LOS ANGELES – Before starting “Prodigal Son,” actor Tom Payne read every book he could find that would provide insight into the minds of serial killers.

The upshot? “It’s a never-ending riddle,” he says. “It’s never one thing that (triggers the killing). It’s a variety of things. Generally, there’s anger and pain involved.”

In the hit Fox series, Payne plays the son of a serial killer who draws on his knowledge to help the New York Police Department solve crimes and stop killers.

Frequently, he consults with his father (played by Michael Sheen) and discovers more about his own life.

Often, he gets information that helps him better understand why his father – known as The Surgeon – did what he did.

“The human condition is endlessly fascinating,” Payne says. “Everyone is seemingly born as a blank canvas and then ends up being a fully formed person. How much of that is nurture and how much is nature?

“I was in the (series’) writers’ room and they had a book that was literally an encyclopedia of serial killers. You learn there is no common thread. The reason Ted Bundy is so fascinating is he was a well-put-together guy, an attractive man, intelligent and yet he did all these terrible things. It’s an endless riddle.”

Prodigal Son

Tom Payne investigates a mysterious case in "Prodigal Son."

As an actor, Payne says he’s constantly trying to understand the “why” of a character. “With serial killers, there is that time when they do it for the first time. What pushes them over the edge?

“When my character shoots a criminal, does that trigger something in him that moves him onto another?”

While the 36-year-old Brit has had spirited conversations with other actors on the Fox series, he steers clear of Sheen. “It’s helpful to have a dearth of knowledge when I go into scenes with him. Since (Sheen’s character) left the family when I was 10 years old, I didn’t think it would help to have any kind of dialogue.”

Surprise, then, often plays out on Payne’s face.

Key to those scenes: His expressive eyes.

“My eyes have been a big attribute in my career,” he says. “They’ve definitely helped me a lot. Directors like to focus on my eyes.”

Often, Payne says, he’s aware of the way a scene is being shot and adjusts accordingly. “You learn frame sizes and how to manipulate each camera lens to your advantage.

“There’s a lot of soul in your eyes and how you’re thinking about things.”

Tom Payne

There are reasons to smile in an episode of "Prodigal Son," says star Tom Payne.

In Payne’s last series, “The Walking Dead,” he was constantly battling zombies. Because he was surrounded by them throughout the day, he often had zombie dreams when he got home.

Now, he says, “I’m super scared I’m going to get serial killer dreams with this.”

A veteran of serious films and TV series, Payne says drama is easier for him than comedy.

“I’m a bit afraid of comedy,” he says with a smile. “I think it’s hard to be funny. I would need to be well-directed to pull off comedy, I think."

“Prodigal Son” airs at 8 p.m. Mondays on Fox.

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