The Walking Dead may be losing some of its biggest stars in season nine with the departure of Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan. But at least they still have Danai Gurira … for now. Gurira has played the samurai sword wielding bad ass Michonne on the zombie apocalypse show since its third season in 2012, but ever bigger movie projects like Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War threaten to steal her away as well.
Movies aren’t the only temptation. If she does leave The Walking Dead, it may be for her original love: theater. Gurira is an accomplished playwright with four plays on her resume, all focused on the struggles of women in Africa. Although she was born in Iowa, Danai grew up in Zimbabwe from the age of five. In the years leading up to her life changing Walking Dead audition, she struggled to bring her third play Eclipsed to life, which told the tale of five women taken as sex slaves during the Liberian civil war.
So to her, the harsh and lawless world of The Walking Dead was familiar territory, as she explained to PBS’s Breaking Big:
“To me, what I loved about The Walking Dead was that it felt like a war zone. It felt like you could take out the zombies and you could replace it with a society that collapses. When I watched it and read the graphic novel and started to research Michonne, she felt like one of the women I’d researched during my time creating Eclipsed, and it felt like what I’d researched when I was looking at Liberia.
“Because she felt like a woman of war who, like some women in the Liberian war, turned themselves into their own weapon. Into their own army, and found a whole different type of strength in themselves as a result … When it came, it became the role that I really felt called to. I’d never seen anything like her.”
That perspective allowed Gurira to bring Michonne to life with a depth and authenticity that helped her stand out amongst an ensemble cast full of strong and experienced actors. She then turned around and used that increased profile from The Walking Dead to finally complete Eclipsed, which got a Broadway run in 2016 starring Danai’s Black Panther co-star Lupita Nyong’o. So Michonne is just the tip of the iceberg. We can’t wait to see what other powerful performances and stories Danai Gurira has in store for us.