David Morrissey: "People like me, where I came from, just didn't do that"
At 16, I’d just lost my dad. My mum wasn’t in a good place. She was very distraught. I was the youngest of four but I felt very on my own. I was a bit wobbly I suppose. I’d wanted to be a boxer but by then I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t academic either; I just didn’t feel capable like the people around me. And then I discovered the Everyman Youth Theatre in Liverpool and very quickly I had a sense of purpose, which I really needed at that time. I just gave up on school and spent every waking hour at classes or just hanging around the theatre.
I responded quickly and strongly to acting. The theatre felt like my friend. Acting gave me an ability to work through my emotions, though I wasn’t aware of it at the time. It was very cathartic. That was wonderful. When I did explore my emotions on-stage it always came out in a very comedic, funny way, and that was important to me, to have that laughter in my life at that time. By the time I was 18 I’d played the lead in a Channel 4 drama, One Summer. My life had its focus.
I was quite a chatty kid. One of the things I love about Liverpool is that people talk to you all the time. Sometimes that would piss you off because it felt like everyone wanted to know your business, but actually it’s just a community of talkers. I think I was always able to talk to people, good at joking my way out of a situation. Another good thing about growing up in Liverpool is that I developed an innate understanding of the tonal difference between loud energetic convers-ation – that aggressive-sounding thing that might scare some people – and the kind of noise that’s actually dangerous. It made me street-smart.
I’d tell my younger self not to worry so much. I think I had a slight fear of the world. I had this constant internal monologue in my head nagging me about every little thing – ‘What’s she going to think of me in this jacket?’ – and I wished I could turn it off. But it’s in the nature of my character. And actually, as I’ve got older I’ve realised that worry can be quite motivating. I don’t usually feel like, ‘I’m worried so I’m just going to stay in bed today’. I feel like I better go and do something about it.
I remember on my 40th birthday, seven years ago, I felt it coming at me like a train. I sat and thought about it in my bedroom in London. And I thought, you know, if someone had shown me half my life by 40, just half of what I’ve actually done, I’d have bitten their fucking hand off. At 16 I just wanted to be a working actor and I felt that was a massive ambition. If you had told me about State of Play, Blackpool, playing Gordon Brown, being in Doctor Who and, most of all, playing Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company – people like me, where I came from, just didn’t do that. Or that’s what I believed then.
When I look at my CV I see a few things and think, oh God. Basic Instinct 2 would be the obvious one. It wasn’t a happy experience. I didn’t enjoy the process. I dipped my toe into the world of big-budget Hollywood movies and I was burnt and upset by the big machine. I got on very well with Sharon [Stone] but it’s not work I’m proud of. But I wouldn’t take it out of my CV. Actors have to be brave. You mustn’t avoid risk. I learned so much from doing it. And I got a great house out of it.
David Morrissey stars as The Governor in the third season of The Walking Dead, which returns to FX on October 19, 10pm