Nabbing a role on The Walking Dead would be a dream for most actors. The hit series is one of the most popular dramas on cable, and its ratings are sure to reach record numbers when the show returns for Season 7. The return of the series will introduce fans to plenty of new faces, but few are as anticipated as Khary Payton who will play Ezekiel. And, in a recent Q&A, the actor took time to talk about how he got the coveted role.
Of course, the actor had to first audition for the role, but Khary said he was not expecting the amount of work which went into the bid. "The audition was five pages long of me talking!" he said.
"It was one of the more substantial auditions I've ever done. I immediately called my agent and manager to find out if I was in the mix for this. Because if I'm not, let me just find a tiny island to go to for a little while so I can get my mind off of it."
Unsurprisingly, AMC did their best to keep Khary in the dark about what role he was auditioning for. However, the actor told Entertainment Weekly he quickly figured out he was trying out for Ezekiel due to his familiarity with Robert Kirkman's comics.
"I feel like I had a connection with this character in a weird way," Payton said. "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."
Given Khary's interest in the role, fans can only imagine how anxious the actor must have been as he waited to hear back from AMC about the role. Khary said it took "about 3 to 4 weeks" of waiting to learn his fate.
"I felt like a guy in a skiing championship," Khary said. "They have all these championship skiers and this one scrub who is okay. Let's have him try out and go first, and he broke the record. You go sit in the clubhouse while we see how these other guys do. I just had to wait to see if any of the other guys were going to go faster than me. They said nobody went faster than you – you get the dreadlocks."
According to AMC, Khary's role is a royal one. The official description for Ezekiel calls him a King. He's touted as an optimistic character who is "not naive to the violence and atrocities of this world." Not even a zombie apocalypse could derail the leader's positive attitude, something that Rick and his group will surely be stunned to discover.
In a recent interview, Khary said that Ezekiel is in "the business of not losing himself to his surroundings." As the leader of a community known as Kingdom, the character's level-headedness is a trait that endears him to his followers. In the comics, Ezekiel's generous nature is what prompts him to help Rick, Alexandria, and the Hilltop communities fight back against Negan and his Saviors who have taken over the area.
The Walking Dead will return for its seventh season October 23 at 9 PM ET on AMC.