Fear the Walking Dead: Lennie James on Making His Directorial Debut in Season 6 Episode 2
Morgan actor Lennie James tells Den of Geek what it was like directing an episode of Fear the Walking Dead for the first time.
This Fear the Walking Dead article contains spoilers.
Following one of the most infuriating cliffhangers in Fear the Walking Dead history, last Sunday’s season 6 premiere, “The End Is the Beginning,” finally confirmed that fan-favorite character Morgan Jones is alive and well(ish). Following an epic showdown with a no-nonsense bounty hunter with an affinity for big axes and baked beans, Morgan finds himself reinvigorated and dead-set on liberating his people from Virginia’s group of murderous trailblazers.
While the second episode of season 6 won’t feature Morgan in the flesh, it will mark the directorial debut of Lennie James himself. Back in February, Den of Geek visited the Fear the Walking Dead set in Austin, Texas to watch him work behind the camera. After a long, rainy day of shooting, he was kind enough to trudge through the mud over to the press tent to answer a few questions about what the new season has in store and what it’s like sitting in the show’s director’s chair for the first time.
“It’s all such a massive learning curve,” James says. “And the amazing thing about it is, for as long as I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing, I haven’t had many days where I’m doing stuff that I’ve never done before. Every single day, since I was in prep and directing, it has been a day where I’ve not known how the day’s going to go and I’ve had no expectation of it and every day has been new.”
James has been a staple of the The Walking Dead universe for a decade, but he’s approaching the new directorial role with the humility and gratitude of a true newcomer. When asked how it’s been working with the cast and crew in a new, unfamiliar capacity, he expressed deep gratitude for how warmly they have embraced him as a leader.
“Everybody has been incredibly generous, especially this crew,” James says, motioning to the hard-working crew members bustling around the tent, kicking up mud, efficiently disassembling and moving equipment and craft services to the next filming location. “This crew is amazing. I’m not sure the acting department would be as generous if one of the lighting guys said, ‘I’m going to be an actor.’ I’m not sure we’d be as generous and as open and as helpful as this crew has been to me.”
The episode helmed by James, called “Welcome to the Club,” focuses on Strand (Colman Domingo) and Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey) as they struggle to integrate into Virginia’s settlement (and find a way to escape). Strand, in particular, will be forced to explore some very dark territory as he decides how best to navigate this new situation.
Season 6 of the show is unique in that each episode is designed as a self-contained narrative, like mini-movies focused on just a handful of characters each. It’s a new structural approach for the show, which is no stranger to chopping its stories up in interesting ways, such as the time jumps in season 4.
“It’s fun for the actors because you get to tell a beginning, middle, and end within one episode,” says James of the season’s new story structure. “I tell you, [the show has] become epic again. The way that things play out is going to be on a slightly different timescale. And it’s not going to be what people expect. The writing feeds into the way we’re telling the story where I think [the actors are] finding their feet and finding their strengths. It’s challenging, but it’s fun.”
When asked if he turned to any of his peers for directorial advice, James said that he reached out to two in particular — Domingo himself, who has directed several episodes of the show, and frequent TWD universe director Michael Satrazemis, who has helmed some of the biggest episodes of the franchise ever ever, such as “Start to Finish” and “How it’s Gotta Be.”
“[Those] two were remarkably generous on my first day of shooting,” says James of Domingo and Satrazemis. “Colman wasn’t on set, because we didn’t start with stuff that included him. He sent me a beautiful text. I called him up when as soon as I knew he was in town and said, ‘Can we go and grab a coffee?’ And he said, ‘Absolutely,’ jumped on a Bird [Scooter], and flew over to the local coffee shop. And we sat down and he allowed me to ask any question. There were no stupid questions.
“Mikey [Satrazemis] kind of did exactly the same. Mikey took me out for coffee and we sat down and I asked him one stupid question after another and… Small things, big things, important things. And again, they’ve been incredible mentors and… incredibly generous with their time and with my stupidity.”
You can watch the graciously self-deprecating actor’s Fear the Walking Dead directorial debut this Sunday at 9 pm ET on AMC.
Stay tuned for our interview with Colman Domingo about Strand’s actions in “Welcome to the Club” on Sunday!