Vulcan Events Sci-Fi Convention
Doubletree Hotel, Tampa, FL
February 26-27, 2011
Tampa, FL - From February 25-27, 2011, Vulcan Events hosted the second annual Sci-Fi Convention, held in Tampa, Florida, USA.
On Saturday afternoon, the Q&A session with STEVEN CULP took place.
|Thank you for proofreading, Amy! :-)
Steven: Hi everybody. Thank you for coming, thank you for staying and not leaving as soon as Peter [David] was done. I'm open up for questions or anything you want to ask about.
Question: Have you ever played a character who did not die?
Steven: It's been known to happen, occasionally. Every now and then I play a character who does not die.
Question: What is your current project?
Steven: I've done some couple of episodes of a new show called "The Chicago Code" that just premiered on Fox. I'm not sure what the order of the episodes is it is going to be now because they've changed it all around and they've written some new episodes to be early in the season. I'm the Deputy Mayor of Chicago, except I don't have an accent. I asked if they wanted one but they said no. It has a great cast. It got Jason Clarke, Jennifer Beals, and Matt Lauria and it has terrific scripts, it's a really good show.
Question: Tell us something from your days on JAG.
Steven: Well, my first day on JAG I remember. I was supposed to report in on a Monday. It was the first show that they were shooting for their second season but it was not the first episode of the second season. They had not written that one yet. This was somewhere down the line. I was coming on to do this character of Webb who already had a history with these people. But that episode had not been written yet where I was introduced. I was supposed to show up on a Monday and got a call Sunday night that they had not finished the script. It was been totally rewritten by Don Bellisario. So I said ok, Sunday night I still don't have the script, I have a 6 am call to get up in the morning. Somewhere between midnight and 4 am a script arrives on the doorstep. I go to the set, this whole thing is new to me, I have never played the character before, and I was doing scenes that I hadn't even read. Yes, there were brand new scenes that were not in the old script. So that was a good first day.
"Question:" They must have liked you. They kept you for 10 years.
Steven: I did that episode and, as I recall, it took them a while to get up to speed in that season. I think normally you take eight days to film an episode. That episode took twelve days, I think. Then I came in to do the next episode where I was introduced. Patrick Labyorteaux and I had a scene together where he is basically trying to pull my leg. He is waving his hand in front of his face and he says it is some method for seeing flying saucers. He totally fools my character into doing this thing [waving his hands in front of his face] with him. It was done all in one shot as the sun is setting. The day was running out. We had one chance to do this scene. We did it in a take with the camera coming in, all in one shot. Then they did another shot from behind us just to insert into the scene. Don saw that scene apparently and laughed so hard, he said "We got to keep these guys around." So that is part of the way that Webb ended up being on that show for so long. And then because of the fans I have to say. There were a lot of people that wrote in about that character. Don really loved it.
It was a great experience for me as an actor. One of the things I loved about Webb was he was so ... he was a good guy, he was a bad guy, he was serious, sometimes he was comic. You never quite knew where he was and there were all these different colors that you can play. I always felt like I get these scripts and there are these surprising things in them, things that would totally throw me a curve. Then I kind of figure out how Webb would handle this curve. Then I throw the curve back to them. Then I get the next script, it seemed like we had a relationship between me and the creators and the writers where we kept pushing up each other's game every time a new episode would be done. We would be all discovering things about this character on JAG. If you ever watched JAG, the character starts out being, over the course of nine years I did it, what I call the asshole in a suit role, you know, the foil of the hero. He went from being that to by the end of it to being this very cool spy guy who is having an affair with the leading lady. He really was being able to go on a journey.
It is one of the few times I think that I've been in this situation where you get to go on this kind of journey. Even on "Desperate Housewives," you know, when things start happening with your character and you go "oh great," and in the next script you are right back at square one again, it seemed like. You know, the job of the husbands on "Desperate Housewives" is supposed to be foils for the wives. So the writing tends to get a little one dimensional on page and it is the actor's job to come in and bring dimension and life to that. "Desperate Housewives" had great directors and we were all able to do something with the role. But with Webb it was given dimensional life over the course of time by Don, the writers and me working in this kind of symbiotic relationship. Watching this character grow was very exciting. They were great people to work with. I had a really good time and great chemistry with David and Catherine.
Question: I know you have guest stared on a lot of things, like "Burn Notice." How what that like?
Steven: "Burn Notice" was a lot of fun. I got to work with Sharon Gless who I just think is a tremendous actress and Coby Bell. I felt really lucky because I got to work with them all in my time on there. It was not an easy role to do, it was very emotional. It is a little scary doing a part that is more emotional like that on camera because especially when they are going so fast. Because there is always this part of you that wonders if you are gonna be able to be in that place when they are ready to be there. It is not like doing a play where you get to rehearse a number of weeks, where your interior chemistry starts to function so that the right things happen at the right time as you have rehearsed this and developed this role over weeks before you go in front of an audience. When you are doing it on camera, you know, you walk in, you rehearse the scene, you block the scene, you shoot the scene and then you move on. So it is always a little scary and a little challenging to do roles like that on camera. It is what I'm really enjoying doing now, I have to say. I like being scared the more I do this. I only want to be scared. If there is a part of you that is not going, "will I be able to do this?" something's wrong. I want to be on that edge.
Question: Is it a challenge?
Steven: Yes. I mean that is what I like about this stuff, it is always a challenge. That's why you do it. I mean, I like it to be at challenge. I still feel like I learn how to do this job, which is good. That's why I took it up in the first place. Because I did not wanna be doing the same thing every day. I want to be engaged. For me there is something about acting that I think it is the kind of job that I think brings out the best in me. It sort of pulls the best things out of you. You know, just the way you have to work, the way you have to interact with other people and the challenges that it sets. I love it. I think it makes you feel alive. It is like being an athlete, I would think. When you are in that moment and you are totally present and there is something great about that. You just feel more alive than you do in real life a lot of the time.
Question: What saw you in that role of Major Hayes on "Star Trek Enterprise" and how you captured that role ultimately?
Steven: That was interesting. My manager sent me the sides. You know, what they call sides: you go on an audition and read the scenes. There was not really much on the page for this first episode of Hayes. I was like, "you know, there is not much here." At the time they were talking about having at least 10 episodes. That was before they started the season. I said "ok, I'll go and read for it." It is one of the situations where like 50 people are in the hall, all reading for different roles, some reading for the same as you are and you wait for like an hour and then you finally go into that room. By that time I was just over it. You know, I don't like to wait past an hour. I recall the first scene I'm introducing myself and all these people and I started and I forgot the names, because I just spent too much time in the huddle. It was like I was ready an hour ago. So I said, "you know, what, I shouldn't have come in" and I turned and walked out and they were "oh no, wait a minute, come back, come back." So I read it again, kind of sheepishly. All went well and then two days later my manager called and said "Well you have the job." I don't know what that proves. Maybe it's that means being totally present, not pretending to be anywhere else. When I left after I read, Rick Berman who was in the room, goes "I know that guy. Do we know him from somewhere?" He had forgotten that I had done the scene for "Nemesis" that had been cut. These kinds of things make you really good, when you really made an impression.
Anyway, I started doing Hayes. It was interesting, you know. Hayes was kind of an experiment for me. I talked about this in interviews before that he is like a David Mamet character, if you know the playwright and screenwriter director David Mamet. In that he is a guy who is totally defined by his actions in a way and part of this because I had just done a film with David Mamet. He had offered me this role like sight-unseen in this movie that he did, "Spartan." It was a straight offer. I did not have to meet him or anything. So I was really ready to prepare for this movie. It was a nice little cameo role. One of the ways I prepared for the movie was because I had not met David yet and I did not know what to expect. He wrote this book about acting, called "True and False." It is a great book about acting. I don't agree with parts of it. I don't think you are supposed to agree with all of it. He is very much of a provocateur as a writer. Part of this philosophy this approach he talks about is to him, the actor should go in and whatever you are trying to do in each scene, play your action, do that thing, forget about putting all this character stuff on it, forget all the filigree, do the action and if you do the action in each successive scene that forms your character. That forms the base of the character. Character is defined by action. I had just done this right before "Star Trek."
When I read Hayes I just thought oh, this is a role that is made for this. Because I wanted to see if I pay attention to this philosophy how far is it going to take me. To me Hayes was a perfect exemplar of this because he was such a soldier and in a way kind of mysterious as to who his real character was. His character was totally defined by his job, his duty. He is a good soldier, what am I doing in each scene. I did think about character aspects, like getting a certain look, a certain chiseled look, the hair goes a certain way. The uniform really helped. I always was really into whatever devices they gave me that worked. There is a lot of stuff on a "Star Trek" set that you get that is not functional at all. You can't use them. So whenever I got a device that worked I really used it. All stuff having to do with the job. It was interesting and I'm really gratified that Hayes picked up some fans because I was not sure sometimes. I can't judge my own work when I'm watching it. I wondered when I saw it, is this too cardboard, is it too much this one way. I was not sure at that time. But recently I was showing my kids "Star Trek." They were very young when I did it. Now they are nine. I was showing them some of the "Star Trek" stuff and I thought, "wow, he looks much more alive to me now than he did when I saw it at that time." I saw stuff in it that I did not see before and I thought "yeah, that is an interesting thing to do, to just do that thing with him, to play your actions and do your duty." I thought he was the perfect role to do that with.
Question: Did yours and Dominic Keating's characters rivalry provide any fun for your guys?
Steven: Dominic and I knew each other. We had done a radio play a number of years before that. We run into each other all the time. We actually go to the same gym. When I got the job I called him up and said, "hey, we are working together tomorrow." Dom was like "oh you are playing the Major, oh great" [imitates Dominic Keating's voice] He is a hoot, if you have ever seen Dominic. He is a very funny guy and has a lot of fun with his job and takes jobs seriously in his way. We had a great time being together on the set. You know, one of the best times was when we had our epic battle in the episode "Harbinger." We had this fight that started out in the workout room and went out into the ship. That was something we actually in coordination with a stunt coordinator came up with all together. The stunt coordinator had plotted this out. We told him to make this more of a story. So it would start at a place and would build and build to a climax. It was really fun to work with him. It was fun to work with Dom.
Question: Were you a "Star Trek" fan before? You said you did some "Nemesis" scenes that were cut.
Steven: I was the new first officer on "Nemesis" which was at the end of the movie. This is another one of these situations where once again I got sent these pages and there was not much there. I said to my manager "I don't want to read for this, there is nothing here. What is this?" They sent me a script and my kids had just been born. So as I'm sitting in the chair feeding one of them in one arm and getting one of them to sleep in the other arm. I got the script on my lap. I was reading the script over the weekend. I realized it was a terrific script by the way, the original "Nemesis" script. They had to cut a lot of stuff when they finally released it. I thought it was a really fantastic script when I read it. At the very end of the script I come on as the new first officer as Riker retires and we sail off into space. I just thought this is the coolest thing in the world to do this. We were going to do it where I was totally unbilled, you know cameo, I come on and we do it and sail off but they cut it. They cut a lot with a lot of stuff. They cut about 40-45 minutes out of that movie. When I read that happened, I said "well I'm gonna be the first to go because this scene does not really add to the movie. This scene is just the extra fill up on the end." Although I've said it before, some of you have heard this before, I don't actually think this is the reason it was cut, but now that I've seen it on the deleted scenes on the DVD, I'd like to do it over again. I could have been much more sort of cock of the rock, I think. I thought I was too much serious and earnest when I watched it and I should have been much more like David James Elliott on "JAG," that kind of cocky flyer guy. I'd like to do it over again, sometime.
Question: Do you have any plans doing things in the industry other than the acting?
Steven: You know, I've been so absorbed with acting especially the last 15 years. It has taken all my energy and all my focus besides my family. However, now I'm getting to a point where I'm thinking more about teaching and starting to put out feelers for that. I have two scripts. One that is been developing with a playwright friend of mine that we have been working on and another. I'm not a writer, I'd love to be able to write. I work at it. I'm not a writer, I'm an actor. Give me a piece of material I can interpret it. But to come up with the material is like pulling teeth for me. But I have been working with other writers. I have another screenplay that a friend of mine has written. We have been going back and forth on. You know, she gives it to me and I make notes. She writes more then we change it again. That is really good. I'm not going to say anything more about it. It is an historical thing and it is a great subject matter and we've had a couple meetings at different places. So I'm moving more into that. Because, you know, you are getting a little older, you are starting to think how much longer is this acting thing going to last.
The other thing I want to do is I really want to get more back on stage now that my kids are a little older. I'm itching to do Shakespeare. I'd love to spend a year on a Shakespeare festival and do that kind of material. Once again, the one thing I love about doing Shakespeare is the same thing doing "Thirteen Days," doing Robert Kennedy, it is these kinds of characters that you work all your life and you never be able to get it all. It is a huge vessel that you'll never be able to fill. There is plenty of room to run around. In a way the onus of perfection has been taken off and you've got in Shakespeare, you've got great big characters, complicated wonderful language to deal with. Just putting that kind of energy on stage I really want to start doing more that. That's the direction I feel I'm heading at this point.
Thank you all so much for staying. It has been a pleasure to talk to. Thanks for being here.