Talking With Jesus: 'The Walking Dead' Newbie Tom Payne Shares Everything You Need to Know About Paul Rovia

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  • Tom Payne
    English actor

Warning: Storyline and character spoilers ahead for The Walking Dead TV series and comic book.

Hey, Walking Dead fans: If you were relieved about how great a performance British actor Tom Payne gave in introducing TWD comic book favorite Paul “Jesus” Rovia to the TV series in Sunday’s “The New World” episode, know this: He was even more relieved by the enthusiastic reception from viewers.

“I was so scared to check Twitter after the episode,” Payne tells Yahoo TV. “Then I checked it, and everyone was so nice. I really appreciate that because I’m just trying to do the best job that I can. Everyone respects the show, loves the show so much, that I don’t want to come in and do something which doesn’t honor it. I just want people to know that. I care about it as much they do.”

Related: Catch Up on ‘The Walking Dead’ With Our Recaps

The actor, who auditioned, was cast, and began filming the role all in the span of about a week, is almost certainly going to be a familiar face around the apocalypse for awhile, as Jesus is likely to factor into Rick Grimes and his crew meeting up with a lot of new characters in the last six episodes of Season 6… including, yes, big baddie Negan.

Payne talked to Yahoo TV about whether or not Jesus is a trustworthy character, how the character’s playfulness and sense of humor will continue to play on the show, and about how his impressive skill set belies abilities we haven’t even seen yet.

And as we compare the comic book version of Jesus with what we know about the character from the series so far, we also got Payne to offer an explanation for why Jesus has such bad timing, i.e. what the frick made him decide he had to talk to Rick in the middle of the night, surprising a very naked new supercouple?

In the comics, Jesus gains access to the Alexandria Safe Zone by — rather handily — immobilizing Abraham and Michonne. In “The New World,” he uses Daryl and Rick (also rather easily doing battle with them during an episode-long adventure) to get into Alexandria. But Payne stresses the audience should know TV series Jesus, like TWD comic book Jesus, is not a bad dude:
“I think fundamentally it’s important that you recognize he’s not a bad guy, which he even says in the episode,” Payne tells YahooTV. “I think the way that he is with Rick and Daryl… he could have killed them, but instead, it was a very elaborate thing that he did. He bumped into them and then he told them a bunch of… was he running from zombies, was he not running from zombies? He swiped Rick’s keys… he could have just walked in and killed them both and taken the truck. He didn’t, and then there’s a lot of effort required… he gets tied up and then he’s on top of the truck. What’s he doing? He wants to know where they come from, what they’re about. I think he’s quite impressed by the fact that they ran after him. He’s definitely like, ‘These guys are pretty tenacious, they ran after me to get this truck, so there’s no way that they don’t have a camp.’ At that point, he’s intrigued and wants to find out more.”

Jesus — whose real name in the comics is Paul Monroe — is introduced in issue 91, and he’s responsible for introducing Rick and his group to another nearby community of survivors, known as the Hilltop Colony. While we don’t yet know the specifics of how that will play out on the show, 24 alum Xander Berkeley has been cast as Gregory, the character who’s the Hilltop leader in the comics. So, can we assume TV Jesus will have a role in leading Rick and the Alexandrians to Hilltop?
“It was weird, because Jesus is not necessarily being himself in [that] first episode,” Payne says. “Basically, he’s maybe playing a little bit of a part for the other characters. It was a little bit disconcerting to really root myself in, because [there] wasn’t a huge amount go on. He’s being tricky from the beginning… I have a sense of him. [But] I was a bit worried about it, coming in and meeting these two huge characters in the show. And he comes in and makes Daryl look a bit stupid. There’s all these things I’m doing in the episode — and in real life, as well, I’m Tom, who’s just joined the show — and it’s after a few characters have died. The energy is, the show’s finding its groove again, and me coming in as the new energy. It was nice to be part of that, and to add a new flavor. I think the most important thing was to show that he’s a character who is not bad, and obviously, he might become an important character.”

Related: ‘The Walking Dead’: The Most Romantic (and Bromantic) Moments Ever

In the comic book, Jesus is serious and trustworthy about his commitments. But he approaches post-apocalyptic life with a playful, funny vibe, much like we saw in his series debut, which helped make “The New World” an instant favorite on viewers’ lists of the all-time best TWD episodes:
“Tonally, it was a bit strange, because when you’re on a TV show or a movie, you know what the tone is normally,” says Payne, who shares a voice coach with The Walking Dead co-star and fellow Brit Andy Lincoln. “But obviously this episode is completely different. Jesus is the person who comes in and makes it different. So, ‘Oh, wow… how do I do this now?’ We all worked it out together, and I just went by conversations with Andy [Lincoln] and Norman [Reedus] and Scott [Gimple] and [director] Kari [Skogland], like, ‘Should I make this funny? Should I do this with a smirk?’ And actually, a lot of what they wanted from me was that knowing wink. Underneath everything is a little bit of a sly glance or understanding of, ‘OK, you don’t have a camp? Do I have a camp? I’m not sure.’ Jesus knows who these guys are. He’s a clever guy, and he sizes people up pretty quickly. When he first meets them, he’s interested in them, but not as interested as he is in the truck. Then after they chased him all that way, he’s like, ‘OK, I really want to see where these guys come from. I’m going to run after them now.’ Well, not even run… take a lift on the truck and find out. I love how they really went for the comedy and the tone, because [the previous episode] was so heavy, and this is definitely a new… this is the next world. They really started a new thing with this episode. I’m so happy it came off.”

In both the comic book and the series, Jesus is athletic with great physical skills, including hand-to-hand combat, escape artist abilities, and pickpocketing (hey, it already proved to be valuable with Rick’s keys in “The Next World”). And Payne says there’s more, much more, to be revealed:
“Jesus is a pretty clever guy, and sizes people up pretty quickly, their strengths and weaknesses and if they could help him or if they can’t help him. I love the end of the episode, I think it’s great, because we don’t know: What’s he’s done between getting out of his shackles and being in [Rick and Michonne’s] bedroom? Where’s he been? He might have killed everyone. He might have run around and killed everyone in their sleep. Maybe he’s there because he just wanted to tell Rick that he’s killed everyone,” Payne jokes. “He could have done anything. I love that about him, that he’s still, even though they’ve tied him up, and they’ve done all this stuff, he’s still able to do whatever he wants pretty much. I like that he’s got that mystery about him, that he’s a strong character who seems capable of a lot of stuff. I think we’ve only just started to explore what he is capable of.”

Jesus immediately recognizes Rick Grimes’s abilities and effectiveness as a leader in The Walking Dead comics, and that’s likely to be true in the AMC series, too… and may even explain why he made that oddly-timed visit that interrupted Rick and Michonne’s, um, couple time, at the end of “The Next World”:
“[Jesus] has recognized that Rick is an important character, an important person in the community in Alexandria,” says Payne, who also starred in the short-lived HBO David Milch drama Luck. “There’s no time to waste in the world. He wants to talk to him, and he’s going to talk to him. Where did he come from? What are his motives? He obviously has a situation which he wants to talk to someone about. It’s a high-stakes world, there’s no time to wait, so yeah, he just goes [to Rick’s room] and does it. He does what he thinks needs to be done in the way that he thinks it needs to be done. He was playing a part when he met them, but I think he’s a pretty honest guy emotionally. ‘We all live in this world, and we’re all trying to get by, so let’s talk to each other now as men.’ I think he wants to gain their trust.”

Related: 'The Walking Dead’ Postmortem: Danai Gurira Talks the Show’s New Supercouple

In the comic book, Jesus is gay. On the TV series…
No confirmation from Payne, but TWD creator Robert Kirkman said about the comics character during a Reddit AMA chat in 2014 that, “I want Jesus to be a character where his sexuality is as unimportant as Rick or other heterosexual characters. So we won’t focus on it constantly, and it won’t be the focus of any big storylines for him… but he’ll make it with a dude every now and then… before going out and drop kicking zombies.” If series Jesus is gay, he won’t be the first homosexual on the series, as Aaron and Eric and Tara and Denise are openly gay couples in Alexandria.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.