Tom Payne reveals his trepidation about fan reactions on social media and making Norman Reedus look silly
Tom Payne, the newest addition to The Walking Dead‘s ever-changing cast, spoke to Variety about being on the show and his popular graphic novel character come to life on screen, Jesus. Fans of the graphic novel know his real name to be Paul Monroe, but from the episode “The Next World,” he introduces himself as Paul Rovia (probably to avoid any confusion and to disassociate any kind of relation to Deanna Monroe and her family.)
Read on as he discusses his first time going on social media after his first appearance on the show, on the lighter-toned episode, and the approach of his character.
Have you ventured onto social media since the episode aired to check out people’s reactions to Jesus?
I did last night, yeah – it was pretty fun. I was a bit scared to; you’re always apprehensive – there are a lot of people to please and the fans are very intense and very particular about what they want to see, so I was a little bit worried about it. When I started, I realized that it’s such a warm fanbase for the show – everyone is really nice and they just want the best thing, and I had a really, really lovely response and I’m super happy with that. People have been messaging me since they found out that I got cast like, “hope you don’t screw this up!” and I’m like “oh my god, I really hope I didn’t as well!” You want to do the best that you can and you know that certain things will have changed from the comic book and what people know, and you just hope that fans will be accepting of that and they really have been.
I think we really got the essence of how he should come across as a person. There’s more to come next week, but this is more of a fun introduction which, after you watch the episode, if you thought about what he did in the episode and how he handled himself, there’s a lot of information there, actually. I was saying to Scott Gimple that I don’t think he’s unconscious in the car… at the point when they caught up to him, I think, he’s made a decision that he’s interested in these guys and he’s gonna check out where they come from. Even when he’s running away from them in the field, he’s still trying to figure out how he can get back to where they come from, but obviously he was also on top of the truck. I loved that moment in the show when Norman’s like, “I think that dude’s on the roof,” it was really funny. The way that it was played out worked really well. The fans are a big part of the show – you talk to them during the show and after the show and apparently for the rest of my life now – they’re a big part of it, and I’m really happy that they seemed to enjoy it.
Yeah. There definitely was… I was a little bit apprehensive of making Norman look silly. [Laughs.] Like, “oh my god, this is going to be a bit awkward.” I’m coming in and running rings around these guys… that was a little bit weird, because behind the scenes you’re the new guy coming in and messing around, and also, I’d arrived at a point in the show where they’d said goodbye to a lot of people, and that episode was [Tovah Feldshuh’s last] episode as well, so you come in at a time when things are moving behind the scenes. As an actor that was a little bit like, “Hiiii, I’m the new guy!” I’m trying to make a good impression and do the best job that I can as well, but it was really fun. And tonally, it was a bit difficult because yeah, the show is not an out-and-out comedy, so to come in and have those scenes was interesting. But it’s such a gift, like, “wow, they’re giving me this introduction as this character which is a totally new tone for the show,” and what an amazing way to come in because you’re going to make even more of an impression, so it was a lot of fun to do. I’m just glad that it worked and that people liked it – it was the perfect introduction.
I love that Jesus shows up as this man of mystery and manages to get the jump on Rick and Daryl several times, but you mentioned that feeling of trepidation about making Norman look silly, and when there’s a newcomer being introduced and almost outclassing these beloved characters, there’s always an inherent risk that the fans could turn on you. Was that a concern that you and Scott Gimple talked about — how far you could take his showboating without losing the audience’s goodwill?
Yeah… We didn’t talk specifically about not making Norman and Andy look stupid [laughs] but we did talk about who the character is and how he should come across. He has the line “I think you know I’m not a bad guy,” and I think at this point in the world, you’ve met people who you know are bad guys straight away, and they will screw you over. I could’ve just shot Daryl and Rick at the gas station and stolen the truck – but I did this whole thing, I bumped into them and made up a story and didn’t really dump them in it. I’m like, “these guys know how to handle themselves, they’ll be okay.” And then especially after they ran after me, “they’re more than okay; they really know what they’re doing.” So at that point it’s like, “okay, I’m going to go and check out where they come from.” Yes, I was lying to them, but they were definitely lying to me too. Jesus is a very clever guy and he sizes people up – if you’ve survived this long, then you’ve got something about you, and he’s met enough people in the world that you can very quickly size people up and know what they’re about. And he saves Daryl – he shot the zombie in the face, and that was nice; I enjoyed the progression of those characters, and Andrew looking after me and saying “he didn’t pull a weapon on you and he didn’t shoot you,” and even then, Daryl wants to put me up a tree…
Read the rest of the interview on Variety