Monday, 3 October 2011

Tom Payne as Leon "Bug Boy" Micheaux in Michael Mann's Luck

One of the extraordinary leaps into the now fashionable "Hollywood TV" has been made in quiet, yet blockbusting style, by British actor Tom Payne. Payne is playing the character Leon "Bug Boy" Micheaux in Michael Mann's forthcoming "Luck" coming to our screens in January. I first came across Tom Payne on TV playing a handsome, popular and self confident high school student, Brett Aspinall, in the UK TV series Waterloo Road (2007-08). He is instantly likable, in the way that you wish he wasn't, because like Justin Timberlake, he is brilliantly talented, has the looks, and can put the two together. Men hate that. I recall seeing him on screen for the first time and the immediate impression was he would be a star of the future. I wasn't alone thinking this. He was named as one of Screen International magazine's stars of tomorrow 2007.

Payne oozes screen presence, and has the confidence in his acting to take you on his journey in character. It is in Payne's  ability to bring you into his interior world that sets him apart and enabled him to impress one of the most discerning character actor directors in the world: Michael Mann. Mann has worked with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Daniel Day Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, James Caan, William Petersen, Brian Cox, Dennis Farina.... the list is long, illustrious and still not finished. More recently, Mann is adding Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte and the new kid on the block: Tom Payne. Except Payne is no kid. When playing Brett in Waterloo Road his real life age was 24, but his character was a 17 year old. It is perhaps his mature, yet youthful appearance that lends strength and certain niche to Payne's offering as an actor. In Luck, he plays the horse jockey Leon and at 5'7" in height he can pull it off. The average height of a horse jockey is said to be 5'6". It is clear that Payne has the specific ingredients Mann was looking for in this anticipated role within Luck.

With Michael Mann's illustrious history of casting, the challenge is certainly on for Payne to impress as he steps onto set with Hoffman and Nolte. We only have a glimpse of Payne playing Leon in the current two versions of the Luck trailers currently released by HBO. We see him walking past the stands looking uncertain (in character) in the first trailer, and then in the second trailer we see him in the gates on horseback about to race. Both clips are enough to see, in my opinion, he has found character. Payne will have discovered Mann's passion for realism and detail, and this would be to Payne's liking, having himself wanted to add detail for his role as football legend George Best - which required more chest hair! Horse racing is a huge learning curve, and Mann's boot camp for learning skill sets required for roles is well known. Future interviews will no doubt reveal the extent of Payne's race training.

Payne didn't just jump from Waterloo Road to Luck. He appeared in a number of other TV movies and appearances. Yet intriguingly, none of these gave him the exposure that Waterloo Road provided him. Waterloo Road, whilst mainstream BBC drama, was high quality and creative. Musical montage sequences gave emotional, indepth edge to it, a style that has since been copied by other TV series. It was quality acting, excellent dialogue and fun. It is not obvious to understand how Payne landed the part in Luck, despite acknowledging his obvious talent. We don't know what golden stepping stone took him there. But what we do know is that he will be a great success. I liked him in Waterloo, and as predicted back then, the world will hear a lot more of Tom Payne, the quiet and serious actor who realizes character is more important than seeking celebrity.

Payne's passion for character acting is found in his other project, a movie which he has recently been filming in Israel: Inheritance. The sensitive tale of an Englishman having a contended love affair with a Palestinian girl.

So watch out for Tom Payne. His fame has been relatively low key. As of next January I reckon he is about to set your screens alight and become wildly famous, meaning we are sure to see him on our screens for a long time to come.