John Billingsley, Part TwoBy AntonyF
Posted at May 26, 2006 - 6:46 PM GMT
ABC just last week picked up The Nine, a new lead-out show for Lost to replace Invasion, which will star John as a series regular. "It's a very exciting, interesting premise," he said. "You never know when you get a pilot, it's out of your hands once you've gone through the audition cycle where you have some control, what you bring in the room. The pilot has to be picked up, then it has to find success, so there a lot of stiles to be jumped yet. But I think it's got a good pedigree, the people behind it are the people from Without A Trace, which from what I gather is a good show, I'm afraid I haven't caught it yet. And Chi McBride is going to be in it, Scott Wolf's going to be in it."
John plays one of the titular nine. "It's about the lives of nine people who are involved in different capacities in a botched bank robbery, and I play a guy who is sort of a sad sack who is surprisingly one of the heroes of the hostage taking situation and helps save the day. And it turns his life around, he gets a new lease on life. So it's actually a very lovely story about somebody who realizes late in life that he has latent potentialities. You don't know in a situation like that with nine series regulars how much you'll get to do as that's a lot of folks to be telling stories about, but I'm very excited about the part. I think it's got the potential to be a popular show. It's ABC, and that's certainly right now the most prestigious network."
He said the show would employ flashbacks, making it sound similar to Lost. "It will spend its first season, at least I assume, flashbacking to the events of this 56 hours hostage stand off. We, in the pilot, only get a few little hints about what transpired in this hostage taking. We know that some things went down that had tremendous psychological significance for the survivors, so we're tracking forward as we see them get on with their lives, and I think that's where it has the ability to have legs because ultimately it's going to be about how these people cope with the aftermath of a life changing event and how they learn to be different people really in certain respects, and the flashback I think is largely going to be what keeps some of the mystery alive, at least for the first season. How long they can sustain that as it goes, I don't know. It's not like Lost where you have a capacity for infinite flashbacks, it is actually a 56 hour hostage taking situation and I don't know if they can hold us flashing back to that one event in perpetuity, but we'll see."
He added he doesn't know if he can do Prison Break when a series regular on The Nine, but said was hopeful that "everybody can kind of work things out."
For all his television roles, John admitted that he doesn't actually watch much TV. "If I had my druthers I'd rather read a good book, that's where my time actually goes. I watch a few things on TV, but I'm very sparing in the amount of television I watch. [...] It's just that there's so much product right now with a multiplicity of cable channels etc. etc. etc. that I'm pretty ruthless about my TV viewing."
John said he was a fan of shows such as Six Feet Under, which he watched "religiously until it went off the air", Sopranos and Deadwood. Yes, he's a HBO fan. "I watch a lot of the HBO shows, I tend to gravitate more towards some of the cable shows just because they don't have these silly regulations and prohibition regarding language and content etc. that make me tear my hair out a bit. So I move to towards those shows as opposed to those shows on mainstream TV."
He said he has lost interest in some network shows. "I watched the first season of Lost although I finally did pull away from it at the beginning of the second year. I just felt that its absurdities had become too great for me to continue on with it, though I thought the work was strong. I watched the first three years of West Wing, then somewhere around the part of the storyline where [President Bartlet] was running for the first re-election campaign ..., I think it was about the time when Sorkin was leaving the show, I just started to lose interest a bit and I never really picked it up again. Although from everything I've heard they've had a creative resurgence in the last year and a half or so, so I may very well catch up with that show again."
One way to catch up is, of course, with DVD. "What I do is buy the DVDs, and I have a DVD library for my wife and I, and at each point in time we'll say 'we're going to watch this show from beginning to end' and it allows me to keep my television watching in a place I feel comfortable with. People on average watch something like four hours of TV a day, and it's ironic given that I make my money in this medium, but I find that sort of to be deleterious. People should read more," he laughed. "It's really where I'd rather spend my time."
But not content with keeping busy on TV, John has also been involved in a number of movie projects. "I've done three or four independent movies, which you know always is the case you never know if they're going to see the light of day or not," he admitted. "I did a movie called the Ripple Effect a little while back which was written and directed by a guy named Philippe Caland. [It is] about a clothing designer who is sort of at the end of his tether because he's losing the funding for a new line of clothing and it's sort of driving him into a nervous breakdown. I play an old friend of his who has achieved fabulous success but who he has not kept up with, and he comes to me as a last resort to borrow some money. And I make him jump through a lot of hoops. I punish him emotionally for what I perceive as his inability to sustain our friendship. To a certain extent that's what the movie's about, the difficulty of keeping one's personal relationships in a world that demands we attend always to our business our business our business. That had a great cast, Forrest Whittaker, Forrest Virgina Madsen, Forrest Minnie Driver. Phillipe is very interested in improvizational style so he gave me all the latitude in the world to conjure up my own script, and I actually like working that way. The work we did together was very satisfying, and in fact we'll do another film together some time spring called Cake if it goes, which I'll have a larger role playing opposite Phillipe again."
"Then The Man from Earth I shot at the beginning of this year, which is a very low budget—I applaud the director's ballsyness to try and make a movie on such a shoestring, he basically shot it in eight days which is unheard of, you know 12 page days-about a guy who claims he's 12,000 years old. I played one of his circle of pals who was of course incredulous initially but then slowly starts to think 'Could this story possibly be true, he makes a great case'. He eventually reveals himself or tells us he was Jesus in fact. It's very interesting, because as an agnostic myself (depending on which day you catch me I'd say I'm an agnostic or atheist), it has very interesting take on religious mythology. I'd be curious to see how it comes out as it's very static. All the action essentially takes places in the living room of a cabin, it's really all about the story and the dialogue and there's not a lot of about action. Whether or not it can sustain interest, I don't know. And, you know, when you shoot a movie in eight days you have to sacrifice a lot of things to get the thing in the can. You always wondered 'did we get enough coverage there?' But I'll be curious to see how it turns out. Nice cast, fun to do."
"Then I just recently did just a few days in a movie called Dead and Deader, which I think is going to play on the SCI FI Channel. It's a zombie comedy. A zomedy. I'd initially been scheduled to have a role larger than I ultimately had, but my network test [for The Nine] came up and when the network says jump, you jump. So I had to [find a way] through my agency a way to step out of the movie, and they decided what they would do is recast the role I was going to play with Armin Shimerman [Deep Space Nine's Quark] and write a different role for me. So by the end of the day I was in it fairly briefly playing a ploddish mortuary attendant who misplaces a body."
John also appeared in Room Six, by the same company. "Very nice guys. They have a company that does low budget thrillers, usually with a tongue in cheek quality to them. Room Six is about a guy who's in an automobile accident, wakes up in a hospital that is seemingly either haunted or is run by demons, we're not sure which. I had a very small cameo role as a guy in the bed opposite him who's trying to warn him to get the hell out of Dodge if he can. By in so doing, I tip the nurses off that I'm trouble so they devour me in the middle of the night. I think. Don't quote me on that!"
Last time I interviewed John, he was preparing to move agent. He's made the move, and spoke more about his decision to move and the nature of actor/agent relationships. "I'm with an agent called Stone Manners, which is working out fine. It's the nature of this business that you move around periodically if you feel you need to. When I was with Buchwald, they lost several of the agents and it just felt as if it were an agency going through a big transition and I didn't really feel comfortable having to forge new relationships with people who didn't really know me. Stone Manners was an agency I'd interviewed with at the time I'd decided to go with Buckwald a few years back, it was kind of a coin toss either way at the time, and I wouldn't say regretted not making the decision to go with Stone Manners but I always kept it in the back of my mind that would be natural place to look if I decided to move on. It's a funny business, you have to have a healthy respect for your business partners and collaborators and a recognition at the same time that you are ultimately you are business for yourself. Your business model is not necessarily their business model and you have to be very very sharp eyed about where you think those interests diverge. If they diverge too much, you move on."
Things have also been busy for John's wife, Bonita Friedericy. "She's doing great in fact, I can't really go into the specifics, but she's waiting to test for a pilot too. Sometimes that process can be absurdly attenuated, depending on how many actors they're looking at for how many roles. They have let her know she's past the first cut, they want to her to network, now they're sort of negotiating a deal. So we're keeping our fingers crossed and I probably shouldn't really say more than that at this point about anything because we just don't have a final. She also had a move at Sundance recently, called Stay, that Bob Goldthwait, the ex-comedian, wrote and directed which I thought was just adorable. It's a very dark comedy about a young woman who has a peculiar sexual incident in her past that she's always kept hidden for fear that people will be revolted by it and it finally comes out and blows up all her relationships. Bonita plays that young girl's mother. One of the best indy scripts I read last year, I auditioned for it but didn't get it. It was sold, and it will see the light of day, it's definitely not for everybody. But I'm very proud of her for that. It's a tough business, it's a tough business for female actors, but I think she's doing pretty well."
So with so many TV and film roles on the god, could Enterprise's cancellation been a good thing for John's career? "I think for me it has been," he said. "I'll be very candid with you: it was a wonderful experience, and certainly it was a life changing experience in so far as it provided me a level of financial security that I never dreamed I would have, but the reality of playing a supporting role in an action/adventure series is that you don't have a tremendous opportunity to throw your elbow around. There wasn't enough for me to do on that show to be fully satisfied. And I knew that going in it was likely to be the case that I would feel some of that. I don't want you to think that I ever considered it to be a problem. I knew that I was not hired as a series regular, as a lead, so it's not as if I was ever depressed, or downcast. Having said that when it ended it was okay be me, because I knew I'd get to go on and do other things and I had every confidence that I would keep working. You never know what's coming down the pike, but to a certain extent what you can control if you're an actor and you have some desire to keep in this mix is that you can always find something to do. So four years, it put us at the magic number that allowed us to be syndicated so there will be some residual incoming coming in down the road and it was long enough for me to feel like I had gotten a chance to explore that character fairy fully. If it had lasted another three years, that'd have been fine too. I certainly don't mean to suggest that I was rooting for it to go away, I know how much of a loss that is for some of the fans of the show."
But John is happy with how things have turned out. "It's a very good time right now. There are a lot of irons in the fire which is great."
To read part one click here.
You can also read these previous interviews with John:
January 22 2002, where John discussed season one's "Dear Doctor".
February 18 2004, where John talked about season three's "Doctor's Orders".
October 25 2004, where John talked about the fourth season and how he expected it would be the last.
AntonyF When not trying to keep the server from flying apart at Warp 9 or interviewing actors, AntonyF can be found writing for Get Desperate! or posting on the Trek BBS.