Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Enrico Colantoni decided to pursue a career in acting while still living in his native Canada, but it took a move to Manhattan before the ball started rolling in any significant fashion. But things didn’t take off in a big way until he moved to L.A. and scored two back-to-back sitcom gigs: Hope & Gloria and Just Shoot Me! Since then, Colantoni has also picked up roles in several high-profile films like Galaxy Quest and Contagion, but he continues to be best known for his efforts on the small screen, including Veronica Mars, Flashpoint, and Person Of Interest. Currently, Colantoni can be seen in the second season of Powers, now streaming on the PlayStation Network.
Enrico Colantoni: Not only was it exciting, but I got to wear a costume. A real superhero costume. And I got to ride a horse, which I didn’t really get to ride. I also got to see Atlanta in November, not realizing that it’s still hot in the south in the winter months. I didn’t prepare well for that. [Laughs.] Working with Michael Madsen was a thrill and a half. Other than how tortured the character was, there was an excitement all around. But he was particularly tortured. That appealed to me. That made it fun going to work whenever they called.
The A.V. Club: How familiar were you with the original Powers comic by Brian Michael Bendis?
EC: Not at all.
AVC: Did you delve into it at all beforehand, or did you just stick to the script?
EC: I did nothing. [Laughs.] Nope, I just stuck to the script. But Brian seemed really, really cool, man. I met him one time. It’s just so funny: With such a big project like that, you show up in four episodes on four different occasions, and you meet one person for the first time each time you’re there. It’s, like, “Oh, that’s the guy who created the graphic novel.” “Oh, cool!” You meet him, you go, “He was very nice,” and then you do your scene and you go home. Meeting Remi [Aubuchon, Powers’ writer/executive producer] was almost the same thing. I go, “Wow, he’s so cool! I hope he’s going to be here every day!” Nope. You never see him again, either. I think that’s the sad part of all these shows working outside of, let’s say, the war room of Los Angeles, where they’re all sort of writing together. But the work is actually happening in Atlanta, or New Orleans or wherever else, and you don’t get to see those guys. You don’t get to develop any kind of relationship with them.
AVC: How was the experience of putting on a superhero costume of your very own?
EC: Well, I was disappointed, in that I think I spent more time in the fitting than I got to wear it on camera! I wore it the first time, and they teased me with another episode where I would wear it again, but then it was rewritten where I didn’t. I wanted to spend more time on the horse and gallop away, and to work on the green screen. That’s kind of cool. Because when you’re wearing costumes like that, in the words of Jack Nicholson, they do the acting for you, which I find very accurate. You can just sit back and just stand there, basically. That first scene, though, was not like that, because we were in Caracas, we’re dealing with wind and destruction, and you have to use your imagination to some degree. The costume itself, though, it’s just so awesome. Although, of course, you realize that once you’re in there… [Starts to laugh.] I mean, thankfully, I was smart enough to bring talcum powder with me in the beginning, because I had heard how sticky it can get in there. Lemme tell ya, that was a win-win situation for me, that talcum powder.
AVC: On IMDB, your first on-camera appearance seems to be a flip of the coin between one-off episodes of Night Heat and Friday The 13th.
EC: Yeah, it was Friday The 13th. Well, actually, they were filmed simultaneously during the same two weeks. But Friday The 13th was probably the first job I got. I was living in New York, and they were filming in Toronto, and I was a young actor who really just wanted a job. So I went back to Toronto, found an agent, and booked it. I realized the director didn’t realize it was my first on-camera performance, so I could see him sweating. [Laughs.] He cast me based on my audition. He didn’t know if I had done anything before. And then the first day on set, I said, “Hey, this is my first job!” And he went, “What?” So he was kind of scared that I would waste time.
I had to work all day, and with early calls. That messed me up. I really didn’t know what that was like, because I was from the theater, where you got to sleep in during the day. But another thing that I’d never had to deal with was the abundance of food. I was such a young actor—and still in poverty mode—that it was my first experience with craft service. So when lunch came, I ate everything. Everything! I had this and that, and I had dessert, because it was just, like, “I may never get to eat again!” But sure enough, that post-lunch coma came into effect, and I had a scene to do. And all I remember is just being so tired, and me going up to the director and saying, “I’m really tired! Can I just take a break? Can I take a nap?” I actually asked him if I could take a nap. And he looked at me, and it’s like, “You fucking idiot.” [Laughs.] He’s like, “You just learned your most valuable lesson: Don’t overeat when you have a full day of shooting.” And to this day, I go, “Oh, boy, just take it easy. No dessert for you!” But I didn’t know what else to say to him except, “I need a nap!” So, yeah, that’s my learning curve, right there.
AVC: So how did you find your way into acting in the first place?
EC: Well, I’d done a play in high school and thought the world of myself, but then I was quickly knocked down by my father and my brother, who said, “Don’t be a fool, go to school.” And I said, “Okay.” So I went to college and I took an elective in drama while I was taking the prerequisite sociologies and psychologies—I didn’t know what I wanted to do—but this elective in drama had a lovely teacher who basically said, “Nah, you need to do this.” And I went, “Really? You mean it?” “Mm-hmm. But you need to go to New York and get away from all the naysayers.” And I did. I took her advice, much to the disappointment of my family. But I figured, “I’m just going to go to the American Academy, Dad. I’m not going to move to New York. I’m not going to be an actor. I’m just going to go to school for two years, and then I’m going to come right back.” Well, 30 years later… [Laughs.]
EC: [Warmly.] Oh, Louis Utz… Can I safely say that he’s my most favorite character I ever got to play?
AVC: Anything you say here is safe. And I actually used to love that show.
EC: You remember that show? Oh, I had the most fun. [Series creators] Bill and Cheri Steinkellner were fantastic. The writers were great. Alan Thicke was great. It was just so much fun for me. It was my first full-time job as an actor, someplace that I could go to every day that just allowed me to play. And I’m more like Louis Utz than anybody else I’ve ever played. And with them writing for a character and really making him funnier than he was on the page… My whole experience into the sitcom world, it was, like, “This is like theater, this is like film… This is a hybrid of everything I love to do. A live audience and rehearsals and… more food!” [Laughs.] But I learned. With Hope & Gloria, what I did was, I saved my food ’til after, see? When the day was done, I would go into a food coma. So I was still overeating, but I was doing it later.
AVC: The series ran for two seasons, but was the second season a case where the network stepped in to do an unnecessary retooling? That always seemed to happen on NBC series back then.
EC: No, we started out with 13 episodes—just based on Bill and Cherie’s reputation from Cheers, NBC and Warner Brothers gave them just a straight-13 pickup, so we did those without a hitch—and they put us on in a really great time slot on Thursday nights, right after Mad About You, so we did well enough to get a second season. And then we did a full 22 episodes the second season, and I think we heard about the cancellation—that was another first-time experience: hearing about being cancelled on the news. As opposed to somebody telling you to your face, it was, like, “What? The Hollywood Reporter said what? We’re cancelled?” [Laughs.] Yeah, that was a lot of fun. Oh, and in the second season, we had Taylor Negron on the show. The late, great Taylor Negron, if you remember him.
AVC: I wrote his obit for The A.V. Club.
EC: [Wistfully.] Oh, what a genius. What a lovely, lovely man.
James Dean (2001)—“Elia Kazan”
EC: That was the first time someone hired me just by a meeting: [director] Mark Rydell. I think the actor he had originally cast had negotiated himself out of the deal or something. You know how that happens. But that was also the first time I actually went to a director’s house and just sat with him. He just said, “So, do you want to do it?” I said, “Really?” He said, “Yeah! We’ll have to get you a nose and a hairpiece, but it’ll be fun!” I went, “Fuckin’ A! Yeah! Let’s do it!” [Laughs.]
You know, I really admire actors who have time, because time is really the greatest luxury for an actor to live with a character, to develop a walk and a talk, or to listen to tape if you’re playing a real character. But without time you’re really just forced to make quick choices and move on and hope that the spaghetti sticks against the wall. But with Mark Rydell, because of his background, we got to rehearse it. I was, like, “Wow!” That’s another bit of luxury I’ll never forget: It was the first time I got to rehearse for a film. Just that little bit was enough to move forward and to jump off, because Kazan was a complex character that wasn’t complex in the movie. You know what I mean? He just kind of served a role. It was Michael [Moriarty] and James [Franco] who had the brunt of that character work, which was so beautiful watching both of them and working with both of them.
But, yeah, Kazan was cool. I got to wear a nose and a hairpiece, and I got to work with Rydell, both of which were first-time experiences. It was the first time I’d played a real-life character, and Kazan was still alive at the time, and he was very close to Rydell. So Razan actually saw it, and when he gave it his blessing, it was, like, “Okay, I’m good!” [Hesitates.] I don’t mean I was good. I just mean, you know, I was good to go.
AVC: Got it.
EC: Okay, just making sure! [Laughs.]
The Kennedys (2011)—“J. Edgar Hoover”
EC: Yeah, that was another wig I got to wear! [Laughs.] I guess when there’s a wig or something and a voice I can hide behind, I have more fun. It’s more fun when I can just say, “Well, that’s what he sounded like on YouTube! How the fuck do I know?” You know what I mean? It’s like, “No, I’m not wearing a garter! I don’t know anything about the guy! I’m just saying the lines on the screen, and I get to wear a wig! What do you want from me?” But thank god for YouTube: I got to perfect the standard New England or “New American” accent that Katharine Hepburn made famous and all those educated people of the 1930s or ’40s, and I got to speak in the vernacular. So that was a blast, man! And another real character, based on what is historical.
It’s hard to debate that. I go, “Well, okay, I can’t really make a choice other than, ‘Bring me to what I know is already factual.” And a guy like [director] John Cassar, who directed it… If I’ve got their support and their permission to sort of go further, I’m good. I feel safe. And as long as an actor feels safe, they can bring you things that you otherwise wouldn’t expect. And he gave me that permission, for sure. And Barry Pepper, when you’re working opposite him and you’re doing a scene—he was Bobby Kennedy the whole time, as far as I was concerned. He’s an actor with such great integrity. He was just so wonderful. But even he, after a scene, broke a little character and gave me a little thumbs-up. I go, “Oh, fuck, okay, you’re not going to worry about that.” Another thing I got nothing to worry about. Because Barry Pepper gave me a thumbs-up in a scene, I’m good! Who cares what anybody else thinks? [Laughs.]
The Wrong Guy (1997)—“Creepy Guy”
EC: Did you see that movie?
AVC: I own it, in fact. Although I’ve never upgraded my copy, so I only own it on VHS.
EC: That’s hysterical that you have it on VHS! Okay, so this is years later, but I was at the Canadian Screen Awards—I was nominated for Flashpoint—and I was sitting across the aisle from Jay Baruchel. And, you know, I’m a little kid in a candy store: I think he’s terrific, but I’m too shy to go him and say, “You’re terrific.” So after the fact he follows me on Twitter, and I go, “Dude! I didn’t know you knew that I knew you, so I’m sorry I didn’t come up to you!” And he goes, “All good, dude! But I gotta say, you in The Wrong Guy? You ripped it!” I go, “The Wrong Guy?!?” He goes, “That’s the funniest movie!”
There’s a movie that has just been locked in this vault, that only just a chosen few have seen, but when they see it, they love it. And I think anybody in the industry who has seen that movie just loves it so much, because it’s such a funny movie. And when they say that, I take that as the greatest of compliments when they love the Creepy Guy, which was so funny and so ridiculous and so hysterical.
I forget how much fun I’ve had in what I do. Because, you know, when you’re on film, you don’t necessarily see it, you just kind of move on. But when a guy like Jay Baruchel comes along and says, “I loved The Wrong Guy,” it’s, like, “All right! That’s why I did it!” And 20 years later, if Jay Baruchel, as funny and reputable and talented as he is, found something in that movie did even a little bit to inspire him and push him forward, then I’m good. Good to go! [Laughs.]
A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)—“The Murderer”
EC: Aw, man. I don’t want to talk about that.
AVC: Really? Because that’s fine.
EC: Are you kidding me? [Laughs.] Steven Spielberg hired me from a tape or something, and that experience was so petrifying, for one because Jude Law was with me, and Steven Spielberg and [cinematographer] Janusz Kaminski. And it was 4 in the morning. And I had to do it right, because unbeknownst to me at the time, Steven—Mr. Spielberg—was going to do it all in one take. But I didn’t know that then. I didn’t know what he was covering or anything. He was just hidden in the corner, him and Janusz. I barely saw the camera.
I think we had to do it, like, 90 times or something, I guess to honor Stanley Kubrick or something? But he had to do it again and again, and I go, “I’m fucking this up! I am fucking this up, and it’s 4 in the morning, and Steven Spielberg isn’t happy!” So I finally did it, and he knew I got it, and that was great, but I think it was somewhere in the middle when I suddenly hear him imitating me. He was over in the corner imitating Mathesar from Galaxy Quest! I go, “All right, this is the coolest thing in the world.”
I wanted to tell him the story where he actually came to my friend’s house trick-or-treating with his kids one Halloween night. But we were ready. Everybody was tired. It was already 7 in the morning by the time we wrapped. But I hope to work with him again so that I can tell him that story. Yeah, that was cool. But you know what? When Mr. Spielberg is imitating you and your character, you have a sense of arriving somewhere. Unfortunately, that was 15 years ago. I could use another moment like that. [Laughs.] Just for my ego’s sake, you know? Those things last for 15 years, and then you need another one just to keep you going.
EC: Well, as I was saying, Louis Utz was my favorite character to play, but Galaxy Quest was my favorite all-around experience. Not only because of the pedigree of actors I was working with, but Dean Parisot—I don’t know how much of it was folklore or factual, but he was brought in as a last-minute replacement director, so he was sort of flying by the seat of his pants. But he was so generous in his approach and his humility was so contagious that these high-caliber actors really just softened and became playful and lovely, and there was no ego. And he allowed us all to play, in such a generous way, that we were at risk of having more fun doing it than a potential audience might have in watching it. [Laughs.] So we were always aware of it, and we always had that fear of, like, “Oh, fuck, we’re just having way too much fun here…” Right up ’til the end, when he was cutting it and we were in ADR and I was ADR-ing something, he would look at me and give me this look like, “We’ll see if it works!” But I’m cracking up at how he’s cut it, and I’m going, “Yeah, we’ll see!” He had seen it so many times, I guess by that point that he was reluctant to be but so excited about it, but sure enough…
I believe that bringing that kind of humility to the material and to that world and to the talent that was present, that’s the true formula for success. When people are allowed to bring their best and you have a director who’s not afraid to go in a certain way because he doesn’t have an answer all the time… It was such a beautiful lesson and a beautiful experience. And, of course, I got to meet, work with, and become friends with Alan Rickman, who… [Pauses.] I mean, he was so beloved. It’s become cliché when an actor like that is so beloved by everybody he works with, but it was the truth. It really was the truth. He was full of humility and genius, and the combination of those two things just made you want to throw yourself over a cliff for him.
AVC: As far as your delivery as Mathesar, was that worked out in advance, or did you go in with a certain idea about how you wanted to play him?
EC: You know what? To tell you the truth, when I’m given the opportunity to audition for serial killers or aliens, I figure I’ve got carte blanche to make shit up. Because nobody can say, “Oh, an alien would never behave that way.” So fuck it: I’m gonna play around with it. So I said, “I’m gonna make him more like a Jehovah’s Witness coming to your door on a Sunday afternoon, just like a perpetual youth.” Because what I read, he was such an innocent guy. So I came in and auditioned for Dean and [casting director] Deborah Zane, and I just sort of gave him this innocent voice, and I don’t know, I guess it worked.
And then when I left, I had to make sense out of what I did, and I remembered a vocal exercise we were taught at the Yale Drama School. It was just a resonator exercise where you would tap into each thing: the chest, the throat, the mouth, the nose, the forehead, and the top of your head. [Starts to gradually modulate voice.] And you would bring your voice to every possible… I can’t even do it now, it’s been so long. [Laughs.] But that was the basis for my character: this vocal exercise. And every line you would kind of go up and down. That was it. That was my method.
And Dean, God love him, loved it so much, he developed this whole Thermian school a week and a half before we went to camera, where everybody who was playing a Thermian had to follow me and develop this funny walk. Because I figured, “Well, they’re really octopi, right? They’re not human. So they’ve got this sort of gangly walk about them. I think Vincent D’Onofrio really did such a great job on doing that in Men In Black. I loved that. But I didn’t steal it! I just thought, “Well, an octopus in a human body would walk like this, right?” And Dean said, “Yep! Everybody walk like that!” [Laughs.] So everybody did. That was the school: “See what he’s doing? You do that!”
Veronica Mars (2004-07, 2014)—“Keith Mars”
iZombie (2015-)—“Detective Lou Benedetto”
EC: That was the first job I got that I tried to talk myself out of, because Rob [Thomas] seemed so insistent about casting me. They had already cast Kristen Bell, and he had us do a reading, and I still had to dance for the CBS people, because UPN was still new and stuff, so I had to dance for Dawn Ostroff. I think Les [Moonves] was already a fan, so he didn’t have to be convinced, but I had to dance for some people. So I said to Rob, “Are you really sure you want to do this?” “Yes! Yes!” “How? Why? What are you basing it on?” He said, “Galaxy Quest!” I said, “What? You’re hiring me to play this guy Keith Mars because of Galaxy Quest?” “Yes!” I said, “I don’t see the connection, I don’t see how I could be related to this girl…” And all of a sudden he goes, “Yeah, but look at her jawline.” And I said, “Hey, yeah! All right, okay, I’ll do it!”
And that was it. That was what he had to do to convince me that I wasn’t going to go in and totally fuck it up. Because I would’ve sacrificed it. I go, “I’m not right for this role! I’m not right for Keith Mars! I’m not even a Mars! Can you call him a ‘Marzarino’ or something? Or maybe he really comes from Schenectady, New York? But he comes from Sacramento! Rob, I’m not this guy!” But he insisted. And looking at it, I go, “Yeah, I was perfect for Keith Mars!” He was a little offbeat, which was what he wanted, which is what he saw from the beginning. If he’d got a guy who looked like a Keith Mars, he wouldn’t have gotten that little sort of quirky take on him. It’s, like, “Yeah! That’s what I bring: I bring the quirk! I’m quirky! That’s what I do!” [Laughs.]
So much to the point that when I did iZombie, he intentionally changed the name of the character—it might’ve been John Smith—to Lou Benedetto. And I know he did that for me, because he avoided the inevitable conversation of, like, “Eh, I don’t know if I can play a John Smith, you know?” He changed it before he had to listen to my verbiage.
AVC: When you guys finally did the Veronica Mars movie, were you always convinced that it was going to happen, or were you at the point of thinking, “This thing is never getting off the ground”?
EC: No, man, even Rob wasn’t convinced. I think it was by the grace of Warner Brothers, who basically said, “Okay, if you can raise this much on Kickstarter, we’ll meet it, and we’ll make it happen.” I mean, right up until we launched Kickstarter, Rob and everybody else was just, like, “Shit, we’re asking for $2 million. I don’t know if we’ll get two cents!” Everybody was surprised. Everybody. We totally underestimated the love that all those people had. I mean, for years after Veronica Mars was canceled, journalists and fans were consistent—“We love the show!”—and they had a campaign to bring it back, but we still underestimated the love for the show. But we all became big believers when Kickstarter just kicked ass.
AVC: Is there even tentative talk of trying to do another movie?
EC: I don’t know. If Netflix is reading this, I think that would be the best sort of arena to bring it back, like they did with those other shows, like Full House and Arrested Development. But I hope so. I’d love to go back and do it as an episodic. I thought it worked well as a film, but she’s too big a character to encapsulate in an hour and a half. Way too big. And too smart. You really need 13 hours to do her justice, in my humble opinion. So if Netflix is listening, please call Rob.
Full Frontal (2002)—“Arty/Ed”
EC: Okay, did you see that movie?
AVC: Once upon a time, but probably not since—
EC: [Interrupts.] Yeah, Will, I’m going to take you at your word, right? Because nobody saw that movie. I don’t think Soderbergh expected anybody to see that movie. [Laughs.] He had just gotten off the success of—what was it, the boffo year of Erin Brockovich and Traffic? And this was the first thing he’d done after that. No, wait, he’d just finished Ocean’s Eleven. It was complete, but it hadn’t been released yet. So when you’re… [Hesitates.] How do I say this?
AVC: I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out.
EC: [Laughs.] Okay, well, when you become part of the genius of someone’s palette, there’s nothing more exciting than having been a part of that. But I was so petrified by the experience, just because… I don’t know, Julia Roberts was there and Blair Underwood was there and Steven Soderbergh was there. But it was so benign, his approach to making a film. Especially on this one. And I realized that after the fact, when I was talking to him when I went back and did Contagion. We reminisced about Full Frontal, and he goes, “No, that was just a fun experiment. That was just for us.” And then finally it made sense. There he was, just experimenting with these small video cameras. Canon had just come out with something, and he was experimenting with that.
There were no trailers. We were shooting in a theater, and it was just a play on reality and what was real and what wasn’t. It was the most surreal, gratifying experience, because I never saw the camera, I never knew where he was, and I never knew what we were going to say. We were on script, we were off script, Nicky Katt was just, like, bouncing off the walls—he was the crazy Hitler guy—and I was, like, “Where the fuck am I? This is incredible!” All I see are four walls, I don’t see a crew anywhere. Greg Jacobs was the A.D., I guess, but I didn’t see a crew. I didn’t see anybody—I just know Steven was there with a camera and a second camera guy, and we just approached it like, “Okay, you guys ready?” “Yeah, let’s do this.” I’d never experienced anything like that.
I’ve never experienced such a low-key, sublime filmmaking experience, where you didn’t know what was real in reality and what was real in what you were saying. I’m still reeling from that film. I loved that movie, just because I had the benefit of understanding the context of it. But I can see why a lot of people who saw it said, “What the fuck was that?”
AVC: Presumably Contagion was the antithesis of the Full Frontal experience.
EC: It was the absolute antithesis of it. Because you had all this money and attention and studios, and it was just huge. And I realized on Contagion that Mr. Soderbergh, no matter what he’s doing, be it $50 million or 50 cents, he brings that same sort of focus and integrity and that quiet to the set that makes an actor think it’s just you and him.
I hear that from actors who work with Clint Eastwood, too, because he’s sort of the same way. But when you’ve got Soderbergh, who’s not only a director but a director of photography—and he loves the natural light—you don’t see all that chaos happening in front of you. It’s just you and him, like in a home movie. And there’s nothing more disarming for an actor than to be in that experience and just go, “Okay, we’re doing this for us.”
It occurs to me that a guy like Soderbergh does everything for himself. It doesn’t matter who’s watching. He’s magnificent. And I just can’t say enough about him. But, of course, he’s Steven Soderbergh, so I’m not saying anything that nobody hasn’t heard before.
EC: That was the first time I experienced a long-term job. I spent seven years working with the same people over and over again, people that I still associate with and socialize with, people that I love so much. Because we were in the trenches together. Working on that show was like being the bastard child. I mean, NBC, just every year, we didn’t know if we were coming back or not. And we were surrounded by Friends and Seinfeld, so we totally felt like the bastard children. But there we were, making 145 episodes, which was great. Nobody was paying attention to us, really. People loved us enough to watch, but we didn’t have the pressure of having to be this runaway hit. [Steve] Levitan was my first experience with a true captain of the ship. His vision was so clear and so strong that it’s enough to make you want to follow him anywhere.
Elliot, I think, was probably the most confused character of all of them. [David] Spade was clear. You know, Finch was a clear character. Jack Gallo and Maya, they were clear. Nina was probably the most off-the-wall character and most recognizable. But Elliot changed every season, which was a little disconcerting for me, because I wasn’t sure where the writers were going with it. Not only did we feel like we were the bastard child of the network, I always felt like I was the bastard child of the cast.
But because of that, because he was a geek one year, he was a womanizer the next year, he was in love with Maya, he was the leading man in one season and the comic relief in another season, it kept it interesting for me. I never, ever got bored with what I was going to get or where he was going to go. I think if Louis Utz had gone seven seasons I would’ve been bored with him, but Elliot was just so interesting to me because he was constantly changing. Mostly, though, I think that for the writers—as talented as they were—he was the kind of guy who could’ve been anything. Nothing really hinged on his character, so he could be the geek, the womanizer, or whatever they wanted him to be. So he was. And I got to do all of that. I miss that job more than any other job, just because it was just… the genre itself, the sitcom. I just love it so much.
AVC: The episodes where David Cross guest-starred as your brother Donnie were some of the best that the series had to offer.
EC: Right? And [Donnie’s first appearance] was an episode that they were afraid of. When the writers come to you and say, “Oh, boy, this episode really scares us, ’cause it’s gonna piss off a lot of people…” [Laughs.] Sure enough, when it went that far and it frightened them, you knew it was going to be good. They were so talented, so lovely. David Cross: my brother Donnie.
AVC: Any time I see a chicken pot pie, that’s the first thing I think of.
EC: [Laughs.] I know! And when he hugs Maya? [In a high-pitched voice.] “My pants are tight!”
Stigmata (1999)—“Father Dario”
Flashpoint (2008-12)—“Sgt. Gregory Parker”
AVC: So did your parents feel like you’d finally become legit when you got the gig on Flashpoint and were playing a cop?
EC: For sure. Well, actually, you know what? The truth is, my father stopped bothering me after Stigmata, because I got to play a priest. [Laughs.] That fulfilled his dream. The cop thing was a little overdone to him because my brother was already a police officer.
But, you know, that show brought me back home. That show brought me back to Toronto. And being allowed to invent a character that could’ve been pretty cookie-cutter… The producers and writers of that show allowed me to bring my own unique quirkiness to him. I’m so very proud of that character on that show, just because of his humanity.
I’m sorry it didn’t do better in the United States, but boy oh boy, Canadians love it. And in bringing me home, I was reintroduced to high school friends and to my brother’s colleagues in the police force, and it also reintroduced me to my present wife, who I’d known for 30 years and lost touch with. I ran into her again during the filming of an episode. There she was… and now here we are!
EC: Carl Elias was really, really cool. And I loved that they loved him. The writers loved him. And I loved that he was such a fan favorite, because for me, he was all on the page. I couldn’t have done anything other than what was written and how they had written him. I’m sure they’ll give me some kind of credit for it, but I give the writers all the credit in the world for it. I barely did anything but memorize those lines. That was it. That’s all I did. But don’t tell them that, because they still pay me. [Laughs.]
I like it when they overestimate what an actor actually does. “You mean all you did was memorize those lines?” “Yeah. That’s all I did. I mean, what else did you think I did? Act?” [Laughs.] As long as you memorized them the way it was written, there was Elias. He was just so much fun. And New York! Oh, my God, filming anything in New York is just so exciting. I love Manhattan.
But, yeah, Greg [Plageman] and Jonathan [Nolan], they called me and just basically said, “Do you wanna play this guy?” And I said, “Ah, I dunno…” I’m such a douche. [Laughs.] People offer me work, and I go, “Are you sure? I’m so used to auditioning and really earning it when I get it. I’m not comfortable with you giving me a job!”
But sure enough, they sent me the pilot, and I go, “This is so friggin’ awesome…” And I’m such a fan of Michael Emerson’s. And Jim Caviezel’s. I’m a good Catholic, so I’ve always been a fan of his since The Passion Of The Christ. I mean, you’ve gotta be—I couldn’t believe he was doing television. But everybody on that show… I was doing Flashpoint at the time, and I was also doing Remedy at the time, so they really went out of their way to get me back to New York. It was such a great family, to know how much they loved that character. They just loved Elias and his partner, Anthony. Scarface. When you have the camaraderie with an actor that I had with David Valcin, and the love Anthony had for Elias… It was like he was the king of New York.
I’ve never felt so loved playing a bad guy before—he was just so loved. The writers, the actors, the crew, the people who watched it, the people of New York City. I’m in Italy now, and when my brother introduces me to people, they have to call me… How do they say it in Italian? Ee-lee-us. And they say it under their breath. [In a deep, low voice.] “Son of Leo. Ee-lee-us.” [Bursts out laughing.]
Party Down (2009)—“Gordon McSpadden”
EC: Hey, man, thanks for walking me down memory lane. I’m exhilarated! This has been so much fun!
AVC: Well, just as a quick closer, have you got a one-liner about the experience of doing Party Down?
EC: Yeah. “More pool for me, fuckos!”
AVC: Well, there you go.
EC: [Laughs.] Yeah, there you go. That’s it: the best line I ever got to say on TV. “More pool for me, fuckos!”