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Interview by Shannon T. Nutt - 10/28/2005

DVD Empire: Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to be cast in Alien Nation?

Gary Graham: How I got cast was through the usual channels...a call from the agent, I went in and did a reading and felt pretty good about it. I got called back about a week later and we did an act off. They had it narrowed down to about six or seven guys. We all went in and did another reading, and he let all of us go except for two guys: me and Colin Quinn. It seemed it was coming down to he and I. We both gave another go at it, I met with Kenny Johnson and worked with him, and he said Its real important for Matt Sikes to be a guy who just takes charge. So I walked in, and I said You sit over there, and you sit over there, and I started moving furniture around...they thought that was funny...I was kind of doing it as a joke for Kenny. I started bossing people around, and then I said Do you mind if I take a moment to prepare? They said, Sure, go ahead. And I went into this rioting, cavorting thing for about three seconds...then I just started reading. And then they said thanks so much for coming in, and Kenny just kind of had that twinkle in his eye that kind of told me hmmm, this seems to have gone well. Then I heard that afternoon that I got it, and we made plans to film the pilot. I got to meet the rest of the cast. Kenny wanted to see the actors who played the aliens and how people would react to them. So on a Saturday, we all got in costume and all the aliens got in their alien makeup Cathy and Michelle and Sean and Lauren and Eric and we went down to the Union Bus Station in downtown L.A. and walked around! And just watched peoples reaction...some of the reactions were mild amusement, some were sort of excuse me, Im leaving now, and oddly youd be surprised at how many had no reaction whatsoever. Its L.A....so what?! Nothing unusual about that!

DVD Empire: Now I know you did an episode of The Incredible Hulk about 10 years prior to Alien Nation. Of course, Ken Johnson was the executive producer on Hulk. Did he remember you from the show you did for him earlier in your career?

Gary Graham: Im sorry to say I dont remember him much, and he didnt remember me at all! I think we did meet in the casting room, but the only person I really spent any time with was the director Alan Levi. I dont remember Ken visiting the set...I think he did. But he didnt remember me! So we had nothing to talk about!

DVD Empire: As Im sure you know, the series Alien Nation was based on a movie which Ken wasnt involved with at all. Did you go back and look at the portrayal of your character by James Caan in the feature film...or was that something you totally wanted to avoid?

Gary Graham: I did want to totally avoid it. I just didnt want to be influenced by his rendition and I didnt want to copy anything that he was doing. I wasnt interested in recreating James Caans approach to the role, and so I purposely did not see the movie before we filmed the pilot. After we filmed the pilot, I went and saw it and said...oh, I see what they were doing...and thought ours was pretty much different. It generated into a sort of whodunit cops and robbers car chase, and our version was more concerned with relationships.

DVD Empire: Can you tell us a little about your co-star on the show, Eric Pierpoint. You guys seemed to have great on-screen chemistry together.

Gary Graham: Well, Eric and I just seemed to click immediately. Knowing the gist of the series, with this relationship between a human cop and an alien cop, you cant start out with much more opposite than that. So we cultivated the differences between the two of them in the way we walked, talked and looked at the world. We didnt talk about it that much, we just sort of instinctively did it. Just the way wed walk together...he had a very stiff way of walking, and I had a shuffling way of walking. He sort of had a stiff way of speaking, and I had a very casual way of speaking. If I had a rough, irascible way about me, he had a very polished, caring, courteous way. So we sort of played on our opposites naturally. Also, Eric likes to play...you can tell Eric got into acting to play. He likes to get into character and stay in character. I always knew working with Eric that whatever happened, hed stay in it and just go with it. A lot of the things we came up with were on the day, on the set. So that was a great, fun experience.

DVD Empire: To follow up on that, I know that some actors like to wait until the cameras are actually shooting to see what happens, while others like to prep before hand with their co-stars. Did you and Eric wait until shooting to see how things would flow with your characters, or did you talk about things before hand?

Gary Graham: We didnt talk about scenes before hand. We mostly showed and, and then in rehearsal discovered a lot. Wed sort of establish the geography...like moving across the room wed do that in a rehearsal. If it didnt seem natural, wed stop. Wed kind of block out the general stuff during the rehearsal, with maybe an 80 percent commitment to the scene. And then some of the juice we would pretty much save for the camera rolling. Because you dont want to use up your juice too early.

DVD Empire: I think one of the great things about the show, and the reason it still holds up so well is that it tackled a lot of relevant social issues like racism and bigotry. When you were making the show, did you have a sense that you were involved in something special, or didnt that hit you until you saw the finished product and started to get feedback from the public?

Gary Graham: It was pretty clear when we read the sript. A scene with particular poignance for myself was the scene outside Emilys school and confronting the racists...that was really when I got the full potential of the power of this. But we always knew that it was pretty special. We didnt know how it would be embraced. But we knew what we were doing and what Kenny was doing was something special.

DVD Empire: Heres a question Im sure youve been asked way too many times. Out of the 22 episodes of that first season, do you have a favorite of the bunch?

Gary Graham: I would say I have a couple favorites. They are very different, but they were very personal. I loved the episode with the trunk where I remember my dad, who wasnt at my Little League games. I remember the episode Real Men, where we delivered Erics baby. That was a real powerful experience for me. And I remember the episode where Im leaving for vacation and Im called back because theres a serial killer out and I recognize his M.O. and I come back to capture him...

DVD Empire: Crossing The Line. Im glad you mentioned that because that happens to be my own favorite episode of the show.

Gary Graham: Yeah? Great!

DVD Empire: I love the ending of that show...you go back and visit the grave of the nurse who lost her life when you were a rookie cop...I thought that was very touching.

Gary Graham: Yeah...I do too. I do too.

DVD Empire: How frustrating was it for you to find out that FOX wasnt picking up the show? When you guys shot the last episode was their any feeling on the set that you wouldnt be coming back for a second season?

Gary Graham: There was the feeling that we would definitely be back. Now Eric tends to be more pragmatic than I, and he kept saying Gary, dont spend your money! Dont spend your money...anything can happen! And I was like, are you kidding? This thing is going to run...this is going to be a long run! And I truly believed that. There was a lot of optimism when we did that last episode. And we had even heard confirmations of that. That they were renting more studio space at the Lacy Street Studios where we filmed it. That they were ordering more sewing machines to do the costumes. They were making overtures to fly Eric and I back to New York to meet the affiliates. There were all sorts of overt clues that we would go again. I just thought, gee...why would anyone cancel the show?! Nave person that I am!

DVD Empire: A few years later, everyone did get to come back for a series of five made-for-television films. How surprised were you that you got to come back and was there any apprehension about playing Matt Sikes again?

Gary Graham: I really wasnt surprised. I always thought that we were not done with Alien Nation. I thought there would be more at some point, so when we got the call I was like Ah ha! I knew it! No apprehension whatsoever returning to Matt Sikes. Are you kidding? Its like returning to an old friend.

DVD Empire: After making the five telefilms, did you feel you obtained a sense of closure with the Matt Sikes character that perhaps you didnt have when the series ended?

Gary Graham: No...again, being the incurable optimist, I thought there would be more Alien Nation after that last movie. So, closure? I dont know if there is such a thing.

DVD Empire: Ive interviewed Ken Johnson in the past, and I know the entire cast from Alien Nation used to get together on occasion even after the movies were finished for barbecues and such. Are you still close with some of the cast, and how rare is it for friendships to extend beyond the life of a series or movie that you work on?

Gary Graham: Its very rare. In any kind of a movie or television situation, youre thrown together with people for extremely long periods of time working under many adverse conditions and it draws people very, very close. And then boom the movie is over, the series is cancelled, the job ends. And thats a given. No matter how close you are, the job will end. And everybody swears theyll stay in touch...but you dont. It would be lovely if you did, but you just dont. And youll hear that from everybody...its not just me. You make an effort to call and see how youre doing and all that, but its very rare that you keep these friendships going. Even Eric...Eric and I have been very close in the last 15 years. But even so, I havent actually sat down with him in about five or six months. I talk to him on the phone, but we used to go out golfing and play tennis a lot, but we havent even done that in the last few months. Its sad, but you just get on to other things...you get involved in other things

DVD Empire: Those out there who dont recognize you from Alien Nation probably know you from your recurring role on Star Trek: Enterprise another show that got the shaft from a network recently...

Gary Graham: Yeah! Im becoming a veteran at this!

DVD Empire: Before we talk specifically about that part, I was just wondering if the rumors are true that you came very close to being cast for both the parts of Sisko in Deep Space Nine, and then again as a male-version of Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager?

Gary Graham: Well, if the rumors are to be believed from my agent...and thats where they came from...yeah, I was. And Eric was as well. Now Eric would probably be sore that I would say this...but this is just what I heard. As far as the Sisko choice, it came down to me and two other black guys, and they went with a black guy ( Avery Brooks). As far as Janeway, Eric was one of the guys they were considering if they went with a male for the captain, as well as myself. So, thats what Ive heard. Who knows whats true?

DVD Empire: Your part on Enterprise was that of a Vulcan Ambassador. How hard is it for an actor to play a character who is supposed to suppress all of their emotions?

Gary Graham: Well, the answer lies within your question. Its extremely hard! It surprised me...I truly thought that when I got the part, Oh gosh, what a breeze! Ill just stone-face it, dont show any emotion, and what could be easier than that? And what I came to find out was that it was extremely difficult. I really wasnt aware how much I rely on my emotional expressions...as we all do. To get to that level of inscrutability, that is so prevalent in Asian cultures, is a very difficult stretch for Americans who are very expressive. It was the hardest thing Ive ever done, I have to say!

DVD Empire: Is the fear as an actor in that kind of role that youll come off as too wooden?

Gary Graham: Yeah. The lure is to do it robotic. But thats not what these people are, theyre not androids. The key to playing a Vulcan is theyre very, very emotional people so much that they had to learn to suppress their emotions over the years, lest they destroy their culture. So to walk that thin line of experiencing the emotions and yet suppressing them was a constant juggling act, and that was the great challenge and fun of playing Soval.

DVD Empire: I did want to give you a chance to talk about your new book, Acting & Other Flying Lessons. Can you tell us a little bit about it and what the inspiration behind it was?

Gary Graham: Quite simply, its the best book Ive ever read on acting. I may be a little biased...since I wrote it! But it started as a pure and simple money-making ploy. I had a friend who was a disc jockey, and he was doing a mail-order disc jockey course. A six-month course for $2000. Hed give you homework, and youd send in tapes, and at the end of your course, hed set you up for a one-week tenure at a local radio station. And theyd kickback some money to the local D.J.s, and theyd have the student come in and actually learn hands-on how to be a D.J. and actually do a live, on-air broadcast. And I thought that was a good idea...you could make a lot of money at that, and he kept saying Gary, you ought to do this! With your acting credits we could do a acting thing like that...so go ahead and start writing the program, and Ill help you get it all going! So I started writing, and ended up with about 70 pages of stuff, never knowing that I knew this much about the film industry! By the time I got 70 pages, I told him Im almost ready to go...lets go...and he said that he was busy, and kind of bailed out of the project. So I was left with this half-finished book, and I thought, well Ive got all this stuff, maybe I should just clean out my brain everything I know about acting and everything I know about working on a film set. And I ended up with his huge pile of mish-mash and I realized that this was unreadable...its interesting, but if Im going to get serious about this, Im going to have to organize it. So I went back and painstakingly did the real nuts and bolts and heavy lifting, and I organized it into eight chapters. I got it organized and polished and I got it published. And I think its just fabulous. Im getting a wonderful response on it from my various actor friends. David James Elliot, Catherine Bell, Joe Penny and Tony Danza...and just a bunch of really terrific actors read it and were overwhelmed by it. So they left their nice comments on it. And its available on my website at www.garygraham.com.

DVD Empire: Is the book primarily for aspiring actors, or is it something casual readers can enjoy as well?

Gary Graham: Its for the layperson...its for the acting student...its for anybody interested in film lore...in sports I use a thousand sports metaphors! In fact, Tony Danzas quote says that the book might even make me a better hitter! So if you want to learn how to hit a softball, or hit a golf ball...its also useful for that!

DVD Empire: Finally, any upcoming movies or TV appearances that youd like to let us know about?

Gary Graham: Ah...no! If an acting gig comes along, thats great. In the meantime, Im writing. Im shifting gears into being an author.

You can find out more about Gary Graham at his website, www.garygraham.com

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2009-10-13 12:50 

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