Eleanor Matsuura has played Yumiko Okumura on AMC's The Walking Dead for almost four years.
Fans have seen a very different side to Yumiko on The Walking Dead Season 11 as the character got to relive her past.
The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 20 was enormous for Yumiko because Pamela (Laila Robins) ordered her to prosecute one of her friends.
Below, Matsuura chats with TV Fanatic about those big revelations and much more.
TV Fanatic: We really see the lawyer in Yumiko come out to play on The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 20. What was that like for you to film?
Eleanor Matsuura: It was awesome. You get to see many sides of Yumiko: The lawyer, her past, and the fighter that we've been more familiar with over the past few seasons.
It's a meeting of both her past and present. She's still got the fighter spirit in her. We also see her lawyer up in a big way and see flashes of why she was so brilliant.
Everyone talks about her education and that she must have been such a brilliant lawyer, but now we see it in action.
I love the scene at the end when Yumiko turns it on its head and reveals that she's actually going to be defending Eugene rather than prosecuting him.
That's the moment where we see that Yumiko is somebody who thinks outside the box and isn't afraid to break the rules. She reveals her true nature, which is that she was never going to be one of those sorts of highly strung nine-to-five, do-everything-by-the-book kind of lawyers.
I think she genuinely has a passion for justice and believes in the right thing to do. And I feel like this is the episode we see that in her and how much this means to her.
Yumiko is in such a difficult situation throughout because she's being led to believe that prosecuting Eugene will keep everyone she loves safe. Do you think she believed Pamela would still do something to hurt her people, even if she prosecuted Eugene?
That's a really good question. I don't think Yumiko has ever trusted Pamela, and I don't think she's ever been fully on board with the Commonwealth, even though she's been in this really strange and unique position of being kind of in with them, you know, like being part of the other classes, so to speak.
Everyone else has seen the Commonwealth as what it was and what it is, but they're also coming at it from a different perspective. They're seeing it from like the other side of the of the fence.
Yumiko is sort of living a life that's very comfortable now. But I think you can see that she's never trusted Pamela and has always been suspicious and that her heart has always been her family.
Both Tomi, her real family and her chosen family, so I don't think there's ever been any question about where her loyalties lie. I think with Pamela, she's just always been suspicious and not willing to take the risk of her hurting anybody that she loves.
And I think Pamela knows that. She knows that that's a massive threat to Yumiko to threaten anybody in her family because she knows how close she is with them.
She made comment in the last episode, or the last episode before about Connie. She knows that they are really, really good friends. Pamela doesn't trust Yumoko, and she doesn't trust Pamela.
They're definitely keeping each other super close because we don't trust each other, so I wouldn't put anything past Pamela.
The show has taken on more of a thriller tone with these final episodes, so I was worried that Pamela had a trick up her sleeve to harm Yumiko. Did you have that feeling while reading the script?
Yeah! When I was reading it, I couldn't see a way out. I was like, "I don't understand how she's gonna be able to get out of this situation if Pamela's forcing her to prosecute her friend."
What am I supposed to do with that? And so, as I was turning each page of the script, I was just thinking, "where is this gonna go?"
"Am I gonna just have to try and cut and run? No. What about Tomi? Stay and prosecute Eugene? I guess I could do like a bad job of it, but no one's gonna really believe that."
It's definitely a really tricky situation. One of the things I love about Yumiko is that she's so relentless and tenacious that like she always will look for a way out, even when it seems impossible.
The idea of changing the prosecution into the defense of Eugene probably only comes to her in the moment as she's walking up to read her speech.
I don't think it's pre-planned. I think she suddenly just goes, "Hang on a minute. Everybody's looking at me. It's very public. There's safety in that."
"Pamela can't pull a trick in public because she's so concerned with her public persona, and I can use that to my advantage."
I honestly don't think she realizes it until that moment. That's why reading the scene was so exciting because I was just like, "Oh, okay. There it is."
I didn't know how she was gonna get out of that one, but, thankfully, she did.
Out of all the characters, Yumiko has been perfectly placed to navigate life inside the Commonwealth, but after everything that's happened, do you think she's ready to hit the road again?
Oh yeah, I think so. She never got comfortable in the Commonwealth, even with all the suits, haircuts, comfortable beds, and showers.
I don't think we've seen Yumiko appear particularly happy. You know, in each episode that we've seen her, she's always been trying and longing to get back to her friends in her old group.
There's the added complication that she's found her long-lost brother. That's keeping her rooted in the Commonwealth. And if it wasn't for that, I think she would be cutting and running with the rest of the group without hesitation. But she's smart.
She's always been smart, and I think she knows right now she's the only person in the group that has this really close access to Pamela. And it's a very privileged position to be in. So I've got to stay and try and use that to help my people because no one else has that advantage.
The tension between Pamela and Yumiko is intensifying every week. What was it like working with Laila Robins to bring this dynamic to life?
She's unbelievable. I love Laila so much. I think she's an incredible actress. Off camera, we would often talk about theater. She's from the Broadway stage, and I'm very much a theater kid as well. So we would just talk about plays that we'd seen and our love for theater and performing, which you can see because as soon as the camera is on, she clicks into character, and it's terrifying the way she looks at you.
I've said this before, but I feel like the moment she looks at me, I just get chills, and I wanna confess everything. We really got to have some meaty scenes together, and I'm so grateful for that because it felt like theater and it felt like doing a play.
She is so much fun to work with because she really made me feel terrified and the stakes were always so high, and she never backed away from it. And Yumiko never backs away from a fight either.
When you signed up for the Walking Dead, did you ever think that we'd be seeing Yumiko defending her friend in a courtroom?
Nope. It's no secret that everybody on The Walking Dead, well, nearly everybody feels like they're gonna die.
Every episode that comes out, I read it thinking, "is this my time? Is this it?" So the fact that I've come this far is an enormous honor, but also, yeah, a surprise.
I'm so grateful that I've been able to take the journey this far, and I'm so pleased that we've gotten to see these different sides of Yumiko. I'm so glad we've gotten to delve into her background.
I feel like that's what the fans want. Everybody always wants to know the backstory of the characters that come into the show. They're so interesting, and they're so rich, and there are so many characters on the show.
Of course, we don't have the time to delve into everybody's past. the fact that we've been able to get a little glimpse of it this season with Yumiko, I feel that's an enormous privilege, really. I feel really lucky to have explored this storyline.
Production wrapped earlier this year. What have you missed about working on the show?
Oh, that's a big question. I mean, the people, to put it simply. The people and the moments where we would shoot a big scene with loads of people. Those were the best days.
Those were the days where you felt like, "wow. I'm shooting the Walking Dead." It's like these iconic characters, these huge group scenes, walkers everywhere, and big set pieces.
That was always when I felt like we were always having the most fun, and I always walked away feeling like, "Wow."
I still get goosebumps. I'll miss that. I'll miss that feeling of a huge team with the most talented people, including the crew and everyone behind the scenes too.
We all just put our hearts and souls into making this show. And sometimes when you're doing a day like that, when there's like, you know, hundreds of people literally on set, everyone working the hardest towards, say a massive set piece...
Like when we did the fire when we burnt down Hilltop, I'd walk away and drive home from days like that tired.
We'll be doing night shoots, covered in dirt, bruised, and battered. But those are the days that I look back on with the most fondness. They were the most memorable. I'll miss those the most.
I know you can't spoil anything, but could you tease anything about what we can expect in the final four episodes?
Expect the unexpected. I would say you may think you know how everything's going to be wrapped up, but there's always room for surprise.
The show's never been shy of surprising people, and I hope the audience feels like we've given them a good ending. I believe in the integrity of how we've finished it. I think surprise is the main thing. I'm gonna leave it at that. Prepare to be surprised.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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Paul Dailly is the Associate Editor for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.