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‘The Walking Dead’ Newest Cast Member Khary Payton Talks About Landing the Role of Ezekiel

This month has been full of AMAZING news for fans of The Walking Dead.  The new trailer, which debuted at SDCC was a tantalizing preview of the upcoming 7th season of the series.  Fans absolutely flipped out to see the first images of a comic book favorite Ezekiel and Shiva!

Entertainment Weekly was lucky enough to chat with Khary Payton, who will be playing the role, in a recent interview.  Payton breaks down the excitement of FINALLY being able to talk about his new, epic role.  Payton tells EW:

“I’m honestly a little freaked out just talking to you. I’ve been diving in the backs of vans and having blankets thrown over my head so that nobody catches a glimpse of me and getting in and out of Georgia. I’ve got a lot of family in Georgia and I didn’t even tell them that I was there, so to have an interview with a reporter is a little unnerving.”

When asked about how he landed the role, Payton explains that he sequestered himself, basically, for 72 hours to get the vibe of the character.  While doing that, he began to feel a true connection with Ezekiel and that made all the difference in his audition tape:

Photo: AMC/Entertainment Weekly
Photo: AMC/Entertainment Weekly

“I feel like I had a connection with this character in a weird way. 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. You’ve got to stay hopeful. You’ve got to get up off your behind and try again no matter how many times they tell you it’s not going to work out. Your opinion’s got to overshadow whatever negativity might come your way. 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.”

Of course, EW had to ask about Shiva, Ezekiel’s pet tiger.  The Walking Dead will be using a mixture of animatronics and graphics to bring the majestic animal to live on the small screen and Patyon discusses just how important of a character Shiva is to the show and most of all, to Ezekiel:

“Shiva is the beginning and the end for Ezekiel. She’s one of the reasons that he didn’t lose hope when this whole thing started. She’s this beautiful unique creature in the middle of this dark, dark time, and so she’s beloved, and she’s also a symbol to him of what it means to be different in the context of the world that you’re living in. It’s like she’s a constant reminder every time he looks at her that there’s beauty in the world. She started off as his protector and now he feels like that relationship is reversed and she’s this giant, powerful symbol that he feels a real kinship with and a need to protect. So she’s kind of the end all, be all for him. I think Shiva’s a really appropriate name for her because she’s hallowed in his eyes. She’s holy in his eyes.”

When asked about his familiarity with the show and why he wanted to audition for the role, Payton explains that, while he’s not familiar with the comics (though, he did check them out after he landed the role), he and his wife do watch the show.  Like many, they binged on the first few seasons and have been hooked ever since. Now, he has the pleasure of being able to be a part of the show and work with the wonderful cast.  Payton explains:

“I really adore the connection that people have with the show. I’m not a big zombie apocalypse guy, but I think the acting and the writing of the show is just exceptional, and the fact that I happen to be working with Lennie James and Melissa McBride on the show — their characters and their performances are two of the things that really kept me watching the show, so it was really wonderful to have those guys as kind of mentors and hosts introducing me to this world.

No word yet on whether or not Payton has been caught in the middle of the famous Lincoln-Reedus prank war but we are sure, at some point, he will get caught in the crossfire!

You can check out the full interview with Khary Payton at Entertainment Weekly.  The Walking Dead will make it’s dramatic and deadly return to AMC on Sunday, October 23rd.

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Denise Caputo

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A self-proclaimed nerd, karaoke junkie, craft beer enthusiast and lover of all things pop culture, Denise enjoys all facets of entertainment from Broadway to box office blockbusters. In her spare time, she enjoys photography, concerts (lots and lots of concerts), volunteering, reading and playing with her rescue kitten, Samantha (who rescued who, right?). Denise currently resides in Long Island, New York and is honored to be a part of the Fan Fest News team!