Lost actor Harold Perrineau says that he was almost cast as King Ezekiel on The Walking Dead, a role that ultimately went to Khary Payton. In his short time on the series, Ezekiel has become a favorite character of many, and Payton's portrayal has had a lot to do with that. Still, there's no reason to doubt that Perrineau could have pulled off the role as well, as the actor has several memorable entries on his resume already.
Perrineau certainly would have been a much more widely known name to cast as Ezekiel, as the majority of Payton's notable acting work prior to The Walking Dead wasn't in the live action realm. Payton has done voice acting for dozens of animated series and video games, including Metal Gear Solid 4, Justice League Action, and The Lion Guard. Appropriately, Payton's voice has come in quite handy when playing Ezekiel, especially to establish the contrast between the royal front the character puts on for his subjects and his real American accent.
Perrineau is still probably best known for playing Michael Dawson on Lost, but he's also had memorable stints on such series as HBO's Oz, FX's Sons of Anarchy and NBC's sadly short-lived Constantine. Perrineau also played Link in the Matrix sequels, and appeared in the Oscar-nominated drama Zero Dark Thirty. Perrineau recently revealed to ComicBook that he was in talks for the Ezekiel role, although he thinks Payton has done great things with the part. Here's his full quote:
"There was a little bit of a talk about it. For a while there was. I was already doing something and it would've been a big juggle. Not that he's not great! There was just a talk. It was a talk and it didn't go down. I'm really excited for him."
Perrineau was actually rumored to have been cast as Ezekiel prior to the character's TV debut, but this is the first time the actor has confirmed that said rumors had some truth to them. As gracious as Perrineau's above statement is to Payton, he does still admit "it would be fun to have a tiger," referring to Ezkeiel's loyal big cat companion Shiva.
In one respect, it's actually more fitting to Walking Dead tradition that Payton was cast instead of Perrineau. For the most part - Supernatural vet Jeffrey Dean Morgan being one of the most notable exceptions - TWD has avoided casting immediately recognizable names in its main roles. Most of TWD's cast have since become stars due to their work on the show, but people like Andrew Lincoln, Melissa McBride, Jon Bernthal, and Danai Gurira were unlikely to be faces that the masses readily recognized back when they first signed on for Robert Kirkman's apocalyptic tale of survival.
The Walking Dead season 8 airs Sundays on AMC.
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