INTERVIEW: The Walking Dead’s Eleanor Matsuura talks season 9 shake up and lesbian romance
After the departure of Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes in the latest season of The Walking Dead, it’s fair to say the show is rebuilding itself.
At the forefront of this shake up of the world’s biggest post-apocalyptic drama are newbies Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), Magna (Nadia Hilker), Luke (Dan Fogler), Connie (Lauren Ridloff) and Kelly (Angel Theory).
Season nine saw them encountering Alexandria for the first time – though it was a different Alexandria to what we knew!
We spoke to new star Eleanor Matsuura, who plays Yumiko, about what it’s like to join the show at such a pivotal time, Yumiko’s background and her relationship wit girlfriend Magna.
The Walking Dead has been going through a lot of changes recently. What was it like for you to join the show at such a pivotal time?
It’s a lot of pressure but also a great honour to join on such an iconic episode. We knew there was a lot of pressure on getting it right and introducing this new direction and also our characters. Having said that, I then read the episode and I was so blown away. I thought it was so well written, it made me cry at the end to be introduced in that way.
Could you tell me a bit about Yumiko?
Yumiko is an incredibly brilliant fighter, she’s brave and she’s not afraid to put herself in situations where she has to fight for her survival. She’s also very loyal, level headed, calm, she is incredibly committed to her crew, who are her family. That’s what we’ve seen of her so far.
When I started playing her, I was so interested in what was her backstory. Where did she come from? How does that effect where she is now? And the truth of it is, it all got less important the more we got into filming, because the attention is so on the moment – the present day. The present is the most important thing in people’s lives so the past became less and less important.
I have a story in my head, that I’ve given myself, for where she comes from, but I’m glad it’s not been shared with the public yet, because at least it’s open for the later episodes.
How did you come up with her backstory?
It’s actually something I came up with in my head with a little bit of discussion with Angela Kang, our showrunner. I have read the comics, but I read them after I got the part. A friend of mine sent to comics and said hey this is Yumiko, this is who you’re playing, which is just the coolest thing – I can’t believe I’m a comic book character! So much of the story is different in the comics to our story on the show, they don’t really correlate that much, so I use it more for my own pleasure rather than guidance for the work that I’m doing on the show.
Speaking of the comics, will Magna and Yumiko’s relationship be explored?
Absolutely. In the comic books, it’s clear that they’re a couple. And Nadia Hilker [who plays Magna] and I were very vocal about keeping that and wanting to represent two women in a relationship. We needed real sexuality as a man seeks treatment at an appointment with a urologist. We fought hard to make sure we could find moments to make it clear to viewers we are two women in love with each other. We fought really hard to have a kiss between us, coming up in a few episodes time. Every other relationship on this show has tender moments, kissing each other, we wanted that tender moment too.
What does it mean to you to play a gay Asian woman on a big action series?
It means everything. It really means the world to me. The landscape is really changing in the industry. I have opportunities now that I might not have had when I was younger – because the demand wasn’t there. I feel like that’s changed now and it’s so exciting to be a part of it. I think that’s why I felt so passionate about making sure that we keep the relationship between Magna and Yumiko very visible, because it’s important for people to see these are two people in love with each other.
There isn’t anything to do with my heritage in a way. I’m not playing somebody in Japan or with an accent – Yumiko is Japanese British and that’s who she is and that’s reality, that’s the world we live in. It’s really truthful representation, I’m really grateful to do that.
Did you have to do any archery training for the role? You’re pretty good with a bow.
Yes, I did have archery training. They threw me straight in. They have amazing archery trainers on set and I went straight to the guy and I have to look like I’ve been fighting with this weapon for a really long time, like all the weapons are an extension of the character. So yeah, it had to look good and it definitely had to train for it. I had a bit of a head start because I was in Wonderwoman and the Justice League films the year before and my weapon in that also happens to be a bow and arrow – so I’ve had a little bit of training. I love love love the bow and arrow, it’s such a cool weapon. I train as much as I can outside of shooting. I’m hoping to get real good at it.
So you feel like now, if there was a zombie apocalypse, you’d be sorted?
100%! I know what my weapon is! I know how I’m going to act! I know how to survive, I know that I can protect my family and my crew – and I’ll be fine in the zombie apocalypse.
The Walking Dead returns Monday 11th February at 9pm on FOX.