Q: How did you first learn about your role on Low Winter Sun? What about it most prompted you to accept it?
A: I really liked the character. He’s really the type I like to play in that he has a very present, internal dialogue going on. He’s at war with himself as much as he is with other people, and what he doesn’t say is as important as what he does say. Also, the cast: Mark [Strong] is an actor that I’ve known for a long time. We’ve been in a couple of films together but only ever shared one scene, so this was a good opportunity to do some more work together.
Q: The show is based on a British miniseries. Have you watched it?
A: I didn’t watch the miniseries before I did the pilot, which kind of establishes what my character is like. I didn’t ultimately watch it until some six months later. I’m glad I saw it, though my interpretation is very different than Brian McCardie, who played Geddes in the original. It’s written differently: Even though we start in the same place, we end up in very different situations very quickly. I’m glad I watched it, but in reality it wouldn’t have offered me much help for the story we’re telling.
Q: Fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead will remember you from that show as Morgan Jones. Are there any similarities between the two characters?
A: These are very, very different characters. Morgan is a man in a surreal world having to find some kind of semblance of sanity. Joe Geddes is a different animal completely. He’s a Detroit cop.
Q: You’ve played cops before, and you also played a crook in the movie Snatch. Which do you enjoy playing more, cops or criminals?
A: They’re pretty much the same, aren’t they? Just different suits. My character’s job really doesn’t matter to me, whether they’re cops, crooks, strippers or construction workers. What’s much more important are the characters themselves.
VIDEO: Lennie James Looks Back on The Walking Dead and Ahead to Low Winter Sun
Q: Are British crime shows different from American ones?
A: They can be! The major difference between American cop shows and British ones is the gun. It makes a huge difference in the way we tell stories because in the main, British police officers do not carry a gun. In America they do, and in American shows, the gun becomes the great leveler. Ultimately the good guy shoots the bad guy; the gun delivers justice. Because we don’t have that in Britain, our shows look different. In an American show, if a police officer is chasing a perp who looks like he’s going to get away, the police officer draws his weapon and fires it. In British TV, if the perp gets away from the cop chasing him, he gets away. That’s the way our stories go, and it does have a fundamental difference in the way cop stories look and feel.
Q: You were born in London. How did you go about mastering an American accent? Do detectives in Detroit have a particular way they speak that you needed to learn?
A: I came into it thinking not only about the city that my character lives in, but the job that my character does. To a certain extent, if you’re playing a police officer in homicide, in the course of your job you’re going to meeting people from all different strata of life. You’re going to have to be understood by all those different types of people. Your way of speaking adjusts. As for the Detroit accent, it’s a northern American city, and as far as the African-American component is concerned, it’s a city that’s on the path of the big migration from the South to the North, so there’s still a sense of its Southern roots in the accent.
Q: How have you enjoyed working in Detroit?
A: I have. We’ve been here for four months, and it’s a city that’s never less than interesting. It’s a great backdrop for our story, and it kind of mirrors our story in that it’s about people looking for a second chance. In some ways, Detroit is a city looking for another chance.