Eleanor Matsuura, who plays Yumiko on AMC’s The Walking Dead, talks about the dual nature of her character and how her crew has survived for so long.
Q: Were you familiar with the comic book version of Yumiko before joining the show or did you start from scratch?
A: I hadn’t actually watched a single episode of the show before I started. I know some fans will be like, “What?!” What was really brilliant about that, though, is I got to binge watch the entire eight seasons before I joined. It’s a really binge-worthy show… it was like I discovered this whole new thing. I was walking into this world that was already set up with these characters that the actors have created. Now, our new characters get to continue this legacy of what they’ve begun. It was an exciting challenge and daunting at times, but I couldn’t wait to start. Once I watched the show, I went to the comic books and did a cross-reference to see how my character is represented in the comics. I’m so overjoyed that I’m a comic book character. That’s super cool. The more I inhabit the character myself, the more personal it becomes for me.
Q: What was your first impression of Yumiko? What about in comparison to Magna’s fiery energy? Dan Fogler (Luke) actually referred to them as “two sisters on either side of the spectrum.”
A: Oh, that’s so beautiful! I love that. I’m so annoyed that he got that first. [Laughs] That’s a beautiful description of the two of us. In the comics, Magna’s definitely more of the leader, but on the show, we’re quite a duo. We’re sort of like the mommies of the group, which is like a family to us. The crew you walk with on The Walking Dead become your everything… We use a lot of sign language on the show and the sign for “Magna” is actually the same as “fire.” Yumiko’s a lot more level-headed. She’s got more empathy, I think. She can be very calm and can keep her cool under high pressure situations – and there a lot of high-pressure situations. But she can totally kick ass! Yumiko’s always on the front line… It’s exciting to play someone who is feisty but also has this incredibly calm side of her and a big heart. We’re all complicated people.
Q: What’s been your experience incorporating ASL into your performance? Did that help you further bond with your castmates both on and off the screen?
A: It’s my favorite bit of all the training. Working with Lauren [Ridloff] and Angel [Theory] has been a highlight of the season. They have two incredible interpreters on set with them at all times and they are the most patient and fun teachers. They’ve been guiding us the whole way through. It’s such a powerful tool. What a way to survive in this world. The walkers respond to sound and we have this whole skill set where we can communicate silently. I love that it’s a defining feature of our crew and I think it’s one of the reasons they’ve survived so long. I loved learning. Having that time off-camera adds to the chemistry that I hope translates on screen. I hope people appreciate it. Angel wears hearing aids, but Lauren has been deaf since birth. This is how she operates. Not only is it a cool skill on The Walking Dead, but as a friend and actor, I get to learn how to communicate with my friend.
Q: Yumiko’s group decides to go against Tara’s wishes and search for Luke and Alden. What does it say about the importance of Luke to the group?
A: I think the conundrum and the real drama for Yumiko and her crew comes from the fact that we’re so close, but we’ve also been traveling on the road for a long time. Something we really want is a place to call home. We also want to stay together. When Luke goes missing, it’s the worst thing that can happen… We’re not worried about him not being able to look after himself, but we’re not the type of group that can sit back and not do nothing. Yumiko always wants to take responsibility for her friends and family. Sitting back and doing nothing feels completely unnatural. We have to go and find him, even if it means sneaking out. We’re still on eggshells at Hilltop and we’re already breaking the rules.
Q: Tara makes it clear that she’s trying to protect everyone at Hilltop – Yumiko’s group included. What’s it like for Yumiko to hear that?
A: I remember filming that scene and thinking it was such a beautiful moment. I hadn’t done a lot of filming with Alanna [Masterson] up until that point either, so it was beautiful synchronicity of the characters and us as actors. Yumiko has great respect for Tara and her leadership. It’s a real moment for Yumiko to realize that it’s not just about her small group anymore. There’s a wider responsibility to others and they’re a part of that now. She realizes she’s been accepted.
Q: Now that Alpha and the Whisperers have showed up right at Hilltop’s gates, how are you feeling about what may be on the horizon for the survivors?
A: They’re such a threat to our beloved characters and they’re a surprise. It takes us a long time to figure out what this threat is. They start off as walkers and then, all of a sudden, they’re agile… It’s the unknown that is so terrifying. The actors that we have joining, who are playing the Whisperers, are so incredible. I know everyone’s going to be terrified of Alpha in the best possible way. She’s a real force to be reckoned with.
Read an interview with Samantha Morton, who plays Alpha.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c.
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