Thomas Francis Murphy stars as Brion of the Scavengers on The Walking Dead. Tom Murphy has acted in many movies and television shows, plus his theater work, but I recognized first that Brion was the despicable villain Elias Hood from Free State of Jones with Matthew McConaughey. I had such high hopes for Brion, Jadis, and the rest of the Scavengers, right up until the second they double-crossed Rick and the other Survivors. I should have suspected they weren’t quite right when they threw Rick off the garbage mountain with Winslow.
After their betrayal, I’m glad Ezekiel’s Kingdom, along with Shiva, and Maggie and the citizens of the Hilltop showed up in time to help rout the Saviors and Scavengers. Even though I’m glad they retreated, I wish they had not survived to run.
I hope you enjoy Tom’s answers to A Baker’s Dozen of questions as much as I did. He’s had a fascinating life.
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio.
You were a “jack of all trades” in your early life, how did you become an actor?
I had never given acting much thought. I did write, intermittently, however. In my early 30’s I had an idea for a play. So, I took an acting class to get a better idea of how the whole thing worked. At the time, I wanted to know what the actor required of the writer. As an actor, I got a lot of immediate encouragement. Something you don’t get if you’re sitting alone in your room or scribbling on bar napkins.
What was your first acting role?
I wish I could remember the name of the play. But it was at a local Dinner Theatre located in a shopping center next to the Kmart in Little Rock, Arkansas, about the same time I took that first acting class. I played a swash buckling turn of the last century lieutenant. An old guy came up to me after one performance and said, “You were interesting to watch but I would have found you a lot more believable if you were playing Billy the Kid.“ I think he had it about right. It paid a little bit. So, my first job was a professional gig. I found that very intriguing, as well.
How did you get the role of Brion?
I taped a short scene reading the part of Jadis. The nature of this business is that you audition for a lot of roles. Most often you are given a scene not the whole script. Some you think you are right for, others not so much. But you never quite know what the people watching the tapes are actually looking for.
Were you a The Walking Dead fan before getting the role?
Outside of news I don’t watch a great deal of TV. So, I wasn’t really a big fan at the time of my audition, but I have become one since. The sheer level of artistic competence that goes into all aspects of this show is kind of staggering. Seven seasons in and the show continues to gather steam. It continues to surprise. My hat is off to the creators. That’s not an easy thing to pull off. People keep showing up and showing up and doing amazing work. It’s a pleasure to be in that kind of environment.
Did you do anything special to prepare for the role of Brion to help justify why he was part of the Scavengers?
Interesting choice of words. Justify. I got lucky. It happens. You then try to make the best of your good fortune. Like any other role you start with aspects of the character you recognize in yourself. I had a conversation with Scott Gimple, the showrunner, producer, and writer whose creative vision is such a huge part of all things Walking Dead, immediately prior to shooting. He gave me a couple of ideas to run with. You don’t get to see the whole trajectory of a character like you might with a movie script when working on show like this. You have to start with something of a blank slate because you have no idea of where the writers are going to take your character. In my mind, Brion was a bit of an underachiever in the days prior to the outbreak. He is an intelligent guy but was reluctant to put his intelligence into direct competition with others around him. He was under utilized. As awful as this new world order is there is within it an opportunity to come into himself in a new way. It, too, is something of a blank slate. He is an observer. A reader. He likes to know how things work and he can be very flexible in how he chooses to respond to a given set of circumstances. He is a bit of a tinkerer. Whatever the circumstance, he believes anyone’s duty is first and foremost to make themselves useful. He places clarity above passion. He likes to be of use to people who think dispassionately. He sees those qualities in abundance in Jadis. Even when he is uncertain of her thinking he doesn’t waiver in his allegiance and faith in her direction. He has a close working relationship with Jadis but it is not in his nature or experience to presume much on account of it.
Have there been any funny or memorable behind the scene moments on The Walking Dead?
Six seasons into shooting watching Andy pull himself up a hill of trash with total commitment each time was, I have to admit, inspirational.
You have starred in theater, movies, and television. Which do you prefer and why?
Each has its rewards. Each has it challenges. But in theatre you know where the bar is. There is an audience and at the end of the night you know if you have taken them somewhere. If you feel you have risen to the occasion waded into and got the job done, there is great glow afterwards that lasts about an hour and half. Your performance succeeds or fails as a whole exactly as it happened and there is no editor. There is no intermediary. In a film and television you can have moments that seem solid and really good days where you believe you’ve solved the puzzle but you have no idea what it all amounts to until a year or so later.
What has been your favorite acting role?
Once in awhile you have a role where the character becomes so alive to you he is like a member of your family. An imaginary companion. I stopped acting for years until I went back to get a degree in theatre in my early 40’s. I played a character named Geno in a short play called The Author’s Voice. He was written as a troll. Deformed, not easy to look at, and temperamental. I gave him Tourette’s for good measure. But I loved that guy. He was a true innocent.
Do you have any new acting roles in your future?
I’m writing and researching something at the moment. I recently worked on the Netflix production Midhunters and in a movie called The Domestics. I did some work on Jeepers Creepers 3. All are still in post-production.
Is there anyone who has been an inspiration to you in your acting career or life?
Iggy Pop. You gotta love Iggy. Even if you just love the idea of Iggy. Even if you just love his name. Or his energy. I draw inspiration from any artist who continues to evolve over the course of his lifetime. Who keeps showing up and alive to whatever it is he (or she) is doing. Bob Dylan comes to mind. The painter Gerhard Richter. Guys like that. I respect endurance.
Do you have any hobbies or special projects?
Trying to maintain a calm sensibility while I wait for the phone to ring. I meditate.
Is there anything you can tell all us fans about yourself that we don’t know?
The day after completing my high school classes and before graduation, I stuck my thumb out on Interstate 70 headed for California. I had a huge orange backpack and a sleeping bag that was absolutely massive – like a rolled up couch. If I had it to do over, I would have re-thought my luggage and elected to travel a little lighter.
What did I tell you? Fascinating! I love the photo below of Tom. I would have loved to see his performance as Geno in The Author’s Voice. Looking at his marvelous face, I can see the trained Shakespearean actor shining through. I want to see more of Tom as Brion…..if he defects and joins our Survivors. All I can do is wait until October and see what happens when The Walking Dead returns on AMC.