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‘Prodigal Son’ Star Tom Payne’s Advice for U.K. Actors to Transfer to the U.S.

Fans might know Tom Payne as Jesus, the bearded, long-haired martial artist on AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Since the British actor’s departure from the show last year, Payne has ditched the facial hair and mane, cleaning up to star on Fox’s new crime drama, “Prodigal Son,” on which he plays a criminal profiler whose father (Michael Sheen) is an infamous serial killer. The actor talks auditioning, getting his UK Equity card, and landing in America.

What has this role as Malcolm Bright on “Prodigal Son” added to your acting skills?
I think, primarily, acting is like working out a muscle; the more you get to do it, the bigger that muscle gets. When you’re leading a television show and you’re working every single day with other brilliant actors, you’re on top of your game. When I was on “The Walking Dead,” I was working with some great actors, but I wasn’t working very much. It wasn’t stretching me very much. Whereas on this show, I’m using every trick that I have and it’s pushing me in so many different directions. And to work with wonderful actors—Bellamy Young, Michael Sheen, and Lou Diamond Phillips, all these people who are really experienced and have all their tricks and their strengths—it’s really fun to get into a room and throw your skills around.

What advice would you give your younger self?
As a younger actor, I would’ve taken advice, but I would’ve still done what I wanted to do. [Laughs] I was pretty individualistic and went out and did my own thing, but then I got stuck in a rut in my career just before “The Walking Dead,” where I had fallen into trying to give the industry what I thought they wanted in auditions and trying to fit into some kind of mold. I had done a movie with Stellan Skarsgård; he had become a bit of a mentor for me, and I went to see him. He brought me back [by saying], “You have to do you. You have to be yourself and you have to try your hardest, but go with the qualities that are you.” After that, I did a test for something and then the second thing was “The Walking Dead.” Just falling back onto my natural strengths and my natural rhythms and not trying to force myself into something else. Ultimately, it’s got to be about trust in yourself. Don’t have too much bravado.

Do you take that mindset into auditions? How else do you prepare?
The industry has changed a lot even since I’ve been doing it. Auditions aren’t as prevalent now. I used to love auditioning. I loved going into the room and meeting casting directors. Most of all, I love being redirected; that’s where I feel like my strengths come into play. I can play the scene any way you want me to play the scene, and I think it’s fun to try scenes in different ways. I’m allergic to coming in with one take on the character. That goes back to my theater training in London. The way that I learned was you spent four weeks rehearsing and figuring things out, and I still carry that with me in my film and TV career. Right up until the minute before action, I’m trying stuff out, and I’m still trying stuff out in the scene.

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Posted by anne on November 8th, 2019
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Prodigal Son

Tom as Malcom

Malcolm Bright, one of the best criminal psychologists around, uses his twisted genius to help the NYPD solve crimes.
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