7 Questions with… Lennie James: ‘The Walking Dead ending is a surprise, but they have had an amazing run’

We chat to Lennie James about a new chapter for Morgan in Fear the Walking Dead season 6, possible reunions with Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes and progress on Save Me season 3.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 14 October 2020 - 9.51am
AMC

Fans of The Walking Dead universe are having a bumper October with new spin-off series World Beyond starting on Amazon Prime Video, The Walking Dead concluding its latest season and the long-awaited return of Fear the Walking Dead for season 6.

The fate of Lennie James' character Morgan was left hanging in the balance at the end of Fear season 5 with the much-loved character seemingly running out of look against the chilling new villain Virginia, played by The Boys star Colby Minifie.

Fans will finally find out whether Morgan lived or died – and what that red-eye shot of James in the season 6 trailer really meant – when the series returns with the premiere episode The End is the Beginning on Monday, October 12th at 9pm on AMC.

We caught up with Lennie to find out how he’s feeling about the latest chapter in Morgan’s epic Walking Dead story, discuss the ending of The Walking Dead and how plans are progressing on Save Me season 3.

1. It’s a nerve-shredding first episode back - how are you feeling about this latest chapter in the story of Morgan?

Fear the Walking Dead season 6 AMC
A new character poses danger for Morgan Jones in season 6

I’m really excited. I’m a bit further along the road than the fans will be. It’s a testament to the show and the character to a greater or less extent that there is another twist in him. And the possibility of taking him down a road he’s not been on before and I am enjoying that road.

This episode did feel large. It was a lone story. There were lots of moments where Morgan is just on his own. There’s a lot of silence. There’s a lot of storytelling in a different way to the usual. It was a lot more introspective for Morgan. I’m really happy with the episode and the scale of it.

I’m pleased you thought it was good and the last 20 minutes connected. It’s a good link in to how we’re telling stories this season and also the character depth that we’re going into this season.

2. There are a few nods to Morgan’s past in this episode, including a hat that reminded me of Rick Grimes. Was that deliberate?

Morgan Jones in Fear the Walking Dead season 6 AMC
Lennie James returns as Morgan in Fear the Walking Dead season 6

I’d imagine some of them are. I tend not to focus on them. I can after the episode, but not during it. Those Easter egg type things are no use to playing Morgan. But there are nods to him and who he has been in the past.

Not least, I did a lot of walking in this episode. That reminded me of the start of season 4 when they first introduced Morgan into Fear and he walked from Virginia. There are call backs and I think that’s cool for the fans.

3. Do you prefer playing peaceful Morgan or angry Morgan?

For me, I don’t see them as different. I think when Morgan is going the way of the peaceful warrior and "all life is precious", he is still raging inside. He still has that beast inside him. He’s just shut it down, but that’s his battle. In peaceful times, his battle is holding back the side of him that wants to rage.

And at the same time, when he has his war head on, he’s trying to find peace. He’s trying to find calm. He’s trying to rationalise to himself the terrible things that he has to do to save the people that he loves. They are very much the same fella and I don’t put down one to play the other. They are always incorporated.

4. With the main Walking Dead series having a confirmed ending, have you started talking about an endpoint for Morgan?

Lennie James as Morgan in AMC's Fear the Walking Dead AMC

I have considered it. I think any and all the actors in The Walking Dead, one of the things you have to contemplate is the end of your character. Because characters end in this show. I have considered it and I have a few ideas of what would be a fitting end for him. But I think that’s a bit like soldiers who go into battle writing their goodbye letter and leaving it in their box and the end of their bed. That’s my version of that with Morgan.

But it’s pretty much out of my hands. And right now because of the shutdown, I’m just really focused on what we’re doing now rather than his demise at the moment. But I should probably touch wood somewhere because if I put that out into the world, the next conversation with Scott and the showrunners will be, "This is how Morgan is going to die".

5. Would you like to be involved in the end of The Walking Dead or reunite with Andrew Lincoln in a Walking Dead film?

Lennie James in Fear the Walking Dead AMC

I would be interested in getting back to work with Andy wherever that would be. On the show, on stage, outside, in a park. I would run to work with the fella again because we had such a good time doing it. I don’t know about the main show. We’re so focussed on Fear at the moment I haven’t really contemplated what other things there might be. The news that The Walking Dead is ending was a surprise, but when you get past that surprise and look at it, they have had an amazing run.

They have fundamentally changed and influenced television. They have created a behemoth of a show and they get a fantastic 24 episodes to say goodbye in the way they want to say goodbye. They can kind of do what they like with it, because they are in charge. That’s an incredible place to be. However, they tell the story, I’m sure it will be in keeping with what they’ve done before and enhance the show’s legacy.

“The Walking Dead fundamentally changed and influenced television.”
- Lennie James

Can you imagine all the different possibilities that they can come up with.

The people they can bring back or the people they might not bring back. They’ve got 24 episodes.

They have license to say farewell in the best way possible and be really brave. Really challenge themselves to say goodbye in a way that they want to say goodbye. And I think that’s an incredible position to be in.

6.    Colby Minifie’s Virginia has a chilling moment in episode 1. How do you rate her against The Walking Dead’s greatest villains?

Colby Minifie as Virginia in Fear the Walking Dead AMC

I think she ranks as one of the best - and I put ‘villain’ in inverted commas - across the entire Walking Dead universe. And I mean that, across all the shows.

The way Colby plays her, she epitomises the thing that Jeffrey Dean Morgan said when he came in to play Negan and he hit the nail on the head. If you were following this story from the beginning with Negan, you would be very much on Negan’s side when he comes across Rick and the crew. And I feel that really strongly with Virginia.

If we had followed Virginia from the beginning of the story, by the time she comes across Morgan and the crew, we would be on her side. That’s an incredible feat to pull off and a lot of that is down to Colby. And it is unnerving.

She is not walking around with a barbed wire baseball bat, it’s just her quirky little costume, a smile and a laugh… and a Southern amiability. It’s very disarming. You look into her eyes and there is a twinkle, but at the same time she’s cold as ice. Another important thing is she’s been successful. Virginia is running all these settlements and groups and what she is doing has a degree of success. I think she ranks up there with the all-time greats.

7. Has lockdown given you anytime to write Save Me season 3?

Lennie James as Nelly in Save Me Sky
Save Me Too

I’ve had time. I’ve had plenty of time to think about it. I’ll be honest with you, the Covid lockdown has not been as creative as I hoped it would have been. That’s not to say season 3 won’t happen, but that’s also not to say Save Me season 3 definitely will happen. I wish I was in a situation to say, "We’re on our way and nearly there". We’re not quite, but we might be.

Just because of the logistics and what lockdown has done, it might be a longer wait than people want it to be. But that’s just the nature of the beast. I can’t say, "yay" and I can’t say, "nay".

Watch the Fear the Walking Dead premiere on Monday, October 12 at 9pm, exclusive to BT TV.

AMC is BT TV channel 332/381 HD.