To celebrate the Oct. 22 Season 8 premiere of The Walking Dead — the series’ 100th episode — Yahoo TV will be posting a new TWD-related story every day through the season opener.
His name is Paul Rovia, but you can call him Jesus. When Tom Payne joined the cast of The Walking Dead back in Season 6, it was a biblical experience for fans of the AMC drama series. Walker Stalkers are fascinated by this Hilltop scavenger whose casual way of mentioning his sexual preference may just be the most low-key coming-out in TV history.
While we’re still getting to know Jesus, there is a lot more to know about Payne too. Here, we bring you five things you should know about this interesting English actor.
1. He scored his TWD role two days after his agent told him about it.
Talk about a whirlwind! Payne booked his part on The Walking Dead after an expedited two-day process. The actor got word of the mystery role and sent in his audition on tape. Two days later, he found out that he got the part, and a few days after, that he was on the TWD set in Atlanta. “It was unexpectedly quick!” Payne told Entertainment Weekly. “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!” Because Payne booked the role with so little time to spare, Jesus’s early beard and long hair were fake. The actor didn’t have much time to prepare for his role, so for his first few episodes, he donned a phony beard and wore hair extensions, according to Screen Rant.
2. He used to be a gymnast.
Payne was excited to get fit for the action-packed role of Jesus, admitting that he used to do gymnastics but hadn’t kept up with it. “I was a gymnast when I was younger but sadly didn’t really keep it up with age,” he told Entertainment Weekly last year. “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.” In an interview with Inc.com, Payne revealed that he has done physical transformations for roles before — he trained to ride horses like a jockey for the HBO series Luck and went down to 130 pounds at one point — but it takes a special kind of training to play Jesus. “The Walking Dead is a different deal,” he said. “I did gymnastics when I was younger, I’m 5-foot-8, I’m springy, I’m the right size to throw myself around … but still, I had to train a lot.” Payne added that he wanted to be able to do all of the things Jesus does without needing a stunt double.
3. He moved from England to L.A. because it was cheaper to live there.
During his early days as an actor, Payne went to one of the top drama schools in England and then attempted to make it in the acting world. “Keep in mind, to me ‘get there’ meant ‘make a living,’” he told Inc.com. “I wasn’t thinking about awards or becoming rich. I just wanted to be able to make my living by working as an actor. That was the goal.” Payne revealed that he eventually decided to relocate to Los Angeles because the cost of living was lower and he was able to stretch his early acting income further between jobs. “Had I stayed in England, I would have had to take at least a few acting jobs just for the money,” Payne said. “Since I’ve been here, I haven’t had to do that. Plus, I was ready for a change of pace and a change of lifestyle. … I love the way America is so aspirational. I really like the attitude that you can be anything you want to be as long as you’re willing to work for it.”
4. He has a pre-TWD connection to leading man Andrew Lincoln.
As proof of just how small the world actually is, Payne crossed paths with series star Andrew Lincoln years before they worked together on the AMC drama. “Andrew Lincoln and I had worked together previously and also shared the same American voice coach,” Payne revealed to EW. “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!” Payne told E! News that he had worked with Lincoln on a TV movie back in the day and that they both still share the same voice coach on TWD.
5. He is not a Downton Abbey fan.
Payne knows what he likes on TV — and what he doesn’t. The actor, who grew up in England, told Elle that he doesn’t like the “lazy” way that shows like Downton Abbey represent his home country and he wouldn’t want to work on that type of series. “Downton Abbey is my worst nightmare,” he said. “I just hate that whole ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ thing, I think it’s really lazy and it doesn’t represent England, it’s this postcard view… It’s just the most boring, soap opera-y, annoying thing — people love it, and that’s fine, but I would have hated it. It’s everything that I try to get away from.”
The Walking Dead Season 8 premieres Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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