I’ve been a professional actor for almost 20 years. I started my career during one of my summers in college when I was cast in a theater production that took me to the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland. We performed two new plays; Tennessee in the summer, about the life and times of Tennessee Williams and Purple Hearts, based on true events about three soldiers trapped in a sunken battle ship in Pearl Harbor.
After that summer I moved to San Francisco to study acting at The American Conservatory Theater and on my graduation I was cast in my first movie with Lucasfilm called Radioland Murders. So in a sense George Lucas gave me my start.
Your first encounter with Lucasfilm was the movie Radioland Murders.
A year after Radioland Murders you got cast as Rookie One, the main character of Rebel Assault II; a video game that had real live footage included. How did you get this part?
The Rebel Assault job came as a pleasant surprise. I was working on Angels in America at ACT at the time and got a call from my agent for this LucasArts video game. When I went to the audition, they were packed with people and I had another appointment across town. I waited as long as I could, but after an hour I told the casting assistant that I was leaving for another appointment, not really knowing what I was passing up. The next day I got a call-back to come and meet the director and I hadn’t even auditioned. Hal Barwood was the director and we hit it off right away. It wasn’t really much of an audition, more of a creative meeting where he told me all about the project and the concept about Tatooine and the Rebellion. I walked out of that meeting and drove home where a message was waiting from my agent about the project. They had offered me the part and we would start right away. The scenes that were shot for Rebel Assault II were among the first Star Wars scenes shot since Return of the Jedi.
Can you share some of your memories regarding the shooting these scenes?
The environment on the set was great and working with Hal was a collaborative experience. This was also my first blue screen shoot and I didn’t know what to expect. We used all of the original costumes from Return of the Jedi which for me was the coolest thing in my life at that point. You see I had grown up in Geman and we didn’t have an English speaking movie theater in our neighborhood. We happened to be in the Netherlands when Star Wars came out in Europe and we watched it on an enormous 180 degree wrap around screen and lucky for us it was in English with Dutch subtitles. I was mesmerized. My brothers and I loved the movie so much that my parents drove us to the Frankfurt airport 13 times to see the movie again and again. So, to be working with these original movie pieces was a thrill.
Did any strange, weird or remarkable things happen during the making of Rebel Assault II?
When I saw the actor playing Darth Vader enter in his full regalia, I was instantly thrust back to my childhood and have to admit that I was struck with a little bit of momentary panic. The shoot itself was pretty smooth other than a major move for me in the middle of the process. My wife and I had already made plans to move back to Los Angeles and I had to fly back up to San Francisco to finish the work. The hardest part of the shoot was reacting to the things that would be added later as we shot on an empty blue set that would be filled by computer generated environments later. The funniest moment for me on the set is actually my blooper Easter egg on the game itself. Vince, the creator of the game was standing in for Admiral…Ackbar, the ”fishy guy” and was standing on a ladder doing the voice. I had been off the set at a fitting and came back to a room full of cadets and extras that were rehearsing the scene and prepping for my arrival. When I got there we started shooting and the voice that Vince was using to enact the moment was hysterical, combined the twisted expression on his face required to emulate the characters voice was killing me. I hadn’t been in the room and didn’t know what he was doing and I couldn’t help myself and busted up laughing. Everyone else was so serious that it made it even worse. In which way(s) was the making of Rebel Assault II different than shooting a motion picture?
Well for starters, I became a puppet you can manipulate in the game by shooting me in 24 different positions that would later allow the user to actually move the image of Rookie One as they played the game. The blue screen work like I said earlier had its own challenges. I recall one scene where I, as the character of Rookie One, knocked out a storm trooper and put on his suit to avoid detection in the enemies’ base. Let me tell you, those things are almost impossible to move in and the helmet is almost impossible to see out of. In the scene I had to run through the blue sound stage pivoting around blue marks on the blue floor that would later become boxes and debris and other set pieces, run up a flight of blue stairs and crouch behind a blue nothing, that would later become some sort of mechanical unit I was hiding behind. It was crazy trying to make all that happen and look like I knew what I was doing and where I was going.
I’m sure you played the game when it was released. What did you think of the final result and did you enjoy playing as ‘yourself’?
Well, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, but I couldn’t play the game very well. I kept getting stuck trying to get the Millennium Falcon out of the darn cave, so I had to have Vince, the game creator play the game and output it to a video tape so I could see the game and the videos in their entirety. After I saw all that I loved it. It’s always hard for me as an actor watching myself, but all of that aside I thought the team did a great job. Since you were a Star Wars fan before you got cast, it must have been a dream coming true I guess.
Well, as I said earlier in the interview, I lived in Germany when the first one came out and overcame great obstacles to see that movie as many times as possible. One of the great moments of my young career was working on that game and all those original artifacts, only to be trumped by a trip to Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch for a lunch with the director a year after the game came out. What an amazing facility and it couldn’t be set in a more beautiful location. I also wrote a personal letter to George Lucas asking for an opportunity to work in the new movies that where casting at the time, but it wasn’t in the cards for me.
You currently run Jones Films; a Film Development and Production company based in Los Angeles and New York.
Can you tell something about your current projects and the things you do at Jones Films?
Among other things, we are currently in development on a 1920’s prohibition gangster movie set in Detroit about the notorious Purple Gang. It’s an amazing story and we’ve developed a great script.
At Jones Films you also train actors. What is, according to you, the one thing a beginning actor should always keep in mind?
We have a class on Monday nights in Hollywood that’s all about the art and business of acting. I think actors have to remember that this is a business and that you have to be smart about your career and the choices you make. Having the right representation is important as well. Not the biggest agent, but the one that will push you in the right doors. This business is a bit of a game of chance but I do believe that talent and tenacity will rise to the top and if you’re seen by the right people (directors, casting and producers) that you will have a career. Maybe not Brad Pitts’ career, but one that’s still worth having none the less.
What do you regard as your biggest achievement as an actor? And what do you regard as the highlight of your career so far?
I think some of my best work as an actor has been on the stage. I’ve done a great deal of work in television, most recently Burn Notice; what a blast working with Bruce Campbell, and one of my favorite films was with Christian Slater and William H. Macy; a movie from a few years back called He Was A Quiet Man in which I play the antagonist to Christian’s introverted office drone who goes postal. I believe much of my best work in film is yet to come and I look forward to the number of opportunities that are currently on the horizon.
Is there anything you want to say to the readers? Here is your chance!
Thank you seems the most appropriate thing to say. It’s funny that a video game could have such an impact on people, but it has and a great many people have approached me and raved about what a great game Rebel Assault II was and how they were obsessed with it in their young lives. The great moments in life are fleeting an ephemeral and as much as we want to hold on to the great moments of the past, I think the most important thing to do is to move forward. I hope I have the opportunity in my future to work with the Lucas company again; it was a great experience and a highlight. Thank you to all the fans that bought and loved the game and made it a piece worth remembering.