The first character to crossover from The Walking Dead, how Morgan will depart his buddy Rick Grimes and bump into Madison Clark's crew is still under wraps.
However, we spent some time in the Texas sun with Lennie to find out how he’s feeling about the next chapter in Morgan’s story, the differences between the two shows and potential new spin-offs. Anyone for Walking Dead Paris?
When was the idea of you joining the show floated? How did you find out?
At the beginning of every season we have a sit-down with Scott Gimple on the other show. And you sit down with him and he tells you what the arc of the season is going to be, and what your character’s arc is going to be – and mostly you don’t listen to anything he’s saying because you just want to know whether or not you’re going to die!
And by the time you get to the end of it and you’re not dying, you have to get him to repeat everything he’s said because you genuinely are listening. So I had that. We did it a bit later, actually, than we usually do because I was already in Atlanta when I had that conversation with him. And then a couple of days later he phoned me up and said ‘listen, I forgot to talk to you about something, and would you come back?’
So, I drove back to his house – thinking he’d forgotten to tell me that I’m dying, and I got there, sat down and he said ‘by the way – this is not a conversation about you dying’, and I thought, ‘oh, thank God for that!’ – and he said, ‘it’s much weirder than that’.
What was your first reaction?
There was a lot to take on board – because it wasn’t a ‘this is going to happen’, it genuinely was ‘what do you think about it?’ There was absolutely a choice – it wasn’t like it’s me, or if it’s not Morgan then it might be somebody else – it was like, ‘we’re thinking of doing this thing, and if you’re really not up for it, then we’ll go in a completely different direction’.
What would have happened if you’d said no?
They would have gone in a completely different direction!
They might have killed you on The Walking Dead!
You know, I don’t know if that was or wasn’t a possibility. The character’s already gone in the comic books, so I was already on borrowed time. But it was a genuine choice, and I took a while to consider it, because it wasn’t just about was it good for me as an actor, there was also the questions of was it good for me to continue playing the role, was there anything more I had to do with him or could get to do with him, was it right for the character as well?
I’m very protective of Morgan as a character, very protective of his role in the Walking Dead legacy – and was it right for him? Is he the right guy to be doing this crossover circus thing? And all of those things, I had to have a serious conversation with myself about – and in the end, it’s a unique opportunity.
When it was mooted to me, I really wanted to speak to someone who’d gone through the experience, but I just couldn’t think of anybody. But I did recognise it’s a very unique opportunity I’ve been given, to explore this character that I’ve got to know well and put him in a very new and different environment with new and different people, but essentially with him still being himself and being able to explore him at a slightly different pace, and with vastly different possibilities.
How does it compare to working on The Walking Dead?
I had six days between the end of one and the beginning of the other – so at this stage I think all comparisons are unfair. And one show I’d been connected to, on and off, for eight years – and three years very much ‘on’ – and this one, we’re only months into it. Also, this show has gone through a change – it’s everybody’s first time in Austin. So, I’m resisting all comparisons – because it’s like comparing a new girlfriend to your mum!
Has it been a fairly seamless change for you? Other than the change of city, has it been easy to fit in to the new cast?
Yeah, the good thing about it was it wasn’t just me coming in, new. So Garret came in, and Jenna came in, and Maggie came in, so other people were going through that experience. But also as a whole group, it’s a new experience for the existing cast members and the new cast members, so we’ve all been dealing with – to a greater or lesser extent – the same things. It’s a predominantly new crew, as well, so we’ve all been dealing with that. And everyone’s pulling in the right direction, so it’s been weird, but it’s been a giggle.
What about the fan reaction to the crossover? Did you look at that, are you excited about how they’ll react?
It’s very weird, because I don’t have a social media presence at all. I just don’t to it. It’s not because I’m a luddite, it’s just not my thing. But I do meet fans at conventions and stuff, so I didn’t even know about the crossover until fans started turning up in front of me and going, ‘so, they’re doing this crossover thing?’ And I was going, ‘what crossover thing?’ And it ran the gamut of people going ‘it had better not be you!’ to people going ‘Is it you? Is it going to be you?’ – and I could, in all honesty at that stage, go ‘I’ve got no idea – I don’t even know what you guys are talking about!’
The reactions now have been all the ones you’d expect – some people are excited about it, just as many people have worries about it. Some people are very pissed off that I’m not going to be in the other show and other people are kind of excited about me being here, so it’s kind of run the gamut. To be honest, none of those possibilities, or any of those reactions have influenced my decision. I can’t really take those on board, I have to make decisions based on the reasons I spoke about earlier.
What about Morgan’s journey? He’s had a huge one in The Walking Dead, what can we expect from him on this show?
I know he’s still going to be ‘travelling the path’, but he’s still doing it very much as this is now who he is. The story’s no longer being told in reference to ‘Morgan as friend of Rick’, it’s no longer being told in reference to ‘is he a Kingdomer? Is he an Alexandrian, or is he a Hilltopper?’ It is very much now that he is the man that you meet. One of the things that excited me about it, and one of the things I said to Andrew and Ian our new showrunners, and to Scott, is that I want to be as surprised about what happens to Morgan as the audience.
I want him finding himself in situations and facing challenges that we haven’t seen him go through before. I want – both as an actor and for the character – for him to discover things about himself that he doesn’t already know. I don’t want him to go, ‘you know that situation? It reminded me of that time when I reached into that man’s belly and pulled his guts out’. So, I know this – I want him to be challenged in different ways, and surprising ways.
You’ve been with Morgan for eight years. Does his evolution as a character keep surprising you?
One of the things I’ve loved about playing Morgan is that I did the first episode, and then I was gone for two years – then I did a single episode and then was gone for two years, and then I did another single episode – so within that span, which was five seasons, I did three episodes. And each time I came back, I had to make the link of who he was when you met him, and who he had been before.
So from the first episode to when I came back in season three he was suddenly a completely crazed man, and I had to bring all of his history to bear at the moment where you meet him. That was a great writing exercise for Scott [Gimple] – that was the first time I came across Scott, and he started taking responsibility for Morgan as a character.
So for an actor, that was great, because each time I had to bring his history and whole story, without sitting there and telling you bit-by-bit what had happened to him.
There's a key line from Morgan in the trailer, 'I lose people and then I lose myself'. Is that significant?
If you know Morgan, you know exactly what that’s talking about, you know exactly the points of reference, you know it from his history, you know it’s about his wife, that’s about his son, and that’s about him going cray-cray in the town and killing everything that moves!
Did you imagine when you did episode one of The Walking Dead you'd still be playing this character eight years later
When I first came to America, the idea of being associated with a character for as long as… I literally would have said to you, ‘if that happens, please put a bullet in my head, because I’ve sold my soul!’ But it really, genuinely, doesn’t feel like that.
Back home where we come from – traditionally we do six episodes, eight at a push, so when I first came here and did my first ever show for CBS, Jericho, and everyone was talking about if we’re really lucky we’ll get thirteen episodes, and then we can pray for the back nine, and I’m going *makes flabbergasted face* 'nine MORE?” – because thirteen was already twice as long as I’d ever played a character – 'there’s going to be NINE more? You’re having a laugh, aren’t you?' Now I get it and it kind of makes sense. The world of television has changed. I mean, 13 episodes now is as typical back home as it is here.
So Scott Gimple is in charge of the whole universe, now?
Yeah, he’s Yoda.
Is he planning on expanding it? If there was a third show, would you cross over to that, too?
Yeah, I could be the character who keeps crossing over – it’d be like my Quantum Leap!
Maybe there could be a show simply called Walking, and it’s just you in it….
…or just Dead! Yeah, just Walking Morgan…
The show could go international…
I think that might be interesting, if the next incarnation is a different country. I think it warrants that, because so far this telling of the story has been very much in North America. I think it’d be very interesting to take it elsewhere.
One of my favourite episodes from the last season of Fear the Walking dead was Ruben Blades’ episode, which was all Spanish – I was like, ‘let’s do that! That looks kind of cool!’ – and I just thought that the pacing that it brought to the telling of the story and the different tone that it brought, the different way it caused it to be shot just simply by location and language, was really interesting.
Even though they were in the same place that the English-speaking cast were, that change brought a real different kind of sensibility to it – and then, just spin it off everywhere! Walking Dead Paris! I’d go to Paris….
Fear the Walking Dead is coming back for its fourth season on Monday, April 23rd at 9pm on AMC – exclusive to BT customers.
Watch AMC on BT TV channel 332/381 HD and BT Sport pack customers can watch on Sky Guide channel 192.
AMC is one of 60 premium channels available on BT TV along with other channels such as E!, Comedy Central, National Geographic and many more.
The channel is the home of shows including The Terror, Snatch, Halt and Catch Fire and Ride with Norman Reedus.