Known for his solid work in a bevy of high profile supporting roles from ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day’ to “Waterloo Road” to his work in the HBO mini-series ‘Luck,’ Tom Payne has established himself as a young actor on the rise in Hollywood and leaves himself poised become a breakout star in coming year. An incredibly expressive young actor who pours her heart and soul into each and every role, Payne continues to showcase his talent by delivering captivating and highly emotional performances.
Payne’s latest role in “The Physician” teams him with director Philipp Stoelzl (“North Face,” “Young Goethe in Love”). Based on the best-selling novel by Noah Gordon, the film is set in medieval England and Persia, and follows physician Rob Cole played by Tom Payne. Academy Award-winner Ben Kingsley (“Gandhi,” “Schindler’s List,” “Hugo”) stars as Ibn Sina, the “doctor of all doctors,” while Stellan Skarsgård (“The Avengers: Assemble,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) stars as the Barber, Rob’s first mentor.
“The Physician” centers on Rob Cole, who at 9 years old felt the life force slipping from his mother, who could not foresee this terrifying awareness of impending death was a gift. It leads him from the familiar life of 11th-century England to the medical school at Ispahan in Persia. Apprenticed to an itinerant barber-surgeon (Stellan Skarsgaard), it is the dazzling surgery of a Jewish physician, trained by the legendary Persian physician Avicenna (Ben Kingsley), that inspires him to accept his gift and commit his life to healing by studying at Avicenna’s school. The Physician” is a thrilling, adventurous epic between Orient and Occident, a passionate love story, an exciting homage to humanity’s striving for knowledge, and a timeless appeal for tolerance and freedom. “The Physician” hits DVD on October 5th, 2015 from Arrow Films and is not to be missed!
Tom Payne’s brilliant performance in the film has certainly begun to turn the heads of critics and fans alike. Payne will soon be seen playing the lead roles in the feature film “Winter” opposite Tommy Flanagan and Stacy Martin, while last summer he completed filming the lead in the film “DXM” with Sam Neill. Most notably, Tom Payne recently joined the cast of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” for the show’s sixth season as a character named Paul Monroe, also known as “Jesus”.
Jason Price recently caught up with Tom Payne to discuss his journey as an actor, his process for bringing characters to life, his role in “The Physician” and the impact of joining the cast of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
I wanted to start with your early years. What got you into acting and ultimately led to you pursuing it as a career?
Wow! OK! I started acting at school and it was something I really enjoyed doing from a young age. I got involved with school plays to start. I guess I got dragged in because I guess I had a loud voice and I guess I liked to show off a little bit! [laughs] It was something I always enjoyed and, in a naive way, I thought, “Why would I do a job that I wouldn’t enjoy?” This was something I really enjoyed, acting, so it seemed only natural to pursue it. And it worked out! I worked really hard at it and went to drama school after finishing high school. I picked up an agent from there and started working, really. I have been quite fortunate in that way. I have a really good agent and have been given some really great opportunities and things really fell into place from there.
What has had the biggest impact on your work as an actor? What tends to inspire your performances?
I think the attractive thing about acting, for me, was that you could always be who you wanted to be and show different sides of the human. Any time a performance or experience struck me by being able to express myself through the character was really attractive to me. I just wanted to explore different people. I am a very curious person, which might have gotten me in trouble with my girlfriend a few times from staring at people! [laughs] She thought it was slightly odd when we first got together! [laughs] I am just very fascinated by people in general, so it informs a lot of my work and what I do.
Your latest project is a very ambitious film called “The Physician.” How did you get involved with the project and what drew you to the material?
The film had been around for two or three years when it first came to me. It had gone through a few iterations. It is based on a book that is about 900 pages long. It is an epic mini-series actually. The script that first came to me was with a different director and writer. It didn’t quite work in the sense that it had really tried to condense the book down from 900 pages to a three-hour movie and it wasn’t quite pulling together. I auditioned for it at that time and the project went away, as things often do. It fell apart and the director fell out. It came back to me a couple of years later with a different writer and director. What they had done was really take the central concepts of the book and the heart and souls of the characters and made the story a little more basic by not including every single aspect of the book. Obviously, it would be impossible to include every aspect and would make the narrative jumbled. When the film came to me again, it was much more of an off-title story, which still kept a lot of the central conceits of the book. It was really attractive to me and they had done a really good job with paring everything down. For me, it was an amazing opportunity to play this unique hero in this epic saga! It was a very exciting opportunity and I was going to turn it down but I was very daunted by the whole thing, in the beginning. It was three-and-a-half months of working every day, which I hadn’t done in a long time, and it was also a huge responsibility to have an entire movie rest on my shoulders. You like to think you can do it but you never know for sure. You always say yes to it but it is a scary prospect because the movie lives and dies on your performance. In the end, I am very proud of what we did and I think it really worked out well.
As you’ve mentioned, “The Physician” is adapted from a series of books. What did you bring to the character that wasn’t on the written page? Are there parts of your personality that informed the character?
Like I mentioned before, I have a curiosity about me. I think the character in the movie is also a very curious person. He is also a person who doesn’t take no for an answer and will always ask the question, “Why?” He always wants to know why something is the way it is or why things can’t be different. That is quite similar to me because I was quite a difficult child at school! [laughs] I was always questioning the teachers as to why I had to do a certain thing or why this is the case. That is certainly this character, as well. What I really enjoy about the character is that he is a super open person and doesn’t adhere to any certain religious conviction if he feels it is getting in the way of something else and the progression of humanity and what is best for people. It is really nice to play a character who is really pure of heart and doesn’t judge anyone. He doesn’t have any prejudices. He keeps coming up against these walls in the film, which he leaps over each time in the search of truth. It was wonderful to play!
The film features an exceptional cast. What did you pick up from working alongside these seasoned actors?
I was slightly worried when we started because the way I like to work is very open. Obviously, I do all my homework and research but on the day I like to be open to changes and work from my gut. I wasn’t if I could sustain for a whole movie. When we started working in Germany for the British part of the movie, the first four weeks I worked with Stellan Skarsgard. He works in a very similar way. That was a great way to start the movie and it gave me a lot of confidence in the way I was approaching it. To watch another very seasoned actor and someone I had never seen, his approach to performance was incredible. To see how free and open it was gave me a lot of confidence in myself and the way I was approaching it. It was a great way to start. Later on, meeting Ben Kingsley, I saw he works in a different way. That is really my experience with actors. Everyone works in a different way to get to the same end result. You are always learning from every single person you meet and certainly actors who have been around for a long time. There is a reason they have been around for a long time and whatever they are doing is working. It is great because you always pick up different hints and tips from everyone you work with.
Looking back on your career to date, how have you most evolved as an actor?
Like I said, I think every single job affects you in different ways but certainly this job was a big deal because it was my first lead of a movie. That was definitely a sign post for any actor’s career, if you are given the opportunity to do that. I think each big break has been interesting to me. My first movie was “Miss Pettigrew” with Frances McDormand and Amy Adams. That was a big deal for me to work with seasoned actors who really know what they are doing. To even be hired on that job was a big thing to me! Then to come to America and work with HBO, Michael Mann and Dustin Hoffman on “Luck” was incredible. There have definitely been big leaps in progression for me. Each project has been very different, which is also a wonderful learning experience where I play very different characters. There isn’t one big step but more of a process of little steps each time but there can be big leaps, as well.
You mentioned research and doing your homework when it comes to each project. For a film such as “The Physician,” what goes into building the character?
The best thing you can do is the research on the circumstances in which the character was brought up and the time in which they lived. Fundamentally, everyone is just a human being at the end of the day with the same thoughts and emotions and are shaped by circumstance. What I like to do is as much research as I can on the circumstances of each person and who they were brought up and then on the day work with the script. I think you find a lot in the script. Your character is the script, really, and you find how you relate to the other characters and how they relate to you. That tells you a lot about how you exist in that world. For “The Physician,” we sat down and worked on every single scene with the director, Philipp Stolzl, before we ever stepped foot on the set. That was very helpful because you go in absolutely prepared. Really, it all goes back to the script and making sure it is all real and truthful.
You made headlines recently with the announcement you would be joining the cast of “The Walking Dead.” How exciting is it for you to become a part of that family?
Yeah! It is amazing and very exciting! That is another big signpost in my career right now. I have to say, I didn’t really know what I was getting into! [laughs] I didn’t know what I was auditioning for and it turned into being this big role. It is nice that I didn’t know what it was going to be at first. Everyone has been just lovely, cast and crew. It is a big family and everyone has been very supportive, which is great because you don’t realize how big the show is until you become a part of it. That story got picked up all over the world and it was kind of amazing! Everyone keeps telling me that it is going to be crazy, my life will change and that kind of stuff! I’m like, [in a slightly nervous voice] “Uh, OK?” [laughs] I think I am old enough now and have been around long enough to be somewhat prepared for that! We will see! [laughs]
We have been fortunate to talk to several members of the cast through the years. One recurring theme is how challenging the set and location can be. Do you find that to be true as well?
Well, I have been working 16 hour days, which is pretty intense but I think that is what bands everyone together as well and why it is such a lovely cast and crew. There is no room for anyone to be anything but nice because everyone is working their absolute hardest to make the show the best that it can be. That really shows on the screen. Working in the heat of Atlanta is not easy! Also, working amongst the bugs isn’t easy! [laughs] You have this kind of siege mentality where you are like, “OK, we are going to make it through this!” Really, it is the fabric of the show. The South definitely adds a lot and is another character in the whole thing. It definitely helps you get into character, as well.
Where do you see yourself headed next? You have plenty of irons in the fire at the moment but what are you anxious to tackle as a young actor?
It is certainly nice being on the show and I have no idea how long I will be on the show but it is nice to have that as a base now. I have worked in America before but that show didn’t last very long. “The Walking Dead” has a huge following, so it is nice to have that as a calling card. There are some very interesting independent films now. I would love to continue to find some good characters to explore. When I did “The Physician,” I was at a weird stage in my life where I had been very driven to be the lead in a movie. Once I had been the lead in a movie, I felt like I had achieved my goal but, “What do I do next?” So, the last few years have been a little bit strange for me because I haven’t really known what I want to do next. I didn’t know I wanted to be where I am right now but it seems to be exactly the right place for me. I like things to discover me really, so any good scripts or parts that turn up, I could see myself pursuing. We will see! [laugh]
You seem to be soaking it all in!
What’s the best lesson we can take away from your journey as an artist to date?
You have to trust your gut every single time! With the job that I just got, “The Walking Dead,” I was about to move back to England. I had three months rent in my account and my visa ran out at the end of November and I thought, “Maybe I need to re-evaluate now.” I hadn’t worked in a year and I had turned some stuff down. I’m glad I did but at that point you are like, “Ah, I could be comfortable off now but I wouldn’t be happy.” Every time it has been, “No, this isn’t the right decisio.” and then the right thing comes along! My advice to anyone in any profession would be to always follow your gut!
Solid advice, Tom! It is clearly serving you well! Thanks so much for your time today. We wish you continued success and can’t wait to see where your journey takes you!
Thank you, Jason! Great to speak with you. Take care!
Arrow Films will release the DVD of drama epic “The Physician” based on the best-selling novel by Noah Gordon, starring Tom Payne, Stellan Skarsgård and Sir Ben Kingsley, on Monday, October 5th, 2015.