Tag Archives: acting

It isn’t type casting. It’s smart casting.

Over at my Tumblr ask thingy, therondraith asked:

Why do you always end up playing the asshole in your various acting roles? You’re good at it, but it seems to be an unfortunate typecast.

All actors have a particular role that they’re best suited to play, and when they play those roles, they really connect with the audience.

For example: John Travolta is amazing at playing The Loveable Loser. That’s who he was in Welcome Back Kotter, Grease, and Saturday Night Fever, and audiences freaking LOVED him. When the studios tried to make him The Leading Man, in films like Urban Cowboy, Perfect, and something else I’m forgetting right now, audiences turned on him and his career started to flounder.

He didn’t do much of note for a very long time, until Tarantino cast him as a junkie hit man in Pulp Fiction. Suddenly, he’s playing the Loveable Loser again, and his career explodes with roles in Michael, and something else that I’m forgetting right now (it’s 5am and I’m on 4 hours of sleep).

So, when he’s playing that archetype, audiences connect with him on a subconscious level, because it’s the type he plays so perfectly.

The type I play so perfectly, it turns out, is that guy you love to hate, that guy who antagonizes your hero, but who actually has a good heart, when he forgets that he’s being an asshole. That’s who I play in The Guild, Leverage, Eureka, and Big Bang Theory. I don’t know why I play those roles so effectively (it may be related to how much I like to sass people in real life), but it’s what I’ve been doing for a few years, and it’s no coincidence that my acting career has had a bit of a resurgence as a result.

I don’t consider it typecasting, I consider it smart casting, and I wish that more casting people would understand what type I play, and give me a chance to work in those roles.

Oh, and remember: the villain is the hero of his own story, so even though I’m playing an asshole you love to hate, from that character’s point of view, he isn’t doing anything wrong. For example, Doctor Parrish on Eureka was an antagonist to Fargo and Carter, but from Parrish’s point of view, he was the smartest guy in the room, and he was just baffled that he was the only one who could see it. As a result, he resented having to answer to Fargo, who he viewed as someone who didn’t deserve to go to Titan, be the Director of GD, or get the girl. He resented having to deal with Carter, who wasn’t even a scientist, but was always telling him what to do. At the end of the day, though, Parrish loved GD, loved the town, and would tolerate working with people he thought weren’t as smart as him, because he believed in doing the right thing for science.

Thanks for your question.

on the finding (and not finding) of evil wil wheaton

We filmed until 330 this morning, and when I finally got home a little after 4am, it was all I could do to convince myself to wash off my makeup and go to sleep. I woke up at 1230 this afternoon in the same position I fell asleep, and I probably could have easily slept another 3 hours or more. When I wrap (I'm writing this from the set) in a few hours, I go straight to the airport, fly up to Vancouver, drive two hours to location, and start work on Eureka at 655 tomorrow morning.

Ever since I woke up, I've felt like I'm wrapped in this warm blanket of happy exhaustion, and I'm so grateful that I'm only in 4/8 of a page tomorrow, so by the time I really hit the wall tomorrow afternoon, I'll be able to fall into bed and stay there.

It's a lot to do, and it's as exhausting as it sounds … but it's also a lot of fun. This has been my life to varying degrees for the last several months, and though it's overwhelming at times, and I don't have a lot of free time, all I have to do is look at the times I had as much free time as I wanted (from about 2001 to 2007) and everything falls into a wonderful perspective. I keep saying that I hope I don't wake up from this wonderful dream, and I mean it more today than ever.

Last night, we shot on the back lot at Warners. It was a night shoot, with about a hundred extras and all kinds of atmosphere – cars driving and lights changing – and I felt like I was really in the movies, more than I usually do. When we got to my scene, it took me several takes to find Evil Wil Wheaton, and I started to feel like I was screwing up and causing everyone to think twice about bringing me back for more episodes. After the second take where I just felt off, the director came over to me and told me to have more fun, don't be so controlled, and remember

Spoiler:
and
Spoiler:
. A few things clicked into place, and we shot a few really funny and truthful takes. I couldn't put my finger on exactly why, but Evil Wil Wheaton came to life, and I couldn’t believe that, even for a second, I hadn’t been able to produce him out of snarky air.

Earlier today, before we began shooting, I walked over to Mark, our director, and said, “I just wanted to thank you for helping me find Evil Wil Wheaton last night. Your notes made all the difference for me.”

He said I was welcome, and told me that the scene was really funny, and looked great, too.

“I always have such a good time when I’m here,” I began, and I then I knew exactly why I was having so much trouble finding Evil Wil Wheaton. “And I just realized why I was having so much trouble last night.”

“Oh?” Mark cocked his head a little bit to one side and waited for me to continue.

“Yeah. I was so exited to be working outside, at night, on the backlot, and so overjoyed to just be back on this show, it got in between me and Evil Wil Wheaton. My very real joy and happiness was so overwhelming, it informed my performance and pushed it in the wrong direction. When you told me

Spoiler:
, it brought me out of that nerdy joy enough to focus me back on finding the truth in the scene and the character.”

“I saw that happen,” Mark said.

“Usually, I have four days of rehearsals and run throughs to get that giddiness out of the way — and I honestly feel like a real freakin’ noob to not have realized this right away — but I only had the one rehearsal and the one run through on Friday, and then … well, there we were.”

Mark nodded slowly and smiled at me. “Well, you were great.”

“Thanks, man,” I said. “I feel so silly, because it’s not like this is my first rodeo, you know?”

Mark nodded, and was called away to do director stuff, so I came up to my dressing room to write this post, while the memory was fresh in my mind.

I’ve been an actor for just over 30 years. I’ve worked in nearly every environment possible, on all kinds of productions, in all kinds of roles. If I wasn’t playing an evil version of myself, I would have remembered that I was playing a character who is snarky and evil and lies about his grandmother and breaks couples up to win at bowling … but that blurring of the line between me and the character I play of the same name is something that is relatively new to me. I’m grateful that I had a fantastic director like Mark to help me find and define the line between me and Evil Me again.

Added long after we wrapped: Seconds after I finished writing this, I was called to the set to work, and then I got in a car to come straight to the airport. I’m waiting to board my plane back to Vancouver now, and I have a moment to edit and post this. Before I get on my plane and instantly fall asleep, I want to add that had a wonderful time on the show, like I always do, and I just want to take a moment to once again thank the cast, crew, writers and producers for making me feel so welcome. My episode airs on November 11 on CBS. I really hope you’ll tune in, and tell your friends to watch.

The Wheaton Recurrence

It's Sunday afternoon as I write this. I can't publish this manually, because if I've read my call sheet correctly, I'm currently playing Dr. Isaac Parrish on Eureka. If we're on schedule, I'm working in a scene with Erica, Colin, and Neil. If my experience on the show so far is any indication, I'm having a whole lot of fun right now. 

Final If: If I've pushed the right buttons in Typepad, this should have published about one minute after The Wheaton Recurrence finished in the Eastern time zone. If you haven't seen the episode yet, you don't want to click more, because it's going to be spoileriffic.

Continue reading

Eureka!

I'm heading up to Vancouver later this week to shoot an episode of Eureka!

The SyFy (I know they're my new employers, but it still pains me to write that) Channel put out the following press release this morning:

Actor, author and blogger Wil Wheaton of the popular television series Star Trek: The Next Generation and the classic film Stand By Me, has signed for a guest starring appearance on the 4th season of Eureka, one of Syfy’s most popular original series. The new season is slated to return to Syfy on Friday, July 9 at 9:00PM ET/PT.

In episode 403 of Eureka titled “All The Rage,” sci-fi fan favorite Wheaton plays the brilliant Dr. Isaac Parrish, head of the Non-Lethal Weapons Lab at Global Dynamics.  Parrish’s dry wit and superior attitude make him a thorn in Fargo’s (Neil Grayston) side — with potentially disastrous consequences. The episode featuring Wheaton is scheduled to air on Friday, July 23rd.

I've had the script for a little while, now, and I've been getting to know Dr. Isaac Parrish as I convert the words on the page into a person you'll see on television. I obviously can't go into any specifics, but I've had a great time developing his backstory, creating his relationships with the characters, giving him secrets and beliefs, and doing all the other parts of character creation that make being an actor so much fun.

As part of my homework, I spent the entire weekend watching DVDs and reading about the show on the Internets so I could understand the tone and see the characters in action … it wasn't a bad way to spend several hours, I tell you what. (In my professional opinion, time you currently spend watching a show that you hope will get better would be much more wisely spent watching reruns of Eureka.)

I'm not sure how much I'll be allowed to Twitter/Twitpic/blog from the set, but I'll keep notes like I always do and hopefully have something interesting to share when the show airs in July.

Enormous thanks go to my friend Amy Berg (who wrote The Two Live Crew Job and created my character Chaos on Leverage) who joined Eureka this season and found a way for me to visit it.

leveling up while geeking out on the set of the big bang theory

Living out here in Pasadena means I have limited options for getting into Burbank and points North and West. Typically, I head up to the 134 and hope I get to approach 4th gear for at least a few minutes before the whole freeway turns into a parking lot.

This morning, the first morning in months that I had to be somewhere at a specific time and really couldn't be late, the 134 was a parking lot starting East of the Rose Bowl and going all the way through Eagle Rock and into Glendale. Luckily for me, I found this out while I was eating breakfast, and I was able to leave 30 minutes early to loop up the 210 through La Canada and down the 2, adding about 15 miles but only 5 minutes (net) to the drive out to Burbank. Which I guess I should point out isn't even 10 miles, but took almost an hour.

Through some miracle, great luck, a warping of the spacetime continuum, (or, more likely, a combination of them all) I arrived at Warner Brothers and pulled into my guest actor parking spot in front of Stage 25 only ten minutes later than I wanted to arrive, which put me in the stage ten minutes before the read through was set to begin. I'm not going to lie to you, Marge, getting to park in a spot that said "Reserved for The Big Bang Theory" that was right in front of the stage was awesome.

The stage was filled with actors, writers, and crew. There was an excited buzz in the room as they all talked about how great their season premiere ratings were, and how happy and grateful they all were. I was introduced to the cast, tried and mostly succeeded to keep my geeksquee under control enjoyed the read through. The script, which already sounded funny in my head, was absolutely hilarious coming out of the actors who play these characters, and it was really cool to sit around the table with them, as a peer. 

When the read through was finished, I talked with Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady for a minute, then grabbed breakfast while we all got ready to run through the script on the sets with the director. Johnny Galecki was getting food at the same time, and while we filled our bowls with oatmeal (breakfast of champions, kids) he told me how excited they were to have me on the show, and thanked me for being there.

"I think I should just out myself now and get it over with," I said. "I'm a huge fan of your show, and I can't even believe that I get to be part of it this week."

He laughed and said, "Well, it's a great group, and you're going to have a great time."

"I don't doubt it," I said. Then I got out of there before I could say something stupid and embarrassing about how much I loved that one thing they did in season two, or how funny it was that one time when they made that one joke. Yeah, I didn't say anything stupid or embarrassing or fanboy at all, and as far as anyone knows, that's exactly how it happened.

I finished my breakfast, wandered through the comic shop set (which is put together with such incredible attention to detail, I almost went looking for the latest issue of IRREDEEMABLE) and tried to stay out of the way while the actors and director got ready to run through the script on the stage.

It was neat, how quickly the room and the mood changed once the read through was done: everyone but the actors and a few crew left, and the stage became very quiet and intimate for the rest of the day while we walked through the first broad strokes of the episode. (You could think of today's run through like an image that hasn't been completely rendered, yet. As the week goes on, we'll apply colors, textures, anti-aliasing, lighting, and all the other things that take us from a wireframe to a realistic-looking tea pot that throws a lens flare and a nifty shadow.)

Once they started running through the script, I pretty much parked myself in a chair near the director, and just watched. As a fan of the show, it was awesome to see the actors (who I don't know very well) bring their characters (who I know extremely well) to life. As an actor, it was tremendously informative and inspiring to see how the actors and the director worked together to bring the script to life. I saw things I used to take for granted, that happened automatically, when I was working as an actor every day, and remembered the importance of finding the truth of the scene, hearing the music of the scene, and knowing how a character would organically exist in the scene. Working as a writer, I create those beats and use the same fundamental skills, but in a very different way, and if I try to do that as an actor, it doesn't work (I recently tanked an audition because I couldn't get access to The Actor in my head, approached the thing like The Writer, and left the room in a stinking cloud of Epic Fail.)

I remember being in drama school in my early twenties, and having at least a decade more experience than everyone else in the room except our teacher. I remember paying close attention all the time, even when I wasn't working on a scene in front of the class, or getting notes directly from her. I remember her telling the other kids in the school, many of whom were convinced that they were going to be The Next Big Thing (all of them except Salma Hyek were wrong) that they didn't learn anything about performing while they were actually doing it. They learned while watching other actors perform, and understanding why their choices worked or didn't work. 

I haven't done a show like this in years, and I want to make sure that I am completely back in shape, I guess you could say, by the time we perform the episode next week. To make sure I get there, I spent the entire day, even when I wasn't in the scene, watching and listening, and remembering skills that I once used every day, but haven't even thought about in a very long time. By the time we got to my last scene of the day (God, I wish I could describe it, because it's hilarious) I felt confident, I felt funny, and I felt weird but also good.

Wait. Not the last part. I'm saving that for the weekend, when I finally get to celebrate being on The Big Bang Theory.

When I wasn't watching them rehearse, I spent the rest of the day talking with one of the other actors (I'm not saying who, so don't ask) who is as big a gamer as I am, totally geeking out about Space Hulk, Dominion, and how much we love Eurogames.

My favorite non-rehearsal moment went like this:

Me: Do you play any cooperative games?

Him: They're not my favorite, but yeah.

[Pause]

Both, in unison: Have you played Pandemic?

Both, in unison: Yes! 

[Laugh.]

[Pause.]

Him: I guess it's appropriate that we're playing geeks.

Me: It certainly is.

Now I'm home, where I get to learn lines and hope that the bulldozer next door doesn't wake me up from this wonderful dream where I get to work on my favorite show.

6:26pm: I've just remembered something that isn't enough for its own post, but certainly warrants an update to this one.

This morning, after the table read, one of the other actors (I'm not saying who, so don't ask) said to me, "You are a very funny man, mister Wil Wheaton." I thanked this other actor, but pointed out, "I just did my best not to mess up the funny that was already in the script." The other actor nodded and said, "Me too. Me too."

This other actor is a tremendous comedic talent, and I can't see anyone else in the world playing the role this actor plays, because he/she/it brings a great deal of personality and acting talent to the role, and it wouldn't be the same if another actor played it. But I think it's awesome that this other actor feels, like I do, that everything we do starts with the words the writers give us, and sometimes the hardest (and most important) thing we can do is not screw them up.

Leverage – The Two Live Crew Job

Early feedback from tonight's episode of Leverage is overwhelmingly positive, which delights me. I'm so happy to hear that so many people liked it.

If you've seen the show already, you may get a kick out of the pictures I took during production and just added to Flickr, but there are spoilers, so don't look if you don't want to see them. (And no fair complaining at me if you don't listen and get spoiled.)

I'm sure John will have a post at his blog in the very near future where you can ask him questions about the spin-off (with robots!) that I'm getting.*

If you have questions or comments for me about the show, feel free to leave them here and I'll do my best to respond in a timely manner. Seriously, I'll really appreciate the distraction.

*I'm not really getting a spin-off. That's my little joke. Ha! Ha! I am using the Internet!

LEVERAGE: day two

Today's on-set report actually begins with a moment from yesterday afternoon that was so unexpected, I'm still wrapping my head around it.

I obviously can't go into any details about the plot or characters, so you'll just have to use your imagination to construct what the set looked like. I can tell you that it was awesome, if that helps.

Just about everyone was assembled for this scene, and I lingered near my mark while I waited for everyone else to get their last looks so we could shoot.

Tim Hutton walked over to me and quietly said, "Hey, did you bring any copies of Sunken Treasure with you?"

I felt like I was going to faint. How in the hell does Tim Hutton know about my books?

"How do you know about that book?" I said, totally baffled.

"I just do," he said. "Did you bring any?"

I was so stunned, I couldn't say anything, and I just kind of watched a little beach ball spin around in my head for a few seconds.

"GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER, WHEATON!" My brain screamed at me. "ANSWER THE MAN!"

"Uh, yeah, actually, I did bring some copies with me," I said, at once embarrassed and glad that I'd put five of them into my backpack moments before I left for the airport earlier this week.

I don't remember what he said next because I felt completely overwhelmed. (Pop quiz: how many Academy Award-winning actors and stars of one of your favorite shows have asked you about your books? My answer is, "One, as of about 18 hours ago.") I told him that I'd bring him one today, and that it meant a lot to me that he even knew about the book, much less wanted to read it.

I don't know how he knows I write books; maybe Rogers told him, but … it's weird and awesome, and I signed a copy for him this morning, and he may even read it before the end of the weekend.

Today's work was ultra-painless: I was in 1/8 of a page and was in an out of the set like a ninja. We were shooting outside on a beautiful street up near the hills, southwest of downtown, and during one take a very friendly woman somehow got past everyone, didn't realize we were filming, and walked right up to me during a take.

She asked me a question that I can't repeat, because it would be sort of a spoiler. I noticed that nobody called cut, so I just stayed in character, answered her, watched her walk away, and then finished the scene. It wasn't quite "I'm walking here!" but it was still pretty cool.

I don't think we'll be able to use it in the show, because she was a civilian who clearly didn't know that we were filming, but it was exhilarating to just keep on rolling and keep on acting, even though something totally unexpected happened in the middle of the take.

Making television can be grueling, it can be frustrating, and it can be exhausting. I know how very lucky I am to have worked on a couple shows in the last year that haven't been like that, and I'm intensely grateful to be working on another one right now.

I just love everything about this. I love being on the set. I love the creative collaboration. I love working with people who love doing what we do. I love doing work that I'm proud of.

Mostly, though, I love that I even get to do this. This is awesome.

LEVERAGE: day one

Last night, I tried to convince my brain that it should shut the hell up and let me go to sleep early, because I had to wake up at 5am no matter what.

It didn't cooperate. It sang songs to me, wrote little stories, and told me jokes until almost midnight. Yes, I am my brain's bitch. (Don't worry, I plan to get all burning bed on it with some local craft beers before the week is over. HA! WHO'S LAUGHING NOW, BRAIN?!)

I'm on my lunch break right now, marveling at how weird it is to live in the future, where I can post to my blog from my dressing room. I suppose this isn't that strange, really, but I've been doing this since the days when we had to call Buster Keaton "Mister Keaton" and Mary Pickford wouldn't let you look her in the eye unless you were Douglas Fairbanks.

Yeah, those were crazy days, and even though I tried my best, I never got Louise Brooks to come home with me. I still don't think talking pictures will ever really catch on.

…did I mention I got about 5 hours of sleep and I've been working in a hot van while wearing a hoodie since 8 this morning? Everything is incredibly funny to me right now.

Anyway, about my day so far: Most scripts have a scene that makes an actor go, "WOW, I really want to play this character so I can do that scene." This morning, I got to do that scene, and it was as challenging, fun, and ultimately rewarding as I thought it would be. I can't wait to see it in the final cut of the show.

Before we did that scene, I had a brief meeting with the director, because I wanted to make sure that my take on this character and his vision for the character had more in common than not. I performed some of the more important lines, talked about the arc I'd created in my mind, and made sure that we were on the same page.

He nodded while I did my thing, and when I was done, there was a long pause. I started to get a little nervous, and wondered if I was about to be sent home with a set of steak knives.

"You own this guy," he said.

So, I got that going for me, which is nice.

LEVERAGE: day zero

Greetings from Portland! I'm here for the next few days to work on an episode of Leverage, playing a character who I have a few things in common with, as evidenced by something that happened earlier today during my costume fitting.

The costume designer is an incredibly kind and easy going woman. She was talking with me about who this character is, what he's like, and how those things would influence his decisions when it comes to his clothes. I was glad to have the discussion, because the clothes I wear for a show are very important to
me. I always work hard to find something that is appropriate for
the character, but that I'll also feel comfortable wearing.

She pulled a bunch of different shirts and things off the racks, and said, "So we thought we'd dress you like a nerd." She didn't say it unkindly, it was just matter of fact, the way you'd say, "You know, I think fish would be nice tonight."

I looked at the clothes she had in her hands: straight-legged jeans, slip-on Vans, a short-sleeved shirt with a collar and buttons.

"So, kind of like what I'm already wearing," I said.

We had a good laugh about that, and for the next few minutes I tried on a bunch of different costumes, all of which could have come out of my own wardrobe.

When my fitting was over, I got to visit with John Rogers and Dean Devlin for a little bit. I should probably get their permission before I blog about our conversation, but I think it's okay to say this: I haven't seen Dean since we played hockey together about 17 years ago, and it's pretty awesome to finally be working together on something.

They had to go do producer-y things, so I walked into the stage to meet with the prop department. On my way in, I stopped and introduced myself to Christian Kane (Spencer) and Aldis Hodge (Hardison), who were hanging out just inside the stage door.

Um, I need to just get this out of the way now: Leverage is the first non-animated show I've worked on in years where I'm such a huge fan, I've already watched every episode and know all the characters. It was a challenge, but I did a good job of not losing my shit while I talked with them, just like I did when I met Beth Riesgraf (Parker) right before I went into the wardrobe fitting. We only talked for a few minutes before I had to get out of the stage and do some prop stuff, but I liked them right away. I left the stage feeling pretty confident that I'm going to have a great time while I'm here.

Now I'm going to go learn my lines and prepare for filming tomorrow.

… I'm not going to lie to you, Marge: I love this.