Lennie James interview on the Walking Dead

Lennie James: “Morgan would kill less than Rick!”

Interview: Holger Potye
Photo: Getty Images / Maarten de Boer / Contributor

With The Walking Dead returning for the second half of Season 7, we talked to Lennie James aka Morgan about what’s lurking around the corner for fans of the show 

Lennie James is well known to fans of AMC’s zombie TV hit The Walking Dead. James plays Morgan Jones, an old friend of group leader Rick Grimes. Morgan is intelligent, caring, fearless, but also troubled and not always on the same terms with Rick.  The first half of Season 7 saw Rick (played by Andrew Lincoln) and his group broken by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and forced to fall under his will and brutally convinced under his rules. The second half will focus on preparing for war.  

Lennie reveals to The Red Bulletin who he likes to hang out with most on set, what fans can expect from the rest of the season and a few other interesting facts. Read on for more.     

THE RED BULLETIN: Which Morgan is closer to you: the calm and Zen-like Morgan or the ‘Let’s kill all the zombies’ Morgan?

LENNIE JAMES: I think on one level I’m not brave enough to be either of them. But the one I would like to be, I suppose, is the one that’s trying to walk the path of the peaceful warrior. On some levels, the argument that Morgan’s having with our world, and certainly having with Rick, is kind of misunderstood. Morgan isn’t frightened. What he is frightened of is who he is when he’s killing. He knows it’s not something that’s done out of any sense of cowardice. It’s a really brave stance and a question that all of us are going to have to ask ourselves at some point from here on in in our world. 

So the pivotal question here is: How do you live?

Right, and so far how we lived – certainly as part of Rick’s group – is almost to kill first and ask questions later. Morgan saying, “Maybe we don’t have to do that, maybe we can meet people with an open hand and see where that gets us” – that’s scary. It’s a scary choice to make, but people die either way. As far as Morgan is concerned, it’s worth trying. I’m certainly not brave enough to take that stance, so I’m probably closer to the one that just kills. But I still kind of argue that I’d rather be the person on the first day of the dead starting to walk, running down the road screaming like a six-year-old boy: “The dead are walking! The dead are walking!” and run straight into the wall and kill myself. That would be me, almost certainly. 

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Lennie, what can you tell us about the second half of Season 7?
 
Anybody who knows the graphic novels, knows we are about to go into a couple of years of war. I don’t know how long that is going to pen out in the series, but it goes on for a while in the comics. We’re about to go to war and the second half is very much about meeting all the protagonists and certain events that are going to decide what sides people take on that.

Will people from Rick’s group take different sides?

It’s not going to be a clear division of labour. There are some people who are going to go to the dark side who are going to take you by surprise, and there are some people who are going to come over to the light. That’s all a matter of perspective, so nothing is going to move in a straight line. But one of the things that’s kind of inevitable is that we’re going to war.

What if Morgan would have went to Atlanta instead of Rick as the leader. Where would the group be today?

I know Andy [Lincoln] would say that everybody would be dead by now. (Laughs.) I genuinely don’t know. But that’s an interesting kind of question. The thing is, Morgan didn’t have to lead. Since he lost his son, he didn’t have the responsibility to lead. By the time we meet him in season three, he’s been without his kid for maybe eight or nine months, so since then he’s not had any responsibility for anybody but himself. Rick has had to wake up every single morning and virtually his first thought, if not his second thought is: What do I do for my group? I think that makes a big difference. I think partly Morgan can indulge in the ‘all life is precious basis’ because he doesn’t have responsibility for anybody else. I think if he was responsible, I’m not sure how dissimilar he would be to Rick. I think he would kill less people, though.

 

They are everything good and pure in this world. #MelissaMcbride #LennieJames

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Can you tell us a bit about the much anticipated Blade Runner sequel you’re on?

I’ve never been on anything more secret than The Walking Dead until I was on Blade Runner 2049. When they offered me the job, I said: “Well I need to read the script.” They went: “Sure.” They sent me 20 pages before my character arrived and 20 pages after my character was gone. It was on an app thing that I could only open on one device. I couldn’t take a screenshot. I couldn’t save it. They said: “You have 36 hours and then it is gone.” When I made my decision to do it, they sent me the whole script. I worked with it. Our sites on the day – this never happened to me before – you had to sign them out, and they would give you your pages that you were doing on that day, and then you had to sign them back in, and they wouldn’t let you get in your car to go home until you had given your pages back. It was kind of frantic. When I finished on the gig, I thought: “I have the scripts. I can sit down and take it all in.” But nine hours after wrap that script vanished miraculously from my iPad.

 

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What makes Denis Villeneuve so different as a director?

He’s the real McCoy. He’s a proper actor’s director, moviemaker, storyteller and he’s a real visionary. The way the part that I play had been originally written, both myself and Denise said: “I think we should do something different.” You have to remember that this is a huge movie. I only got two-and-a-half weeks of filming in this thing and he just went: “Stop. We are going to work this out and do it differently.” And that is what he did. It was so exciting. He’s completely capable of all the things that he’s doing and yet he’s generous to an actor who’s coming in for less than three weeks, and gets on your side and makes you a part of it. Ryan Gosling as well, he’s a real actor, and Roger Deacon is making it look good. I mean, it’s just stupid. No one should be able to have as much fun as I was having.

Lennie James Interview The Walking Dead

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Which character from The Walking Dead would you love to hang out with in a pub?

There are two characters – one of them has just been introduced – who are my favourites. The new character is Jerry. He’s King Ezekiel’s right-hand man and played by Cooper Andrews, and he’s just an amazing character, a one-off. There’s nobody on the planet like him. I’d hang out with him and because he’s a really big guy, nobody is going to mess with you either. He’s just a lot of fun. I love him to death. The other one is Josh McDermitt, who plays Eugene, because he makes me laugh from sun-up to sundown. He’s got a way about him where sometimes you don’t even know if he’s trying to be funny or if he’s having a go at you. Josh is a good whiskey man, as is Michael Cudlitz, and I like a good whiskey man.

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