'Walking Dead': Lennie James talks return of Morgan
Image Credit: Gene Page/AMC[/caption]
The Walking Dead has seen a few familiar faces return recently in hallucination form, but on Sunday’s installment, another long lost character came back — and this time in real flesh and blood. [SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.]
Last time we saw the character of Morgan, he was trying to work up the guts to shoot his zombified wife from the window of his house. He couldn’t do it. That was way back in the pilot episode of The Walking Dead. Now — 30 episodes and two-and-a-half years later — Morgan returned, and it seems his decision not to kill his walker wife had grave consequences (she later bit and turned their son). The result: madness. When Rick realized it was the man that first helped him after the outbreak shooting at them from a rooftop, he tried his best to get his old friend to join them, but Morgan (who stabbed Rick before finally recognizing his ally) was too far gone and sent the group on their way without him (but with some of his ample supplies of guns and ammunition). Entertainment Weekly spoke with the man behind Morgan — British actor Lennie James — about playing crazy, the joy of explaining Morgan’s unseen story, and when we might be seeing the character again. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview and see more exclusive photos from the episode.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So after you appeared in the very first episode of The Walking Dead, what was the dialogue like then about you possibly coming back at some point?
LENNIE JAMES: The initial dialogue was very straightforward really. The source material they had was the graphic novels, and what was said was that in the graphic novels Morgan comes back, so there is every possibility — and that was about as much as what was said. And I knew going in when I shot the pilot that I’m there on the pilot and dependent on how it goes, at some point there is the possibility of the character coming back.
Were there any other points in the past like last season where you were close to coming back but didn’t?
There were. It was a very weird thing and to a certain extent it kind of took everybody by surprise. As an actor, I had a really good time doing the pilot and it was a lot of fun, but the fans’ reaction to Morgan almost had a double effect on the show and on the journey of the character in the sense that there was such a huge reaction to him. Every job I’ve done since The Walking Dead somebody in an interview would ask, “Are you coming back to The Walking Dead?” And in a weird way, that gave faith to the writers and producers that bringing back Morgan would be something that the fans would appreciate. But on the other level, it made it that you couldn’t just bring him back for something so-so. When you brought him back, it had to be the right time and it had to be something juicy. And I think that to a certain extent may have stretched out the time they had in their minds to being him back — or encouraged them that they could stretch out the time to bring him back to keep people interested. But I think this episode feels like the right time for Morgan to be back, and it feels like the right way in which for him to come back.
Image Credit: Gene Page/AMC[/caption]
What was it like trying to refamiliarize yourself with a character you played for only one episode over two years ago, but also one who is now so different from last time we saw him?
To be absolutely honest, that was the thing I was most looking forward to. That was the thing I was most excited about, was matching the guy up from the first episode to the guy who we see in episode 12 of season 3. And that’s a rare opportunity for an actor, when you have not seen him in between to come back. He could have shown up in a pink tutu with a dragon head and it couldn’t have been more exciting that bringing him back in the state he was in for this episode. That’s a rarity. That’s a joy. And I said to [exec producers] Glen Mazzara and Gale Anne Hurd that the thing I was most looking forward to was joining the dots and telling the story of the journey of Morgan that the audience hasn’t seen.
In that moment you first see him with the shoot-out on the street, and him coming down, him getting shot by Carl, and then the reveal — we were all just kind of jumping around going “This will work!” So that bit was far from something I saw as being difficult or tricky. It was the easy bit. In fact, shooting all of the episode was really easy. It’s easy to shoot good script and good storytelling. Before I had to get my head into the unseen journey of Morgan, the writers had to get their heads into the unseen journey of Morgan. They had to join the dots long before I did. So in a weird way, my job was done for me and I just got to show up and have as much fun as was humanly possible in Atlanta with my mate Andy.
Image Credit: Gene Page/AMC[/caption]
EW: Playing crazy – for lack of a better word — I imagine for an actor can be pretty scary because you’re really putting yourself out there when you do that. If everything doesn’t work out right, it can come off looking silly.
LENNIE JAMES: If you start thinking, Oh, this could be dodgy and not very good, then in a way you’re already censoring yourself and already holding yourself back. And that’s not fun. In this utterly unreal and surreal world of The Walking Dead,I’ve got to find moments of reality. And this guy when we left him was a man at a window who could not shoot his wife who had become a zombie, and that’s already crazy. And then when we meet him again, he’s a man who couldn’t shoot his wife who had become a zombie for an even longer period of time, and then only came up and shot her after she had already bitten his son to turn him into a zombie, and then he had to kill his son as well. If you look at the logic within the world of this guy, that is going to leave you with nothing but depths of grief and guilt and craziness.
And I don’t think about Morgan as me playing a crazy man. I think about Morgan as me playing a guy who has gone through this series of events and is trying to find some way of surviving. And he’s got to survive. He tried to kill himself and that didn’t work, so he’s come up with what is for him this perfectly logical reason why he is still around, and the logical reason why he is still around is that he’s here for a purpose. The fact that he was punished for not killing must mean that somebody somewhere has put him here for a purpose, and that purpose is to kill. And that’s his logic. And he said he’s there to “clear.” The walkers have been a plague on his life and they are a plague in this world and he’s got to clear that plague. That’s his logic. Is it crazy to everybody else? Yes. Is it crazy to Morgan? At this stage, absolutely not.
Morgan seems to be a pretty instrumental character at this stage because he’s almost like a warning sign to Rick, who’s having his own mental stability issues. Was that conveyed to you in terms of Rick’s story at this point?
No, but I’m a smart enough fellow to figure out right at the beginning there was the possibility of Morgan being a mirror to Rick in the sense that they are both fathers of sons and they end being two men who have lost wives and they’re two men who have taken on a sense of responsibility in this world. In the first episode, there’s a moment where Morgan shakes Rick’s hand and says “You’re a good man, Rick.” And I think it’s two good men at that stage. And like I said before, we are aware of Rick’s journey because that’s what we’ve been watching over the last three seasons. But we’ve been unaware of Morgan’s journey because we haven’t seen it. So when they do come together, he is kind of a mirror to Rick. He’s kind of going, however bad you think it’s been for you, thank God you’re not me, And whatever choices you take in the future, look at the mistakes I’ve made, both in the first episode and in this one. It’s relevant that Morgan has acted as a teacher to Rick. And in this one it’s a lot about look after your son, and don’t go too far down the crazy road. And I think that’s his message. And for Morgan, Rick represents the ability to hold onto your humanity in this world of The Walking Dead, where most people are losing theirs.
It’s been two and a half seasons since we last saw Morgan. Can we hope that it won’t be so long before he pops up again?
I have no idea. If it is two and a half years, then one thing is for sure and that is that The Walking Dead is an even more successful show than it is at this moment in time. I love working with Andy and have enjoyed my time in Atlanta on The Walking Dead so whenever they will or won’t want me again and if I can make myself available to them I will make myself available to them. I enjoy playing this guy. I enjoy my time down there. But the answer to that question — as before — was never in my hands.
For more ‘Walking Dead’ news and views, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss
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AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.