The actor behind Tom Garvey reflects on his crush on Christine, his search for a father figure, and the frustrations of having only a one-way walkie to his guru.
HBO: From the first, we get a sense that Tom is a deep thinker, complete with a copy of The Stranger. What are your impressions of him?
Chris Zylka: I think Tom is just like every other kid his age. He's at that age where he's looking for himself, but before he can find himself, he has to look for something to look up to. He's trying to find a father figure – in anyone. Whoever has the loudest voice. And he is constantly thinking about everything that has happened, is happening. He's definitely always deep in thought.
HBO: Is Holy Wayne the father figure he's looking for?
Chris Zylka: At this point, there hasn't been a whole lot of proof in the pudding, other than senators feeling relief. And you can get relief through anything if you put your mind to it. I think Tommy's questioning and he knows better than to question out loud, which adds to his being so deep in thought. One thing he definitely does is he thinks before he speaks. Right now, the main thing that is perturbing him is the question that he has about Wayne, and he knows he can't ask.
HBO: Wouldn't it have been simpler to accept Wayne's offers to take the pain away?
Chris Zylka: I think he wants to figure out why he feels burdened before it gets taken away. And he wants to figure it out for himself.
HBO: What's Tom's opinion of Christine?
Chris Zylka: At this point, he does still have a bit of a crush on her. But also, he is curious as to why she is so carefree, why she doesn't seem burdened. He's fascinated by this girl who is able to brush things off, chew on candy all day and not care. It's a phenomenon to him.
HBO: So in Episode 2, Tom does what it takes to protect Christine and flee the ranch. Is he driven by Wayne's instructions or his feelings for her?
Chris Zylka: It's a bit of both. In such a time of despair, he just acts on impulse. He is always so deep in thought, his mind is always racing, and he wants to distract himself from that. By acting on impulse, he keeps himself distracted. He's just trying to figure out his way of dealing with all this.
HBO: Now we find out that Christine is pregnant. Is Tom overwhelmed by these responsibilities?
Chris Zylka: I think it comes as a surprise to him. But it's almost like, Well, they must have known … and I'm in charge. He's their number one. It adds so much more responsibility. You're not just protecting one person, you're protecting two people, and one of them, possibly, is the savior.
HBO: And that means a lot of time by the phone. What does he think about as he's waiting for Wayne to call?
Chris Zylka: It's no different than in today's society: They have my number, when are they going to call? And it's this old, cheap flip phone. He doesn't know what the number is so he can't even give it to anyone else. Imagine having just one source on this cellphone, no social media, nothing. Just this electric thing, your one-way walkie to your guru. The phone becomes Tom's worst enemy.
HBO: Tom is unique in the show in that he gives us an idea of the world outside of Mapleton. What do you think his opinion is of the different groups he encounters?
Chris Zylka: Tom's storyline is a constant reminder that it's not just Mapleton that's affected – it's the entire world. With the Guilty Remnant, they have his mother. No son is going to take that lightly, so he holds a grudge against the Remnant, which I think you see in Episode 4. With the other cults, it's like he's trying to be as undercover as possible, so they disguise themselves with the Barefoot People. It's a tall blond guy and a short Asian girl that they're looking for and there are not many of that combination. But Tom takes every cult as they come along and that adds to his growth as a person. It's no different than kids that are exposed to all types of societies and all types of cultures. They end up more well-rounded and rational in their thinking. Tom takes it in and tries to learn from it as best he can.
HBO: Besides that first unsuccessful call to his dad, does he feel the need to be in touch with his family at all?
Chris Zylka: All of that goes back to his self-destructive nature; he's trying to punish himself. He didn't lose anyone in his family, but at same time he has lost everyone in the family. He's trying to test himself: How much can I go without them because what if it does happen?
HBO: Having now been exposed to the Loved Ones, what's his opinion of these bereavement figures?
Chris Zylka: In his head, he sees they're dummies of real people. But more so, it's about Christine reminding him it was in the dream... maybe people are having premonitions. It also makes Tommy question even more if he's following the wrong guy.
HBO: So it's him and Christine on the road figuring it out.
Chris Zylka: They're like a dynamic duo – or really, a dynamic trio.