Morgan Jones may be one of the few characters among “The Walking Dead” ensemble that isn’t in danger of being on the deadly receiving end of Negan’s beloved Lucille, but actor Lennie James still isn’t putting a lot of money down on his role’s long-term survival odds.
When we last saw Morgan, he and his sometimes comrade/sometimes nemesis Carol were separated from the rest of the group and encountered some strangers who promised their delivery into the survival community known as The Kingdom in the comic-book source material — a prospect later confirmed by the show’s producers.
So, as James joined Moviefone to look back at Morgan’s journey during the sixth season, which debuted on Blu-ray on Aug. 23rd, he was able to be a little less tight-lipped about the road ahead in Season 7 — but even he’s hedging his bets a bit, having dreamed up a Negan-centric scenario worthy of the show’s devilish plot twists.
Moviefone: It was a really spectacular Season 6 for Morgan. Tell me what you were feeling when you saw the material that they were giving you throughout the season.
Lennie James: Well, as these things kind of work, the material comes out bit by bit. Although, at the beginning of the season, we all have a sit-down with Scott Gimple, who runs us through in very broad strokes what will be happening with our character over the season.
I have to say, the first thing I felt about the material as it was coming in was how brave the writers were being. Not just with the permanent kind of return for Morgan, but also in fighting hard to speak to a true journey of someone who’s gone off a particular path that Morgan is trying to walk on. I was excited by how they attempted to navigate that, and not to dilute it or to mitigate it, but just to present it as it is with all the complexity of the dilemmas.
Morgan is definitely one of the most philosophically complex characters the show has seen. What was interesting about plumbing those depths and to trying to bring to life his anti-violence stance, especially in this world where that seems almost an impossibility?
Well, every now and then, the show walks side-by-side with its audience, and sometimes the show pushes back against its audience, and sometimes the show is kind of behind the audience. You know, Carol, to a certain extent, is grappling with a similar kind of motion that Morgan is going through, and other characters have kind of touched on it, but there is a real question that these people who now exist at this stage within a post-apocalyptic world, which is to a greater or lesser extent, we have figured out how to survive.
The group, Rick, and also having found the Alexandrias, and the hilltop, and other groups along the way — we’ve got to a point where we kind of know how to survive. And what Morgan is trying to introduce is a different notion, and that notion is: How do we live now? That’s a tricky question, and that’s a complicated answer.
And I’m enjoying kind of walking that path, both convincing — not just the people around him, not just Rick and the group, but also convincing the audience of the importance. I’m saying that Morgan is right, I’m saying that the questions he asks are important questions, and the right questions to be asked at this stage in our existence.
One of the more fascinating aspects of Season 6 was this relationship that he has with Carol. Tell me about cultivating that and sharing those scenes with Melissa McBride and getting those two characters where you wanted them in their ongoing conflict in the past season.
Working with Melissa is just a joy. I’m not just saying that because what else am I going to say? I’m not going to say “It’s an absolute nightmare, and I dread the days whenever I see her” because that’s just not the case and not true! The fact of the matter is, I think if you ask any member of our cast who you’d most like to do scenes with, then she would be the number one person. So, on that level, I feel very blessed and enjoy going into work particularly on days when I’ve got scenes with Melissa.
And I think one of the things I enjoy most about it is it’s easy. Nothing erroneous is put in front of the work. We show up, we talk about stuff if we need to talk about stuff. But mostly, we work it out by doing it, and that’s the way I love to work. I’m not someone who likes to have loads of in-depth conversations about it, because sometimes you can talk the joy and the heart out of a scene. I like to just do it. And then tweak it a little bit and then do it again, and have short conversations, but spend most of the time, doing the scene and figuring out what happens when you get in.
That’s the most joy … getting a chance to do my job opposite someone like Melissa, or a lot of the other members of the cast. So I’m enjoying that, and I think the connection between Morgan and Carol is that they kind of come from the same place. They’re kind of defined by the same things, by who they were to their children and spouses, and that’s what defined them before the apocalypse, and that’s what’s kind of haltered them. So I think that’s the kind of connection. The joy and the giggle of working with Melissa is always a good day.
I’m sure another one of the fun things, or maybe not, is mastering all of the great physical stuff that you get to do as Morgan. Tell me about that. Tell me about becoming Morgan the warrior.
I absolutely love it because it’s one of the things that I am enjoying most about this job that I do, which is learning skills that I never would have learned if it wasn’t for this job. Riding bikes, or shooting guns, or driving cars fast, or learning how to hit people without breaking them. In a particular occasion, I’ve learned to scuba dive and mountain climb and all kinds of different things because the jobs I’ve had to do.
On this one, becoming proficient with the stick, I love it. Partly because I think the stick is just the best and most symbolic weapon for who Morgan is at this particular moment in time, and what his ideology is. Because it’s either something to lean on, or it’s something to beat someone to death with. I think that is exactly symbolic of where Morgan is at this particular moment in time.
So I love it, and I made a deal with the guys, with Steven Ho, who trains me, and with Keith Davis, who is my stunt double. Whenever the stick is being swung, I want it to be me. I don’t want it to be anybody else making me look better than I actually am. I’ve committed to [it]. I’ve been, to a greater or lesser extent, and swinging the stick now not nearly as long as Morgan has. So he’s as good as I am, and apart from if I have to take a heavy fall, or be hit by something, in which case the logistics of insurance, my stunt guy would have to step in.
The rest of the time, when the stick is being swung, I want it to be me, and I want it to be as real as I can make it, and as good as I can make it. That’s an added challenge, and kind of helped me to ground Morgan in the place that he’s trying to be.
And I think, also, the important thing about Morgan and where he is, is that he’s not sure that what he’s saying is absolutely the right thing, and he’s not sure that what he’s saying is something that he can stick to, and I think that’s really important when we’re talking about who Morgan is and where he’s at.
I’ve run into some of your other castmates over the summer, and, of course, nobody can say a word about anything given the Negan cliffhanger. But we know that you’re not on the chopping block.
Do you? There were some people who were betting online that it’s me! I spoke to some of them the other day, and we worked out how it’s going to happen, actually, is that Neegan is standing in front of all of the other guys, and he’s doing the eeny, meeny, miny, moe, and when we get to the end of it, he goes, “Hold on one second,” and he goes to the trailer behind him, and opens the door, and he pulls me out and throws me on the floor and beats me to death. I think that’s where I would put my money if I were you! [Laughs]
What are you looking forward to as far as picking him up again? Especially, he and Carol are now in a bit of a more common ground situation than they have been. What’s intriguing about the new season and Morgan’s place in it for you?
I think, there are two things that I’m very interested in. It’s no secret that Carol and Morgan are going to end up at some point in this upcoming season at The Kingdom, and in the company of King Ezekiel. And I’m interested in, you know, Alexandria was the first place Morgan had to consider, deal with, and possibly worry about other people other than himself for a very long time, since he lost his son. And even before then, all he had to really worry about was his boy.
So he’s not been around people in a while, and when he was at Alexandria, Rick was always there as a buffer, and kind of as a way to both excuse Morgan, protect Morgan, and challenge Morgan. In The Kingdom, Rick’s not there, and Morgan is, to a greater or lesser extent, arriving at the Kingdom as himself, with only himself to operate with. There’s no buffer. So I’m interested in how and what that’s going to do to Morgan.
I’m also interested in what’s going to happen, and what it’s going to take, and what stake everybody will be in, if and when we ever get back together, if and when Rick and Morgan ever meet again, and come across again, and what the situation will be when that happens, because I don’t know, and where their minds will be … and will they both be on the same side? So I’m looking forward to that.
Morgan was one of the very first characters we met, and he’s stuck around this long. Where would you put his odds on surviving to the end of the series?
This is not a show in which anybody can guarantee that they’re going to make it to the end of the series, so I would probably take very high odds that Morgan doesn’t make it to the end of the series. That being said, I’m going to be ducking bullets and avoiding bites for as long as I possibly can, and get as close to the end as I possibly can. The only thing that’s guaranteed in the world of “The Walking Dead” is that everybody dies.
What has being part of this phenomenon — this hugely popular show with this enormously dedicated fanbase – meant to you, first as a player who got to come in and out, and now as a regular?
On one level, when we’re doing the show as we are now, I, to a greater or lesser extent, have to shut out any notions of what this show is out in the world, because, I think, otherwise it would get in the way. We’re not necessarily making the show that’s out there in the world. We’re just doing the scenes and the script that are put in front of us, and we have to protect ourselves and keep focused on that, and not be aware of the show out in the world.
But, at the end of it, and when I meet with the fans, and I come across them, mostly what I feel and mostly what I want to say to them is “thank you,” in all honesty. Not just the kind of general, “Oh, thank you very much for watching the show, you’re so wonderful and great,” all that kind of stuff. It’s that I am very aware of the fact that my history in this show, in the main, is down to the fans.
My existence in this show, in the way that I exist in this show at this moment in time, is almost exclusively down to the fans, and to the fact that, after the first episode, they started to ask the question of where is my character, and when is my character coming back? And the show heard that, and has tried to answer those questions. And the fact that they keep asking, and the fact that they find they have a connection to my character, is, without question, the main reason I’m still around, and I’m very glad of that. So that’s what I would say, really, to the fans.
For a large chunk of it, particularly when we’re making it and when [we’re] filming it, I try to ignore it. But when it comes on, I am staggered by the popularity of this show out in the world, but also I’m very grateful for what the fans, what their commitment to the show has done — not just for the show, but also for me.
“The Walking Dead” Season 7 premieres October 23rd on AMC.