It would be way too easy to use the word "lucky" in describing how British actor Tom Payne was cast in the new HBO hit series Luck. And yet that's how he talks about it: "It was the easiest casting process ever." Payne plays Cajun jockey Leon "Bug Boy" Micheaux in the series, the very definition of "lucky" considering the only states he had visited were New York and California and had only a passing familiarity with horses.
Once he was cast, Tom Payne spent several weeks in Eunice, Louisiana getting to know the Cajun culture. "I spent time with people, grilling out, learning what it's like to come from that area," he recalls. "They thought I was quite amusing." He sampled the local cuisine and particularly enjoyed boudin, a type of sausage that is a specialty of southern Louisiana. When you hear him speak in Luck, you would be hard pressed to believe he was born and reared in southern England. Payne says he worked very hard on the accent. "I have done accents before, and we did study American accents in drama school. But I had to hold back a little bit on the Cajun accent so people can understand me. It doesn't sound American at all."
Nailing the accent of an unfamiliar culture was one thing, but Payne also has to embody a character who grew up in Louisiana and is now a jockey in Southern California. "I didn't just have to become comfortable with horse riding," he says, "because being a jockey is a different discipline. The stirrups are in a different place, there is a tiny saddle, and we ride real racehorses." Luckily, he has not had any spills.
The show revolves around activities at a California racetrack and there is plenty of star power, including Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, Jill Hennessy and Dennis Farina. The show is complicated, the characters move in and out of the story arc, and the photography is stunning. It has just been renewed for a second season and, according to Payne, shooting begins in a few weeks. He couldn't be more delighted to be a part of the ensemble cast. "It never felt like a TV show. We weren't shooting fast, and time is taken to hone it to perfection," Tom Payne says admiringly. "We work with a great group of actors and directors and a great story line. I'm feeling very...(wait for it)...fortunate."
You might recognize Payne from his role in the lovely film Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day with Amy Adams and Frances McDormand. Or from one of the many British TV programs in which he has appeared, including Skins, Miss Marple and Waterloo Road. Or, if you live in Los Angeles, you may have seen him driving around the area with his girlfriend, exploring new places. On the day we spoke, he was making his second visit to Manhattan Beach where he intends to take up surfing.
After many years in London, the 29-year old is happily settling into life in LA. He says, "The weather here is fabulous and people have more of a can-do attitude than in England where they are more cynical." He certainly sounds like a man who is happy, and even his aspiration is low-key: "Ten years from now, I want to be one of those safe guys in movies who people enjoy seeing. Likeability and acceptance are more important than being world famous."