Japanese-British actress Eleanor Matsuura is no stranger to doing action-packed roles. In the UK, the Tokyo-born, England-raised Matsuura has appeared on such shows as Doctor Who, Residue and Sherlock. Others might recognise her in Wonder Woman (you have to freeze-frame to spot her), and on Daniel Wu's martial arts drama, Into the Badlands.
Oh, yessiree, she can do action. But nothing she’d done before really prepared her for the arduous shoot of The Walking Dead — the sweltering heat of the outdoors in Atlanta, Georgia. "It was a really intense way to start the show [for me]," says Matsuura, on the line from London. "It certainly bonded us [the new cast members] for sure; we all became friends after that."
Matsuura, 35, joins Season 9 of the zombie drama as Yumiko, one of the survivors who crossed paths with the folks at the walled sanctuary of Alexandria. Here, she shares with 8 DAYS how she got the part of Yumiko, meeting Andrew Lincoln, and how she hopes her character would die on the show, which has just been renewed for a 10th season. Hopefully, it'll be a while before she bows out.
8 DAYS: How did you get involved with The Walking Dead?
ELEANOR MATSUURA: I made a tape doing a dummy scene. It was a scene that had nothing to do with The Walking Dead. Because the show is so popular and its storyline is so protected, you can’t use any of the scenes from there or else people would all know what is happening.
A couple of days [after I sent the tape], I got a call that Angela Kang, the showrunner of Season 9, wanted to have a conversation with me. We set up a Skype meeting — because I live in London and Angela lives in LA — and we had a great conversation about Yumiko: who she is, how she gets introduced in the season, what her journey would be, and how she would contribute to the show.
I started to get really excited then because I could see that Angela had a really great vision for this character. I was pretty convinced I wanted to do the part. Then a few weeks later, I was in Atlanta. It happened very quickly.
Were you a fan of the show before the audition?
Well, actually, I hadn’t watched a single episode before I joined. I then binge-watched the first eight seasons, which are loads of fun because The Walking Dead is a really, really good binge-worthy show.
So before I got to Atlanta, I spent hours and hours and hours on the show. I really got into the storyline. I could see immediately why it is such a popular show, and why people get addicted to it. The characters are great, the writing is brilliant and the actors are phenomenal.
In the comics, Yumiko is a Japanese-American. On the show, however, she speaks with a British accent.
Well, in the comics obviously everybody is American. But we have lots of British actors on the show and they all use American accents. But, because of the time-jump that happened in Season 9, Angela wanted something new when our characters were introduced. She wanted something fresh and different, something that hasn’t really been seen on the show before.
So we had a long discussion about making Yumiko more like me — a Japanese-British — rather than Japanese-American. She did the same with the other characters in Yumiko’s group. Magna is from Germany because Nadia Hilker, the actress playing her, is from Germany. She also keeps her accent on the show. Kelly was written as a man in the comics, but on the show is [played by Angel Theory].
The Walking Dead has many badass female characters: Michonne (Danai Gurira), Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Carol (Melissa McBride). What do you think is Yumiko’s contribution to that legacy?
The Walking Dead has always been great for representing women, in particular, amazing, badass women who not only can survive but also thrive in [the chaos]. The show deals with survival after the apocalypse.
There’s no hierarchy in the society like there once was. It’s all about who can survive by using their strengths to do that. I’m really proud to be part of a group that’s so diverse, so representative and so female heavy. The characters embodied by Danai and Melissa paved the way and made it easier for new characters like Yumiko to continue [what they started].
You’ve done physically demanding roles. How does The Walking Dead compare to those?
Oh my God, [filming in] Atlanta was crazy. It was like filming in a big crammed yoga class, or a sauna — so hot! So, that experience was quite new. In that heat, it was really extraordinary. For that episode [‘What Comes After’] where our first characters arrived, we didn’t know what hit us.
We were sitting in a field and it was like over a 100 degrees Fahrenheit [38 degrees Celsius] and we had been filming for, like, 12 hours already. We all just thought, Oh my goodness, what have we done? What have we been up to? We got used to it after a while, but that first week was pretty eye-opening.
Yumiko’s weapon of choice is the bow. How good an archer are you?
They gave me a lot of training on set. There were some incredible people on set who taught us how to use the weapons and stuff. I did as much training as I could on set. I’m getting pretty good. I mean, the good thing is, for Yumiko, she is not a bow-and-arrow expert before the apocalypse.
But this is something that she would have chosen as her weapon to help her survive the apocalypse. So it’s okay that she’s a little bit rough around the edges. But, having said that, I think I’m getting pretty good at it. Yeah, I enjoy using the bow; it’s good fun.
Dan Folger is another new cast member. He looks like someone who’s fun to be with, on and off screen.
Yeah, Dan’s the best. Dan is amazing to work with. Well, apart from being an incredible actor, he brings a real touch of humour and truth to the character. It’s great to have that counter-balance in a world that’s quite often dark and intense, where everything is a matter of life and death. He offers great comic relief and he’s an absolute joy to work with.
Yeah, he is definitely one of my favourites. But I really like everyone in my group, to be honest, I really adore Lauren [Ridloff, who’s deaf] and Angel [who suffers from hearing loss in her right ear]; they are just lovely to work with and they have been teaching me lots of ASL[American Sign Language], which has been an incredible thing to learn. My group’s really cool. I really like them.
Season 9 was Andrew Lincoln’s last. Did you get to meet him?
Yeah, well, actually I did get to meet him. I was so touched that he came to visit a couple of months after he left. It was really extraordinary to me. He said hello, introduced himself to us all and welcomed us to the set. He’d left such an incredible legacy behind.
Everyone on the show just adores him and looks up to him and misses him so much. What he passes down to us has been extraordinary; lots of people still talk about him on set, he’s still very much there. We’re hoping he does work with us in the future.
What lies have you told to keep The Walking Dead storylines a secret?
I would really love to have the guts to tell someone, like, Oh yeah, such and such person dies. Oh yeah, that character is not going to be in it anymore. Because that would really send people into a tailspin.
But I haven’t actually got the guts to do it. Can you imagine if you tell them that their favourite character [is going to die], I don’t think it would go down too well? I wouldn’t be too popular.
And speaking of characters dying, how would you like Yumiko to go?
If Yumiko were to die, I’ve actually asked the showrunners if she could commit hara-kiri. I was, like, Wouldn't it be cool if she were surrounded [by zombies] and there was no way out, and she just commits suicide by sticking an arrow into her chest and then the walkers feast on her. Well, I have given this a lot of thought, but it’s not a spoiler, trust me.
The interview has been edited and condensed.
The Walking Dead airs Mon, Fox (Singtel TV Ch 330 & StarHub Ch 505), 11.30am & 9am (same day as the US). It’s also streaming on Fox+.
Photos: Splash/Click Photos (Main), Fox, AMC