Interview d'Anthony Michael Hall, Juin 2004 :
IGN FILMFORCE: We last spoke before Dead Zone launched – things have changed a bit since then…
ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL: Thank god, you know? It's done pretty well. I'm just very, very pleased to have a show on the air this long – and the fact that it's a good one… I'm just really happy about it all.
IGNFF: So how does it fell to have a palpable hit under your belt?
HALL: It feels great! It's been a while since I've had a hit, so I'll tell ya – it's a feeling to savor. The experience itself has been incredible, just meeting and working with this crew that I've been working with. Michael and Shawn Piller kind of giving me the go-ahead to really grab the reigns here and be the leading man of the show – the whole thing has just been incredible. It's really transformed my career in many ways. I'm very grateful for it.
IGNFF: Looking back now on the arc of how things have progressed, what aspects really resonate with you? Is it the creative aspects, the consistency of the work, or…
HALL: I have to defer to Michael Piller, because he had seen me play Bill Gates and he gave me this opportunity, knew I was the guy for the job, and to be afforded that opportunity is a huge responsibility. I'm big on sports analogies, and I really feel like if we're the Packers, they've dubbed me to be Brett Favre in this situation – and I'm no Brett Favre, believe me! But in the context of this show, to really quarterback the team and to show leadership on the set as a producer and the star of the show by facilitating the needs of the director, by working with the crew and the cast, and kind of setting the tone. It's been incredible. After having all these years of experience and growing up in the industry, to really put that to good use and to be of service on those levels – not just an actor who's expected to perform – is incredible. It's made me want to work harder in all areas.
IGNFF: Were you worried at any point, knowing that so much rested on your shoulders?
HALL: No, because I've been around the block a few times, and I've always known that I am a very capable actor, and I also feel that I have a lot of range. After so many years of auditioning, it never really stopped – and I have to tell you, I'm proud of that fact. I've spoken and taught at universities about acting, and I always tell them that I pride myself on the fact that out of all the jobs I've had, I've had to work for probably 98% of them. And that has certainly been like a refinery for me, the whole audition process, so after so many years of working, being out of work, hustling, getting small parts – doing whatever it took to stay alive in the industry – to suddenly have this blessing of this show and have all this work and to be in every scene… working 16-hour days, 5 days a week – it's just incredible. But it's so worth it, because it's a product that I believe in. I feel like this is one of the best shows on television. I was on the Today show this morning, and a couple of the points that I wanted to make, if you will – bullet points – is that with this new merger with NBC and Universal, hopefully it will bode well for us. And quite honestly, it is a very dynamic show. It is one of the best shows out there, and I'm very happy that we're able to do it at USA, because it's a smaller scale. It's just like box office – if you don't perform in the first 2 weeks, they pull the plug on ya. If we were on the networks, we might not have enjoyed such a run – and here we are, 3 years later. I just wrapped the 3rd season, and we've done 45 shows, and they're really incredible. And I credit all the people that I work with… It's the old "Standing on the shoulders of giants…" When you're an actor, you're as good as your crew.
IGNFF: In that 3-year period, how would you say you've changed, personally?
HALL: As I said, in regards to the responsibilities I have in leading the charge, if you will. In the film world, as you know, it's a director's medium – the director sets the tone. In television – because I'm also one of the producers and a lead actor… The directors rotate each week… There's a stable of 3 or 4 excellent guys, but they're rotating all the time. So I think one of the things that it's helped me to do is put my experience to work and really establish leadership on the set by just having fun and enjoying the day, you know? That we all agree to meet at 6 or 7am, and we all got to work 16-17 hour days, but it's important to get along and to enjoy the process. Whether you're in the sports world, the corporate world – whatever it is – people have to agree to get along. If they don't, then they create their own problems.
IGNFF: At what point did you establish your comfort level on the series?
HALL: I think it was somewhere in the second season, quite honestly. But knowing that I wanted to keep the show going, I didn't want the show to go off the air this season – and I'm certain that it will be picked up, because I really think that the quality has improved this season. I really wanted to step it up. My M.O. for this season was just to step it up – I literally used that term, it was like my mantra. To make the show a better show, on all levels. That meant working harder as a producer, as an actor, and – as I said – setting the tone and being a presence on set and showing leadership by cracking jokes, making people feel at ease, making the day go by quicker if I can… facilitating the needs of the director – shadowing him and making sure he's getting what he needs accomplished done.
IGNFF: Does it surprise you that you'd attain this kind of a success as the lead of a TV series?
HALL: Yeah it does. What's so funny is that, 15 years ago, every actor in Hollywood had a very different perception of television. And I, being a punk kid at the time, was one to snicker. "Oh, I don't want to be on TV!" Fifteen-twenty years later, all the film stars are on TV shows, rappers have sitcoms, the internet has gone crazy, we're at war… It's a whole new game.
IGNFF: Was it a deliberate effort, early in your career, to avoid television?
HALL: I wouldn't say that I was going to avoid, but I maybe thought that my career would lie only with the feature world. Who am I to say? The fact is, I don't distinguish my work any differently in this environment, in this context. I approach it just like film acting. And the truth is, one of the best things I can say about my work attitude is that I do treat each episode like it was a $100 million movie. I don't look at it like, "Oh, let's get through this and get on to the next one." I'm looking at it like, "I've got to make this one better than the last one, and the next one better than this one." So I do have goals that I set, week in and week out, and I do have my own criteria that I try to meet in terms of my work ethic and how I prepare, and everything else that I do on set as a producer.
IGNFF: I'm sure there must have been a period during the 80's that you were pursued for a TV series… there's no way you couldn't have been pursued…
HALL: Yeah, but I honestly can't remember it at this time. If I was, like I said, I take pride in having to have worked for everything that I've gotten. I tell you what – I'm very proud that this show is very cinematic in its look. And we're also attracting some great actors. In the last year, we've had Lou Gossett, a great old-timer like Bob Culp, Ione Skye, we have Frank Whaley as a regular castmember in an arc, David Ogden Stiers – the great actor – is an ensemble member…
IGNFF: And a great person…
HALL: And a great person. He really, really is. He's a classy guy, and very knowledgeable. Sean Flannery is doing great work as Stillson. And the ensemble cast – Nicole de Boer, Chris Bruno, and John Adams. Everyone's really stepped it up, and there's been this nice sort of development over the last couple of years – just like when you're working with people in life – you've spent time with each other, so it's improved your work, too. We're working together even closer this season, and the nuances are there, in terms of the performance. It's more confident performances, I think, in terms of the other performers as well.
IGNFF: Would you include yourself in that group?
HALL: Oh hell yeah, I would!
IGNFF: How would you compare a competent performance to an non-competent performance?
HALL: We're all getting used to our character in Season 1, Season 2 was about the sort of discovery of the gift = the psychic ability – and putting that to work, and season 3 has been more about working with this ability and having a sense of command with it. I have very specific ideas that are somewhat metaphysical about his role, that it all sort of derives from this accident and having this ability had to do with the coma and the head injury, and everything else. In fact, coming out of it, what I've learned is that it's equally important – if not more – to take his character out of the head, if you will, and make it more into the heart. That this character is somehow empathetic, and has this personal need to be empathetic to people and to make that real… To make unreal circumstances plausible to an audience – what else could an actor ask for, in terms of a task?
IGNFF: Would you say that your comfort level has somewhat paralleled the development of your character's comfort level?
HALL: I hope so, because there's nothing to hide from. It's a very challenging role. In some weeks, I think it's wonderful that I get to become other people, even, so that this character is like some sort of traveling mystic, if you will. He's this kind of guy that's just sort of drawn to these stories in an involuntary way, it seems. To create these transitions and build them and make them believable – I'm trying to do my best, but it's an incredible challenge as an actor. It's a great task.
IGNFF: Does the show's subject matter get a bit too heavy for you sometimes? Are there times that you think, "You know, I wish I had a sitcom…" ?
HALL: (laughing) On the set, I'll go, "You know, people on sitcoms have friggin' banker's hours – they're in by 10, they're out by 4… Holy s***!" So I know what you're saying. Jokingly, in passing, I have made quips about that, but the reality is, to have a show – we've figured it out… I've done 45 shows, and that's like making 22 movies. So it's a great feeling of accomplishment – this year more than any, because I know that I followed through. I know that, in my own way – like we all have on the crew – I've tried to steer the ship and do my very best. It's important for my own credibility in the industry to do good work, but I also feel a sense of responsibly to the Pillers, having given me this great opportunity, that I want to keep elevating my performance and do my very best work, bot as an actor and as a producer. And part of that falls into the marketing and sale. You have supply and demand, just like and business, and you've got to get out there and really sell it. A lot of actors – you'd be surprised, man – they don't get it. They just don't get it. I'm in New York now, I'm doing the Today show – which went very well – and tomorrow I'm doing The View. You've got to get out there and tell people about it.
IGNFF: You're starting to do conventions now, aren't you?
HALL: I've done a couple of them. It's a very humbling thing, I've got to say. It's so refreshing and it just warms your heart to meet people that care so much about what you do. It's so easy to get jaded in this world – I'm in New York or LA, and where's the Variety or the Hollywood Reporter, and where's my trailer?
HALL: So to get out there and meet people who really care about what you're doing and they love you, and they grew up watching you, and they just have such an investment in this show… I mean, we really have diehard fans of this show. If you recall, we broke a record with the pilot, which was a 6.4 – which is something like 7 ? million viewers. For cable, it's phenomenal. And then we had a little bit of a hiccup in the second season because the network decided, instead of waiting a full season into the following summer, to air in January and we got kind of beat up by sweeps – as anyone would. We were dealing with the People's Choice Awards one Sunday, and Michael Jordan's final NBA game the next Sunday, and what happened was the network regrouped and made a very savvy decision. They said, "Okay, we'll give it six shows for the summer, and let's reinvigorate the ratings." Sure enough, they came right back up, and even went higher than we thought. They were in the high 2's and the low and mid 3's – I would equate it to making a 15-20 share happen at the network level. And it is a sliding scale, as you know. That's another thing that we're very fortunate of, that we are on USA, because we haven't had to deal with what I sort of compare to as those box office stress points. With a film, you have two weeks to make it work. With a network series, it's about the same thing.
IGNFF: Even though it didn't work in the end, are you envious of Monk's transition to network airings?
HALL: Well, here's what happened – I know the deal on that. I just recently shot a commercial with Tony (Shalhoub) that is airing on the network right now. I had a great time with Tony, and we chatted. It was the first chance that we've actually gotten to have some time together. He's a very fine actor that certainly deserves all these accolades that he's won. What happened was that the show was originally developed at ABC through Touchstone, a division of Disney. Long story short, they couldn't find a lead actor for this. It was obviously this very quirky kind of Peter Sellers-type role in this Colombo kind of setting. So they couldn't find a lead actor, it languishes on the shelf for awhile, it eventually got picked up by USA, they found Tony, and there was a loophole in the deal where it reverted back to ABC, and they were able to repurpose it on ABC. The ratings doubled and he's won awards, and it's all good. But it's important for us to mention – and I do want to make a point of this, and it might be for pride's sake, but I've got to say this – our show set up Monk. Our show's success three summers ago led the way for Monk, and Monk has done very well on its own, and has in some ways surpassed us due to the attention brought to Tony. But by no means does it undermine us, because I truly believe that The Dead Zone and Monk sort of reawakened all the network heads to looking at the summer months. And instead of just playing reruns of The Pretender, or whatever the hell they're going to do, they realized that they had to program in the summer to stay competitive. Typically what they've done in the past is do reruns and this or that, because they just assume that people are doing other things because they have more time off since it's the summer. But in fact, we made a splash and we did very well. And then our show set up Monk, and Monk did very similar numbers. So again, I think we, in part, helped to set a trend three summers ago for the networks to not sleep in the summer months, and to instead program aggressively and actively in those months.
IGNFF: It was sort of that trifecta of those two shows as well as The Shield proving that it doesn't take a network to launch a show…
HALL: Thank you for making that point. You're right. I think that trifecta of those three shows – you nailed it. That's it. And two of those three guys have won awards, but you know, I'm not bitter…
IGNFF: Hey, your show's still on the air…
HALL: I hear you, buddy. You know what? I'm just glad to have it. Honestly, I'm not complaining.
IGNFF: So why have you only directed one episode so far?
HALL: You know what, we figured it out – it's because I'm in every damn scene, that was the first show. We shoot that first, and that's the only way for me to direct a show, because I would have no other prep time. Every other director that comes up, they prep for a week and then they shoot for a week. Well, I'm on set pretty much every damn day and pretty much every scene – and I'm not complaining – so we positioned it, and they sent me that script, which is called The Cold Hard Truth – and I flipped out. I realized it was a beautiful episode about fathers and sons. We had Michael Richards, who was very interested in doing a show. He was willing to play this character, who was like this small-town Howard Stern type guy – a shock jock who spews venom on the air. Ultimately, Michael had to pass, because I think there was someone sick in his family – I think it was his mother – but he was ready to do this show, which we were all thrilled about. Now, everyone's second choice – and my first choice, I have to admit – was Richard Lewis. Richard Lewis, to me, is one of the great stand-up comics of the last 30-40 years. And I'll tell you why I say that. I believe that he has all the sort of what I call "Lenny Bruce Qualities." He's a very courageous comedian who kind of lays it all out there and talks about struggling with his alcoholism in the past, his troubles with women – he's very courageous. I was thrilled that we could get him, he played this part beautifully. In some cases, I just had to let him go and be Richard where we needed him to bring out the humor and be who he is, and I gently guided him through the dramatic scenes, and other situations, and he did a great job. So what happens is that he's, like, attacking me on the air at the beginning of the episode, and he's kind of going on about my personal life, and that we are both people who make news in this small town in Maine. Which, of course, is where all Stephen King stuff is set. So he goes on the air and is going after me, so I confront him at the station, and it leads to an altercation and, of course, we touch in that altercation. Then I have this vision which troubles me for the rest of the episode, and I'm getting glimpses of it and can't figure out what it is about his past that I'm yearning to find out about that will explain why he spews this vitriol – why he's this angry, miserable shock jock who's going after me. And it has to do with his son. The "B" storyline is me finally addressing with Sarah and Walt that we've got to tell our son that he's my son. So what happened was – and I didn't know this at the outset when I first read it – but as I started to prep it and get more and more into it and study my great directors and get my ideas about how to visualize it, I realized that it was an episode about fathers and sons. Which is very personal to me, because I grew up without my father. My stepfather raised me with my mother, and so I had this real heartfelt connection to it… A real emotional response to the material itself, and it came through in the work. The episode is really beautiful and haunting., because there's light and dark in it. What I told Richard early on into it was, "Look, this is It's a Wonderful Life, Richard. You've got to be Jimmy Stewart. You've got to start in this really dark place, and you've got to let me – as the director and your costar – pull you into this lighter place. That you see this pain, and you can sort of begin to heal," which is what happens at the end of the episode, which is touching and real. Now for me, it was the same case. I finally have to address my son and let him know that he is, in fact, my son. So it was a beautiful episode and very powerful for all of those reasons, and it had a real emotional life to it... an emotional impact. And I'm proud to say it turned out great. We screened it for the crew right before we wrapped, and I swear to god I had grown men coming up to me teary-eyed like, "Mike, you did a great job!" And I was like schvitzing too. I did a little speech to the audience at the end, to my crew, and I was like, (weeping) "I just want you guys to know I love you all! I'm just going to go f***in' lose it in my trailer now…" But it was a beautiful experience, to have been with the same crew and have them support me, where suddenly I'm directing and I've got cranes and we're shooting in a storm, on a roof. There's this climatic scene where he's about to jump off a building – the building that he works in, where the radio station is – and there was, like, a f***ing tsunami as we're shooting it! So again, just in the classic sense of, like, D.W. Griffith and Chaplin, you're rallying the troops when you're directing – "ALL RIGHT GUYS, WE'RE GOING OVER HERE NOW!" And they're like, "What the f***?"
IGNFF: That weather is one of the perks of Vancouver, I'm sure…
HALL: That's it, man! So that was just a highlight for me this season, to direct Richard in the show.
IGNFF: What was your confidence level, going into that? There must have been a learning curve for you…
HALL: That's an excellent point. I've been following directors around all my life, and I've been stealing tricks from all of them. I have that instinct in me already – I have directed a film, I've directed some videos. This, I feel is my best work as a director, because I had this great crew that knows me well and has been working with me. I also had the best script that I've had an opportunity to direct. And the episode, I have to say, hits all the points. You laugh in it, you actually cry by the end of it… It's real. It has a real emotional life to it.
IGNFF: Has it whet your appetite to do it again?
HALL: Oh, totally. Totally. But I guess I have to direct the first one of every season. I don't know… We'll see what happens.
IGNFF: So you've already told the Pillers…
HALL: They're hip! I think they're ready for me to direct another one, because everyone was impressed. I mean, you're going to see episodes that have more stuff going on visually, that have different dynamics, but in terms of a real emotional life and pulling the heartstrings – man, we collectively hit a home run, because it was really strong. It really was. And it was a perfect use of Richard's talent, because people know him as this sort of self-deprecating genius neurotic Jewish New York comic, and we were able to crystallize all of that and get it all on film as this character. At the same time, he goes to these very sad places, too – where you just fall in love with this guy, because you realize this is why he's so miserable.
IGNFF: Few people realize what kind of range Lewis has as an actor…
HALL: You're right. I'm completely in agreement.
IGNFF: I'm thinking back to the sobriety movie he did, Drunks…
HALL: Oh, it was f***in' great! Wasn't it excellent? Such a powerful movie.
IGNFF: It's a shame the more people haven't seen that and experienced the range he has…
HALL: It's an excellent point. I brought that up to him – I said, "You were great in that movie. That was dead-on." And what is it, but an honest piece of work about something that he's really lived through.
IGNFF: You know, that kind of pigeon-holing is something you can certainly key into…
HALL: Ohh-hohoho… "Hi. Poster child for the 80's for $800, Alex." I'll pass, thank you.
IGNFF: Now that people are recognizing you as much for Dead Zone as for the work you did 20 years ago, is it somewhat of a vindication that, "Hey guys, you know, I've always been an actor…" ?
HALL: You know what? You just said it. I've always been an actor, and I've worked hard at it, and I've hung in there. Some years you're in the playoffs, and some years you're on the damn injured reserve list, or you get traded. You never know what to expect. It's just about the seasons of change, and accepting that as part of your career, and the trajectory of a career. Because I had this wonderful head start where I grew up in the industry, I've just reframed it. I've grown up and learned to look at it differently, and look at it like, "How appreciative am I of this? How lucky am I to have a career in this industry. And how many people have come out the other side of what I'm talking about." I mean, you could put them on one hand – Liz Taylor, Jodie Foster, Kurt Russell, Nick Nolte… I don't know who else.
IGNFF: I'm surprised you haven't started a support group…
HALL: You're not kidding!
IGNFF: You, Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer…
HALL: It's called CAA – Child Actors Anonymous. Ah, that s*** won't work – we've already got that on Wilshire. New title, please! I've learned every step of that way. I've been really blessed and had a charmed life, insofar as I've worked with great people and I've grown up in this industry, and in many ways I've survived it, and I certainly understand it. I have a healthy respect for it. With all the stuff that I did as a kid, what people don't realize is that I had to work for everything after that and since then. And so to have this situation, you better believe it's the analogy of the rider and the horse… I'm going to ride the horse.
IGNFF: So what's your next goal?
HALL: I want to ride this out. I want it to go as long as it can – another season or 2 or 3… whatever the public wants. The public is in control. If it wasn't for the audience, we wouldn't be here.
IGNFF: Have you always had that appreciation for the audience?
HALL: You know what? You learn it over time. You learn it by having made some movies as a kid that basically have always lived in people's hearts. So for me to have grown up having made a handful of movies – the John Hughes stuff, Vacation, whatever it is – that matter to people… Do you know what that feeling's like? It's unbelievable. It's just such a pleasure and a joy to be a part of something that people remember, because let's face it – that's just a basic human need. We all want to do something that's worth remembering. Be it interpersonal or with our work, or whatever. So that's incredible gratification and reward for just being in the industry as a kid. And all of a sudden, by the time I was 18, I'd done all these movies that people still talk about to this day, no matter where I go. That's a great privilege. It's a real blessing, and it's something that I do not take for granted. And it's certainly gotten me through the lean years where there were definitely seasons – I'm not even going to kid ya, I couldn't get arrested. I couldn't get work, whether it meant people had maybe thought of me differently or they couldn't get that idea out of their head about what I was. On the Today show today, it was surreal. I'm backstage, and I'm listening to Katie Couric and Ann Curry discuss with Matt Lauer that I've grown into his man, and they're going on and on about it for about 20 seconds, and I was just like – I wanted to pinch myself. I was like, "What the f*** is this? I'm sitting here backstage at the Today show, and I've got Katie and Ann both talking about me. This is too cool." It was like this really cool thing. It's a privilege… It really is. And I'm glad I have the sense, if not the intelligence, to see it that way. It's certainly gotten me through, knowing that I did those early films and they have lasted in the hearts of people. You can't ask for more than that, at any age.
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