As revealed during this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, Ezekiel — and his pet tiger Shiva — are coming to AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Now instead of hiding his involvement from even his family, actor Khary Payton can freely talk about his new role as the eccentric, fan favorite “Walking Dead” character. Entertainment Weekly spoke with Payton about the process of auditioning for the big part, his interactions with visitors to Ezekiel’s Kingdom Carol and Morgan, and acting alongside an animatronic tiger.
“The [audition] process was relatively simple, honestly,” said Payton. “It was essentially a four or five-page monologue that they gave me, so I spent a good 72 hours pretty much by myself cloistered in a cave trying to get everything down. I didn’t audition in front of producers or directors or anything. It was all on tape, so it was just myself and the casting director.”
Payton revealed that he felt a connection with the character, which helped him get inside the self-proclaimed king’s head. “I feel like I had a connection with this character in a weird way,” said Payton. “I always say that when you’re in this acting business, you get a lot of rejection. You get a lot of people telling you no and you’ve got to get up, dust yourself off, and try again, and I feel like in a way Ezekiel fits that same mold where he’s in the hope business. I always say I’m in the hope business… In a zombie apocalypse one can find themselves getting down about their situation, but Ezekiel’s not one of those people. He fights with all he’s got to make sure he stays positive and stays joyful. That’s what I love about him.”
On interacting with series regulars Carol and Morgan, Payton said Ezekiel “sees potential in them. He sees potential in them for understanding his way of living and spreading this gospel of joy and light in a dark situation. I think he considers his Kingdom a lighthouse, and if you use it the right way, it’ll keep you from crashing on the rocks.”
Shiva, Ezekiel’s pet tiger, will be brought to life via animatronics and CG — and Payton says he has no problem working with that. “It’s just another beautiful way that I get to use my imagination. As far as I’m concerned, Shiva’s as real as the people standing next to me — as Morgan or Carol or any of the other people who move among the Kingdom itself. So I really don’t think of it as CG or mechanic. All I know is that she’s real to me. I’ve done a lot of video games where there’s literally nothing standing in front of me. I’ve done, you know, a lot of voiceovers where there’s literally nothing standing in front of me, I’ve got to make it all up, so this is just another situation where my imagination gets to be used in another context, so no matter how good they bring it to life, it’s already alive in my head.”
“The Walking Dead” returns to AMC for its seventh season on October 23.
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