Fear the Walking Dead Q&A – Lennie James (Morgan Jones)
Lennie James, who plays Morgan Jones on Fear the Walking Dead, talks about his character's new Season 6 mindset, what Morgan's doing for Grace, and what he wants fans to see this season.
Q: Are you surprised Morgan survived after being left for dead at the end of last season?
A: For me, the only thing that was important was how we were going to navigate his survival, and what his survival was going to lead to. I think the focus on Morgan in the first episode was a brave choice by the showrunners, but I think ultimately, certainly for me as an actor, it was a lovely opportunity to take a deep dive into Morgan again. It was an opportunity to focus on who he is and what he's doing, and be able to map it out in smaller steps. That was a huge amount of fun and it was like a little movie, so it was good. We also get to meet characters we hadn't met before, so I thought it was a great premiere episode and it was a real joy to do.
Q: What's it like working in these Morgan-dominant episodes without the rest of the main cast?
A: This one was very weird. With "Clear," the standalone episode with Andy [Lincoln], Chandler [Riggs], and Danai [Gurira], the production was up and running. When we did "Here's Not Here" with John Carroll Lynch, production was kind of up and running and there were people around, even though when we did "Here's Not Here" we were kind of sequestered out to the middle of nowhere.
What was odd about doing the first episode of Season 6 is that no one else was in town. It was just me. I was the only regular actor in town until Colby [Minifie] arrived for her input in the episode, so it was very much an odd beginning to production. That was my overriding feeling and the thing that I would say was the most different. I enjoy these anthology episodes, and I'm excited by the showrunners' choice to take a deep dive into anthology storytelling this season. It's exciting to see what it does to our show and see what it reveals in our characters.
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Q: In your first scene in the limousine, how did you place yourself in Morgan's desperate mindset?
A: The fact that his hair is grown, he's got himself a beard, he's got a pus-filled hole in the middle of his chest that is seeping—the preparation for that was nearly three hours every single morning, so I had plenty of time to get my head in the right place. I was there before most of the crew had arrived. Though I do have to say that there were obviously members of crew who were there before me, and as always, were there after me, but it's the earliest I'd been on set for preparation for Morgan ever really, so I had a lot of time to get into his mindset.
I had a lot of time to get into his solitude. I had a lot of time to get into his physical pain, his emotional pain. One of the phrases I had written up on my trailer wall was "even the dead think Morgan's dead," and that was one of the mantras I had going in my head. He's a man on a mission. He's a man that has decided there is one thing left that he can do. He might have the time and the strength to do it, and that is to find, build, and bring Grace to someplace that she might be able to survive long enough to have her child and give herself a chance at a future. That's his last mission and that's the only reason why he's up and walking and breathing. For me, it was just about being very clear on the reason why Morgan opened his eyes everyday and why he just didn't lie down and give up, because who could blame him if he did?
Q: There was a distinct Western vibe to the episode, especially when you ride off in your last scene. How did that come about?
A: It's [Michael E.] Satrazemis, our director for that episode. It's the showrunners. It's the costume department. I didn't have a huge say in the look of Demetrius [Grosse]'s character [Emile], the bounty hunter, but we knew that it was going to be a look that was going to end up on Morgan, so it was very much fashioned with that in mind.
I mean, The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead have always had the sense of a Western about them. I think, certainly in Episode 16 of Season 5 on Fear the Walking Dead, the angles that we use, the fact that we're in an old Wild West town, we couldn't have made it more obvious that we were leaning towards that particular kind of genre. Way back in The Walking Dead, there are a number of episodes with the archetype of the Western. Even Rick, the small town sheriff, and the low-hung gun and the cowboy hat -- it's been there right from the beginning. We're just taking it in our particular direction, but it's always been there. But as Andrew [Chambliss] our showrunner, said one of the things that the anthology has allowed them is range. Even though they've pinned their star to the Western genre, there are other genres that they explore through the gift of telling these anthology stories.
Q: Why does Morgan refuse Isaac's offer of help with his wound? Is it as Isaac says, that Morgan thinks he deserves it?
A: I think it's a good guess from someone who's only just met the man. I think it's partly Morgan feeling that he's deserved it. I also think that it's one of the things that all of the major characters in this universe have faced at some point, which is asking, "Is now long enough?" If you have any power in this particular apocalypse, maybe the only power you have is deciding when it ends. And I think that, in one way, Morgan may well be deciding his future by deciding that, with all that he has at the moment, if the end comes, it might be sweet relief.
I think that people have to find, for want of a better phrase, who they're fighting for and what they're fighting for, in order to carry on. I think that's one of the things on both The Walking Dead and FEAR that the showrunners have handled really well. They're reminding our audience of the depths of the price it is to live, and particularly at the end of Season 5 where Morgan's message to his family is to "just live." I think it's a very brave and interesting position to start Season 6, which is with Morgan, who has told everybody to "just live," maybe not taking his own advice.
Q: Can you talk about the moment where Morgan turns away from his bo staff and picks up the axe instead?
A: In Episode 1, there's a very big decision that Morgan makes, and it's a decision that he's made only once before. It's similar to his decision to join in the battle against Negan, to stand side-by-side Rick Grimes, and accept what the war was going to cost Morgan and what it was going to do to Morgan. He decided he would go full-out and would see what was left of himself on the other side of the war and make a decision then, which he did. And the decision was to leave and to get away from people, because as far as he was concerned, if you stay with people then you're always going to have to fight and you're always going to have to kill. Morgan is making that decision again. In order to save his family -- the family group that, whether he likes it or not, he's had a hand in putting together -- he's going to have to lose himself. I think picking up the axe is saying I'm no longer walking the way of the peaceful warrior, I am looking for the fight, and I am ready for the fight.
One of the things I've always said about the bo staff is, at its most benign, it's just a means of helping you walk, but swung in the hands of a master, it is a lethal weapon. If you pick up the axe, you're only picking up a weapon. It has no function beyond that, unless you're using it to sharpen pencils. It is a weapon. You see someone walking towards you with an axe, the chances are they're not peaceful.
Q: How would you describe Morgan and his state of mind at the end of this episode?
A: He's a man ready for war, and a man on a mission. He's a man who is literally dressing for purpose. He has armed himself. He has taken on the garb of the bounty hunter. He has taken on the garb of the hunter. Morgan's going hunting, and he's looking for his people. He'll do whatever he needs to do.... Morgan, at the end of Episode 1, has buried Morgan.
Q: What are you most excited for fans to see during this season?
A: There are a group of walkers that KNB, our special effects department, has done this season, which are completely brand new. I mean, whoever's mind, both visually and story-wise, that [idea] came out of are sick, sick individuals. They have a great, great imagination, and considering how far down the road we are now, to come up with genuine, authentic, new-looking walkers who have gone through a different existence and are therefore manifested themselves as walkers in a very particular way, is one of the things that I marvel at most in this universe.
There are also a couple of stunts this season where our stunt department really outdid themselves. There's a slight clip of it in the trailer, but you don't really get a sense of just how amazing it was. And they're stunts done without the help of CGI! There was a real buzz that day, from building up to the stunt and particularly after the stunt, where everybody was talking about it... everybody was excited by what they had just seen and what our stunt team and performers had pulled off.
I'm really looking forward to seeing how the fans react to our new way of telling this story, the anthology, because they're going to get a really good look at all of the characters in a different way. They're going to get to spend time with them, and their stories are going to be told with a greater art of time, travel, and distance, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how the fans react to that. I think they're going to love it!
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