The Walking Dead and Save Me actor and writer on his return to theatre, why he left to work in the US, and what his mum would think of his career choice

Lennie James has missed being on stage. It is where he started out and it’s still how he measures himself as an actor. But now that he is back in a rehearsal room, he’s got the jitters. “I’m petrified,” he says, a bearded head-and-shoulders on Zoom in a back room of the Old Vic theatre, London, in preparation for his part in Caryl Churchill’s two-hander A Number.

The play, revived from 2002, is set in a near-future world where cloning is widespread and is structured round a series of confrontations between a father and a series of clones of his son. Exploring identity and what it means to be human, James will play the father to Paapa Essiedu’s son. “I’m more scared than I have ever been in my life … I don’t know what made me think it was a good idea but I was very much looking to be challenged, and this play certainly does that.”

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