Prodigal Son is poised to bring former Walking Dead actor Tom Payne to network television in a big way, with none other than Michael Sheen (recently of Good Omens fame) playing his father. The new show definitely isn't a family drama a la This Is Us or A Million Little Things, though, as Michael Sheen's character just so happens to be a serial killer.
After a surprising recasting, Tom Payne plays Malcolm Bright, a brilliant young man with a knack for knowing how killers think due to the fact that his dad, Dr. Martin Whitly, was a prolific serial killer back in the 1990s. Known as "The Surgeon," Whitly's actions alienated him from his son, who nevertheless uses the unique edge that comes with having a serial killer dad to help the NYPD solve crimes and catch killers.
Now, despite the fact that Tom Payne has some experience with fictional killers and death thanks to his time on The Walking Dead, a show revolving around a serial killer and the impact of having such a person in a life requires a different approach. Both he and Michael Sheen shared their inspiration for the series during the Prodigal Son panel at the Summer 2019 TCA press tour. Tom Payne put it this way:
For as much as Prodigal Son has a peculiar premise, arguably more similar to The Blacklist than anything else on television, Tom Payne revealed that there's plenty of material that he was able to use as inspiration for his work on the series. Interestingly, he noted that there were both fictional and real-life cases that he was able to "draw from."
Apparently, Prodigal Son executive producer Sarah Schechter is responsible for putting Tom Payne onto the grim case of the Happy Face Killer, a.k.a. Keith Jesperson, who raped and murdered eight women back in the 1990s. His daughter, Melissa Moore, has publicly spoken about dealing with life when her father is a notorious serial killer.
That case sounds on the money for Tom Payne's character on Prodigal Son. He went on to share his personal reaction to Melissa Moore's case:
Tom Payne's emotional reaction to what he learned about the real-life case of the Happy Face Killer and his daughter suggests strikes me as a good sign about what he'll bring to his character as the series progresses.
Michael Sheen also drew upon a real-life serial killer case for Prodigal Son, but not the same one as Tom Payne. After all, Sheen will be playing a character who has done some very different things than his son, even if his son does have some troubling similarities to his dad.
That Michael Sheen is playing a serial killer for Prodigal Son is definitely a departure from his most recent regular TV role, which was the angel Aziraphale in Good Omens. Sheen explained the real-life serial killer case that was particularly helpful in his Prodigal Son preparation:
The Green River Killer, a.k.a. Gary Leon Ridgeway, is a serial killer initially convicted of 48 murders, which he committed by strangling. Back in 2016, news broke that Michael Sheen had written a screenplay for a crime thriller feature based on the story of the Green River Killer, and was slated to direct and star as the killer as well.
While the feature has not yet released, the research for one project evidently came in very handy for a project Michael Sheen could not have seen coming a few years ago. Based on his comments, viewers shouldn't expect "The Surgeon" to be interchangeable with the Green River Killer, but research on one serial killer is an advantage in playing another, even if the other is fictional.
That said, Michael Sheen did find a documentary about an English serial killer who also happened to be a doctor. Sheen explained:
So, folks who tune in to Prodigal Son on Fox don't have to wonder if the stars did any digging into serial killer psychology to bring their characters to life. Tom Payne and Michael Sheen found their inspiration in different ways, and it should be interesting to see the nuances they're able to bring to their characters for the new series.
Prodigal Son airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. ET on Fox. That's only one of many new and returning shows hitting the airwaves this fall, so be sure to check out our premiere schedule for when you can watch what you want to watch.
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Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel, but will sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation.
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