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Black British actor, Lennie James (b. 1965), was in a children’s home and foster care during his childhood. 

James was born in London. He and his brother, Kester, were raised by their single mum, Phyllis Mary James. James felt ostracised as a Black person and child of immigrants from Trinidad.  

I grew up, along with my brother and cousins, as the first generation of my family to be born in the UK; my family are from the West Indies… We called ourselves the ‘Twice as Good Generation’ – in this country you have to be twice as good to get half as far… There were times that as a black person you were shut out of or felt pushed away from certain things (Fragele). 

When James was ten years old, his mother passed away. His most treasured possession is her Bible. 

I owe my mum everything: my sense of right and wrong, my sense of loyalty. Any time I’ve ever been brave, it’s because of my mum (Greenstreet). 

After his mother’s death, James nearly went to live with a relative in the United States. Instead, he was put into a children’s home in Tooting, South London. James remained there until the age of fifteen. James then went into foster care, where he was adopted by his foster mother, Pam, when he was sixteen. 

James aspired to become a footballer as a child. But as his brother was a more talented football player, James decided to play rugby at his all-boys school instead. Although he had no interest in acting, he auditioned for a role n the hopes of spending more time with a girl.   

Lisa was auditioning for a musical that was going to take her away for all of our summer holidays, so I followed her in… The director gave me a part and that’s where I started. She didn’t even get in (Stolworthy). 

James went on to train at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, graduating in 1988. He was also accepted to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art but decided against attending because he would have been the only Black student in his year group. 

While he was studying, James’ foster mother, Pam, set up a children’s home. 

My foster mother wanted to create a family home. For me, she had made a place that I felt I could always go back to, and that was what she was trying to do for these kids. I was about 21 and went back to help – you think that you are going to go in there and change a life. But it was just relentless and you felt like you were riding this wild bull and had to hang on for dear life (Bradbury). 

The funeral of one of the teenagers from the home inspired James to write a screenplay. Storm Damage is a television drama that aired on the BBC in 2000. It is the story of a teacher who returns to a care home to try and make a difference in the lives of young people. The series is dedicated to two young people from the home, a girl who died after sniffing aerosols, and a boy who bled to death in the street. 

Storm Damage won a Royal Television Society award in 2001 and was nominated for a Bafta. The show remains one of the biggest highlights of James’ career.  

The first day I walked onto set for that was probably about as proud of myself as I’ve ever been in my career. I’ve walked onto sets before, but I’d never walked onto a set where everyone is working because of something I created. 

To have all these people come into work on that day because of an idea I worked on in my bedroom just blew me away. It was a very private moment that only I felt, I couldn’t even put words on it at that particular point, but that feeling of ‘look what I did’ was incredible (Fragale).  

James wrote his first play at the age of seventeen. It won a National Youth Theatre competition and was published by Faber. James’ play, The Sons of Charlie Paora, was highly received after opening in London’s Royal Court in 2004.  

James briefly worked in the British government’s social security office before beginning a full-time career as an actor in the 1990s. After his first audition, he was offered the role of Robert Hawkins on Jericho. Some of his other TV credits include Line Of Duty and Save Me.  

James’ breakout role in film was alongside Brad Pitt in Guy Ritchie’s Snatched. He has also starred in 24 Hour Party People, Columbiana, Blade Runner 2049, and Sahara.  

James is best known for his role as Morgan Jones in The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. James appreciates that he had the chance to experience many other things in life before becoming a household name.  

It’s a lot of fun, but this is not the definition of all of me. I know that I was a working actor before all this happened and I’ll be a working actor after. I raised my kids. I paid my mortgage – I’m alright (Stolworthy). 

James recently returned to the stage for a role in Caryl Churchill’s A Number, at the Old Vic Theatre in London. 

James and his wife, actress Giselle Glasman, have three adult daughters. The couple met as teens while rehearsing for a play. They live in London, where James enjoys cooking and spending time with his family.  


Akbar, Arifa. “Lennie James: ‘I wasn’t willing to let somebody else decide what my ambition should be.’” The Guardian, 21 Jan 2022. 

Bradbury, Dominic. “A boy’s own story.” The Guardian, 20 Jan 2000. 

Fragale, Domenique. “I Am No Celebrity: An Interview with the Walking Dead’s Lennie James.” Spotlight, the home of acting. 

Greenstreet, Rosanna. “Lennie James: The love of my life? Tottenham. And my wife.” The Guardian, 29 June 2019. 

Iqbal, Nosheen. “Interview. Line of Duty’s Lennie James: ‘I was 12 when I was first called n-word – by a policeman”. The Guardian, 24 February 2015. 

James, Lennie. “This is no way to be a man’. The Guardian, 8 June 2008. 

Ogunjimi, Olawale. “Inside ‘Walking Dead’ Star Lennie James’ Life, Family and Road to Fame.” Amo Mama, 11 Nov 2020. 

Stolworthy, Jacob. “Fear the Walking Dead’s Lennie James interview: ‘White people need to ask themselves why they’re having this conversation in 2018”. Independent, 26 September 2018. 

Lennie James Biography.” TV Guide. 

Image available here.