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‘Walking Dead’ actor Tom Payne talks training — for the zombie apocalypse

If the dead do rise, will you be ready?

Actor Tom Payne, who plays the role of Paul “Jesus” Rovia on AMC’s megahit “The Walking Dead,” which has its Season 8 premiere Sunday night, believes he may have a fighting chance.

Training to slay zombies for the camera has real-world application.

“If you want to survive the zombie apocalypse,” Payne said, “you need to focus on increasing your stamina.” If you’ve ever seen a show about zombies, there are lot of them, and they just keep coming.

Sure, it’s fictional, but the idea of zombie fighting can be motivating for increasing one’s fitness. Case in point: the popularity of the “Zombies, Run!” app some runners use for motivation. Payne’s motivation is: “I want to do the character justice for his fighting ability.”

Payne explained that most “Walking Dead” characters, both on the show and in the comic book it’s based on, have “scrappy fights. They brawl. It’s really messy.” But “Jesus” is different. “The character is more dynamic and thoughtful about his fighting.”

This partially relates to Payne’s smaller stature. Standing 5 feet 7, , he endeavors to be less brawler, more Bruce Lee.

“I’ve been learning some high kicking and other martial arts stuff because that’s the basis of the character,” Payne said. “I have a new appreciation for how fit martial artists are. There is so much energy being exerted when you fight.”

But one of the things focused on is conservation of energy.

“When you don’t know how to fight you tend to put all your energy into one punch. That will tire you out quickly. You learn to keep energy in reserve and use your body in an efficient manner.”

And the training was important, he said. “It’s a real cardiovascular workout doing the filming. You sweat so much.” Payne said. “I was surprised how much they have us do our own stunts. I kept waiting for the stunt double to come in, and they almost never did.”

Payne did gymnastics when he was younger and had the size and experience for the tumbling the role demands. But he didn’t have a fighting background and needed to learn.

“It was a challenge to see if I could do it. I didn’t want them using a stunt double because it looks better if you can do the fighting moves yourself.”

To learn to fight for the camera, he had to learn to actually fight.

“When learning boxing and martial arts, there wasn’t any fakery in my training. When teaching you the basics of fighting, even though it’s faked for the camera, they teach you to do it for real.”

Payne enjoys having the new skill, but also refers to it as “weird.”

“There was a moment when I felt like it was creeping into my personal life. I’m not an aggressive person in any way, but there have been situations at night with alcohol involved where people are being obnoxious and you feel more capable and it’s very strange. It gives me a different kind of confidence. Learning this skill changes you.”

Perhaps Armageddon is around the corner, and perhaps it isn’t. If the apocalypse is nigh, Payne says, “I feel a little more capable now. I might be able to survive.”


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