The Walking Dead: Tom Payne talks playing Jesus in first interview
From now until our Walking Dead issue hits newsstands on Feb. 11, EW will deliver daily scoops on season 6. Be on the lookout for the #TWDscoops hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, and follow @DaltonRoss for more.
Jesus is coming. The fan-favorite from the Walking Dead comic book also known as Paul Monroe will be making the leap from page to screen in the second half of season 6 (which returns Feb. 14), and Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman has already given fans a preview of the “complete badass.”
That complete badass will be played by English actor Tom Payne, best known to American audiences for playing Leon Micheaux on HBO’s short-lived racetrack drama Luck. We connected with Payne to get his thoughts on joining the show and bringing (the character of) Jesus to life.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the audition process like for you to get this role?
TOM PAYNE: It was unexpectedly quick! I had an audition notice from my agent telling me the fake name of the part with a short description. I knew it was for The Walking Dead but had no idea of what the part would end up being. I submitted the tape on a Wednesday and got the part on Friday. I was in London and they wanted me to come ASAP. So after a very short trip to Sweden to see my girlfriend I then ended up in Atlanta on Monday! A total whirlwind.
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How familiar were you with the show before you got the job?
I obviously knew about the show but had only previously seen the pilot. Andrew Lincoln and I had worked together previously and also shared the same American voice coach. I was finishing with her on the HBO show Luck and the next person she was working with was Andy on the Walking Dead pilot! So I made sure to watch it. Andy and I are actually both from the same place in England and it’s always nice to support your hometown talent!
How much did you know about the character of Jesus going in, and did you read the comics after you got the job or did you decide you just wanted to focus in on the TV version of the character?
It was actually a little tough to start with as I wasn’t sure what approach to the character would work best. I stuck to what I had in the script and discussions I had with [showrunner] Scott Gimple. It was a short period of time to prepare and a lot of information so I had to prioritize. Now I’m totally up to date with the comic books and can’t wait for the new copy each month!
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How do you see this character? How would you describe Jesus?
What I like about him is his control. He is physically and mentally capable, but is careful not to reveal his strengths too quickly. He has the measure of people pretty quickly upon meeting them and is always thinking about the best way to handle any situation he finds himself in. I’m very much looking forward to exploring the character further with the audience. It’s an exciting road ahead.
Jesus has a pretty impressive skill set in terms of defense and attack. How comfortable were you in taking on those physical aspects of the character and did you have to do any training?
I was very excited to get fit again! I was a gymnast when I was younger but sadly didn’t really keep it up with age. I have a gym membership, but that’s always been more about muscle building for roles. With this part, it’s been an amazing opportunity for me to get back into a more dynamic physicality. The training is hard, but I’m loving every minute.
What was the biggest surprise for you about this show once you got down on set in Georgia and started working?
Georgia’s climate! I was lucky to arrive later on in the filming period nearer the end of the summer, but even then it was hot and humid. The show is very physical and it doesn’t take much to build up a sweat. My character isn’t exactly dressed for the heat so I needed to make sure I was drinking a lot of water and resting in the shade when we weren’t filming. The Georgia weather is a big part of the show, I think. The conditions are something that everyone works through and I think it helps bind everyone together. It’s without a doubt the most welcoming cast and crew I’ve worked with and there’s a great sense of camaraderie.