Khary Payton on His ‘Walking Dead’ Audition: “It was one of the more substantial auditions I’ve ever done”

Khary Payton The Walking Dead

“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…” – Khary Payton

In season seven, Khary Payton joins The Walking Dead as Ezekiel, a former zookeeper — who keeps a tiger as a pet –and the leader of a group of survivors known as “The Kingdom. Payton is best known for his voiceover work for series like Teen Titans and The Lion Guard, but he relishes at the opportunity to play in the world of The Walking Dead — though the audition process wasn’t easy. In an interview with, Payton describes the extensive process he went through to join the cast of The Walking Dead.

Considering it was a script for a zombie series, Payton was surprised by the content of the sides he was to read. He reveals, “The audition was five pages long of me talking!”

Despite the challenge, Payton was psyched about the role. He recalls, “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.”

While waiting to hear back, Payton began to notice similarities between himself and Ezekiel. He explains, “I feel like I had a connection with this character in a weird way. 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.”

Because of that, Payton felt extremely anxious while waiting to hear back from producers. He says, “I felt like a guy in a skiing championship. 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.”

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