Interview: Lennie James & Karen David on Their Characters' Journeys in Fear the Walking Dead Season 7

Lennie James and Karen DavidTonight, AMC premieres the seventh season of its series Fear the Walking Dead. At the end of last season, cult leader Teddy (John Glover), set off a nuclear bomb that destroyed everything in the area, leaving everyone to run to safety underground. Morgan, played by Lennie James, and Grace, played by Karen David, ran into the submarine with a murder-suicide pact, but changed their minds upon finding Baby Mo.

During a recent roundtable interview, James and David talked to SciFi Vision about what scenes they have found the most fun. David said that watching James during his fight scenes is a joy. “He does them so well, and just even watching him practice with our amazing stunt team, some of those fun bits, they've been great, and certainly in “Six Hours,” 702, [he] had some kickass moments there.

James enjoys doing those kinds of scenes, but others as well. “On one level, it's an impossible question for me to answer, because Morgan has been on such a ride as a character. He's had so many different incarnations and so many different encounters. The moments of joy and the moments of fun are different and varied and are at different times.”

The actor reminisced about working with Melissa McBride, who plays Carol on the flagship series. “I remember sitting on a log in the woods with Melissa after we were doing a scene and just thinking, ‘I don't know that there's anywhere else I'd rather be at this particular moment in time and doing anything else,’ and that was a huge amount of fun.”

Lennie JamesHe added that a lot of his favorite moments fans don’t get to see, because they are while they are hanging out between takes filming the series.

David also said that the season is “epic,” and there are a lot of amazing effects this time around. “I was so giddy inside, because it is like being on this epic movie film set, and we are we are telling sixteen mini movies throughout this season and delving deeper into each of our characters, which has been so exciting.”

The two also talked to the site about the difficulties in wearing hazmat suits during a lot of the scenes. James talked about how even though the costumes are great, they can get really hot. “Certainly, this season because of when we started, it's in the high 90s feeling like it's in the hundreds, and there's anything from 80 to 100% humidity, and then we're under layers. It is difficult, and it's something that we've had to adapt to; it's something that we've had to learn, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Each of us have different gas masks depending on where we get them from and different types of costumes that are covering parts of our body depending on where we were holed out, which is a real testament to our wardrobe department for coming up with all of those different versions and our prop department. So, basically, we've had to adapt.”

He went on to talk about it being difficult to hear yourself speak in the suits and they would end up screaming.

Thankfully, the suits were later adapted to have cold water pumping under them to help keep them cool.

David talked to SciFi Vision about the challenges in emoting with the mask. “The most challenging for me was…trying to create sometimes these intimate conversations, the very serious conversations you're having with each other, and it's through a mask, and I was always worried that am I physically emoting too much to try and add to the emotional weight of the scene, too. It's such a fine balance, but, yeah, we somehow got through it.” She added that wearing the suits, however, helped with the uncomfortability aspect. “It just added to the reality of what our characters are going through. So, I can't believe I'm saying this, I'm glad that it was that, because you definitely can't hide behind having to deal with all the elements…I wouldn't have it any other way.”

The actors also talked to the site about how they would do in a real apocalypse. James doesn’t think he would fare very well. “I would have been done really early on. The minute the dead started walking, I would have been out of here. I would have been the one running down the road and screaming, ‘The dead are walking! The dead are walking!’ and running into a wall and killing myself. That's pretty much how I see it playing out.”

David felt the same way. “I would have waved my white flag, and that would be it. I don't think I could have [survived]. I'm in constant awe of what Grace and Morgan have to deal with, what everyone on the show, each of the characters have to go through and deal with. I don't know if I would be as strong.”

For more, be sure to read the full interview transcript below and watch Fear the Walking Dead Sundays on AMC or a week early on AMC+.


Zoom Interview

Fear the Walking Dead
Lennie James and Karen David

October 8, 2021


QUESTION:  What did you as actors do to prepare for material that, quite frankly, is probably the darkest that The Walking Dead franchise has put together thus far?

KAREN DAVID:   [laughs] That's a big question.

LENNIE JAMES:   [laughs] Held hands.

KAREN DAVID:   Said a few prayers, hoped for the best.

LENNIE JAMES:   I think like when we prepare for any season, we've both been at this long enough now that what we try to do, particularly with the particular storyline that happens between Morgan and Grace at the start of this season, is to do it justice and to take both what we wanted to add to the scripts and what the scripts were encouraging us to do to the most realistic and logical sense in a post apocalyptic world. What does it mean to lose a child? What does it mean to have a child in not just one apocalypse, but in a double apocalypse? [It] has to be the biggest gamble on hope and a positive sense of what the future might be. And to have that taken away, what real effect would it have on on people regardless of the apocalypse? We had to try our best to do justice to how a mother might feel about that and how a father [might feel], however much removed in Morgan's case, but he's still connected, because it was his dream to father that child. It was his dream to be husband to Grace and father to Athena, and the has a loss, and what that loss looks like and feels like, but how he also supports Grace. So, I think for me anyways, and I believe so for Karen, that what we tried to do was be honest about it.

KAREN DAVID:   Yeah, this was an opportunity for me to explore a different side of Grace. Grace as we know her is this very methodical, factual, kind of pragmatic being, so to see her go on this emotional journey with losing her baby and going through postpartum depression, there was a lot of research. I spent months during the pandemic; going back into season six we had that break, so I had a lot of time to really dig deep and to go on different forums and organizations that provided support for mothers and fathers that were going through infancy loss. Just to hear the stories from these very brave and courageous families who are willing to share their experiences, for me, was so important to infuse into Grace's and Morgan's storyline. So, it was deeply humbling, and as an actor, [it] was really, for lack of a better word, exciting to delve into, especially for Grace.

SCIFI VISION:   What period of the characters has been the most emotionally charged, and what part of the story has been the most fun, for both of you?

Karen DavidKAREN DAVID:   [laughs] I will say this: I think watching Lennie do his fight scenes is an absolute joy to watch, because I know, Lennie, how much you love doing those fight scenes. He does them so well, and just even watching him practice with our amazing stunt team, some of those fun bits, they've been great, and certainly in “Six Hours,” 702, you had some kickass moments there.

LENNIE JAMES:   Yeah, I enjoy that. I mean, on one level it's an impossible question for me to answer, because Morgan has been on such a ride as a character. He's had so many different incarnations and so many different encounters. The moments of joy and the moments of fun are different and varied and are at different times.

I remember sitting on a log in the woods with Melissa [McBride] after we were doing a scene and just thinking, “I don't know that there's anywhere else I'd rather be at this particular moment in time and doing anything else,” and that was a huge amount of fun.

I mean, even when we were shooting 702, the giggles that me and Karen were having at how crazy that episode was and watching the two other actors who were in that with us navigate their way around the characters, they were coming at it new, and just watching how much they gave and how much they contributed, it was a huge amount of fun. A lot of the things that I enjoy are things that the audience to a certain extent are never going to see, because they're hanging out with what was a fantastic crew on The Walking Dead and hanging out with what is a fantastic crew on Fear The Walking Dead. It's just good people, and seeing their baby photos, or one of our firsts, his son was in a big water polo competition the other day, and the whole set was hanging out just trying to figure out and get the bulletins coming back from California about how well or badly his team were doing. It's moments like that where you just kind of go, “I'm in the right place doing the right thing.”

KAREN DAVID:   I think just knowing how epic and how huge the season is for us, knowing how passionate each and every person that's involved [is], it takes a village to create what we've created. I always say this time and again: I'm just in complete awe of what everyone contributes. That certainly resonated in that moment when I was climbing off of the submarine and taking in this new radiated world for the very first time and just seeing Michael Satrazemis at the helm and the smoke bombs going off and the huge fan machines and just taking in the enormity of it and what our incredible set department have created. Because we were shooting during the spring where everything is green and lush, and here we are having to create these amazing sepia tones through special effects and practical use, too, of creating this new reality. I just couldn't believe [it]. I was so giddy inside, because it is like being on this epic movie film set, and we are we are telling sixteen mini movies throughout this season and delving deeper into each of our characters, which has been so exciting.

QUESTION:   Starting with Karen first, from your perspective kind of talk about the bond between Morgan and Grace.

KAREN DAVID:   Both of these two souls, unbeknownst to them at first when they first meet, they have so much in common. They're unified, obviously, in their painful pasts, but they have so much in common in the sense that they put themselves last; they always put everyone else first. They care so deeply for the wellbeing of others. Together, the choices that they make, you have pragmatic Grace versus a very hopeful and optimistic natural born leader in Morgan. And to see the dynamic between the two and how they complement each other, even when at times they might butt heads, especially with Grace being more pragmatic and factual and not led by emotions, but to see the impact that Morgan has had on Grace in her emotional journey and encouraging her to open up and to find new purpose moving forward, allowing herself to live another day and to see another day, I think it's just so beautiful between the two of them. It certainly has played a profound impact on Grace and the decisions that she makes moving forward. So, to see the relationship between the two stressed, strained, slightly fractured at times, it kind of breaks my heart a little. But here are two resilient souls. Whether they realize just how resilient or not they are is one thing, but to see them come together when it truly counts is so beautiful to play out. And Lennie's pretty awesome to work with. We have a lot of fun, and we have a lot of giggles on set. I'm very grateful because Lennie is that type of actor; [he] just elevates the scene, brings out the best in you, and I'm just enjoying every moment that I have. I get to bug him a lot, which I find a lot of fun too.

QUESTION:  What do you say, Lennie?

LENNIE JAMES:   What do I say? She does get to bug me a lot.

KAREN DAVID:   [laughs]

LENNIE JAMES:   When Andrew [Chambliss] and Ian [Goldberg], our showrunners, first came to me and we were talking about the possibility of introducing a love story for Morgan, one of the things I said to them, and we went back and forth over it in drafts of the script, was that Morgan falling in love or even thinking about falling in love I termed as being the scariest thing he has had to face since the apocalypse, that single act, because it is potentially an act of betrayal against Jenny, his wife. It is about him; up until that point, he is the man who lost his wife and son. That's how he has defined himself; that's how he moves forward. That's how he starts every day; that's how he ends every day, and he still wears his wedding ring. That is, in part, the journey of Morgan: what he does, he does because this happened to Jenny. What he does, he does because he couldn't pull the trigger on Jenny, and that cost him his son. Those are the two things that he kind of carried. So, to open up to somebody else is massive for Morgan, and it was huge. And God bless them, the the boys took that on board, and that's where we started this particular love story. And we got really lucky in getting an actress of Karen's abilities to be able to navigate that, because their love story, even for our universe, hasn't been told in a conventional sense. It's been told in things that they do for each other, choices that they make for each other, risks that they take, or things that they accepted. I mean, you don't hear Morgan say, “I love you” to Grace until they're about to put a bullet in their heads. If that's not an example of their love story, then I don't know what it is. So, it has been one of the things I'm [proud of], and there's a lot of things in this universe that I'm proud of with Morgan, but one of the things I'm very, very proud of is the way that we've told this love story and the way that we'll tell this love story going forward.

SCIFI VISION:   This is kind of a strange question. I was just thinking about it as you were talking.

LENNIE JAMES:   I like strange questions! More strange questions!

SCIFI VISION:   You both, obviously, are covered up a lot because of the radiation, and you have the hazmat suits. Can you talk about the difficulties in not only just having something that big and in the way on but not being able to maybe emote as well in that kind of outfit?

Lennie JamesLENNIE JAMES:   Where do we start?

KAREN DAVID:   [laughs] I know. Between the fogging of the lens and...

LENNIE JAMES:   The first thing to say is, and I think we've said it either when the other show is filming in Georgia or Virginia, or when we're filming down here in Austin, is that most days, certainly this season because of when we started, it's in the high 90s feeling like it's in the hundreds, and there's anything from 80 to 100% humidity, and then we're we're under layers. It is difficult, and it's something that we've had to adapt to; it's something that we've had to learn, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Each of us have different gas masks depending on where we get them from and different types of costumes that are covering parts of our body depending on where we were holed out, which is a real testament to our wardrobe department for coming up with all of those different versions and our prop department. So, basically, we've had to adapt. Karen was saying it earlier, but it's very true, when we ourselves first put on the gas mask, the thing that we didn't realize is that in our particular gas mask, it was difficult to hear yourself speak. And because it was difficult to hear yourself speak, you shouted even when someone was standing right next to you, which made our sound department, particularly our sound mixer, it almost made his ears bleed, because we are screaming stuff that normally you would whisper. So, we had to gauge it. So, the early stages of it when we started on 702 was really just kind of figuring it out as we went along. Then, I have to say and thank our UPM, Frank Hildebrand, who okayed it, they got us cooling shirts. So, we have these shirts that go under our costumes that have tubes running along them that they pump cold water through and you plug in, in between takes, and they have ones that you can carry on your way to set, and it's an utter game changer. It made made all the difference, because it just meant you weren't running back to a cooling tent or jumping into the ice truck, and you can hang around and almost act like it was normal. But it was a huge challenge, but this season it was a challenge that I think we rose to, and we figured out.

KAREN DAVID:   Yeah, everything Lennie said, and then the most challenging for me was, like Lennie was saying, trying to create sometimes these intimate conversations, the very serious conversations you're having with each other, and it's through a mask, and I was always worried that am I physically emoting too much to try and add to the emotional weight of the scene, too. It's such a fine balance, but, yeah, we somehow got through it. I'd like to say that I loved being in the hazmat suit, but perhaps on a more positive light as Lennie was saying, it kind of increased the sense of uncomfortability to say the least, the intense misery [laughs] of being in the suit in that kind of heat. But it just added to the reality of what our characters are going through. So, I can't believe I'm saying this, I'm glad that it was that, because you definitely can't hide behind having to deal with all the elements.

LENNIE JAMES:   Yeah, no acting required.

KAREN DAVID:   No, no acting required. Side note: I was looking at a pair of boots recently, and I thought, “Okay, maybe I'll just treat myself to this,” and I thought, “Well, maybe not.” And Sheila was really funny. Our head of hair department said, “Karen, do you remember [the gross scene you did] in 702?”…And I said, “yes.” And she said, “Well, you should get the boots. Treat yourself.” [laughs] “Get the boots.” “I will!” But I wouldn't have it any other way.

QUESTION:  What are you both most excited for fans to experience this season, without spoiling, of course.

LENNIE JAMES:   You go first.

KAREN DAVID:   Me? I was going to say you go first. That's not fair!

LENNIE JAMES:   Yeah, but I said it first so that's the rule now.

KAREN DAVID:   Oh, without giving anything away, I'm most excited for fans to see just how epic each and every episode is, from the cinematography to the sets that our team have created. Just taking in this double apocalypse, as Lennie said before, and the scope of it, I'm just so excited for fans to see [it], because this season is truly much darker.

LENNIE JAMES:   Firstly, I'm looking forward to everyone seeing Colman Domingo's costumes this season, because they are off the chart! I’m just saying that. While everyone else is in a hazmat suit.

And I directed two episodes this season, and I'm really looking forward to the fans seeing those.

QUESTION:  From your character's perspective, kind of your opinion on this, but what keeps them going in this world? I mean, it's just so overwhelming at times. What keeps them going and getting up every day?

LENNIE JAMES:   Wow, what a good question. It's really weird, because I was talking to someone on set the other day, and we were having pretty much this conversation, and they were saying, “I would have been done by now. I would have been out of here.” I'm not sure. I think it was a particularly dark scene and in a dark atmosphere and smoke bombs were going off, and we were painting the sky green, and walkers were coming at us, and it was hot as hell, and he was kind of going, “Is it worth it? Really? That this is your day, to have gone through all of that effort for this?” I think for Morgan, it's the flip side of survivor's guilt. It's kind of survivor's responsibility. He owes it to the people that he's lost to make it, to get through, to justify the journey that's behind him. And that's why he dares to love. That's why he dares to hope, and that's why he dares to take responsibility for a child.

Karen DavidKAREN DAVID:   And I think with Grace, Grace is exhausted. [laughs] Going into season seven, she's in a very dark place with her postpartum depression and having to deal with so much. Loss of self, loss of purpose, loss of identity, she's exhausted…Her idea of finding sanctuary and peace was to be in control of her ending and for Morgan's, because she knew from before, back in season five, the repercussions of what radiation can do, and she saw even in the father of her baby and what he went through, and she did not want to go through that again with Morgan or any of the people that she's grown to care about in the group. So, she definitively wanted to check out at the end of season six. But once again, it's very much Morgan being this lifeline for Grace, pulling her out of the the deep end [and] coming up for air, which is so difficult for her as she navigates literally from moment to moment. That's part of the stages of grief that she's going through. So, her decisions are obviously dictated and guided by her pain, her immense source of pain, but thank goodness for Morgan and for Baby Mo and for the rest of the group who will try to help her step back into the light again and find her purpose again. But otherwise, yeah, she was ready to check out.

SCIFI VISION:  You talk about whether the characters keep going, so I'm just curious: if you were living through a real zombie apocalypse, how do you think you would survive? Would you, or would you give up? And if you could have one character from any of the shows with you, who would it be that you'd want by your side to help you?

LENNIE JAMES:   Wow. I've answered this question before in part. Well, at least half of it, which is how I would survive, and the answer is very easy, really: I wouldn't. I would have been done really early on. The minute the dead started walking, I would have been out of here. I would have been the one running down the road and screaming, “The dead are walking! The dead are walking!" and running into a wall and killing myself. That's pretty much how I see it playing out. And as for which character I would want by my side? I don't know, there's so many of them, really. Just because he's been on my mind a bit just recently, probably Hershel, just because it would be good nights, kind of drinking whiskey, smoking cigars, if there's still any of those left.

KAREN DAVID:   Oh, I'd be the same way. I would have waved my white flag, [laughs] and that would be it. I don't think I could have. I'm in constant awe of what Grace and Morgan have to deal with, what everyone on the show, each of the characters have to go through and deal with. I don't know if I would be as strong. I might pull a Grace. Well, what Grace tried to do in end of season six, and find new life in the afterlife, in the next realm. And character-wise, because it is an obvious choice, I'm so happy, because I love Lennie dearly, so if I had to go through anything, I couldn't think of anyone better than Lennie. And he puts up with me, so he already has experience with that, so that would be good.

LENNIE JAMES:   [laughs]

KAREN DAVID:   And my constant, incessant babbling. But I wish so much that my storylines could have had a little bit more time with the wonderful Garret Dillahunt, Dory. Both Garret and Dory [are] just amazing, and I just would have loved to have had that experience and to have quite meaningful and heartfelt conversations sprinkled with a lot of humor and wisdom too. It would have been just so wonderful. Yeah, I'll never know. Not in this realm.

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