'Luck': Tom Payne Talks Common Sense About Playing a Tall Jockey
At five-foot-seven, British actor Tom Payne, who plays Cajun jockey Leon Micheaux in HBO's Sunday-night Thoroughbred-racing drama "Luck," is a couple inches shorter than the average U.K. man, but according to the Jockey Club, the average height for a Thoroughbred jockey is five-foot-four, and the weight is about 112 pounds.
But ultimately, it's the pounds that matter a lot more than the inches, since jockeys are weighed before races, not measured.
"It has nothing to do with height," says Payne, talking over breakfast in a West Hollywood restaurant. "The more height, the harder it is. The criticisms have been that I was too tall. You just have more trouble keeping your weight down. It's all about the weight. But it's terrible.
"I went down to Louisiana and met five-foot-seven jockeys, and they have much more of a struggle. In talking to them, this is exactly what the character is going through."
In meeting jockeys, Payne also learned that they may be smaller than many athletes, but they are not to be taken lightly -- on or off the track.
"Jockeys are very sexual as well," he says. "They're very sexually aggressive. They want to win everything, and sex is a part of it. I would never want to get in a fight with a jockey. They are just compact, all muscle. Also, because of whatever else they're doing in order to keep in shape, they can be a little crazy, depending what time of day it is.
"Also, sweatsuits. There's no other way around it, I had to wear the thing. It's just this plastic suit. I would get to the end of the scene, pull off the plastic, and it would just pour out of my suit. I'd go around doing this running scene, and it would just pour out."
A newcomer to Los Angeles, where the 29-year-old now lives with his girlfriend, Payne makes his first big splash in American television in "Luck," which filmed largely on location at the Santa Anita Racetrack near L.A. That's a tall order for any overseas actor, made taller by being in a series created by David Milch ("NYPD Blue," "Deadwood") and directed by the Michael Mann ("Miami Vice," "Heat").
"I was doing a different accent," he says, "being directed by Michael Mann, on the back of a Thoroughbred, in the biggest job of my life, on a racetrack, and it was very stressful. But I developed this strategy of just being able to, between action and cut, stuff it all down into the deepest pit of my stomach and being able to forget all of it and do it. Then it was 'Cut,' and it was like, 'OK, this is really stressful.'
"But we worked it out, and it worked quite well. Horses are so cinematic and so great. The show really managed to capture the essence of the track.
"You really feel, when you watch it, you learn something. You will come away having learned something and been brought into the world and what it is, rather than just being a bystander, like you would be in you went to the track for a day. You're getting a real look inside what it's like. It's brilliant."
And, you get to see what most people never witness, the world of the backstretch.
"Which is a whole other world that you wouldn't even know existed," says Payne. "Just the people, the backgrounds -- when we first went to the track, when I first started doing the show, you stood there, and you went, 'Of course, you'd do a television show about this. All of human life is here.' It's amazing."
By the way, Payne comes to breakfast wearing one of those knit caps that actors seem to like so much. Late in the meal, he pulls it off and ruffles a hand through his dark hair, which, despite being stuck under a cap for the better part of an hour, flops perfectly over his forehead.
Combining that with his acting ability, HCTV predicts he'll have a great future in American TV, where, as we all know, it's all about the hair. ;)
Missed some "Luck"? Here's the story so far: