I cannot tell you what a huge compliment that is to me. I am such a big fan of detective films and Poirot is, I think, one of the greatest accomplishments of all time. And Columbo is maybe my favorite shows of all time. It’s very, very sweet of you to say that. I was just watching Poirot last night. I’ve seen them all about a dozen times, but Poirot and Columbo specifically are two that I rewatch all the time. I love how the mysteries unfold in those characters so much.
The upper-class passengers look down on him, but Layton really uses that.
Absolutely. He’s very crafty and he’s very careful about what information he shares. It becomes clear pretty quick to him, and I think to us as the audience, that the real currency on this train is information. The more he plays stupid, the more likely he is to get somebody to tell him something. It’s human nature to sort of love having knowledge to impart. I think Layton really gets people.
They underestimate him.
That’s maybe one of his best assets as a detective. On this train, he has an understanding of how people work. Layton’s history of being a black man who was also a police officer in the south side of Chicago is one that I thought about a lot—having to police communities of people that look like him and are underserved, while still answering to a governing body that maybe doesn’t interact with that community as much. He figures out a way to exist in a bunch of different classes. I think it’s probably something he has had to do his whole life.
There’s a cost to that too right? If you’re policing that community, there’s going to be some of his own people in the tail of the train who trust him and some who don’t.
Exactly. Especially on this train where it’s so hard to go back, and you can’t really check in with your people. They are required to trust him a lot.
I know it was a long process of adaptation and there was some changeover that happened with the new showrunner, Graeme. Did Layton change very much from the beginning of the process?
I think they’re always evolving. That’s the thing about TV, right? It’s like this living document. Pre-Graeme, we really just shot one episode. I think those elements of Layton were still there already. His curiosity, his future-focused attitude was already there. The world and the way that the world functions that Graeme created is the thing that is different from the road we were going down. Also, we didn’t get very far down that road. For me, the character’s not drastically different. That’s not true for everybody, but certainly my journey didn’t feel like it got abruptly changed or interrupted, whereas some folks are playing new characters than what they were cast as [originally.]
You’re doing a surprising voice on Apple TV’s new musical animated series Central Park, with Josh Gad and Kristen Bell.