See, Malcolm is the son of a notorious serial killer, Dr. Martin Whitly (Michael Sheen). His crime — he murdered 23 women — was discovered when Malcolm was only 10 years old. The resulting trauma required that Malcolm change his last name. “There are people out there who would have strong feelings against Martin’s family who might want to hurt them,” says Tom Payne, who plays Malcolm. He also uses restraints while he sleeps due to violent nightmares that crop up.
How violent? Malcolm has tried to throw himself out the window of his Astor Place apartment. “His romantic life has taken a backseat for a long time. Having chains in the bedroom is not conducive to having a girlfriend,” says Payne, 36.
With encouragement from his therapist, Malcolm takes his first steps toward leading a “normal life.” In Monday night’s episode of the series, he bumps into Eve (Molly Griggs), a friend of his unhinged mother, Jessica Whitly (Bellamy Young), and asks her out on a date. Actually, it’s a double date, with NYPD officer JT Tarmel (Frank Harts) and his wife. The Tarmels dare Malcolm to “profile” Eve. It starts out in a lighthearted fashion. Malcolm sees her tattoo and infers how old it is and who she got it with.
Having seen Jessica wave a revolver around in the house, Eve’s not expecting “Little House on the Prairie,” but there’s so much baggage in the Bright house Eve must consider her options carefully.
“Malcolm has learned how to function in the world,” Payne says. “That happened because he was blocking everything out. He came back to New York after quitting the FBI. He went to see his father again. He’s on this quest to figure out serial killers. He wants to think they’re curable. He doesn’t want to believe his dad was always like this. He has great memories of his dad as this wonderful person. They did father-son stuff together.”
‘Having chains in the bedroom is not conducive to having a girlfriend.’
As preparation for the role, Payne listened to the podcast “Happy Face,” which details author Melissa G. Moore’s investigation of her father, Keith Hunter Jesperson, who was known as the “Happy Face” killer. “She goes to meet the son of a woman her father murdered,” Payne says soberly.
Fortunately, Payne’s life is nothing like that of his TV character. The British actor, trained at the Central School of Drama and Speech in London, appeared for several seasons as Paul “Jesus” Rovia on “The Walking Dead” and was living in LA with his fiancée, musician Jennifer Akerman, when he won the lead role on “Prodigal Son.” Their lives changed when the show was picked up for a full season, the first among all-new network shows to do so.
“We didn’t expect to get 22 episodes,” Payne says. He and Akerman were planning to get married in LA, where Payne owns a house. “I said, ‘Let’s get married in New York. I won’t be able to visit any places [to hold the wedding], but we’ve managed to figure it out. We’re getting married in April. We’re getting married here.”
“Prodigal Son” is Payne’s first acting gig in New York. At first, the city reminded him too much of London, where he lived for eight years before moving to California because, he says, “I was kind of over it.” Of his adopted city, he says, “It’s so relentless. The noises and the people and the smells — everything is assaulting you all the time. You have to engage with these big cities in a different way. You’re forced to deal with other people. At the same time, there’s amazing culture and food and drink.”
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