To celebrate the Oct. 22 Season 8 premiere of The Walking Dead — the series’ 100th episode — Yahoo TV will be posting a new TWD-related story everyday through the season opener.
Lennie James has been on Walking Dead fans’ radar ever since the first season of the long-running AMC drama. The English actor turned a few sporadic guest appearances as outbreak survivor Morgan Jones into a permanent role on the hit post-apocalyptic series, and he has become a favorite among Walker Stalkers. But even diehard fans may not know these 10 facts about Lennie James.
1. He spent nearly eight years in foster care after the death of his mother.
This is a sad one, and we really hate to start with it, but the death of James’s mother when he was a young boy had a profound effect on him. In an interview with The Independent, James revealed that his mother’s death changed him forever and that his greatest regret is not getting to know her as an adult. “I was 10, and my brother and I went to live in a children’s home,” he said. “Having shared a home with my mum and brother, I found myself sharing a house with 18 other children.” James was later adopted by his foster parent, but his late mother remains a touchstone for everything he does. “At all times her voice is there with me,” he said.
2. His favorite TV show of all time is Hill Street Blues.
Lennie James frequently talks about his love for the ‘80s police procedural. He told Slate: “My favorite television show of all time is Hill Street Blues. I think it’s the show that is to television what Pele was to football or Muhammad Ali was to boxing. All the great shows owe a lot to Hill Street Blues.” James also told The Guardian that he considers the long-running NBC drama “the best TV program there has ever been, bar none. Virtually every single show, everyone, owes it all to Hill Street Blues, whether it knows it or not,” he said.
3. TWD is not the first post-apocalyptic drama he has starred in.
Years before he walked among the undead on TWD, James starred in the post-apocalyptic drama Jericho, playing Robert Hawkins. James told Slate he was initially nervous about taking on the role on the CBS series. “When I first came out to the States to work on Jericho, that was the only time that I’ve ever been frightened about a job, because in America they tell stories over such a long time, and I was petrified that I’d get bored,” the actor revealed. “I spent a lot of time in the writers’ room trying to make sure that whatever stuff they came up with would keep me interested.”
4. He has an unexpected talent, thanks to his three daughters.
After raising three daughters (Romy and twins Celine and Georgia), James became an expert at styling girls’ hair. “I’ve got three daughters and until they were old enough to fight me off, I used to plait and corn-row and braid and comb,” he told UK’s Express. While his daughters are in their 20s now, James revealed that when they were growing up he did the whole lot: “Washing, moisturizing, plaiting in different styles — bespoke, of course. I can do braids, extensions, cane-row, zig-zags … shall I go on?” he said.
5. His childhood nickname came from a nursery rhyme.
James told Express he was nicknamed Bunting when he was growing up, as in the nursery rhyme “Cry Baby Bunting.” “My older brother Kester didn’t like it when I cried as a baby, so that’s what he used to call me,” he revealed.
6. As a child, he was obsessed with the Six Million Dollar Man and Daredevil.
James has always had a soft spot for supermen. He told The Guardian he was “obsessed” with the Six Million Dollar Man when he was growing up. “I had the action figure and I’d jump and run in slow motion,” he revealed. In addition, the future actor spent a lot of time pretending to be blind superhero Daredevil. “I spent hours walking around my house — in fact, the whole neighborhood — with my eyes closed, trying to increase my senses,” James told The Independent.
7. His weakness is red wine.
James loves to cook (he’s his family’s primary chef), but he admits his biggest weakness is red wine. “I live in California and there is some really good Napa Valley wine,” he told Express. “I’m partial to malbec and a blended wine called Cocobon.”
8. He previously aspired to be a pro rugby player.
Before acting, James was on track for a career as a pro rugby player. But his career aspirations were sidelined when “one particular girl with fine assets” turned his head. “She was going to spend the whole summer doing this thing called ‘a play.’ I was, like, if she goes away for the whole summer, somebody else is going to get next to her,” he once said, according to News OK. James followed his dreamgirl to the audition but could only get in the room if he tried out, so he did — and he got the part. Lennie James eventually went on to study at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
9. He used to work for Britain’s social security office.
Early in his career, James worked a “proper” paying job with the government’s social security office, while moonlighting with a theater company. The actor revealed that when his boss tried to send him away for three weeks while he was rehearsing for a play, he knew he couldn’t go so he made the decision to quit the 9 to 5 world and forge head on into acting.
10. He is an accomplished playwright and screenwriter.
James wrote the 2000 TV movie Storm Damage, the autobiographical story of a mentor who goes back to the foster home he left to help teens there. The TV drama was nominated for a British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series. “If I’d written 20 scripts, this would be the important one, because almost everything the film’s about actually happened,” he told The Guardian of his most personal piece of work. James also wrote the 2004 play The Sons of Charlie Paora, which opened at London Royal Court Theatre.
The Walking Dead Season 8 premieres Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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