Exclusive Interview: The Walking Dead's Eleanor Matsuura on Yumiko's Decision

***The following contains spoilers for 11.20***

Eleanor MatsuuraIn tonight’s all-new episode of The Walking Dead, Yumiko, played by Eleanor Matsuura, was being forced by Pamela Milton (Laila Robins) to be the prosecutor in Eugene (Josh McDermitt)’s case, as he is being blamed for the events leading to her son’s death. However, at the eleventh hour, while speaking publicly to make the announcement, she instead says she will be defending him.

According to Matsuura, who recently spoke with SciFi Vision, the plan only occurred to Yumiko in the moment, and she loves that relentlessness. “I think for so much of the episode, Yumiko feels like her back's against the wall,” the actress told the site. “She really doesn't know what to do. Pamela has played a blinder. Whatever the chess move is, it's not quite checkmate, but it's not looking great…It's only once I've stood up on the podium that I realize that actually being in public is my biggest way to stay safe…I realize in that moment, Pamela is not going to stop me. I have free speech so I can be like, ‘actually, I'm going to turn this around.’”

The actress teased for fans to “be prepared to be surprised” for what is to come next and to “expect the unexpected.”

During the interview Matsuura talked about how much working on the series has changed her life, being able to reflect on the end, what she’d like to know about Yumiko’s backstory, and more. Read all about it in the full transcript below, and be sure to watch new episodes of The Walking Dead, Sundays on AMC or stream them a week early on AMC+.

SCIFI VISION:  I think what Yumiko did was really smart, because she knows they won't hurt her brother, Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale), I think, because they can't be without a doctor. And I think that by her coming out publicly and saying, “Hey, this is what I'm doing,” if something happens to her, people would notice. So, can you kind of talk about her sort of stepping up? Because she's sort of on her own right now. I mean, I know she hears on the radio, “they escaped” or whatever, but she doesn't really know what that means yet. So, can you sort of just talk about her stepping up and taking charge?

Eleanor MatsuuraELEANOR MATSUURA:   I think, to be honest, it just occurs to her in the moment. I think for so much of the episode, Yumiko feels like her back's against the wall. She really doesn't know what to do. Pamela has played a blinder. Whatever the chess move is, it's not quite checkmate, but it's not looking great. And the thing I love about Yumiko so much is that she's just relentless. She's relentless in her love for her friends; she's relentless in her loyalty, and she's relentless in sort of always trying to find, “how can I turn this around? How can I get out of this situation? How can I make this work?” I truly don't believe she knows what to do until she's walking up to that podium. I feel like we've seen the scene before where she confesses to Eugene, “I really don't know what else to do.” Like, she's in tears; she really feels like, “I'm always someone who can find a solution and the way out of this, and I just can't see my way out of this.” Then, there's something that clicks into place when she's walking up to the podium, which is like, “Hang on a minute. Pamela's public face is, I know, such a fake thing, but it’s something that's also very important to Pamela. So, I can use this to my advantage.” It's only once I've stood up on the podium that I realize that actually being in public is my biggest way to stay safe. Getting Tomi to stand up and getting all eyes on him is a way of protecting him. You know, you can't just get disappeared. “Here's your doctor; everybody look at him.” You know, “He's a person and he's here.” Then, I realize in that moment, Pamela is not going to stop me. I have free speech so I can be like, “Actually, I'm going to turn this around.” When I was reading the script, I certainly was like, “I don't know how Yumiko's going to get out of this one,” and that's why I love that she in the moment just kind of goes, “Okay, you know what? I see a little chink in the armor. I've got to grab onto that and run with it.” Who knows what the consequences of that will be, but for now, she's managed to at least find some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.

I don't think that Pamela thought she'd get the guts to do it, or I don't think she would have let her talk like that publicly.


Do you think though in that moment, when she does it, is she in her mind her grasping at this as her last chance? Or do you think that she thinks there's a chance for Eugene?

Well, you know what? I think that I found what was really interesting about my scene with my brother, my scene with Tomi, was that I'm like, there was just no way on this Earth I'm going to sacrifice my friend. For the good of peace, for the good of everyone else, like that's not how we roll. That's not been the way we've done things. Certainly, in the life I've been living with my group for the past few seasons, it's very much “leave no man behind.” So, the idea that Tomi, my brother who I love, kind of says, “You know what? Maybe you just have to surrender. Maybe she's won this one. Maybe you have to let Eugene go.” I think that's a really hard thing to hear, especially from Tomi, because he's being so reasonable about it as well. I'm like, “Wait, what? No no no no no no. I can't just sacrifice him; that would just never happen.” So, that's why I think I love the writing in this episode, but I love how it doesn't make it easy, because it's not easy. It complicated for for Yumiko. She is on her own; you're right. She's the only one that has this very unique position of being on the other side of the fence. Everyone else is working in the army or working in sort of the lower quarters, so to speak, and I have this really unique position of being very close to Pamela, which has its blessings and its curses. But it also means that I feel very lonely. I know I certainly felt that when we were shooting sometimes. I'd be like “God, where are all my friends?…I mean, what show is this? Where am I?” You know, it felt really weird.

I'm trying to think how to ask this, because I know, obviously, she would go with her friends, but do you think there's ever a moment where she's kind of okay with everything? Because I feel like, if it were me, I might be like, “Wow, I have a roof. I don't have to fight for food.” She's really got it good in that sense. So, is there a part of her still that clings to that at all? Or is she ready to just go back out in the wild?

Yeah, that's a great question but I don't know if it is that good for her. Like, on the surface, yes, she gets a nice haircut; she gets some nice dresses. She's probably sleeping in a comfortable bed, and they have ice cream at the Commonwealth. You know, it is great, but the whole time, everyone's been suspicious. We've been around the block too many times on this show to know that things always come at a cost. So, I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop, I think. And I think the thing that's kept everyone there is like, there're been a lot of conversations that like Daryl and Carol have had about the kids. The kids are having a better life, and wouldn't we want to give that to our kids? And of course, for me, it's all also about family, about finding Tomi and being like, “Oh my God, he's so settled here. How could I give that up?” But everything else, I think, has felt awkward for her. I don't think it feels great to be sleeping in a great bed with a roof over your head by yourself. I think she really misses her community. She misses her family, her chosen family I should say. She misses her friends. It feels lonely. So, yeah, the personal cost for her is probably not worth it.

Aisha Tyler directed this episode. Can you talk about working with her?

Eleanor MatsuuraI love Aisha. I was thrilled when I found out it was her, because not only is she a brilliant director, but she's an actor as well. So, I knew that she would have my back. I knew she'd be able to support me through the scenes. I knew that she'd get where I was coming from when I'm asking questions about a scene and what what I'm doing and what Yumiko's thinking in certain places, why she's making decisions. She always had my back from an actor's perspective as well as the director’s perspective, which I just love. Also, her knowledge of the show is extraordinary. She has been such a fan of the show for years. She knew all about my backstory; she knew all about Yumiko's past, why she was making choices and doing the things that she was doing. I was just so appreciative of that. It's hard on a show like this when there're so many characters.

Yeah, I can't even remember them all! [laughs]

Right? [It’s hard] to remember where everyone's come from and what their motivation is, and she was just so knowledgeable. Her detail about Yumiko's past was incredible. So, yeah, I feel like I really lucked out having her lead lead this episode.

Overall, with Yumiko, has there been a part of her that you've had a difficult time connecting with on that level?

It's funny, because with Yumiko, I feel like in so many ways, she's really close to me, close to who I am as a person. So, there've not been like huge areas where I felt like massive resistance. I think there was always, there was one episode.  I don't remember exact episode, but it was in season nine, and there was one episode where Yumiko changed her mind, and I could not for the life of me work out why. That was the only thing that I can remember where I really felt like I didn’t understand why she would do that. It was an episode where I say we need to go out looking for someone. Is it Luke? Do I say we need to go out looking for Luke? Yeah, I think it is. I think it's when Luke's been taken by the Whisperers, and I make everyone in my group go out and search for him. Then we're in the woods, and Yumiko is suddenly like, “You know what? This is really dangerous. Let's turn back.” I was like, “I don't think she would do that.” I feel like. It was the only time I've ever not understood a scene, and I don't know if I really, even looking back on it now, I don't know if I ever really resolved that. That's the only time when I found things challenging, but most of the time, if I find things hard about about playing her, I just ask. I just work through it within the scene and within the character. So, therefore, it's kind of like I said, she's been so close to me that I feel very connected. I've never found anything too hard that I can't work my way through it.

I'm not sure if it's coming back, but if there would be more Tales of The Walking Dead, they obviously can explore things that happened before. Are there any parts of her past that you'd really like to get to see if you had a chance, that you really don't know a lot about?

I came from England and somehow wound up in America. I'd love to see that journey. I'd love to see the journey how me and Tomi both got there and then what split us apart…We alluded in earlier episodes - and people who are fans of the comics may not have missed this, because Tomi has sort of a past with addiction and things like that, and I'd love to explore why they were so close and what broke them apart. I'd love to explore how she and Magna (Nadia Hilker) first met and how they escaped ultimately together, because Magna was in jail, and I was her lawyer. I think [there’s] a lot of juicy background story to be explored there.

Can you talk about how your life has changed since starting this journey? Because it's such a huge thing.

I mean, I cannot tell you. In every way my life has changed. This job completely came into my life, turned it upside down in the best possible way. It meant that I had to move my entire family to Georgia. I'd just had my baby just before I found out that I'd been given the part playing Yumiko in The Walking Dead. So, me and the baby and my husband, we all moved to Georgia. Entering onto a show like this, just this huge iconic beloved show that had already been going for nine years, I joined in the ninth season, and I joined at such as pivotal, crazy time really, because I joined when the lead character left in the same episode. It was so strange. I've always just felt honored to be welcomed into The Walking Dead family and The Walking Dead universe. I’ve felt I've just felt very lucky to be a part of it, and really, I've really taken it to heart so much. I tried to, hopefully, carry on the legacy of it and why people love it so much. It's always been really, really important to me, because it's changed my life so much; I've always tried to make sure that I'm giving that back too, if that makes sense.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Eleanor MatsuuraNot to mention the people that I've met. Fans of the show, fans of Yumiko, are just so extraordinary. I've met the most incredible people. Yeah, I just I can't count the number of ways it's changed my life.

Were you given anything, or did you take anything from the show to remember your journey?

You know what? Everyone asks me that, and I'm laughing, because the short answer is “no,” because it's really hard to steal a bow and arrow!

That’s true.

But then I said that recently at Comic-Con, and Norman [Reedus] was like, “I've got like five in my house.” And I was like, “Yeah, Norman, but that's you.”

He can get away with it.

He's probably got like actual Pamela Milton back at his house; he's taken everything. I was less successful at stealing anything. But I don't know, maybe I can call someone and see if they've got my bow and arrow. I miss that thing. You know what actually I really wish I had stolen? I had this necklace that Yumiko wore for the first couple of seasons, which just looked like a necklace when you looked at it, but it actually flipped out and was a secret little knife. It was one of the things that got taken off of me when I entered the Commonwealth. That would have been a nice keepsake. Yeah, maybe I'll call the props department.

You can always ask. All they can do is say no, right?

Yeah, I know. So many people stole stuff. I should have just done it.

You always think about it after the fact, right?

Yeah, exactly.

Obviously, you've been done filming for a while. So, have you had time to sort of sit and reflect on everything and decide where your journey is going to take you now?  Have you had time to do that?

You know, it's funny, because the whole way through filming, we get asked that a lot, like, “How does it feel that it's the end? How does it feel that it's the final season?” I never knew how to answer it, because I felt like we were still in flight, like the plane was still in the sky and people were asking how it felt to land the plane, but I was like “I can't talk about that, because we're still in the air.” For the first time now, I feel like, “Oh, we've landed the plane.” It really hit me at New York Comic-Con when we were being interviewed, and I hadn't seen my castmates, my friends, in so long. Seeing them again, it suddenly hit me like, “Oh, this is actually going to be the last time,” and yeah, it's a process, because I think I've been putting off these feelings for a while. Now, I'm like, “Wow, it really is the end.” This is the last time I'm ever going to do these interviews and talk about Yumiko, someone who I've lived with for four years, who I've loved and poured everything of myself into the character, and yeah, it feels really sad. It feels really sad. I hope that the door's not ever completely shut. You know, in typical Walking Dead universe fashion, I hope whether it's conventions or spinoffs or whatever, I hope the door always stays ajar that I'm able to to revisit her in the future, because I'm not ready.

The universe isn't shut so you never know.

Could you sort of give a little tease of what's coming without revealing it?

Here's what I feel like I can say. I will say, always be prepared to be surprised on this show. You may think you know how it's going to end, and I think, just expect the unexpected. And I really believe in the integrity of how we finished. I mean, how do you finish eleven years on a show that everybody loves? I think you just have to trust that the writers, the creators, all of us love it just as much as the fans do. I really believe in these next few episodes and how we've tried to tie everything up, if indeed we do manage to tie everything up.

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