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Peter Weller Talks About Guest Starring on Fringe (And More): Part II

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During yesterday’s interview, Peter Weller didn't only have spoilers and insights about the plot to share with those of us lucky to get to talk to him; he also had some interesting insights about science fiction which I think both Fringe fans and Peter Weller fans are going to enjoy. And so, just like with the John Noble interview, here are some of the best bits from the interview. And if you haven’t watched Fringe’s episode “White Tulip” yet, there are some spoilers ahead.

Why he chose to accept the role despite his reservations:

"I have to tell you honestly; I’m very discerning about primetime television, you know, guest stars. A lot of it’s entertaining, but sort of hamstrung stuff, but Fringe is unique. Fringe is the best that science fiction can be. It’s fantastic and it’s entertaining, but at the same time has a humanist theme to it of people, places and things and relationships.

Why he likes Fringe and is going to start watching it regularly now that he has guest starred on it:

"… I’m in Italy right now so I can’t watch the show, but we record the show now. … Thank goodness for TiVo … The thing is that when you're part of a show and you read it and you see an episode or two, then you become hooked on it. The same thing happened with me and 24 and now it’s happened with Fringe."

What he thinks of “White Tulip”:

"This episode is truly one of the most profound and entertaining and enjoyable jobs I’ve had in motion pictures or television or theatre that I can remember.  I haven’t even seen it but I know it’s good.  It may be even great. But it’s just extraordinarily worthwhile from the personal experience of the crew and the cast to this script. It was wonderful. It was just wonderful.  As Shakespeare said, ‘Wonderful, wonderful and yet most wonderful.’"

How it was working with the crew and cast of Fringe:

"It was [the director’s] first directing gig. He’s one of the two DPs, and he was fabulous. He had a structure and within the structure, John and I got to invent and John is a very inventor actor. John is a workhouse. John has been around the block, man. He’s done theatre and everything, so it’s not like the director was working with a couple of guys at a diner, a couple of newbies. …

The director really gave me a lot of leeway to work with stuff. He was great. He was terrific. It was as if he’d been directing all his life. And a lot of times you get a DP and many times they don’t make [good] directors … because they’re so obsessed with a look and a shot that they can’t leave the room for actors to play. 

… all Josh [Jackson] and I did was smoke a cigar together and talk about Vancouver and cigars. We didn’t talk about sci-fi at all. …

[The show] has this fantastic egalitarian accessibility of everyone on it. It’s magic. They say in the Mafia, where I am right now in Southern Italy, the fish stinks at the head, which means if you’ve got a son of a b**** running the thing, everybody feels like a son of a b****. This show is the antithesis of that. This show is a gift of creation and a wonderful place to create. The writers were available to me on the phone. The directors were available to me night and day. The crew was extraordinarily, unbelievably helpful. The cast was nothing but gems, three gifted people and I had a ball. I just had an absolute ball."

What he thinks of science fiction:

"[Science fiction is] sort of like an autobiography of the world. [History is] a linear sort of record of the great events in the world. And then you have intersecting it vertically or thematically, science fiction; the what-ifs, the what if we did this; the whole thing outside of our linear experience. That’s the great gift of science fiction. … If you have any kind of inventive mind at all, you go racing with it. … I don’t understand science that much. I’m not a scientist and I’m not really good at mathematics. But science fiction is just an extraordinarily imaginative trope.

The reason why I love Fringe is that it goes past the surface adventure of science and sort of plumbs the responsibility and accountability of science fiction; where the human being goes with it, what he has to suffer and what joy and also misery that he pulls out of messing with, if you will, fate or destiny as the Greeks say or choice or the order of the natural world. That’s what Fringe does. It takes you a little bit deeper and as a matter of fact a lot deeper than the usual science fiction program.  It’s all entertainment, but Fringe has an inquiry into what it means to be human along with this and that’s what really turns me onto this show."

On the similarities between time travel as explained on Odyssey 5 and on this episode of Fringe:

"It’s very similar. That’s what turned me on about Odyssey 5 is that people are placed back in time except they have the knowledge of the future and so they look, they mess with Mother Nature and everything goes askew. That’s a really good correlation. As a matter of fact, when I first started to do Fringe, I called up Manny Coto, the creator of Odyssey 5, and he said, 'Oh wow, this sounds like Isaac Asimov,' indeed the writers are Isaac Asimov fans.   … Both of those shows are using science fiction to leverage the audience into an inquiry about being humanly accountable, as far as just relationships go with other human beings. Are you a person of peace or are you a person of greed and aggression? These are great inquiries to me and I really appreciate you bringing up that analogy because that’s the very thing that turned me on about ‘White Tulip.’"

On what he would do were he able to time travel:

"There’s a couple of places I would like to go but I don’t know if I’d redo anything. I’ve been very blessed, but there’s a couple of relationships that I made youthful mistakes about and they were egotistical and sort of self-absorbed mistakes. Just like the guy in 'White Tulip' as you will see. He gets in an argument with his fiancée, just a small argument and therein death happens. I’d go back and I’d sort of make a few amends with some people that are no longer on the earth. That’s all I think I would do.

If I just really could time travel though, there’s a couple of guys I’d like to meet. There’s a couple of artists I’d like to meet in the Renaissance and an emperor or two I’d like to shake hands with. I’d certainly like to go back and step on the Island of Elba and talk to Napoleon a second or go back and talk to Frederick II who was a great emperor in the 1200s who gave Jews and Muslims a whole lot of civil freedom and spoke Arabic and Hebrew and was a vegetarian and a poet. There’s a couple of guys I’d like to meet like that, but as far as my own life to go redo things, there’s about two or three people that I regret mishandling and I’d like to go back and sort of straighten that out."

On directing a future episode of Fringe:

"I put Fred Weller and Graham Beckel in everything I direct. I’m going to pound Fringe to direct an episode for them. I’m actually cranking up a film to direct, but I’d love to direct for them and if so, yes, I’ve got to get Fred Weller and Graham Beckel in it because they’re gifted … I don’t know if you know who [Beckel] is, but he’s been in every movie I’ve ever made. And as Tommy Lee Jones said about Graham, he’s probably one of the two or three most inventive film actors walking planet Earth."

On the new film he’s directing:

"The film is called The Meaning of Nowhere. … It’s about a very bad girl, very bad, who kills three people. She’s a low-level heist operator. She kills three people in the first five minutes of the film and by fate, by destiny, she ends up in a life that’s actually sort of nice. It’s not about somebody trying to go good, because she doesn’t want go good. It's just that the river that takes her on down, the current takes her on down the stream and she ends up in a fairly nice little sort of Brigadoon paradise and then doesn’t want to let it go.

And so underneath this thriller … you have the age old question … are we our fate and destiny or … do we have a choice in the matter? Can we be like Abraham and walk out of Samaria and go find a promised land on our own … because everything before Judaism was essentially a life/death cycle where you were born a peasant, you were reborn as a peasant.  If you were born a king, you were reborn as a king. You didn’t change your life. This thriller is about whether you are fated to be one thing or whether you can choose to be another. How about that?"

On the return of RoboCop:

"You know, I wish [Darren Aronofsky] well. He’s a gifted director. I was happy to do it and happy to leave it. … I left RoboCop to do Naked Lunch and I was very grateful for everything that RoboCop brought me, particularly a large listening amongst young people in regards to … making some sort of contribution to education or difference to education because young kids will listen to me because of that film. But I think the movie will probably be good. I just have to say RoboCop I is hard to beat. You know, you’ve got that director Verhoeven and you’ve got those writers Ed Neumeier and Mike Miner and a combination of action and myth and humanity and humor, all those things wrapped into one … the construction of that script was perfect. I don’t think they’re going to do anything better, but I certainly wish them well to do something as good."

On the perks of stardom:

"Tony Curtis said there’s nothing like the perks of the movie business. Look, I got burned out on acting about four years into acting in the theatre. I really didn’t know. I was just chasing one job to the next. Then I had sort of a life change and hopefully everybody has a life change. You’ve got to have more than one, too. You’ve got to have them about every ten years. You’ve got to have these epiphanies.

I realized that what it was about; now this sounds very simplistic. As a matter of fact, it sounds vacuous. … It occurred to me in a major epiphany that what I was about was communication and that if I can communicate a particular experience that either assists, enlightens or makes some kind of difference in a fictional world to people watching it, then that’s what I can do.

Along with that, the fallout of that is that as Mitchum also said, having celebrity can call attention to your favourite charity or getting a nice seat in a restaurant. That’s about it. Insomuch as I got a little notoriety, I can bring some attention to my particular issues… It’s also given me the gift of travel and travel is also education and it also brings the world together. …

And that’s what acting is really; I don’t want to get high and mighty about it, but it’s really given me an access to the world.  And subsequently in communicating a particular experience like in 'White Tulip,' which is about love, that’s all it is, that’s the whole episode is about love and the desire for love and the loss of people that you love, that’s all 'White Tulip' is; if I can communicate that then I get re-infused with it and I can go out and be nicer to the people next to me.  Moses, Jesus, Buddha, and every other avatar on planet earth said to handle what’s in front of you with kindness and then the world will handle itself."

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About Sahar

  • Wal Heinrich

    Peter Weller is an awesome actor with loads of charisma that facilitates playing both hero and villain. What type he plays in Fringe, I am not sure, a bit of both rolled into one. Fascinating to hear his views on life especially his travel abroad which has obviously opened his mind up to all sorts of possibilities. Great interview.

  • http://saharsreviews.wordpress.com Sahar

    I’m really glad you enjoyed the interview, Wal. Your comment is all the more interesting that his role in Fringe is a sympathetic antagonist, which he portrays beautifully. If you are a sci-fi fan, you should watch this episode even though you don’t watch Fringe, it’s well worth your time!