Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead, "The New World," introduced a fan favorite character from the comics, Paul "Jesus" Monroe, renamed Paul Rovia for the show. Jesus is a mysterious character, both humane — he doesn't kill Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) when he has the opportunity to — and cunning, as he steals the truck full of supplies from right under their noses. He matches Rick and Daryl in badassery, though, and demonstrated his Houdini-like abilities as an escape artist on numerous occasions.
"There's a lot about Jesus we don't know yet, but I think you can tell a lot by how he behaves with Rick and Daryl. He says himself, 'I think you know I'm not a bad guy,'" English actor Tom Payne, who plays Jesus, tells TVGuide.com. "Maybe because he didn't kill them, he's not so bad. But maybe he didn't kill them then because he's going to kill them later. Maybe before he ends up in the bedroom at the end, he's killed everyone in Alexandria. You just don't know. There's a lot of mystery, which obviously is quite enjoyable to play and I think is great for the show — that even at this point, six years in, you can still shake things up and bring in new energy. It's great to be the person who does that."
TVGuide.com spoke with Payne about what fans can expect from the newcomer, which parts of Jesus' identity from the comics will make the jump to the screen, and of course, his fake beard. Check out the Q&A below:
Tom Payne: (Laughs). Yes! It was a lot of pressure, because even without the comic books, you're still stepping into the biggest show on television. People who hold the show dear are watching, saying, "Who's this new person coming in to screw things up?" You just feel like that normally. And especially with this episode, it's a new flavor for the show. It's a whole new tone. It was fun because Andy and Norman were having fun in the episode as well, especially since what just came before was pretty heavy. It was nice for them to go out on their own this episode and have a bit more fun and meet my character and run around in a field.
I didn't have enough time to read the comics or watch the show before I started, so I made a decision at that point that I wasn't going to. I was using too much of my brain for all these other things. But I had long chats with [showrunner] Scott Gimple and Kari [Skogland], the director, about the tone that we were looking to strike and about who this guy is. There's an energy that he brings, and a sensibility he has that's intriguing. We're at a point in this world where if you don't kill someone for a truck of supplies, then you're interesting.
I read in another interview that you had to learn some hand-to-hand combat. What was your training regimen?
Payne: Well, like I said, I didn't have a lot of time to prepare, but luckily I'm relatively physically capable anyway, quite coordinated, so we went through the basics of what we needed for that scene. In that scene, he's not fighting them, really. He's just trying to get away. He's not being overly aggressive. I don't think he's showing all of his cards, either. In the original script, it says he drops down into a horse stance, and we spoke about it and decided we shouldn't give up that he's a super capable fighter. So we worked on evasion techniques. He kicks Andy's character, but not particularly hard. He's just trying to get away from them, really, and he doesn't want to give away what he's capable of. Because in this world, what you keep to yourself is your strength. So we worked on what was necessary for that scene, but maybe in the future you'll see a little bit more from him in that regard. But he only shows as much as he needs to in a single moment. He shows a lot by how he gets out of the ropes both times, and that's a big reveal, how you can't keep him down. He's a pretty tricksy character.
That's one of the big questions after the episode: How did he get up on the truck?
Payne: What, physically?
Yeah, because he was tied up and left behind! How did he get up on the truck without them noticing?
Payne: Well...he just he did. (Laughs). There's no answer to that. What I enjoy about this character is that he always has the upper hand, but you don't recognize it until afterwards. He's a very clever, capable character, and there's a lot of mystery about what he's capable of.
In the comics, Jesus is gay. Is that true on the show as well?
Payne: What I find interesting from the comics is that it's not a big deal. He just is who he is. And I enjoy the fact that in the show, they want to do right by the characters. So, um... you'll find out! What I will say is that the showrunners and everyone who works at the show respect the vision of the characters. I think everyone will be happy.
The beard on the show is not real. Are you working on it now? How's it coming?
Payne: Yeah, dude. Check my Instagram.
Did they ask in your audition if you can grow a big beard?
Payne: No, they didn't, which is kind of funny. But I'm glad that I can, because now if I go back I won't have to wear the fake one. Makeup did an amazing job, but it's very uncomfortable in the Atlanta heat to have stuff glued onto your face. And also it's kind of hard to stay in character when someone is coming in and touching your face between every take. It's a bit distracting. You're just being reminded that you're pretending all the time. So it's definitely better if you can do all that on your own.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
Watch our video with former Walking Dead star Tyler James Williams talking about the time he got bit by a fan.