Interview: Lennie James
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British actor Lennie James is likely best known for his role as Morgan in The Walking Dead but boasts credits in over thirty television shows and over twenty films. Now, he has written and stars in a new show for Sky called Save Me. Save Me is “set in an unlikely place, with an unlikely hero setting off on an impossible journey, and the story is about what he finds out about himself, what he finds out about those close to him, and what he finds out about what it means to be a dad,” James explains of the premise. “And it’s all set across a thriller.” It’s hardly James’ first venture into the world of screenwriting, and it was thanks to one of his past writing endeavours that Sky commissioned this new show. “I got a telephone call from Anne Mensah, who is the Head of Drama at Sky, and she had seen a film that I wrote a few years ago… [and wanted to] find out if I had any other ideas that I might like to write for Sky”. “One part of an idea that I had, of a story I was trying to tell, that kinda jumped out at me, was a story of a man who was distant and separated from his daughter’s life and was brought back into it because that child had been taken away. And that just kept bubbling, and bubbling, and bubbling to me, and in the end, that turned into Save Me,” he explains. One of the show’s defining features, and one that renders it so arresting amongst others in the thriller genre, is its setting; the story is based on a council estate in Lewisham, south-east London, and the characters involved are very much products of their environments. It’s an unusual premise, and one that works. When asked why he had decided to set his show in a housing estate, James’ answer is very straightforward: “Because thrillers aren’t set there”. “It’s a place where, although I didn’t directly grow up there (I grew up in south-west London), it’s a place I knew well because I had family members who lived there, and I hung out there a lot.” “It was an area I was familiar with and that kind of sense of a community that exists around a housing estate that used to have churches, and used to have community centres, and had clubs and all those kinds of things, and everything [then is] whittled away, and the last thing left standing is a communal place, this pub. I wanted to write about that”. Nelly, the show’s protagonist and James’ character, is wholeheartedly a product of this pub, a last-standing remnant of the community. The character of Nelly grew out personal experience and out of Save Me’s premise, in equal parts, as James explains that “he’s kind of based on an amalgamation of a couple people that I know, and part homage, part seeing the only other black face there (speaking on his experience living in a similar environment), and thinking ‘Well, what is that guy’s story?’, and him looking at me thinking, ‘What is that guy’s story?’.”
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