Lennie James: Walking Dead’s star calls for debate about gay rights and disabilities

By Rebecca Jones
BBC News Arts correspondent

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Image source, Manuel Harlan
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James also appeared in the original series of Line of Duty, a hit BBC show.

Lennie James of The Walking Dead has suggested that more conversation should take place about how roles are being cast.

In the face of a rising demand for actors to experience the roles they play, he called on the public for more debate in “areas where authenticity is lacking”.

Line of Duty actor, Paapa Essiedu, is currently in rehearsals at London’s Old Vic Theatre for A Number.

James stated to the BBC that he would be 100% open to the discussion of “Why not?” It is imperative that this change takes place.”

He insisted that he was going to “challenge the notion” that some roles should be reserved only for certain actors, so their performances are authentic.

Save Me’s actor, writer, said casting must take place “on a case-by-case basis”. “I don’t believe that blanket statements are true… as then, the character of an actor may change and be slightly different from the one I desire and hope it to be.”

After Dame Maureen Lipman had questioned whether Helen Mirren, a non-Jewish actress, was being cast as Golda Meir (ex-Prime Minister of Israel), in a forthcoming movie, his comments were made.

“The Jewishness in the character is so integral,” stated Dame Maureen, The Jewish Chronicle.

Russell T Davies was a Bafta winner and spoke out about Channel 4 Aids’ drama It’s a Sin. He said that you would not cast an able-bodied actor in a wheelchair or black someone up. We are moving towards joyous places because authenticity is what we need.

Marlee Mattlin was the deaf actress who won an Oscar in 1986 for Children of a Lesser God. She has spoken out also on behalf of the deaf actors.

Last year, she said to The Guardian: “Enough is enough.” “Deafening isn’t a costume. This costume is not authentic, and it insults the community you are portraying. “We exist. We are the deaf actors.”

Others, however, believe that actors should use a nuanced approach to portray a completely different character.

Cate Blanchett is a multi-award winner actress who said, “I will fight until the death to the right to suspend belief and play parts beyond my experience.”

Following her remarks about Dame Helen’s casting comments, Dame Maureen also admitted that it was a complex argument.

She stated, “You would eliminate the entire skill and art of acting if your casting was too narrow.”

James, 56 years old, said he was scared witless by A Number’s role, which is a play that examines the ethics and human cloning.

After a 16 year absence, he is back on the podium.

Essiedu, 31 years old and the first Black actor to perform Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company 2016, will appear alongside him.

Since Essiedu was selected as one of Bafta’s Breakthrough Brits 2018, the pair has been friends. The industry mentors the recipients.

They ask, “Who would you like to meet?” Steven Spielberg can be your friend. Essiedu laughs and says that I thought, “I’ll meet Lennie James.”

James was based in Austin Texas and Essiedu was in London. The pair kept in touch via Zoom and email.

Essiedu explains that it was the first time that they actually got to meet in person on the first day at rehearsals (for A Number).

Covid explained that it was “profoundly disappointing” and that this is because of his explanation.

“I believe we bumped elbows or fists.”

A Number has James playing a father while Essiedu plays his three sons. Essiedu is one of two clones of James.

In 2002, Caryl Churchill wrote this play. It was performed at London’s Royal Court Theatre.

Lyn Gardner of The Guardian described it as an “engrossing sight”, adding that “The success and distress of an evening lies in Churchill’s capacity to raise large moral issues through interstices human encounters.”

She noted that the play was in part an attack against patriarchy but doesn’t provide enough information to address the question of character being determined by social or genetic factors.

Dolly the Sheep is the world’s first mammal that was cloned directly from an adult cell in 1996.

The scientists hoped this scientific experiment would cure debilitating conditions, but it was criticized by critics who feared that it could open the doors to human cloning, design babies, and an unimaginable future.

James says, “The version that we are working with is in the now where there is possibility of cloning, and a little like it is now.”

Dolly was born and countries around the world adopted their own human cloning laws. The UK permits the therapeutic use of embryos cloned from human embryos, but it prohibits reproductive cloning that would create an identical-genetic baby to another person.

Secret revealed?

They didn’t set the limitations on Dolly The Sheep’s process, and who knows where they would have been 20 years later? James asks.

“And the play implies a future and that is where we have it.” We won’t be wearing white space suits or talking to the wall, so we aren’t going to be in them.

Essiedu added: “It’s about personal relationships.” This is about interpersonal relationships.

James stated that while Cloning serves as the “springboard,” A Number is more about the relationship between fathers, and sons.

It’s also a chance to meet up with former colleagues on the UK stage.

James played the role of Tony Gates in Line of Duty. He said that he will be returning home with his co-stars Vicky McClure, Martin Compson, and Adrian Dunbar.

Jed Mercurio’s creator is also in touch. It was originally billed that the series would be ending in the sixth season. But could the series return?

James says, “I believe there is another season to be had.” But if I have just revealed a secret to you, it will be mine.”

From 24 January to 19 March, A Number can be found at the Old Vic.

Source: BBC.com

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