Interview with Tom Payne of the Upcoming Film MindGamers
By: Haylee Fisher (@haylee_fisher)
Tom Payne has worked on many projects in many different genres – including his most recognizable role as Jesus on The Walking Dead – but never really science fiction. That’s all about to change with his newest film, MindGamers.
MindGamers is deeply rooted in science fiction and explores themes of quantum theory, mind connectivity, and beyond. The film follows a group of brilliant young students who create a wireless neural network with the potential to link every mind on earth via a quantum computer. Capable of transferring motor-skills from one brain to another, they have brought into existence the first shareware for human motor-skills. They freely spread this technology, believing it to be a first step towards a new equality and intellectual freedom. But they soon discover that they themselves are part of a much greater and more sinister experiment, as dark forces emerge that threaten to subvert this network into a means of mass-control.
Payne immersed himself in research for the film and in our recent interview, he discussed what he learned in his studies, how the science fiction in the film may not be so fiction after all, parallels between his MindGamers character and his Walking Dead one, and more.
You have quite the varied resume that includes period pieces, science fiction, horror, and one of my favorite movies in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.
How do you usually go about choosing your roles?
Oh, wow, that’s quite the question. I don’t really. You’re lucky if you get to choose your roles. It’s whatever comes along at that time, you know? It’s really only later on in my career that I’ve made some choices. Mostly the choice has been [to say], “No.” That’s really the only power that you have is to say no to something. You don’t really ever really get to plot your career. That was the sort of the deal with the first movie I ever made, which was a big thing for me. It was what brought me to America and in America I’ve auditioned for many, many, many things, some jobs I really didn’t want to do, but you need to work, you need to make money. So I’ve gone out for everything and it’s whatever works at the end of the day so, yeah, I haven’t really plotted my career but I’ve been fortunate and I’ve definitely said no to some things that have actually not worked out in [a good way.] Like the show has been canceled or the film wasn’t actually very good, but I’ve busted my butt a lot of the time and it’s still worked out.
What was it about MindGamers in particular that drew you in and made you want to be a part of it?
First of all, it’s science fiction. I’m a big fan of science fiction and wanted to do something with that kind of look and that kind of tone, so I found that exciting. Also, it’s incredibly [ambitious.] I didn’t know how they were going to pull this off, what to expect, or how it would turn out, so it was exciting to me to just jump in and do something that is ambitious and try to do something that is a bit different. It’s a group of people who are trying to do something new and different. It doesn’t fit together in a way that a regular movie would and I watched it, I came out of it going, “I don’t know? How is that?” It doesn’t follow a linear [plot] and it jumps around a lot, but it’s definitely something you keep thinking about, so I think it achieves its purpose, really.
Since people will likely most recognize you as Jesus from The Walking Dead, how would you compare him to your character here, Jaxon?
Well in Walking Dead, I have very long hair and a beard. Here I have the opposite hair and no beard! They’re set in different worlds [but yet] the same world. This movie is set not too far into the future. A lot of the science in the movie is what has actually happened already and the movie just took that and the next steps and set it a few years in the future. Actually, I guess Walking Dead is, too! It’s like what could be around the corner. An apocalypse story, and it just happens to be that it’s zombies, but it’s really about how people cope with the end of the world and MindGamers is about messing with science and the dangers of doing so. And I don’t think we’ll ever come to the center of why the apocalypse happened in The Walking Dead, but I think it could be messing with science or natural law.
This movie is pretty heavily rooted in science fiction, exploring themes of quantum theory and mind connection, which I hear you got pretty interested in when doing research for your role…
Yeah, it’s an interesting thing from that part of my life when I took the movie. I had come out of a long-term relationship and I was kind of at that point in my life where I was thinking a lot about life and death and contemplating everything and all the things you go through. I’m not religious but I’d like to believe in a soul and that there’s something else, but not necessarily an afterlife. So it was very interesting to get involved in the world of quantum theory and how you continue to exist and there’s actual science behind it. I found that fascinating. In the movie, lots of things are happening at once and I really like the idea of that – that your energy, which is quantifiable, does pass from one place to another. And I just enjoy the fact that we know there are things that we don’t know. We’re on the precipice of this whole other world and finding out about it. I think in the past, we’ve made up stories about it – you know, the afterlife and all this. I mean, Jesus was a real person I’m sure, but that we basically made up the other stuff. Now, we don’t have to. Now we understand more about things. There are definitely unexplainable things, like, why did we come up with ghosts? I think ghosts are energy and we know that it’s science now, so that’s fascinating to me. And then when I got the movie and was researching it and found out all of these different theories and all of these things that people are actually getting into, I think is something that we need as a people to make ourselves better. It’s a really interesting concept to dive into.
So what was your favorite or the most interesting thing you learned and what of those concepts would you use to encourage others to further explore the subjects?
I don’t know! I think the subject as a whole. It’s daunting, but I think it’s the type of thing explored in the movie. There’s a concept in the movie which my character comes up against and I when I was playing it, I was like, “This is fascinating!” One of the characters kills himself and my character is kinda pissed about it. Like, “Shit, maybe that person knows more than me.” It’s just an interesting concept to me, because in our world that we’re living in right now, obviously if someone kills themself, it’s tragic and awful, and not many people do that to move on to the next level or whatever. But that’s what he does in the movie. He wants to move on to the next stage of existence so he kills himself. But my character, I think, is too cowardly to do it. He’s not fully committed in a way that character is. It freaks me out that someone can be here one day and not the next, everything surrounding the concept of death, but I’d love to understand it more. And I think that is the main thing, for me, in the movie that is really interesting is like, “Wow, there is something.” We continue to exist. It’s not something you’ve made up in your head. Or is it? I don’t know! We don’t know! But that’s what we’re trying to find out and are exploring.
As much as the movie is so strongly sci-fi, I know the filmmakers also sought to make it feel like that world could be real. With technology advancing the way it is, what do you see as the future for mind connectivity technology and the possibility of something like MindGamers actually becoming a reality?
We already shot these two lectures for the premiere on the 28th. Short lectures, like 10 or 15 minutes with these two scientists who work in that field. So for us that’s really cool. They’ve seen the movie and they’re working with this stuff right now. They’re doing this connectivity thing and one of them has invented this thing that you put on your head and it measures your brain waves and it measures what’s happening in the room and it’s going to put it all together in the end. The movie is so close to what’s actually happened and based on science that has actually happened. So I’m excited to see it and I like the way that they’re putting it all together and marketing it. Red Bull is just an astonishing company. I’ve never worked for a company where, like, they just give you money. Like, they’ve dropped people out of space and do this crazy, crazy stuff and now they want to see how we can push the mind. And they just put money into it, which is amazing. I just made the movie and now it’s this whole other thing, which now the makers of the movie are going, “We’ll look back at this and this is when it all happened.” Maybe it will help move science forward. Science sometimes dies because it doesn’t have funding so scientists struggle, but this is going to be a major experiment that happens. So it’s really exciting. For me, it was really nice to meet these two scientists who work in this realm. I’ve been asked previously what I would share [in a mind connectivity experiment] and I’d like to learn more about their job. I think about other people a lot and how they feel and want to help them and I would like to share that because I think if you can put yourself in the shoes of a refugee coming over from Syria or whatever, then that totally flips everything on its head because you’re not thinking about anything else, you’re just thinking about helping another human being who you should help and who is suffering and who I want to connect with. But also, I’ve said that I’d like to be able to paint, or learn a new skill. That would be really cool.
Yeah, I was going to ask if you would be interested in participating in something like that.
Yes, but at the same time, we’ve been asked, “Isn’t this dangerous?” But really, we’re one step away from that with the Internet. The Internet changed everything. I grew up in a world without the Internet and now it’s in every single one of our lives and now it’s there and we’re all connected. For good and bad. These days it manipulates elections and it controls people, in a different way than mass media. With media, there is some kind of control over that. Like the BBC in England or CNN here, it’s kind of controlled. But with the Internet, you can just live in your own little world. So the connectivity thing is a tough one because nefarious people would use it for nefarious things, like put together an army! But I think the Internet has made everything move forward much quicker and connected people’s brains together and it’s just moving everything forward much quicker. So I don’t know where we’re headed, but hopefully it will turn out good.
You mentioned Red Bull, and one of their divisions is the production company behind MindGamers, which surprised me when I learned that.
What makes them the uniquely qualified force to bring MindGamers to life?
I think in a world where no one is taking risks anymore – they’re either low-budget indie films or huge scale superhero movies – Red Bull has the money, first of all, and the vision and can-do attitude of, “Let’s do it, let’s just make this movie,” which doesn’t happen, understandably. I mean, people are scared about taking risks on something, but then think of something like The Matrix. Risks don’t always pay off, but at least they go somewhere. And I think with this movie, it’s a very ambitious movie and I don’t think it would have ever been made in a studio system at all, but Red Bull has the wherewithal to do that. And I think with the premiere we’re having, they’re uniquely qualified in that respect because they’re willing to take risks when we’re in a very risk-averse age.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
Just that it makes them think, which I know it will. That’s what it does, that’s the point of it. Like I did. I’m in the damn thing and I came away going, “Okay, I have to think about that for a second!” Or a bit longer! Which is the whole point. If you come away from the movie going, “Well that was shit,” that’s one thing, but if you come away from the movie going, “I have to think about that for a second,” then it definitely captures you in a way and made you think and I hope it does that.
What did you personally learn in making MindGamers that you will take with you to future projects?
I’m not sure really! I mean, you take away something from everything you make. A lot of it was because I was at that point in my life. It’s funny how that happens. Jobs do come along that fit in and make you think. This job came along and I was thinking about life and death and all you think about during that kind of point in your life. So I think I’d take myself like I took myself from that project and how I was changed from that project. I wouldn’t be able to pick out one single thing, but definitely I developed more.
Yeah, it sounds like you also took on a new hobby of learning about quantum theory!
Yeah, I remember thinking about quantum theory before and obviously it’s a crazy, complicated science, so to be able to have discussions about it now, it really helped me in a sense and gave me more ability and comfort [during the movie].
The MindGamers premiere and live connectivity event are tomorrow, March 28. Check out a trailer below: