Despite making only two appearances in The Walking Dead before his surprise return in season five, Morgan has become a fan-favourite character who viewers have been demanding to see more of since his memorable appearance in the pilot. They’re getting that wish in season six as Lennie James will now be starring in the series on a full-time basis.
There have once again been some major changes in Morgan’s life since season three though, and we were recently lucky enough to have the chance to speak to Lennie about his return and how the character’s relationship with Rick has changed and will continue to develop.
He also gives us the scoop on the special standalone episode set to revolve around what Morgan has been up to since we last saw him, revealing that like the premiere, it will be another ninety minute special (that definitely can’t get here soon enough). Many thanks to Lennie for taking the time to talk to us.
The Walking Dead airs Mondays 9pm on FOX.
Well, it came about in a slightly odd way. Initially, what happened was The Walking Dead came to me for season five, which I was unable to do because of other commitments and so was unable to do what Scott [Gimble] was hoping for. So, Scott said, ‘Let’s do it in season six.’ In a way, everything that happened in season five was just gravy really. I was away filming something else and then I had a couple of weeks off so Scott said, ‘Would you mind flying to Atlanta to do a day’s filming?’ and that’s when I did the two codas that happened after episode one and after episode eight when Morgan is revealed on the tracks and when he walks into the church. Then, when I finished the other gig that I was on, I flew back to them and shot the finale. It was fantastic to return, but it was actually slightly delayed because I didn’t really get going until this season.
How challenging has it been to pick up with with Morgan at vastly different points in his life, jumping back into the character with these huge gaps between when we last saw him?
It’s a thing that has, with very little effort on one level, become what I’ve most enjoyed about playing him. It’s a rare opportunity. Particularly in the jump from the first time you see him in the pilot to when you see him again in season three in “Clear”. Linking those two men together and making sure there was still a sense of who he was and who he is; in the end, that became my job, and I really relished it and enjoyed it. It’s the same with linking the guy in “Clear” to the guy you see in the finale of season five. That has become the job of playing Morgan.
It’s linking him, as you said, in these vastly different emotional places and making sure they’re true to where they are, but also true to all the same person. It’s slightly different now that I’m around for a little longer, more linear and regular form, but certainly up until season six that’s been the job and what I’ve most enjoyed doing.
You mentioned “Clear”, and certainly since the last time we saw him, Morgan has developed some very bad ass skills with a bo staff. What has it been like to train for that and introducing such a surprising new element to the character?
It’s been fantastic. One of the things I enjoy most about my job is travelling the world, going to different places, places I never expected to go, but also picking up skills I never thought I would pick up like horse riding, riding a motorbike, climbing electricity pylons, scuba diving, shooting weapons of different kinds, and learning how to be scene proficient in all of those things. The bo staff with Morgan has become another one of those things added to the list of skills I’ve acquired because of this job that I do. I love it. I love the connection between the weapon and the man and how apt the weapon is for the path that Morgan is trying to walk down during this particular moment in time.
It has kind of become my mission to be as adept at is as Morgan needs to be, so every time Morgan is swinging the stick, it’s me who’s swinging it and not someone else put in to make me look better than I actually am! I practice as much as possible and as much as necessary, and being good with the bo staff has become an important part of playing Morgan.
It was recently revealed that we’ll be getting a Morgan flashback episode this year, so what can you tell us about what we should expect from that one?
I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say, but I think it’s going to be (and I haven’t seen the episode yet) an intense ride. It’s very much going to be in keeping with the mythology of The Walking Dead, but is a very different kind of episode. It’s almost like a standalone film, and I believe it’s going to be shown as a 90 minute special.
Hopefully it’s one that the fans will like. I know it’s one they’ve been asking for for a long time, and we’ve done our best to handle it in a way which will hopefully be satisfying. It was a trip to shoot and an incredible experience. It’s an amazing story, and if it’s at all possible after “Clear”, Morgan goes further into the hole before he finds his way out.
You mention the experience shooting the show, but what was it like dealing with hundreds of walkers in the premiere?
It was amazing, but then the other thing you have to also understand is that this season, although I’ve been around a lot, I’m ostensibly the new boy! So, it was mostly watching other people’s reaction to how many walkers we had on set because I don’t know showing up there that this isn’t normal, that this isn’t the way that they always do it! The reaction from everyone else and the fact that on any particular day there may be hundreds of walkers kind of swinging around, and people wrangling them…I have to say, those we have playing them are incredibly happy to be there even though however uncomfortable it is for the actors and the crew, for the walkers underneath all of those prosthetics and make-up in searing heat and unbearable humidity, they really couldn’t get it done if they weren’t as able as they are.
They also have fun because virtually all of them are fans of the show and people who want to be there because they want to be part of The Walking Dead, so it’s fantastic. It’s a testament to where the show has got and how well the machine works to take on the number of walkers they had to use and wrangle in the premiere episode.
Talking of fans of The Walking Dead, how does it feel to have developed such a strong connection to them through playing Morgan?
It’s incredibly humbling and gratifying. I have to be honest, I don’t think that the story of Morgan in this show would have played out in the way that it has if it wasn’t for the fans in large part. The fact of the matter is, right from the off from what I understand when I would get the buzz about what was happening in the show and would speak to Andy Lincoln after giving him a call to see how it was going, one of the things he said and when I bumped into people from AMC and others from the show, that every time they were at Comic Con or a press conference, or really any situation that they were speaking to fans or press, one of the most asked questions outside “Do zombies shit?” was “When is Morgan coming back?” I’d be churlishly stupid if I didn’t think that at some point that that didn’t get back to the people who decide on these things and write and create and produce the show.
That obviously was a factor in Morgan coming back and having the role that he now has. That’s a lot to do with how the fans identify with him, and I have no idea why that is, and how much he’s become a strong part of this world as far as they’re concerned. I’m very happy for it and very grateful for it.
Finally, there definitely appears to be some growing tension between Rick and Morgan this year. Do you see that rift growing as time goes on or do you think they might find a way to reconcile their friendship down the line?
I think either things are possible, and both things are probable in a way. The fact of the matter is, most of Morgan and Rick’s relationship, although they’ve come together in the end of the two prior times they’ve met, it’s always been a bumpy ride. In their first meeting, Morgan shoots a zombie in the head and then his son hits him around with a shovel and Morgan shoves a gun in Rick’s face…then he straps him to a bed and threatens to stab him in the head! The next time they see each other in “Clear”, Morgan tries to shoot him from a rooftop and then stabs in the arm with a knife, so their relationship has never really run very smoothly. But, somehow, they’ve found a way of sustaining it.
It remains to be seen whether or not season six will follow that path, but certainly they’re positioned where they’re both standing now with one saying, ‘In order to survive in this world you have to learn how to kill,’ and another saying, ‘It’s possible to survive in this world without killing,’ that’s going to come into conflict. They’re going to butt heads, and sometimes they’ll walk together, sometimes they’ll walk apart, and sometimes they’ll almost certainly come at each other. How that all plays out remains to be seen…