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How ‘Billy the Kid’ star Tom Blyth played a ‘charismatic killer’

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Tom Blyth, who stars in the Epix origin story series ‘Billy the Kid’, is British – but he knew all about the notorious Wild West outlaw/gunslinger before he landed the role.

“I was a huge Western fan growing up. I knew his caption, I had seen his picture. I knew him as an iconic name. But I hadn’t done a deep read,” said Blyth, 27 , who is based in Brooklyn.

“Billy the Kid,” which premiered Sunday, April 24 on Epix, was created by Michael Hirst (“Vikings”). It’s an adventure series set primarily in the 1870s and depicts a dramatized version of Billy’s life, starting from his humble roots as the son of Irish immigrants living in New York who decide to seek more opportunities in the West.

“When you’re told you’re playing this historical figure, you kind of feel responsible for doing the right thing and speaking their whole truth,” said Blyth, who is also known for HBO’s “The Gilded Age.” .

Tom Blyth as Billy the Kid in “Billy the Kid”.
Chris Large/Epic
Billy the Kid “Tom Blyth” isn’t just an Epix series killer about his life.
Chris Large/Epic

“But for someone like Billy, there’s no video footage of him, no recordings, I can’t go and learn his voice. But what I can do is read so much on him as possible and then interpret and build something from scratch as he speaks to me from beyond the grave, so to speak.

In the series, Billy’s family discovers that life in the West is not the land of opportunity as they were told in New York. Billy endures years of hardship, including losing his family to drug use after grueling work for low pay and harsh living conditions.

“A lot of who we think he is is based on him being an outlaw and a killer,” Blyth said. “But in the script, he’s a fully formed human being who plays music and is a flirt and a charismatic person. I was like, ‘I thought he was this rugged outlaw?’ But, you dig deeper into the story, and all the accounts of him describe him as a multitude of things, besides being a killer, ultimately But he started as a young boy who was raised by a woman well with incredible values, at a time when it was difficult to be morally sound, because most people were only fighting for survival.

Billy (Tom Blyth) in jail at
Billy (Tom Blyth) before one of his many prison escapes in ‘Billy the Kid’.
Chris Large/Epic
Tom Blyth on horseback.
Tom Blyth as Billy on horseback in “Billy the Kid”.
Chris Large/Epic

Billy (who is believed to have killed at least eight people, escaped prison several times, and was shot and killed aged 21 in 1881) loved his devout Catholic mother, Kathleen McCarty (Eileen O’Higgins). In the show, circumstances cause him to turn away from a legal life; as he encounters corrupt authorities, he sees that trying to make an honest living sends the rest of his family into misery and the first graves, and he befriends robber and gang leader Jesse Evans ( Daniel Webber, “The Punisher”).

“I had two weeks of quarantine when I first arrived in Calgary [where the series was filmed]so i spent this time with a practice gun on Zoom with my stunt double, practicing [drawing and twirling the gun]”, Blyth said. “On set, you want to be able to not think about it and just pull it out, like it’s second nature.

“But the beauty is that in the show, we see Billy learn those skills in real time. We see him grow as a person and as an outlaw, and I have to grow with him. As I learned to twirl the gun, Billy was learning to twirl the gun. [horses], Billy was learning to ride a horse. It gives it that granularity and authenticity.

Tom Blyth on horseback in a field.
Tom Blyth learned to ride a horse for his starring role in ‘Billy the Kid’.
Chris Large/Epic

In addition to reading history books, Blyth said he also took a road trip through New Mexico and Arizona, visiting places that were part of Billy’s life, including Silver City and Fort Sumner.

“I just tried to follow in his footsteps as best I could,” he said. “Even though I thought it was a research question, I think part of it for me was actually almost like asking permission from his spirit, his legend, his myth – whatever you want to say. ‘ call. Just kind of say, ‘Okay, I’m doing this.’ It was a pilgrimage, almost – to cement that I honored it and to make it tangible.

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