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