As actors, we’re always interested in stretching the limits. There’s no end as to how a character can be played. We have an idea in our head, but the director might have a totally different idea.
Creating your character is a lot of fun – when playing a human. Now what if you are playing a supernatural character?!
Today we hear from six actors who have delved into the supernatural realm:
Mark Pellegrino (“Supernatural,” “Being Human,” “Lost”), Richard Speight Jr. (“Supernatural,” “Jericho”), and from the TV series “Lost Girl” – Paul Amos, Richard Howland, Rachel Skarsten and K.C. Collins!
Photo by Manfred Baumann
Mark played Jacob in “Lost” and is currently filming “The Tomorrow People.”
You’re no stranger to playing supernatural creatures such as the vampire “Bishop” in the SyFy horror series “Being Human” and Lucifer in “Supernatural.” Is there any extra preparation you go through?
“Well, luckily the supernatural stories I’ve had to play in were very human stories. In fact, part of what attracted me to the parts of ‘Bishop’ and ‘Lucifer’ and even ‘Jacob’ were their accessibility. They were, at their essence, stories about family. With stories that clear, as an actor, you need only know what you’re doing and how you feel about it to make it work. Interestingly enough I thought ‘Bishop’s’ story required a little homework. I was told he was turned in seventeenth century London and that little bit of info (which is never elaborated on in the series to my knowledge) got my creative juices flowing. I read Daniel Defoe’s The Plague Year…and a definitive history of London replete with maps and anecdotes from that time. I used those books as a spring board for a long ‘life’ journal that I wrote for ‘Bishop.’ Was this necessary? Probably not, but I love stuff like that that keeps your imagination fertile and active and involved and more than anything steers you away from clichés.
Make-up can be an issue, but more distracting than contact lenses that cover your entire eyeball…or gooey latex on your face…also fat suits, wigs, itchy wool clothing and dirt. Not to mention. oodles and oodles of sticky blood and all the malfunctions that can occur when these elements are combined with human actions and intensions…more distracting than all of this… is the weather.
I remember doing a scene with ‘Aiden’ (Sam Witwer). It was a flashback scene to the 70’s. I was, as usual, trying to get him back, or steering him clear of some impending disaster. We were outside an apartment building in open polyester shirts and thin little pleather jackets. Only it was the dead of winter in Montreal and SNOWING. AND….vampires are supposed to be immune to weather phenomenon. HA. Talk about focus or die.”
You’ve had a very healthy acting career before appearing as character ‘Jacob’ in the “Lost” Season Five finale. Do you feel “Lost” catapulted you into the public eye?
“I think ‘Lost’ was very very good for me. They had such a huge and loyal fan base and it was such an innovative and unique show. I really feel like I was a part of something historical.
I think the especially good thing about it for me was to be seen by a large number of people as a good guy…not even just good…but potentially Christ-like. Even though it turned out ‘Jacob’s’ past was far more checkered than one would expect of a messiah, it was the first big thing I’d done where I could be perceived as benign.
I HAD gotten fan mail before and it did increase with ‘Lost,’ but it also changed. That show inspired people and that became a part of what fans would write to me. It feels pretty good to be a part of something so impactful.”
Please describe your auditions for “Supernatural,” “Being Human” and “Lost.”
“I was fortunate for ‘Supernatural’ and ‘Being Human.’ I was offered those parts and didn’t have to go through the odd and awkward dance that auditions can feel like.
‘Lost’ I auditioned for. And that is a bit of a story.
I almost didn’t go. I had three other auditions that day and was worried that I would not be able to devote the amount of time to the material that I thought it would need. It was three or four pages of sides [part of the script] with A LOT of dialogue. The last thing I wanted to do was go in there and make a terrible impression.
But….my wife convinced me to go and I crammed as hard as I could before I went in (I like to memorize or at least be very familiar with the material before I go in. If I can rehearse it a few times before…that is even better), so I went in cold…dressed casually. The casting person and assistant working the camera were the only people in the room (I like these situations because they are more conducive to creative play). I knew what I was doing: It was a confrontation scene between two brothers. It was very easy to latch onto and in spite of the short time with the material and I felt I connected with it quickly.
It wasn’t until I was actually getting fitted…in Hawaii…that I discovered what part it was I had gotten and how much anticipation there had been for ‘Jacob’s’ appearance.”
What political topics are you currently thinking about and discussing?
“Interesting question. Didn’t expect politics in this kind of forum.
Well, you should know that I love politics and history more than I love acting.
Even so, I find this a tough one to answer because political ideas, particularly those that contradict the conventional wisdom, cannot be distilled to a few characters of explanation. And rational ideas resist the sound bite (even though you say ‘go into detail’).
The main political topic, for me, revolves around the cause of human liberty…the most precious commodity on earth. Political ideas either promote human liberty or destroy it in the interests of some ‘higher interest.’ So I’ll answer you with a series of rhetorical questions and by that, I think you’ll know what I think is important: Is Individualism a good? Or Statism? Is there something higher than the individual that he is obligated to sacrifice for? Or is he an end unto himself? Is Capitalism a moral ideal? Or is collectivism and its attendant political policies? Is altruism or rational self-interest GOOD? Which has the better track record in human history for the preservation of rights and the prosperity of a people: Statism (with all it’s variants) or Capitalism? These, as a rugged individualist and aspiring artist, are the questions that consume me…”
You teach at the repertory theater company “Playhouse West.” Why did you choose the Meisner technique? Why do you teach?
“I chose Meisner by luck and then, when I saw the result of working moment to moment, it became love. I think Meisner offers something visceral that, in combination with other styles, is utterly fantastic.
I teach for a couple reasons. One is continuity. There is very little of that in American acting…particularly on the west coast. The last thing you want to do is sit around waiting for your agent to call you with an audition. Spend that off-time growing and learning. Teaching (and doing plays) is the way I keep focused and feel involved in the craft.
The second reason is I feel like I’m giving back. Passing something onto young peoples in the hopes that I am able to save them the one un-renewable resource there is: Time. John Adams once said that teaching was the one eternal art because you never knew where your influence stopped. I love that idea. That I could say something that can change someone two generations removed from me is pretty heady.
I know Bill Alderson [from The Neighborhood Playhouse who taught and directed in NYC.] He taught my mentor Bob Carnegie. He’s a good teacher I hear and he’s always been very nice to me.”
Why is it difficult for you to watch yourself?
“It used to be harder to watch myself. And it still is in public. I don’t mind doing it as a study now…but it is a study. And yes there is that element…that…’God if I could only do that now…’ kind of thing. But I’m growing past that and using my time to study my work for what to keep and what to throw out. It is an egoless venture now with the intent of learning.”
How does it work when a stuntman is taking your place?
“I used to do a lot of my stunt fighting on my own, but the years have taken their toll and if I can get out of it and let someone more capable take the reins I’m all for it. A stuntman will take your place whenever you need him to. And he is always on the set (unless it’s really low budget stuff) to take over whenever you need him to…THANK GOD.”
Your wife, Tracy, is very supportive of your career. How and when did you meet her?
“We met at Playhouse West over 20 years ago. We were acquaintances…then lost touch…became friends…then lost touch…became friends again…then lovers…then got married…ha. Acting is a vagabond life and difficult for anyone. The long hours are not the bitch. It’s the locations. It’s working everywhere BUT home that makes for the difficulty. We try to see each other every two weeks regardless of where we are on the globe. Or rather I should say…we try to go no longer than two weeks without seeing each other.
Tracy comes to the set with me quite often. And Tess (my step-daughter) came to Hawaii for awhile (and she was a ‘Lost’ fan). But basically, anytime I can drag the kids over I will.”
Are conventions and appearances such as Press Tours written into your contract or is there a separate contract for that?
“That is a separate deal. I have a convention agent who books all that. Travel and accommodations are handled by the con. I usually get a little per diem too.”
Photo by Bjoern Kommerell
Mark has also appeared in “Revolution,” “Grimm” and “Dexter”
Is your goofy but cute hairstyle your own look or do the hair and make-up people create your look?
“Ha. Depends which goofy hairstyle.”
Have you ever betrayed anyone in childhood or adulthood?
Do you wear prescription eye contacts?
“I do wear prescription contacts. They sent me to an eye doctor to get a prescription for my full vampire eyes. So the contacts I wear in ‘Being Human’ are my prescription. But those full eye contacts are weird because you can only see through a little pupil sized pin hole. And if you are doing an action scene they have been known to shift in flight and leave you temporarily blind.”