Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Interview - Richard Speight, Jr. (Part 2)

Welcome back!  As promised, here is Part 2 of my interview with Richard Speight, Jr. (scroll down for Part 1) ... and follow me on Twitter at @TV_Tour_Guide to keep up with new postings!

TV Tour Guide:  So tell me about Jericho.

Richard Speight: [Series co-creator] Steve Chbosky and I went to USC together.  Super talented writer, great guy.  He had a bee in his bonnet to get me involved in the show somehow. So I kept going in for different characters and the other bosses kept saying ‘no’ and ‘no’ and finally they said ‘play Bill!’

Then I got to work with Bob Stephenson (Fight Club, Se7en, TV’s The Forgotten), who is an actor I’ve admired for years, and he and I got to play off each other a lot. That was super fun getting to know and work with him so closely.  We carpooled to work, carpooled home, grabbed a beer, did it again the next day.  It was like a normal job. Kind of.

TTTG:  How did you feel when the show was cancelled?

RS:  I thought we were creating some really interesting television.  I was sorry to see it go away.  I think in a different time, a time like today when the internet audience was trusted more and listened to a little more clearly, I think we would have stayed on the air longer.  If Jericho had started one to two years later, it would have gotten a good series run. Sadly, our network was less enthusiastic about the web audience back then because they couldn’t figure out a way to monetize it.  That ball has moved way forward since then.  We were just a hair too early to catch that wave.

TTTG:  So when you have the time, what are you watching?

RS:  I’m watching Mad Men.  I f***ing love that show.  It’s brilliant, great, just outstanding.  And I watch a lot of news.  I’m a political junkie.  And I love movies. I used to watch every movie that came out, but man, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I’ve got a stack of screeners at home just waiting for me to watch them. Lord knows when that’ll happen

TTTG:  What’s your take on “reality” television?

RS:  I know there are those who absolutely hate it.  I don’t. I don’t like it either, but  that’s neither here nor there. TV is ‘survival of the fittest.’ When HBO, Showtime, AMC, and other cable channels do such great TV, it forces the main networks to raise their game. Everybody wins. So if reality is beating other shows, then the other shows have to get more interesting to beat reality.  This isn’t a camp talent show where everybody gets to perform. It’s a business. Networks and producers are trying to draw eyeballs to get those ad dollars, and the way to do that is to create stimulating programming. If, for some people, ‘stimulating’ means watching over-collagened women hurl fine china at each other, God bless ‘em.  It’s not my cup of tea, but hey, whatever.  Somebody’s watching it. A lot of “somebody’s.”


RS:  You know, that was an interesting gig.  I didn’t know what I was hired to do. They called my agent and offered me the role, so my agent called me and said, “You wanna go play a janitor [Season 2 episode Tall Tales] up in Vancouver?” And I thought, “Sure, I can play a janitor.”  So I was on the airplane reading the script, and then I realized, “Oh wow, this is really cool.”  I’d never heard of the show and didn’t know anything about it. I mean the title Supernatural kind of tips its hat right there, but still I didn’t think I would be a supernaturally-charged janitor. I noticed that I didn’t die in the end and I thought, “Hey, that’s neat,” but in the world of the guest star, you don’t really think twice about that kind of stuff.  You go, “When I leave here I’m done. This is the end of the gig.”

TTTG:  Tell me about the role – or should I say roles – of the Trickster/Gabriel

RS:  Super fun character.  They kind of just let me do what I wanted to do for the character.  I don’t mean improv… I’m not making up dialogue.  They have great writers, and they map out exactly what they want you to say… but still, within that framework, I had a lot of creative freedom.

TTTV:  You did come back for a second episode, Mystery Spot.

RS:  I guess it was about a year or two later, I talked to Jason in the production office and he said “Oh, this is a great script [Mystery Spot, Season 3]! You’re gonna love this. You’re all over the script!”  Then he called back and said, “Oh, wait… you’re not all over the script. You’re only in two scenes.  Your character appears in a different form for most of the episode.”  I think I was there for two days, tops. The coolest part of doing that episode was that is was (the late) Kim Manners directing. A TV legend. I found him oddly intimidating but very nice at the same time. And the man knows his stuff.

This episode was different than Tall Tales because the Trickster wasn’t just goofing around with the guys.  He was starting to have a point. Maybe then, they [the writers] knew he was going to be something bigger than he was.  I’m not sure what their game plan was, but certainly if you go back and look, you can see where the seeds might have started to have been planted there because it seemed like he was trying to say something without saying it.   It was a story that wasn’t completely told when he left, and he left in a way that was very much like “Oh, you’ll see me again.”

TTTG: Then came your third episode, Changing Channels …

RSWell, THAT was a surprise to everybody! I mean, look, you don’t get to play dual characters as a guest star. Hell, you don’t get to do that much as a regular, so that was a really cool turn to get to make.  I loved shooting that scene with Jared (Padalecki) and Jensen (Ackles) in the warehouse because it was like theater: three actors facing off – no props, no big set pieces – just having a conversation.  That was really, really fun. 

The result of the reveal was interesting. It was a much more shocking revelation to people than I realized it would be.  As time has passed, it has gottten a lot of attention from the fans, on the web and in the Supernatural magazines. No one saw that coming. Kudos to the writers … they really slipped that one past you guys.

TTTG:  It was also surprising to find Gabriel actually being on the Winchesters’ – and humanity’s – side.

RS:  I think it was the right thing to do. I mean, even before doing Changing Channels, it was obvious he liked these guys or he wouldn’t mess with them.  You know, when you’re a kid, you only antagonize the girls on the playground you have a crush on.  That’s just the way it is.  If Gabriel really hated them, he would’ve just killed them – just off them and walk away.  But he wasn’t doing that.  He was screwing with them, which meant he had a fondness for them … kind of like a cat playing with a bird, you know? 

TTTG: And in your final episode, what a great (spoiler alert) death!

RS:  I died twice!  I remember reading Hammer of the Gods (Season 5) and thinking “Oh, s**t, they killed me.” And then I read further and thought, “Oh, I’m not dead at all. Great!” Then I turned a few more pages and was like, “S**t, they killed me again.”

TTTG:  But this is Supernatural, and anyone who watches knows that when you die, you don’t necessarily stay dead.

RS:  No, I’m pretty damn dead. I’m not sure, I might be the one exception.

TTTG:  You now do a lot of the Supernatural fan conventions …

RSThat’s the damndest thing, man.  I mean I’ve been doing this [acting] for a long time and never been to a convention or been associated with a show that had a convention.  It’s awesome! It’s basically like going into a hotel filled with people who love what you do.  The first call I got to do a convention, I turned it down. I hadn’t done an episode in a long time and couldn’t imagine why the hell anyone would come to see me.  It seemed like a recipe for embarrassment. The second time I got offered a convention, my agent was like “Eh, maybe you should go.”  They weren’t familiar with that world either but figured couldn’t hurt … shake a few hands, sigh a few pictures.  They had NO idea.  Neither did I.  I’m glad I finally said yes.

TTTG:  Now you’re a fixture.

RS:   Go figure, right? I’m not sure how that happened, but I love it.  I’m doing 12 this year alone. That brings my convention total to somewhere around 20.  Having done four episodes, that’s a 5-to-1 ratio. Pretty crazy.

TTTG:  How do the conventions overseas compare to the ones here in the U.S.?

RS:  You’re there longer, so you hang out more with the other actors, do more sight-seeing and fun stuff away from the convention. And you see a hell of a lot more of Jared and Jensen. At the American ones, I literally walk over to them during their autograph sessions to say hi and that’s it.  They fly in for the day because they’re busy filming the show. They have almost no time to socialize. Not so overseas. The European ones are different in that regard.  It’s a little more like traveling with a group of people as opposed to the American ones where you all meet at the hotel, do your thing, then disperse.

All the conventions are really fun. I mean, half the guys I’m friends with from the show… scratch that, MOST of the guys I’m friends with from the cast I never actually worked with. I’ve become friends with them by doing conventions with them.  Rob Benedict, Matt Cohen, Misha (Collins) – although Misha and I, I think we were on screen together for about four seconds, so technically I’ve worked with him.

TTTG:  There always seems to be mostly the male actors scheduled with one or two actresses at most …

RS:  It’s a real boys club, for sure, but the girls are fun, too.  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know and play with Amy Gumenik. She’s awesome. Kim Rhodes is a real kick in the pants. They usually throw at least one woman into the mix. Regardless of the roster, everybody almost always relates to each other really well.  We all share the stage at karaoke or during various Q & A’s and it always seems to go exceptionally well.  It’s amazing that many of us don’t actually know each other very well because we do a damn fine job pretending like we do.

And now, the segment I like to call The Richard Speight, Jr. 50¢ Tour:

RS:  You should call this “The Richard Speight, Jr. 50¢ Tour” for everyone you interview.  That’ll confuse ‘em.

Favorite impulse buy:  Prius

Favorite candy:  3 Musketeers bar

Plane, train or automobile:  train

Favorite line from a movie:  "I'll have a Bloody Mary and a steak sandwich and... a steak sandwich.” – Fletch

Do you believe in ghosts?  Never really thought about it … undecided.

Halloween as a kid, what dress up as?  Uncle Sam

Hulk-Off – Hulk Hogan or the Incredible Hulk?  Incredible Hulk

What superpower would he want?  Invisibility. 

What would his alter-ego/identity be?  Daniel Trask, neurosurgeon

If create own political party, what would he call it?  Blue Collar-crats

Who would his ultimate dinner guests be?  Steve Martin, Jimi Hendrix, Abraham Lincoln, Jesus, Charles Manson, Patsy Kline, and Brian Jones.

What’s the best tour he’s ever taken?  World War II battle sites in Normandy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Interview - Richard Speight, Jr. (PART 1)

CIA agent.  World War II soldier.  Deputy Sheriff.  Pepsi delivery man.  Archangel.

Chances are if you watch television, Richard Speight Jr.’s is a face you know.  From pitching Pepsi Max to guest starring on Alias, CSI: Miami, ER and Party of Five to recurring on Supernatural and Justified to co-starring in The Agency, Jericho and Band of Brothers, Speight is a truly bonafide working actor with an impressive resume of terrific, memorable characters.

Being a big fan of Speight’s – his role on Supernatural (my favorite show) is, as fans will attest to, epic – I was thrilled to have the pleasure to sit down with the actor for a chat about his chosen career, which first began in his home state of Tennessee.

TV Tour Guide:  Did you always want to be an actor?  How did you first get started?

Richard Speight, Jr.: I started doing plays when I was five back in Nashville.  I caught the bug early on.  I have two older sisters who acted for a while but moved on to other things. But I stuck with it. I just loved the whole process of people coming together and putting on a show. I didn’t know I wanted to do it for a living till I was 15 or so.

Speight worked regularly in local projects like Ernest Goes To Camp before making the move to Los Angeles at 18 to major in acting at The University of Southern California.  It wasn’t long before he landed his first west-coast gig.

TTTG:  You did the After School Special Torn Between Two Fathers, directed by Richard Masur (Stephen King’s It, Bored to Death, Picket Fences). What was that like?

RS:  I had two lines: “Hey, Debbie.” and “Good work, Deb!” On my very first day, I was late.  I overslept. I got a phone call from production and just about s*** the bed.  I didn’t even shower.  So my first appearance on national TV as an adult living in California was without having showered.  It was very European.

TTTG:  What’s your audition process like?  Does it differ from doing commercials to guest star and series regular roles?

RS:  It’s harder to audition with just a few lines than it is with 15 pages of dialogue.  Those few lines may work in the scene, but just to randomly say those words out of context is impossible.  Delivering chunks of dialogue is much easier.  No matter the size of the role, there’s no difference to me.  I have the same approach.  It’s all about making your choices, committing to them, and staying grounded.

TTTG: Tell me about being the face of Pepsi Max …

RG:  Joe Pytka, a director with whom I’ve worked many times – and really the “godfather” of the modern American commercial – reached out to me for Pepsi Max.  I don’t do a lot of commercials anymore, but if Joe’s office calls and says he’s interested in me, I say “Great, where do I go and what do I do?”  I love being involved in his projects. He doesn’t make boring, presentational spots. He makes mini-movies.

What started out as one commercial has turned into an ongoing campaign for the actor, and it’s easy to see why:

TTTV:  You’ve been both a guest star and series regular.  Do you find a difference between the two?

RS:  Doing a guest star is like being the new kid in school: you’re showing up to a universe that is functioning just fine without you and won’t miss you when you’re gone. You have to breeze in and do your job as best as you can while fitting into their framework - and do it very quickly and efficiently.  It’s an art form, and it is definitely something you either learn quickly or sink quickly. If I ever write an autobiography, it’ll be called Guest Stars Don’t Blow Takes.  Series regulars can afford to memorize the lines while rehearsing, get one or two [takes] to warm into the scene, then another three or four to get what they want.  As a guest star, you don’t have that luxury.  Your job is just to show up and kill it in one or two takes so they don’t have to waste time on you.

Being a series regular is a very different experience. You know the crew, and you guys are all working together and used to each other. And it’s nice to have the comfort of knowing you have a job to go to every day.  It’s not the stress of being the new guy having to deliver on cue.

TTTV:  What about when you end up doing multiple episodes of a show?

RS:  You get a little of that comfort level if you end up recurring.  Supernatural is a good example.  I only did four episodes of that show, yet just today I was texting with one of the actors and the camera guys.  They’re just good people. Shoot days are long. After your first full day on a show, you feel like you’ve been there a month.  Hence the quick bonding.  Justified is kind of the same way. Everybody’s really cool and you just kind of feel like “Yeah, I’m here, I kind of know these people.”  Once you’re on a set a couple of times, it starts to feel a little more relaxed.  It’s not your house, but you feel like a welcomed guest.

TTTG:  Do you prefer one over the other?

RS:  I like doing it all. I’ve never been on a set and thought, “Gee, I wish I weren’t here.”  I love doing my job.  My worst day on a set is better than my best day off one.

TTTG:  Are there roles you feel you are better suited for?

RS:  Certain things I’m never gonna get … New York gangster for example. Whenever I get called for something, I usually know after a quick study of the material if I’ll wear it well or not.  Even if it fits me, it doesn’t mean I’ll get it, but at least I know I can make a competent choice. There are a lot of roles I’ve gone in for that I thought “I wouldn’t cast me for this,” but I still go in because you never know … but you kind of do know.  If you look at the material and it just doesn’t sit right, and you can’t really get a good handle on it regardless of how much time you spend on it, it’s probably not for you.  It’s somebody else’s job.

Come back for Part 2 of my interview with Rich tomorrow, Wednesday, Feb. 29, where we discuss Jericho, Supernatural and his Supernatural Convention odyssey!

In fact, catch Rich live and in person this weekend at the Salute to Supernatural convention in Burbank, CA.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Watch This Show - Smash

NBC has definitely had its issues.  A lot of misses in programming, not fairing well in the ratings, etc.  I admit that I don't watch a lot on the net (big fan of Parenthood and I enjoyed Up All Night until they moved it to Thursday where it now conflicts with other shows I watch so I've been forced to abandon it) but I know they've been fighting to find new hit shows.  I think they've finally found one: Smash, premiering this Monday, Feb. 6 at 10 p.m.

Unfortunately that time slot is booked for me - I am already dedicated to Hawaii Five-O and Castle - but I wish my DVR could allow for three shows because I loved the pilot, which I was able to see for free through iTunes(thanks NBC!).  I may have to go into the other room so I don't miss the episodes to come, though this show warrants big-screen viewing.

I won't give any episode details here as it hasn't officially aired yet, but I will say that if you are a fan of Broadway, musical theater or showtunes, this is the show for you.  And even if it's not your cup of tea, give Smash a shot.  It has a little of a lot for all to latch onto:  likeable characters, fun antagonists, an underdog to root for, big musical production numbers and terrific choreography, all of which the pilot sets into motion at a great pace.  The style reminded me a little of the film version of Chicago, which I also enjoyed.

Smash welcomes Debra Messing (Will and Grace) back to series TV in a role that seems very suited for her given her musical background.  She plays lyricist Julia Houston, one half of the hit-musical-making team Houston-Levitt (Christian Borle plays partner Tom Levitt). Julia struggles to balance the relentless demands of Broadway with the needs of her family as she and Tom begin work on a new show based on Marilyn Monroe.

Competing for the lead role are seasoned triple-threat Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty, Broadway's Wicked), an ensemble performer who has spent years pursuing stardom only to be bumped back into the chorus again and again and who has Tom's full support for the role, and talented newcomer Karen Cartwright (Katharine McPhee, American Idol seaon 5 runner-up) . Newly arrived from Iowa in pursuit of her Broadway dream, Karen must learn to navigate the shark-infested waters of the professional theater to win the role of a lifetime against Ivy, all while maintaining her integrity.

Academy Award winner Anjelica Huston (Medium) stars as legendary Broadway producer Eileen Rand who, driven by a passionate love of her art, must masterfully manage both the warring egos of her creative team and her musical's skyrocketing budget - even as ex-husband Jerry (Michael Christofer, Rubicon) freezes her assets.

Then there's Derek Wills (Jack Davenport, Flash Forward), one of Broadway's most brilliant director-choreographers - and one of its most seductive bad boys.  But even Derek's genius is strained by the demands of bringing an untested new musical to the New York stage.

NBC has been promoting Smash for weeks (along with the return of The Voice) as if the net's life depends on its success.  Can one show save all?  Probably not, but it will definitely give a the net a little life while giving a little song-and-dance delight to those who tune in.

But why does it have to be Mondays at 10??  I say go for Thursday in the same hour!  Then the show would have one more dedicated viewer.  Not that I won't find some way to see the show.  The pilot won me over immediately and a preview of the upcoming season looks well worth tuning in for.  I have no doubt I'll be downloading the songs week to week if they are anything like the ones in the pilot.

Bottom line:  Let Smash bring a little Broadway into your living room.

Check out Smash Mondays at 10 p.m. on NBC.