The Walking Dead season 7 actor Lennie James: ‘I’m envious of those who were in the Negan scene’

The Morgan actor teases his upcoming scenes with new character King Ezekiel

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The Independent Culture

Only a handful of characters have been confirmed to return in The Walking Dead season 7 due to a cliffhanger which saw a whopping 11 characters in the running to be killed off by Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s new villain Negan.

One such character is Morgan Jones, who is played by British actor Lennie James. Initially appearing in the pilot episode back in 2010, James made a brief comeback in season 3 before making a full dramatic return in the closing moments of the show’s fifth season. Since then, he’s remained a regular fixture in the AMC drama, integrated into key storylines mainly involving character Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride).

The Independent spoke to the actor about his upcoming scenes with new faction The Kingdom as well as his relief – and jealousy – over not being a part of that climactic Negan scene.


Has it been a relief to be one of the very few cast members confirmed to return in season 7?

Yes! Hashtag “Morgan lives”. On another level, it would have been nice to have been a part of the stuff the other guys have been going through – being knelt down in front of Negan in those bloody good scenes. I’m not lying, there have been times where the green-eyed envy has been there because with that big iconic scene, bonds were made and performances were given that I wish I had been there to witness and contribute to. But I’m very excited and happy with the stuff that happens with Morgan and Carol and the introduction of The Kingdom; all of that’s been really fun and interesting. But it’s hard to avoid the fact that – at least during the first episode – people’s interests are going to be on who Lucille takes out. 

How quickly will Morgan be merging back with the wider group?

It’s a gradual thing. We’ve got 16 episodes to introduce our audience to just how big, bad, brash and powerful an adversary Negan is going to be for Rick and our group. We’re going to take a bit of time, not just to say ‘this is a bad man’, but to say ‘this guy is King Kong’. Negan has a history – his tentacles reach far beyond his presence. The way we've introduced him is nothing compared to the way we’re going to show exactly who he is. I mean, he has a staggering first appearance in the season 6 finale but we just keep ramping it up

Are you excited at the prospect of sharing screen time with Jeffrey Dean Morgan?

Yeah. He’s added to a long line of fantastic actors on the show. It’s a genre show but I hear people saying it’s the story, characters and level of acting that keeps bringing them back. The fact that we added somebody of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s quality is a testament to the continued way in which this show is staying strong to its core principles. Jeffrey won the role over a bunch of really top-notch actors, some of whom put themselves forward. This is a show going into its seventh season and top-notch actors want to be a part of it! He’s upped everybody’s game. It’s game on.

Is Negan going to change Morgan's view on killing?

He’s certainly going to challenge it, isn’t he? He’s going to raise the question, otherwise there’s very little point having those two people anywhere near each other. I suspect one way or another, that conversation between Negan and Morgan may well happen, or may well set itself up to happen. At the moment, in all honesty, I couldn’t say one way or the other – partly because I’m not allowed to and partly because I don’t want to tell you – but it’s certainly something that will be a part of the story at some point.

You're acting opposite a tiger this season.

There’s a lot of talk about the introduction of Negan and who Lucille comes down on, but at the same time we’re introducing a man who thinks he’s a king and a has a tiger as a pet, and that’s nothing to sniff at. It’s a tricky job for Khary Payton, because he talks like a movie king and expects people to speak to him as if he were landed royalty – and, added to that, he has a fucking pet tiger. It’s been as impressive a job done by Khary bringing that character to life as it has been Jeffrey with Negan. The work done by our crew in bringing the tiger to life is just staggering; somebody the other day saw a clip and said to me ‘Is it a real tiger?’ I think that’s the highest praise anybody working on the show could get. 

Do you follow the comics?

I do not follow the comics, and part of the reason is when I asked Frank Darabont – who directed me in the pilot episode – if it was important to, he said I could read the first one but thereafter they'd be doing it in their own way. That just resonated with me. There are other actors on the show who follow them [Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie, being one] – I know Chandler [Riggs, Carl Grimes] is the font of all knowledge when it comes to all the comics. If they introduce a new character, we just go and ask him about them. But I don't follow the comics because we've obviously gone in a slightly different direction. 

How has it been working so closely with Melissa McBride? Carol must be one of the greatest characters in the series.

Yes, I think she is. It’s been a joy, really. She is without a doubt a shining example of what I was saying earlier  about character and performance; Melissa embodies that to eleven out of a scale of 10. I’m somebody who doesn’t like spending a huge amount of time talking about acting or overthinking a scene. I’m an actor – I like figuring it out by acting – and Melissa’s very much of the same mind. I enjoy every day I’m on set with her, not least because she is really funny in a crazy way.

The Walking Dead season 7 begins in the US this Sunday (23 October) and will be shown in the UK the following evening at 9pm on Fox