Thursday, July 14, 2016

Interview: Bruno Gunn on the Groundbreaking Officer Downe and Westworld

Bruno Gunn
(by Byron Ashley Bryson)
The last time I caught up with Bruno Gunn, he was just coming down off the high that is playing a pivotal role in a ridiculously popular movie franchise: He was Brutus, the scary and lethal career tribute from District 2 in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." He's been quite a busy man since those days. He currently co-stars in the movie "Officer Downe," which is generating quite a lot of buzz as a groundbreaking entry into the graphic-novel film genre. He also plays a role in the upcoming HBO original series "Westworld." I spoke with Bruno recently about these latest projects, and I can tell you without a doubt that he is beyond excited for us to experience these roles with him.

Celebrity Extra: First tell me about "Officer Downe." It's been getting such rave reviews. It's been described as groundbreaking in its genre and is being compared to "Deadpool."

Bruno Gunn: No one has seen anything like this. This is a rated-R movie, much in the vein of "Deadpool," and it doesn't shy away from its origins of being a graphic novel. It's a comic book that is graphic, and they didn't hold back any punches. It is a punch in the face that the world has been waiting for.

CE: I can't wait for this to open wide, because I have been hearing such great things about it. Just the preview alone had my jaw on the floor!

BG: I'm super-excited. It's been getting great press, and deservingly so. Kim Coates (who plays the titular character) is fantastic. It's one thing to watch him while you work, and it's another thing to see him onscreen. He's pretty amazing. He really is. He does justice to "Officer Downe," and pardon the pun, because that is what "Officer Downe" does. He's justice -- just in a different way.

CE: What can you tell me about your character, Fritch?

BG: Fritch is a veteran officer, and he's assigned to clean up after Officer Downe, and he doesn't like it. He thinks he should be further along than where he is; he feels like he's due for that promotion. And instead he keeps getting assigned to cleaning up Downe's messes. But the great thing about Fritch is, and I've said this before, any great character goes through a change. They have an arc. They start in one place and finish in another. You don't want your character to start in one place and then finish in the same place. There's no arc. There's no growth. There's no change. And ever so subtly Fritch does this. He goes through that change. And it's pretty cool.

That's a product of Joe Casey, the writer, who just stayed true to the comic book. He would come in, and he'd have conversations with you and ask, "What do you feel?" And he would take those notes and come back the next day and shirt off, he would find places for these notes. So he was fantastic. I encourage everyone to get the comic book. Chris Burnham, the graphic artist, is sensational. He is such a pro. His stuff is so captivating and unique. The comic book is a treat to have.

CE: Are most of your scenes with Kim?

BG: Yeah, mine are mostly with Kim and with Reno Wilson, who played Carl on "Mike and Molly." And Tyler Ross, who's the other supporting star in this film. He's fun. That's really the core of it.

CE: This sounds like a really fun and intense movie.

BG: Yeah, you'll be along for a ride. Your jaw will be open most of the time.

CE: Isn't it amazing how much the world of comic books has blown up in recent years?

BG: It's interesting, right? The whole superhero graphic-novel world is just exploding. And I was new to it. I wasn't a comic book guy. I didn't know much about that culture. And I'm just blown away at the popularity and how good these comic books are: the artwork, the storytelling. It's impressive. And we'll be seeing more of it. I don't think it stops here.

CE: "Westworld" sounds like it's going to be amazing! Tell me how the whole thing came about for you.

BB: I went in to audition for it. At the time I had just come off "Officer Downe," so I had this ginormous mustache, and I thought, "God, this is perfect." I mean, this really is. The character is a wanted outlaw. He thinks he runs the town -- and I emphasize "thinks." The character's name was originally Bulldog. And so I read for it, and a couple of weeks later, I get a call and they're like: "Hey, you booked the job. And not only is it yours, but they have changed the name of the character. They changed it to Walrus."

That mustache had a life of its own, I swear to God. I think that thing was booking me more jobs than just me. It dictated a lot. There have been a lot of conversations about that mustache. So, that's how it came about. I read for it, and it was one of those reads where you leave it and you're like: "Ah, that was terrible. That's just never going to happen." I've come to learn to not even remotely try to figure out if that was a good read or a bad read. You always want to feel good about coming out of something, but sometimes you don't. And then the ones that don't always go well can be the one. You never know.

Bruno Gunn
(By Byron Ashley Bryson)
CE: How would you describe "Westworld"?

BG: It's a straight-up Western meets sci-fi. It was my first period piece, since it's set back in time in the Wild West, and it was just mind-blowing, the authenticity of it all. That's really what impressed me the most was the authenticity of it all. Everything from your costumes to the sets to the people. It was just mind-blowing.

CE: Tell me about Walrus.

BG: He's on the run. He's a wanted lawbreaker. And he feels that the town is his, and he gets put in his place. Which is awesome, because it's a great piece, and I'm super proud of it, and I'm incredibly excited for everyone to see it.

CE: How was the cast to work with?

BG: Every single person I came in contact with was fantastic. Everyone. I'm working with James Marsden in this. He and I have a scene together, and he was terrific. We were bouncing ideas off each other and saying: "OK, well, maybe you try this and I try that. Let's see what happens." That's what any actor really wants to do is get in there and just play around.

CE: He does seem like a nice guy, so I'm happy to hear that he really is.

BG: One hundred percent. He's always smiling. I'm like, "Dude, it's 6 o'clock in the morning." He's just smiling. People like that on set are good to have.

CE: With all the shows that viewers have to choose from nowadays, what sets "Westworld" apart, and why should we watch it?

BG: Great question. I feel like it is groundbreaking. Look, Westerns are hard to do. A good Western, that is. And then let alone throw in sci-fi. That's a heck of a cocktail, Western and sci-fi. So, I really think of it as groundbreaking television.

CE: One of the fan-submitted questions for this interview was "What was the hardest role that you've ever had to play?"

BG: It was Walrus from "Westworld." It's definitely Walrus. And that's because it was my first period piece. It's one thing to bring yourself to a character, and it's another thing to have to explore who this character is in a different time. Especially when your wardrobe is dictating how you walk, and the words you say are different. Just doing a period piece like that was fantastic. Every turn it was something new, like, "Would I do that in present day? How would I hold that?" So, all those things are important, and it was by far the hardest. So many different things were dictating the character: the time period, the sets, the boots, the costumes -- all of it.

The most physically challenging role would have to be Brutus (from "Hunger Games: Catching Fire"). That was a physical role. I spent three months wielding that spear and climbing rocks and jumping in 10-degree water. It was intense! That water was cold. It was November in Atlanta. So, physically that was the most demanding.

CE: What's next for you?

BG: There are a couple of projects on the horizon there. It's always a waiting game until things are finalized. But I'm excited. I'm in a film called "Craftique," and it takes you into the world of crafting. Believe it or not, it's a billion-dollar industry, and they have these huge conventions. The movie is a mockumentary, like "Best in Show." So, it's a comedy and, again, I'm so excited to be doing more comedy. It's something I love to do. It's challenging. And when do you get to see a big bald guy be funny? It's not like a common thing. I love it and I'm having fun with it. I can't give away anything about the movie, but let's just say I have special skills.

CE: You are also involved with the #URhand4Ecuador campaign, which was started by fellow actor Augusto Aguilera. So far you've raised more than $20,000 for victims of the Ecuador earthquake and have gotten celebrity friends to join in, including Alyssa Milano, Nikki Reed, Sophia Bush, Nina Dobrev, Max Carver, Taylor Hicks, Michael Raymond-James, Lance Bass, Johnny Whitworth and Kendrick Sampson. (Go to gofundme.com/letsbuildhope to learn more about the campaign and how you can help.)

BG: I got involved with this because it was unimaginable, these unthinkable statistics I was hearing. The idea there was hardly any media coverage of this: 2,200 people dead; 26,000 people left homeless; scores of children who are now orphans. This was a no-brainer. This needs to have a voice. I was really happy to be able to help out and participate in that.

CE: I, too, did not realize the devastating statistics of the tragedy! I'm happy to do my part in getting the word out about this.

BG: It's just so disheartening that we are not on top of that, so I am, again, really grateful to have that opportunity to help them. You know, "Westworld" and "Officer Downe" will take care of themselves, but we've got to help spread the word about this.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Win an Autographed Copy of A Grave Prediction by Victoria Laurie

Readers: It’s contest time! My favorite paranormal-mystery author, Victoria Laurie, has a new book coming out on July 26. It’s the 14th installment in the Psychic Eye Mysteries called A Grave Prediction. This go-round, Abby Cooper has a vision of four buried bodies and is in a race against time to prevent the future murders of these four people — however she has no idea who the potential victims are or when it will happen.

To celebrate the book’s release, I’ll be giving away four autographed copies of “A Grave Prediction,” and there are four ways you can enter:

Increase your chances and enter all four ways! But hurry — the contest ends JULY 24.


Praise for the New York Times Bestselling Psychic Eye Mysteries
“If you like to mix a bit of witty banter with suspense and a touch of mysticism, this series is for you.”—Examiner.com

“It’s a nail-biter for sure, with twists and turns all along the way.”—Kings River Life Magazine

“Entertaining...Abby uses her psychic powers in ways that often have humorous results. Fans of hard-edged cozies will be rewarded.”—Publishers Weekly

Friday, June 10, 2016

Interview: Yvonne Zima Takes on Two Roles in Lifetime's Killing Mommy

Yvonne Zima
photo by Danika Singfield
You might know Yvonne Zima for playing Mark Greene’s daughter, Rachel, on “ER.” From 2009-12, she played Daisy Carter Romalotti on “The Young and the Restless.” She’s also been in numerous blockbuster feature films, like “Heat,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” “Bed of Roses,” and “Iron Man 3,” to name a few. Next up for this talented actress: playing twin sisters Deb and Juliana Hansen in the Lifetime original movie “Killing Mommy,” which premieres June 11 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. The story goes: When their mother announces her plans to remarry and sell the family estate, twin sisters Juliana and Deb have different reactions to the news. Juliana feels her mother will continue to support her, while Deb begins to threaten her mother’s happiness to the point of threatening her life.

Celebrity Extra: What did you think when you first heard you’d get to play twins?

Yvonne Zima: I haven’t seen the finished product yet, but I’ve seen pieces of it, and the parts I saw of the twins together, the special effects are pretty cool. And it’s cool to watch, but it’s also weird for me because I don’t like watching myself, so I definitely don’t like watching two of myself.

But I think it’s a really wonderful script. It was written by Trent Haaga. He gave us a really fun script, but I think he took the typical Lifetime movie to the next level, and I can’t wait to see just how fun it will be to watch.

CE: I know you’ve previously worked on another Lifetime movie; what made you decide to be a part of this one?

YZ: The person behind all these films is Peter David. He has made, I think, at least 200 of these movies. He’s French-Canadian. He smokes. He swears. He’s a real person. So working with him again was a big factor. He’s elegant and an old-school producer. Also it’s nice to get to work with the same people. It’s the same crew. I felt like I was coming home to these people, who are just wonderful at their jobs. They’re a little family, which is really nice.

And from the first time around (in “The Girl He Met Online”) to this one (“Killing Mommy”), this one appeared darker. I don’t think I would have done it if they were similar or the same kind of film. It’s so different. So much more fun. And it’s challenging playing two people.

CE: How did you prepare for the difficulty of playing two different characters, making them separate from each other, each with her own personality?

YZ: The preparation was trying to keep these two people separate and to find characters that are quite opposite. You have Juliana, who is a materialistic brat. Then you have Deb, who is kind of a barfly and completely in pain. She’s emotionally stunted and not really able to deal with her pain. She drinks and she smokes and she gets into fights. For those kinds of people, it’s not like they want to do that, it’s just that they are in pain a lot of the time and it’s an outlet.

Keeping those two people separate was the main challenge because you don’t want to watch a movie where you have twins and they are doing the same stuff and they seem the same. A lot of it helped with the look of the character to keep them separate. And just preparing, obviously, reading the script several times, and knowing it backward and forward. But really, knowing the inner life of these two separate characters and their separate relationships with their mother, which I think every family has.

CE: You get to work with your sister in this movie too.

YZ: Yes, Juliana has a best friend — played by my sister, Vanessa Zima — who’s richer than her, and she’s always trying to keep up with the Joneses. She always trying to buy the nicer purse — and that might be a motive for the plot to thicken. That was amazing, because Vanessa and I didn’t have to work on a relationship. We didn’t have to act when we were together. We are best friends. Onscreen, that will be a genuine interaction. Vanessa did a fabulous job. She’s really fun to watch in this. I’m excited to see it to watch her.

CE: Your other sister, Madeline, is also an actress. I loved her as Mia in “Californication” and how she put Hank Moody in his place.

YZ: It’s delightful to watch her as this wicked character that you love to hate. You want to see someone like Hank Moody get slightly tortured because he’s flawed. He’s flawed and you’re like: “You know what? Someone should screw that guy over. Not just one but all of the ladies out there.”

CE: We need to get all three of you sisters together on a project soon.

YZ: We should at least play the Brontë sisters. There were so many of them, or at least enough that we can each play a sister.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Interview: Michael Emerson on the Final Days of Person of Interest

Michael Emerson as Harold Finch
(photo courtesy CBS)
“Person of Interest” has been a CBS mainstay for five years. Starring Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson, this sci-fi crime drama wraps up its fifth and final season June 21. While I’m sure the ending won’t disappoint, all roads leading to the series finale are paved with action and intrigue. Will the Samaritan (the rival AI to Reese and Finch) destroy The Machine (Finch’s AI) and keep its stranglehold on the world? I spoke with series star Michael Emerson recently — who previous to this series spent five years on an island as Ben Linus on the cult phenomenon “Lost” — and he told me all about filming the exciting, and brutal, final season.

Celebrity Extra: Going into it, you knew this would be the last season of the show. Was your time with everyone bittersweet? How was that whole filming experience?

Michael Emerson: The days were just full to the brim with impossibly hard work. And always at the back of our minds we knew: “Hey, this is it. This the end.” But there was no way to enjoy the moment or celebrate it in any way because we had budget restrictions, and they were trying to shoot way more than can be humanly done in eight days.

So there we were the last night, and your dream would be, “Well, we’ll wrap at midnight, and there’ll be champagne.” But when it goes until 4 in the morning, and everybody is frozen and exhausted, and then they say, “Well, that’s a wrap!” The producers made a couple of statements, but no one had it in them to hang around and do anything. We just left it on the camera. I mean, we were aware it was drawing to a close, but what’s to be done about that? People exchanged gifts and mementos and things like that over the course of those final 10 days. But the work was brutal.

CE: Without giving too much away, how do you think the fans will react to the ending?

ME: I think that the ending is really satisfying. And you do worry about that. You think, “Oh God, how are we going to wrap this thing up?” But they, I mean, you think: “Well, what can they do? Samaritan has taken over the world.” I mean, we’re going to try to find a way for The Machine to do battle with it, but as you can see from the episodes that have already aired, it’s not looking that good. So, what cards have we left to play? It seems like a losing battle now.

And I couldn’t figure out, but it ended in a way that I wasn’t expecting. It’s not an illogical ending, but it’s great and surprised me. I kept thinking as we shot the final 13 that I would begin to see the end coming, that I would begin to see how things were lining up. I would begin to think, “Oh, this is how it is going to happen.” I did not know how it was going to happen until the final two episodes.

CE: So you’re happy with the ending, and you think viewers will be too?

ME: When I realized what we were doing, I thought: “We’re going to do that? OK.” To me it’s highly dramatic. I had a fairly important role in the finale. And I can’t think of a better way, but it also leaves a slight sliver of daylight in it where you could one day revisit this narrative. I don’t know what form that would take. I don’t think anyone currently working on this show has any plans to reprieve it or extend it or anything like that, but you never know. Ten years from now, somebody might say they’re going to do a miniseries reboot of “Lost” or something, and would I be interested? And then I’d have to think about that.

CE: What can viewers expect in the next few episodes, before we gear up for the big ending?

ME: You’re going to see in the next few episodes that we kind of go back to our problem-of-the-week format, the stand-alone-episode stuff. But the problem with the warring superintelligence (The Machine versus Samaritan) is that it’s always percolating in the background. All of our numbers now have something to do with Samaritan’s domination of the world. And the solution to that problem is only going to gel very slowly and very late.

CE: In its five years of production, “Person of Interest” attracted so many wonderful guest and recurring stars. What are moments that and who are some actors who stick out in your mind most as you look back on your time on the series?

ME: I got to work with so many great stage actors because the show shoots in New York. I remember having great scenes with Laila Robins and Brian Murray and all kinds of veteran stage players who have wonderful chops. I had a big episode with Blair Brown. She’s wonderful. There’s Saul Rubinek, who played Arthur, Mr. Finch’s friend from school who invented Samaritan. We had a couple of wonderful episodes together. And then just all these tons and tons of super-gifted young people playing warriors and hackers and misfits and assassins and all the — my God, how many characters have we had over the years? It’s so great.

Michael Emerson
(photo by Jeane-Claude)
CE: What is life normally like on the set?

ME: When people say, “I’d love to come to the set of your show,” I always discourage them, because the day-to-day work — although everybody is good-natured and there is some wisecracking and stuff — but we’re a very serious outfit. Every day we have more work than can humanly be accomplished on that day, and somehow we have to do it. I certainly am not a person who is a practical joker on the set or anything like that. It’s a really professional set. Everybody is quite serious, because they know how much they have to do and they have little time to do it.

CE: You finished shooting this past December. As the end of the series approaches, have you been reunited with any of the cast, whether for press reasons or just personal?

ME: We really haven’t seen each other. I see Amy Acker because she’s still in New York. And some people from the production team, we get together. But everybody has scattered to the four corners. Kevin (Chapman) went back to Boston, and Jim went to Washington state, and Taraji (Henson) went back to Texas and then to L.A. She was in town last week, but she came and went before I could get together with her. We haven’t done any press together. There’s been, actually, very little press. I think because CBS set the dates of the broadcasting so late that it was a little hard to come up with the huge press push for it. And they are going to burn these episodes off fast, airing two and three episodes a week.

CE: That’s good for us fans, because we get to binge on it.

ME: Yeah, it’s like CBS is feeding a binge viewing of the show.

CE: Tell me about working with Jim Caviezel. You two are so different, yet your differences brought this wonderful onscreen chemistry.

ME: It’s been good, and we made a good odd couple, I think, because in real life we are an odd couple. He and I could not be more different fellows or more different kinds of actors. The way he goes about it and the way I go about it are opposites, but we arrive at something that where the differences between us are palpable while serving the narrative of the show. We lucked out. You can’t plan to have good chemistry among your actors, but we actually do. It was a good, odd chemistry. And we didn’t tinker with it much. We really never talked about it. We just came in and did our best every day, and it seemed to take care of itself.

CE: Is there anything more you want to tell me about the ending?

ME: The ending is cool, and I have so many thoughts about it and so much to say about it, but it’s an epic spoiler, so I shouldn’t really say it. And even saying it now, it makes it sound like, “Oh, it’s the greatest ending in the world.” And I don’t want to oversell it either. It’s an ending. It’s an ending, and I thought it was a good one.

CE: You’ve acted with your wife, Carrie Preston (of “True Blood,” “The Good Wife” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding”), a few times, including multiple episodes of “Person of Interest,” where she played your fiancee. What is it like to work with her?

ME: It’s fun, but it also gives me the giggles. It’s kind of hard to play scenes with her because it just sounds goofy saying made-up words to your spouse. There’s also because we’re in the same profession, we tease each other about our work at home, so it’s a little hard to turn off the teasing. It’s extra hard because when you’re working with your spouse, you have to tune out the spouseness of her. You have to forget that you woke up in the same bed with her this morning. She has to be the character that she’s playing. That’s like a two-tiered acting problem. But we manage all right. And we even got our dog on the show, so that was fun.

CE: You landed on one hit show “Lost” for five years, then another one, “Person of Interest,” for another five. Any chance you want to go for the trifecta and star in another successful network series?

ME: The one thing I cannot contemplate is going right back onto a network series. It seems like hell. That’s too much. I don’t know how people do it when they’re on “Law and Order” for 15 years or something. My God. No, I want to mix it up a little bit and knock around a little and recharge my battery and do some other kinds of things. Maybe do a play somewhere or get some guest spots. Play some odd, quirky character that I haven’t been able to do before. Do something historical or odd. I don’t know what it’ll be exactly. And it’s nice to have enough time to maybe do an audiobook or some voiceover work of some sort. I’ll just see what comes my way.

CE: I was going to ask you about audiobooks. I saw quite a few on your credits, and I thought that must be a lot of fun but also a lot of hard work.

ME: I love audiobooks. I listen to them all the time. And I’ve done a few of them in my day. I seem to do an all right job with it. I’ll have to wait and see if any of that work is out there and if it presents itself. It’s hard work, audiobooks. It’s not for everyone. And being a good actor doesn’t necessarily guarantee success at audiobooks. It’s like a different kind of beast. And it needs a little bit of character work, but never too much. It’s funny and the pacing can be tricky.

CE: And you have to voice ALL the characters in the book, so that can be daunting.

ME: What do you do when you get to a scene where there are eight people at a table talking? And they all have direct quotes. And you have to know, well how far do I go with this? How far do I go with an old woman? How far do I go with children? Do I have to imitate the dog? It’s tricky because everything has to be managed so the story can be told, but the characterizations should be light. A really light touch. Just a sort of a suggestion. Just to help the listeners know who’s talking.

CE: With all the platforms we now have for original content — Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, network TV, cable — it must be exciting for you to think about all the choices that are out there for actors. Especially if you are cast in a summer series on one network, a winter series on another, etc., you could, as you said earlier, really mix it up with all the characters you get to play, and with a shorter season.

ME: I agree. That’s more attractive to me. I would be happy to do a series that shot only 10 episodes a year. Then you would have seven or eight months to do other things, whatever you please. You could conceivably be on two different television shows, if you worked out the scheduling right.

Michael Emerson as Ben Linus on Lost
(photo courtesy ABC)
CE: It’s so good to get the chance to interview you, because literally just last night I finally finished watching “Lost” for the first time, after binge watching it all year.

ME: Well, still, you watched in a good way. Although I have to say, you’ll never get those hours back (laughs). No, it’s a good show.

CE: Do you come across a lot of people who were a little late to the island party, like I was? And those who complain about the ending?

ME: Every day 20 people stop me on the street and go: “Hey man, you were on ‘Lost,’ right? Ah, I really liked that show, but what the hell was that ending?” Everybody wants you to give them an easy answer. And I always say, “If you have 10 minutes I can explain to you why that is a great ending.” But they never have 10 minutes. They don’t want to hear it.

CE: I didn’t have any trouble understanding the ending, but it might be because I got to watch the episodes back-to-back-to-back and not wait a whole week in between to forget the continuity of things.

ME: That’s right. That’s important.

CE: I think those of us who watched it that way are the ones who liked the ending. I can’t believe so many people were hollering about it. I would look up stuff online, and people were so angry!

ME: Yep, those people are in the majority, and that majority includes people who were writers on the show. It makes my heart ache when I see Damon (Lindelof, “Lost” co-creator, co-showrunner and co-head writer) apologizing for the ending not being better. I don’t know how it could have been better. Every show kind of dictates its own ending.

CE: I know a lot of actors don’t really like to discuss previous work all the time because they have moved on, and for them, that show is in the past.

ME: Well, with “Lost,” as we were saying, plenty of people are just now discovering it. For a lot of people, it’s current.

CE: So it doesn’t bother you to keep getting asked “Lost” questions 10 years later?

ME: Oh, no. It was a wonderful show and a show I am proud of, and it’s always thought-provoking and fun. I’ll never stop talking about “Lost.” It was good.

CE: I remember reading an interview where your wife (Carrie Preston) would get freaked out by your character, Ben Linus, and tell you, “You’d better never look at me that way,” and so on. Were there times when you’d do or say something as Ben, and you’d creep yourself out?

ME: Sometimes I’d watch the show when it was in broadcast and I’d go: “Well, sh*t. That’s really bad. He’s a really bad person.” But on the day you’re filming it, you’re not thinking of what it looks like or how it comes across, you’re just playing your character’s strategies. And you don’t really have a sense of what it looks like. I never looked through the lens. I never see daylight. So, it’s always a big surprise when I watch the broadcast of the episode. That’s the first time I actually see the stuff.

CE: You mentioned in a previous column the possibility of a “Lost” reboot, which doesn’t seem all that inconceivable when you consider the success of the recent reboot of “The X-Files,” which I think a lot of us weren’t expecting to happen.

ME: But that is also educational and cautionary. I know some people were not that excited about the recent “X-Files” miniseries. And some people might have thought it might have been better had they not chosen to do it, but you go for it. If it’s a writing team or a production team that you feel confident with, then it might be fun no matter what.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Interview: Rebecca Wisocky on Devious Maids' Juicy Season 4

Rebecca Wisocky
(photo by Glen Campbell)
When we last saw the ladies (and gents) of “Devious Maids” this past summer on Lifetime television, it was explosive. Sebastien blew up the Powells’ house — accidentally taking out himself and Michael in the process — leaving the fates of several of our favorite characters up in the air, so to speak. I recently chatted with the always delightful and insightful Rebecca Wisocky (who plays Evelyn Powell) about this upcoming 10-episode fourth season of “Devious Maids,” which premieres June 6 at 9/8c, and she and the rest of the cast are “pretty excited” for fans to see what they have in store.

Celebrity Extra: Last we saw Evelyn Powell, she was flying through the air from the explosion of her house.

Rebecca Wisocky: Yes, and I did my own stunt, thank you very much (laughs). That was a fun night. That’s the kind of thing we all geeked out on. The house, Powell Mansion, literally ends — it exploded. And I think it’s a great metaphor for what happens to Evelyn. The world she is used to is gone; you’ll watch her go on a very surprising and new journey this season.

CE: Jog my memory for me: Adrian’s fate is up in the air — literally and figuratively, yes?

RW: Yes, Adrian went back into the house after I told him in no uncertain terms that I wanted a divorce. And then all of this happened with Sebastien. So he goes back in to get a prized family portrait of Adrian, Evelyn and Barrett. And his fate remains unknown. Dun, dun, dun. I’ll tell you this, whether he’s dead or whether he’s alive, Adrian Powell looms large in season four.

CE: For my own sake, I have to believe that Adrian is still alive.

RW: Well, you’ll find out in the very beginning of the season. And it’s worth tuning in for, for sure.

CE: Another surprise from the end of last season, this one being an awesome surprise, was the reappearance of Peri at Spence’s bedside.

RW: I know. I love Peri. I love Mariana (Klaveno, who plays Peri) so much. We’ve become good friends. I can’t get enough of her. It’s a shame, though, that Evelyn and Peri never cross paths. Although I don’t know if that much evil can exist in the same room.

CE: I know you are saying “evil” in the context of a joke, but one of the things I really love about Evelyn is that she isn’t merely evil. In these past few seasons, we’ve really seen her grow. She’s complicated and vulnerable, and she has a reason for her sharp tongue, but she’s not your two-dimensional “evil” character.

RW: She will always have that edge and that defense and that wit. But I do feel that not only has she filled in and become more dimensional — so thank you for saying that — but she’s actually downright adorable in some ways now. Because she’s not afraid of being foolish. Well, she doesn’t necessarily realize she’s being foolish, but she’s softened. I think the journey that you saw last year with (Evelyn trying to adopt) Dion, that’s who she really is. That’s who she wants to be. She’s just had to defend herself from the onslaught of her marriage and the loss of her child and everything else. But she’s pretty lovable.

CE: Exactly. And we really saw that this past season, as you said, with Dion. I loved seeing that side of her.

RW: And, as is often the way with Evelyn Powell, she often gets it wrong. But her intentions are good. And so she’ll find new ways to muck it all up this year, I’m sure. But the hair will be down, so to speak. Yeah, she has every privilege afforded to her, and she still manages to be tortured and miserable. But she’s trying. She’s just blind to the obvious in many ways.

CE: It’s been such a delight to watch Evelyn grow and develop over these past three years. How much fun is she to portray?

RW: I’ve enjoyed playing this character immensely, and I’ve felt so lucky to have a real family develop with this cast and with this crew. I couldn’t be happier. I could play this character for years. And I hope we get the opportunity.

Rebecca as "Evelyn Powell"
(photo by Danny Feld)
DD: Me too! Tell me about how Evelyn develops in the fourth season.

RW: You will definitely see a new side of Evelyn. There will be some struggles of identity, and she will go on a journey this year that you wouldn’t have expected. The very things that define her will be taken away. Evelyn is going to get a little taste of — you know how we explore the upstairs-downstairs motif? Well Evelyn is going to get a little taste of downstairs this year.

And she’ll develop a friendship with Marisol. You’ll see a lot more of that this year, which is delightful. I love working with Ana (Ortiz) so much. And I think people really enjoy Evelyn and Marisol together. And there will be a new man for Evelyn before the end of the season. I think the overarching theme continues to be that Evelyn has and gets precisely what she wants, and it still manages to make her miserable.

CE: I’m glad you mentioned Evelyn and Marisol, because I love watching them together.

RW: You actually feel a real relationship and friendship develop between Marisol and Evelyn. They become compatible in ways that make perfect sense that I think people will find enjoyable to watch.

CE: Please, I just can’t imagine a world without Adrian, especially Adrian with Evelyn. Tell me that he survives the explosion.

RW: I’ll just say, dead or alive, once again, he looms large.

CE: You just finished up shooting for this season. Tell me what this year’s shoot was like.

RW: It’s a little bit shorter this year — we have 10 episodes instead of 13. But we’re escaping the state of Georgia before the year is rained out. We’re very happy about that. But it’s been wonderful. Most of the whole of our crew has returned — and I’m not just saying something pat when I say that they’ve become family, but we’re all very tight. And that’s lovely. It’s really wonderful to enjoy your job so much and to be surrounded by people who are this talented and this committed. It’s a fantastic place to work. And it just keeps getting better — this year in particular. We’re having a blast. Couldn’t be better.

CE: Will we see more random, ridiculous moments for Evelyn, like last year when she found a body part in her garden?

RW: Evelyn continues to get herself in completely ridiculous situations. I won’t tell you why or how, but Evelyn ends up in jail at a certain point. There is lots of ridiculousness happening. And the cliffhanger this year will knock your socks off, for sure. It’s our most shocking. It’s not as explosive as last year’s, but it is definitely our most shocking. I wish I could say more, because there are so many more juicy things that happen.

CE: I was thrilled a few months back to see you guest-starring on an episode of “The X-Files.”

RW: How much fun was that? I was so excited to be asked to do that. I was so, so, so excited. They are legends and, yeah, I was thrilled. I was happy that people responded well to it.

CE: I know I would probably fangirl out a bit, if even for a moment, on that iconic set. Did you have a little moment of awe?

RW: Oh, I had a little fangirl moment. I definitely asked for a selfie. How could you not? I mean, that show is iconic. That show changed everything. I was thrilled to have a tiny part in that. And they were both lovely and gracious.

I think Gillian (Anderson) ended up tweeting about this, but when my character threw that apple at the cat — and in my defense, the window was very, very small, and there was a camera right there in between Gillian and David (Duchovny) — I really nailed Gillian in the chest with that apple once. But to her credit, she dissolved into a pile of giggles on the floor. Because it was a ridiculous situation. But that was a lot of fun.

CE: The character you played was just so tortured — I really felt for her.

RW: I would imagine you certainly would quite literally lose your mind at the loss of a child in that way. But then also to be conspired against to the degree where you are in such a heightened place of grief, and you’re told by everyone around you that you are crazy and are going to be locked up for the rest of your life. She’s a shattered woman. And very different from Evelyn Powell. To get any chance to play a role that is painting with a different palette than Evelyn Powell’s, I’ll do it. It adds to all the fun.

CE: I read that you’re also going to guest-star in a series called “Graves.” What can you tell me about that?

RW: I think it’s going to air on Epix in the fall. I’m not sure exactly when. I had a great time. It’s an incredible script, and they got an amazing cast together. I look forward to watching the show. I’m only in one episode — episode six. I think it’s a 10-episode season. I had a great time. I mean, it’s Nick Nolte! Nick Nolte plays the former president of the United States (named Richard Graves) and is working out a lot of demons. His wife (played by Sela Ward) is contemplating getting involved in politics and having a life of her own. And they have children who have suffered the consequences of having been in the public eye. The writing is incredibly sharp and funny. I think people will really love that show. Again, I have a really small part in it — I’m in one episode — but I was so happy to go play with them.

CE: What else do you have going on?

RW: I don’t know if it’s still in the theaters (it premiered April 1), but people should go see “Hello, My Name Is Doris.” It stars Sally Field. Again, I play a small part in that, but I was so excited to get to play with those people.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Eugene Kim of Showtime's Dice on Working with an Icon, and the Art of the Indie

Eugene Kim / Photo by Teren Oddo
Eugene Kim isn’t a household name — yet. He’s a stand-up comedian who got his big-screen break in an indie film called “Sake-Bomb,” which took the film-festival circuit by storm. He’s also got a film coming out soon called “Car Dogs,” which is an ensemble piece co-starring the likes of George Lopez, Nia Vardalos, Josh Hopkins and Octavia Spencer, to name just a few. But first, let’s talk about Andrew Dice Clay. Eugene’s guest-starring role on Showtime’s “Dice” has everyone talking. I spoke with him about it recently, and he gave me the scoop on working with the legendary showman.

Celebrity Extra: What were your thoughts about the project when you decided to audition for “Dice”?

Eugene Kim: I got a call from my agent, the same day of the audition, at 10 in the morning, and my agent said: “Hey, you have an audition today at 2. It’s for Andrew Dice Clay’s new show.” And I love Andrew Dice Clay. As a person who has done stand-up, I can tell you that he’s one of those iconic comedians that you look up to and hope to meet. I had seen him at The Comedy Store, and he just brings this power when he walks into a room; he just has that star quality, that charisma.

So when they told me the audition was for his show, I was immediately excited and terrified at the same time, just because I had only so much time to prepare for this audition. At that point, you just have to be as on as possible in every moment. They wanted somebody that could work with someone as big as Dice. So, I just worked on the passion of the character of David, who marries into Dice’s family.

CE: Tell me about David.

EK: David is a gay man who gets married to the brother of Dice’s girlfriend (played by Natasha Leggero). It’s the first episode — it actually was supposed to be the fourth episode, but they made it the first one. It makes sense because it establishes what the show’s about, which is the misunderstanding of the character of the Dice Man versus Andrew Dice Clay. And my character is somebody who hates him in the beginning of the episode because of his stand-up act.

Andrew has gotten a lot of flak because of his act. People don’t realize that’s actually not who he is; it’s a character. Once you realize that you actually see how brilliant Andrew is as an artist. It’s almost Kaufman-esque, you know, because he is so committed to this character. But you don’t realize he’s actually a loyal friend, a loving father and a sensitive soul who’s got a lot of depth.

And so my character goes through an arc from hating him to loving him. And it kind of clears up any misunderstanding people might have about him as a misogynist or a homophobe. Because Andrew himself in real life is none of that.

CE: What are some other misconceptions people have about Andrew, things they would be surprised to learn about him?

EK: First and foremost, when it comes to the Dice Man, it’s just a character. In a way it’s almost a compliment, because if you can convince somebody that you are this character, then you are doing a pretty damn good job.

And as an actor, he’s extremely nurturing. All of our scenes, he was just so available and so nurturing. That is something that I appreciate as an artist, because you want to feel safe in your environment. And somebody who is a legend like Andrew could have easily been a jerk, but he was a really great person to work with.

CE: Tell me about “Car Dogs.”

EK: It’s an indie film that we filmed a couple of years ago in Scottsdale, Arizona, at an abandoned car dealership. The film happens over the course of one day. The main character, Mark Chamberlain — who is played by Patrick Adams, who is in “Suits” — has a quota of 35 cars to sell by the end of the day. And he needs us, his car salesmen, to meet that quota. He’s the sales manager, and his father, Malcolm, is the owner. The question is will he do whatever it takes to make that happen, as far as ethics go.

It was a fun project to film. It felt like camp. We were out there for a month in dry, dry Arizona, where I used a lot of Visine because I had no idea how dry it would be out there. I worked with George Lopez and Cory Hardrict and all these stellar actors. It was just so much fun. It’s been going around the festival circuits; it’s making the rounds. Hopefully we’ll get a release sometime in the next year. This whole business is a waiting game.

CE: That’s true, because you filmed it a few years ago, yet it’s just now making its tour.

EK: I know. And sometimes you do a project like a project I did three years ago. It was my first lead in a film, and it went to South by Southwest (SXSW), and it was accepted on the rough cut. It was the fastest turnover. They had a month or two to do the editing and the sound correcting because they had to get it ready for SXSW.

CE: Are you talking about your debut film, “Sake-Bomb”?

EK: Yeah. I’m very proud of it. It was definitely a challenging film to film, but it was something I will never forget, especially for it being the first real big film that I did.

CE: In your bio it says that you studied child psychology at Pepperdine. I would think that would be very helpful to you as an actor in dissecting the characters that you portray.

EK: You’re absolutely right. I basically put each of my characters through a therapy session. I ask a lot of questions to get down to the core of who a person is. For instance, in “Sake-Bomb,” I play a jerk. I play a really horrible human being. But as an actor, I have to be extremely nonjudgmental and not play him as a jerk or a horrible human being. I have to play him as a person who is hurting. Why is he a jerk? Where is that coming from? And that brings you a lot more depth than just playing the result of a jerk. My studying psychology took things to that. I definitely still use it.

I’d still like to work with kids in the future. I used to work in special education in high school, and that was the catalyst of why I wanted to study psychology. I still think that’s something that I will do in the future, but I’ll be doing it from a different place. I’ll be doing it in a different way.

CE: What else do you have in the works?

EK: A lot of things are pending that I probably can’t talk about. But I did an audiobook. It’s a novel by Ryan Graudin called “The Walled City.” It’s a beautiful book. I never thought I’d do an audiobook, but my voiceover agent said I would be right for it, so I auditioned for it. It’s extremely challenging. It was one of the most amazing experiences, because when you do an audiobook, you have to bring life to all of the characters in the book. There were 10 or 12 different characters I had to play. That was something I was really proud of. You can find that on iTunes right now.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Interview — Scandal's Joe Morton: "Rowan Has No Boundaries"

Joe Morton
(photo by Bobby Quillard)
If you watch “Scandal,” then you know that Rowan/Eli Pope strikes fear in the heart of everyone who crosses him — and even if they don’t cross him, but only accidentally get in the way. His portrayer, Joe Morton, is nothing like his character. In fact, aside from the dulcet tones of his mesmerizing baritone voice, you’d be hard-pressed to find any similarities … thank God. When I spoke with Joe recently, he gave me the rundown on all things “Scandal,” as well as his new one-man show in New York City called “Turn Me Loose,” which opens in May.

Celebrity Extra: Did you know how huge “Scandal” was, and was going to be, when you signed on to play Rowan, Olivia Pope’s father, in season two?

Joe Morton: It’s interesting, I think, because the first season that it was on, I certainly had heard of it, but I didn’t really know a lot about it. I knew about Kerry Washington and that she was involved. I didn’t really sit down and pay close attention to the show until the second season. I had come out to L.A. for pilot season, and I sat down with my computer and started streaming “Scandal” on Netflix and just fell in love with it. It was an amazing show, beautifully written, beautifully shot; I loved the cast, loved what was going on. I said to myself, “I wonder if there is a way I can sort of wrangle my way into one episode of the show as a guest artist?”

Even before I had the opportunity to talk to my agents about it, I got a call from them saying that in fact “Scandal” wanted to talk to me about coming onto the show. They said they wanted me to come on as a guest artist, and I had to keep it a secret. And the secret was that in the last episode of season two, the last two lines belonged to Kerry and me, and they would reveal that I was her father. So I said, “You’ve got me.” So, I took it up and here I am.

CE: Because of the type of character you play, I have to assume that it is immensely fun for you as an actor.

JM: It’s a huge amount of fun. I mean, it’s very intense, obviously, and the scenes that they write for Kerry and me, in particular, are just wonderful. So it’s a real joy.

I’ve spent most of my career playing good guys for very deliberate reasons. When I started in this business, a lot of the opportunities for black actors, male actors in particular, were centered on playing drug addicts or drug dealers or pimps or some kind of gangster. And I just thought, that’s not how I want to begin my career. I wanted to try to put together a portfolio of diversified black male characters who didn’t necessarily go around hurting people. But when I came out to L.A. at the end of season two for “Scandal,” I was looking for a very smart, very intelligent, very devious bad guy, and this just fell into my lap. So, it’s secondary how much fun it is.

CE: So much of what Rowan does and says just makes my jaw drop. What are some scenes for you where you couldn’t believe what you were saying or doing?

JM: It was a couple of seasons ago, the scene between Tony Goldwyn (who plays President Grant) and me where I called him a boy. I mean, that was unbelievable that they created this incredible monologue where a black man in chains sitting in a captive sort of situation is telling off a Southern, white Republican president of the United States, telling him that he’s a boy. I just thought, if my father were alive and he were able to witness my doing this speech, he would be shaking his head in disbelief. How did this ever happen?

CE: After having spoken with Tony Goldwyn (who plays President Grant) a few years back, as well as Bellamy Young (Mellie Grant), I get the impression that this is a great environment, a great set to work on.

JM: It really is. Without any exaggeration, they’re the kind of group where you go to work every day looking forward to seeing your friends and doing whatever it is you have to do that day. It’s a real joy. It’s really relaxed. A lot of my scenes are very intense. But a lot of the Olivia Pope and Associates scenes, from what I gather, are a lot of talk and a lot of joking and a lot of standing around, but it really is a family. We are a group of people who are there to watch each other’s back and then to serve the material, to really get in there and do the best we can with what Shonda has given us. And so it makes it just very comfortable and a lot of fun.

CE: Now that Olivia knows the kind of man Rowan is, we haven’t had a lot of scenes with only them, just being father and daughter, with no hidden agendas. Do you miss that?

JM: I think he’s always, generally, I don’t know what the word is — nice? But he’s always loving toward her in one way or another. Even if he’s scolding her. Even if he’s in some way disappointed with some specific thing she might have done. I think that what holds all that together is this very odd and clearly unhealthy relationship between father and daughter. But there it is. It’s still there, and it’s very present, and it’s very powerful, and it’s unbreakable so far.

CE: My impression of Rowan is that he truly believes that no matter what he does or who he kills or who he ruins, that he is doing it to protect the country and that it makes it all OK. What do you think?

JM: I think you are absolutely right. I think his job is to protect the republic by any means necessary. Whatever it takes to make sure that the Republic of the United States’ protection is maintained. So, he will do whatever it takes. There’s no boundary to that. I think he’s even said that. There’s no one above him to say, “Don’t do it that way.” It’s his job to figure out how to make sure XYZ gets done, and gets done quickly and efficiently, and the result is that the country is protected.

CE: Even if that means killing the president’s son …

JM: That’s Rowan in terms of his own view of revenge. His view was you have dishonored and hurt my daughter, so this is what I do in return.

CE: And it didn’t hurt that it helped Grant get re-elected.

JM: Right. If he can do two things at once, fine. But I think there is a strain that is very personal and very dangerous.

Joe Morton (photo courtesy ABC)
CE: What scoop can you give me about “Scandal” as we start to close out the fifth season?

JM: The only thing I can tell you is that it is an election year. So, since this is Fitz’s last term in office, I think there are going to be lots of people affected by his moving out of that office and trying to determine who’s going to take his place. But, if you want to know anything else, you’re just going to have to wait and see it.

CE: Prior to researching Dick Gregory for this interview, shame on me that I had not heard of him. What an influential man he was, and still is! What had you known about him before taking on this role, and what made you decide to play him?

JM: I’d met him many years ago, so I knew who he was and I knew what he’d done. I knew about his activism in terms of the civil-rights movement. I knew about his work in terms of nutrition. He had the Bohemian diet that came out in the ’70s, I believe. I’ve seen and heard his stand-up routine. And it was all of that that attracted me to want to do the part. We are talking about things today in politics and in nutrition that he was talking about 30 and 40 years ago. So he definitely was a trendsetter. He was definitely someone enormously ahead of his time and someone who had great courage to do the kinds of things that he did.

CE: How did he get involved in the civil-rights movement?

JM: Medgar Evers was the big pull for him into the civil-rights movement. He and Medgar Evers became the best of friends. They rode the buses together, they did fundraisers together, etc. In fact, the name of the play, “Turn Me Loose,” is the last three words that Medgar Evers spoke before he died. Medgar was his idol in a lot of ways, and he felt pressed to make sure that he came up to Medgar’s measure in terms of what needed to be done with the civil-rights movement. And he continues to do it today. He still goes out on speeches and he goes to college campuses. I was just talking to him recently at BB King’s in New York, but he also goes from campus to campus talking to students and whomever wants to listen about what’s going on in the world and his point of view.

CE: What do you hope comes from this play when audiences see it; how would you like the audience to react to it, or what do you hope they take from it?

JM: I hope it reaches as many people as humanly possible. That’s the point of the play, in many ways, is that it is in some ways a call to action. A lot of what he did, a lot of what he speaks about, a lot of his humor really was basically telling the audience or asking the audience to take stock of their own situation individually and as groups, and do something about it. The woes that we find ourselves facing as individuals or as groups — whether it’s black people or Hispanics or women or whatever — it might be you need to take stock in these situations and act on it and do something to make it better. That’s on all of us. That is our obligation. And that is what he preaches, even if he’s doing a stand-up comedy routine.

CE: What is the time frame in Dick Gregory’s life that the play covers?

JM: It flips back and forth between the ’60s and present day. It’s just me on stage, playing him at different ages. When he was younger, when he broke the color line on the Jack Paar show, and then when he’s older and talking directly to the audience that’s in front of him.

CE: What else should audiences know about the play?

JM: Just that John Legend is also involved. He is one of our producers. It will be “Turn Me Loose, presented by John Legend.” So that will hopefully be really helpful. And I believe he’s, if not writing at the moment, has written a song for the play that will be introduced at the end of the play opening night.