When we first met Payne as Jesus in season 6, he seemed too good to be true — but it was quickly apparent that the man lived up to his nickname with an even hand and kind heart. He helped strengthen the Hilltop community by supporting Maggie (Lauren Cohan), bolstering her confidence to take control and oust the ineffective Gregory (Xander Berkeley) and encouraging the survivors to band together with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the others in order to defeat Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
Ahead of The Walking Dead Season 7’s DVD and Blu-ray release on August 22 and its season 8 premiere on October 22, Rotten Tomatoes caught up with the British actor to find out what he watches on his down time. Plus, he also sheds some light on what’s going to happen when the gang goes to war with Negan in season 8.
I’ve been watching [the HBO documentary miniseries] The Defiant Ones. Lots of stuff I didn’t know about Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre and how they came together. I like stuff that has a bit of history in it and education. Also, in my business, you have to be very positive and open to situations, and it’s fun to watch people who are in similar creative industries and being successful at it. You have to be a certain type of person to be as successful as Jimmy or Dre, so it was cool and inspiring to watch.
True Detective. The first season I still haven’t gotten around to watching because I know it takes a bit of time, so I want to be in the right frame of mind. But it’s definitely something there, waiting for me to watch.
There’s a show out of England, which changed its name when it came over here, called Lovesick. It’s on Netflix. In England, it was called Scrotal Recall. It’s a silly premise but it works really well, about a guy who finds out he has an STD and he has to go through all of the people he has been with in the past and call them. Each episode is based on a call with a different girl and then also what’s going on in his life. It’s very British, first of all, so it’s very nice for me to watch being over here. It’s very British humor and has hysterical moments. I have a friend of mine, Dan Ings, who is one of the leads in it, who lived with me a bit in Los Angeles. He’s just really great in it. Yeah, Lovesick on Netflix, a half hour comedy that’s really fun, silly and great to laugh along to.
The last show I watched because it was so fun, involving, and nostalgic was Stranger Things. I’m excited for the next season of that. I trust them, but I hope they don’t mess what made the first one so special. I do think what made it so special was the nostalgia aspect of the whole thing, the tone. When I was a kid, I was a big X-Files fan, and it has a bit of that in there — The Goonies and all those ’80s things you really liked. I used to watch The Outer Limits as a kid, too. [Stranger Things] just had all these flavors of things I really enjoyed when I was younger.
Kit Bowen for Rotten Tomatoes: In The Walking Dead, how much responsibility did you feel to get the character of Jesus right?
Tom Payne: Quite a lot, actually. The comic book fans were the ones I was most nervous about — for silly reasons, really. I’m not as tall as the guy in the comic books and maybe not as brawny, but they do a little remix on the characters before they come on the show. When he comes into the comic books, he’s kind of a finished character. He comes in and that’s who Jesus is. But what I like is on the show, we’ve definitely seen some growth with the character and who he is to become. From when he first came in to what we are shooting right now there’s a definite progression, which has been really nice to show – to give a bit more depth to the character.
Like being “Hand of the Queen,” so to speak, to Maggie?
Payne: Aha, that’s great! I like that. That’s a role in which [Jesus] feels comfortable. I think things have changed, where he might not necessarily have respected Gregory. I can pretty certainly say he didn’t. That’s a lot of the reason why he’d spend a lot of time outside the walls, going on scouting missions and such. He couldn’t quite stomach Gregory. Now, he’s much more inclined to spend time at the Hilltop and work with Maggie to make the place better. So that’s definitely a comfortable position for him to be in, and he will assist her in any way he can for the good of the community.
What was the atmosphere like on the set when you finally all came together to fight Negan?
Payne: It was amazing. I know Andy [Andrew Lincoln] was super excited and super happy to finally to be taking the fight back. Everyone was. Last season, everyone was all split up, so people are back together, working for a common purpose. So yeah, it’s exciting because last season everyone was so beaten down. It was nice to be on a more positive trajectory, like, “Now we are going to enact our plan.” It was very cool.
What can we expect from Jesus in the next season?
Payne: The war is happening. The war has started. Everyone will take different opinions on different situations that arise during the war. Jesus has a very strong moral compass, moral code, and there are situations that arise and there may be differences of opinion on the best way to go forward. So I think Jesus will be in different situations where he has to stick up for what he believes in.
How will things escalate in season 8?
Payne: The stakes are higher. If you enter into a situation where you’re committing to war, then you recognize that you have to throw everything into it. And that’s what everyone is committed to do. With that comes victories but also losses. As much as we are taking the fight back, there are things that aren’t necessarily going our way. There’s ebbs and flows within the whole situation. War is a very messy and scary thing, but everyone believes so much in what could happen after that they are willing to commit to that. They’ve come this far and they’ve been beaten down so much in the past that they recognize they don’t want to live in a world with Negan’s rules. They’d much rather live in a different place.
It sounds like it’s going to be pretty action-packed right from the start.
Payne: Yeah, the first four episodes — which we were told before we started shooting but we couldn’t believe it — have even more action than the one before. It just gets bigger and bigger. Just from a shooting thing and an acting thing, there was a lot to do. Anyone who thought last season was too hard and maybe stopped watching, just felt like it was too bleak, the advent of season 8, there’s some light. I think people could watch season 7 knowing that 8 is coming. We’re taking the fight back.
And there’s going to be sadness, too?
Payne: Like I said, there are big cheering moments but also big heart-stopping moments. No one is safe, more so in this season than any other season, I think. I’ve always said that’s one of the show’s greatest strengths. There shouldn’t be any golden geese, and it can be anyone at any time. Might be me, might be someone who has been there for years. It’s no fun if everyone is invincible. I know this is a little deep, but I’ve said this about the show for awhile: It’s life, just made more apparent. The real aspect of the show is that death lurks around every corner and it does for us in real life as well. It’s a TV show, but it’s not that far away from life. The job of fantasy is to show you real-life situations that are slightly heightened.
More importantly, when and if you do leave the show, how excited are you to cut your hair?
Payne: [Laughs] Very. Very excited to cut my hair. It’s going to be a lot grayer, I think. When I cut my hair, you’re going to be able to see my gray more. I’ll look completely different. I’ll do it in stages, I think. I don’t want to shock anyone too much.