walls."

Though used to the physicality of the theater, Gurira also had a learning curve when it came to wielding the katana sword.

"It's an intense weapon," she said. "At first, it was really heavy. Initially, it was painful. Then, you start to enjoy yourself. Now, I love that weapon."

While Gurira is having fun playing Michonne, she equally enjoys writing characters, too. A playwright, she has written three critically acclaimed plays, including "The Convert," which recently closed in Los Angeles.

"It's a very different muscle," she said about playwriting. "Both bring me great joy. I couldn't choose between them. It would be like choosing between children. When I act or write a play, I feel like I'm birthing something. They can both be extremely exhilarating. Of course, I have more control with playwriting."

Gurira, whose plays are about Africa and the Diaspora, is also writing roles for women of African descent.

"I couldn't understand why their voices weren't heard," she said. "I just couldn't find them, so I decided to create them, myself."

Gurira is finishing up another play as well as developing projects for the screen. During the hiatus for "The Walking Dead," she'll also be promoting her upcoming film, "Ma George."

As to whether Michonne will be back for season four, Gurira had a cryptic answer: "We shall see."

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