Len­nie finds his crime time

Zom­bie killer goes back to his tele­vi­sion roots with a grip­ping new drama, writes David Med­dows

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

Fear The Walk­ing Dead star Len­nie James ad­mits he drew in­spi­ra­tion from a num­ber of high­pro­file miss­ing child cases — in­clud­ing that of Madeleine McCann — while writ­ing the script for his new Bri­tish crime drama Save Me.

The gritty six-part series which is now screen­ing on BBC First and on de­mand is cen­tred on James’s char­ac­ter Nel­son “Nelly” Rowe and the des­per­ate search for the miss­ing teenage daugh­ter he hasn’t seen for a decade.

Nelly is an al­most-like­able rogue who splits lits his time be­tween his lo­cal pub and the couches of his s friends and in­ter­change­able girl­friends around the hous­ing es­tates of South Lon­don. n.

The search h is ini­tially as much uch about clear­ing g his own name af­ter he is fin­gered as the prime sus­pect as it is about any re­union with his long for­got­ten daugh­ter.

James in­sists there is lit­tle that con­nects the char­ac­ters in Save Me with the McCanns, or the other cases he read up on — such as the dis­ap­pear­ance of 21-month-old Ben Need­ham, who van­ished while on hol­i­day with his Bri­tish par­ents in Greece al­most 30 years ago — but says they helped him un­der­stand how such mys­ter­ies are played out.

“I read the McCann story along with other sto­ries at dif­fer­ent stages to fa­mil­iarise my­self with some of the things said — some­times it was for in­ves­ti­ga­tions into how the po­lice op­er­ate,” he tells In­sider.

James says he was struck by just how quickly in­ves­ti­ga­tions can stall and be put on the cold case pile, forc­ing griev­ing par­ents to keep up the pro­tracted hunt for an­swers.

“Once she isn’t im­me­di­ately found, once there isn’t that ex­pected and dreamt of and wanted happy end­ing, it is lit­er­ally only the peo­ple who wake up and no­tice, be­cause they can’t help but no­tice the ab­sence of that child, who con­tinue that search for her,” he says.

The story he ini­tially had in mind was much dif­fer­ent to the one that has now re­ceived crit­i­cal ac­claim in the UK.

The orig­i­nal idea re­volved around a Spe­cial Branch op­er­a­tive forced to re­tire to care for his daugh­ters af af­ter the d death of his wife. One of the two girls goes miss­ing and the c cen­tral ch char­ac­ter goes to ex­traor ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths — i in get­ting her back. Sound fa­mil­iar? James thought so too.

“Each time I was go­ing through it, it felt like I’d seen it be­fore, it was just a lot like other things that I’d seen and I couldn’t see the writ­ing that made it any dif­fer­ent,” he says.

A com­plete re­think of the cen­tral char­ac­ter and his re­la­tion­ship to his miss­ing daugh­ter was all James needed for the story to flow.

“Rather than mak­ing (the dad) some­one who had, for want of a bet­ter phrase, a ‘cer­tain set of skills’, I de­cided to make him some­one who was ut­terly un­likely, ut­terly ille­quipped, ut­terly emo­tion­ally not in a good place and once I changed it so he was es­tranged from his child, as op­posed to be­ing al­ready in­volved in her life, then it opened up,” he says.

James, was a reg­u­lar on Bri­tish TV screens for years — with roles on shows in­clud­ing po­lice drama Out Of The Blue and BAFTA-nom­i­nated Storm Dam­age — be­fore head­ing to the US in 2000, is cur­rently film­ing Fear The Walk­ing Dead in the Texas city of San An­to­nio.

He be­came the first cross­over from The Walk­ing Dead, where he had played Mor­gan Jones — a role he brought to life in the pi­lot eight years ago.

NOW SCREEN­ING ON BBC FIRST

Len­nie James as Nel­son "Nelly" Rowe in Save Me and (in­set) in Fear The Walk­ing Dead,

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