When Rick Grimes and Paul "Jesus" Rovio finally came into one another's orbit on The Walking Dead last night, their meeting wasn't an especially smooth one. It's safe to say that when one party winds up hog-tied (twice!) and unconscious, that run-in wasn't exactly a success. But for the actors bringing the characters to life, the arrival of Jesus on the AMC hit was a reunion many years in the making.
When E! News got British actor Tom Payne on the phone the morning after his big debut on the series, he revealed that he and Andrew Lincoln share quite an unexpected history. As it turns out, the two go way, way back. "Andy and I—I've known Andy before. We worked on a TV movie together and we're from the same hometown. And, actually, we use the same voice coach," he revealed. "When Andy did the pilot, he did it straight after I did another pilot for a show in America, and we used the same voice coach, so I said, ‘Oh, say hi to Andy for me.' Jessica Drake is still Andy's voice coach, and who I work with on the show now as well, which is amazing."
The reunion between the actors may have been a treat, but Payne revealed that stepping into The Walking Dead in last night's episode—one that was lighter in tone than most episodes that had come before it—wasn't without its difficulties. "For me, that whole thing was disconcerting because you come into a show and you always try and find out what the tone is, you know? But this is a completely different tone from the entire show, so I was a little bit kind of searching for the tone a lot in the beginning...It was kind of tough for me because it's a serious TV show, and then I come in and they chase me around a field," he said, laughing. "So, it was a little bit tough. I think we got it. I was actually gratified to watch it, like, ‘Oh, OK, it worked. It's not too silly.' It's a really lovely introduction. I was very happy with the whole thing because, for me, coming into the show, it's nice to come in and change the energy a little bit, and I really think that's what the character does. He comes in—you know, the episode's called "The Next World"—and he comes in and introduces a whole new thing."
He's also not unaware of the pressure and scrutiny the show faces from its rabid fan base. "I said to myself, ‘Right, I'm not reading social media after tomorrow's episode,'" he told us. "I enjoyed on Talking Dead last night, they did the poll of ‘Do you trust Jesus?' and it was overwhelmingly no. I thought, ‘Oh, that's interesting.' People who read the comic books would know that he's a certain type of person, but maybe not on the TV show, you know?"
"I mean, it's a big pressure just coming in to the biggest show on television in the first place," he continued. "You're also dealing with two separate sets of fans. Like, the last name thing—no one who watches the TV show who doesn't read the comic books knows his last name. So, people who read the comic books go, ‘Oh, his name's Paul Monroe.' But in the show, it's Paul Rovio. And I think that's to not confuse people who watch the show with Deanna and that whole thing. It's just a quick thing. I actually think he'll just be called Jesus for the rest of the time he's on the show. There's little things like that, but I think the comic books fans are over certain aspects of the show that have changed...As long as you have the real sense of the heart of the character, which they're really good at on the show, I think we've got the sense of him. And there's a lot more to come."
One major aspect to Payne's character in the comic books? He's openly gay. When asked whether Jesus' sexuality will make the leap from page to screen, he played coy. "We haven't gotten to that aspect of the character yet, but I think people will be happy," he teased. "The show is not afraid to stick to what keeps it real and keeps it going."
As for where Jesus goes from here, with a long road ahead of him to win over Rick and Daryl's (Norman Reedus) trust, Payne admitted the character isn't without a few more tricks up his sleeve. "He has a plan, obviously. He pretty much got captured on purpose when he got knocked out. He wants to go back," he said. "I was discussing with Scott [Gimple, showrunner,] we were talking about his journey back in the car—I don't think he's knocked out still. I think he was pretending and, on the way back, he was like, ‘I'm gonna check out where these guys come from.' And he gets tied up and he waits around for everyone to go to sleep, and then he does what he wants to do while he's in Alexandria. In the next episode, you'll find out what he was doing before he went to the bedroom. He's found out a lot of stuff, I think."
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.