It’s no secret that the A.V. Club’s Random Roles is by far my favorite feature from any of the sites to which I currently contribute, and it becomes even more evident that this is the case when you realize that I’ll have done 40 interviews for the feature by the time we reach the end of 2015.
Still, I feel like I should once again reiterate that it’s not my feature. It belongs to the A.V. Club, which means that anyone else who contributes to the site is more than welcome to do interviews for the feature. I say this because, even as inherently complimentary as it may be, I sure do wish that the commenters would stop writing things on other people’s Random Roles interviews like, “I could tell this wasn’t a Will Harris Random Roles” or “I can’t believe Will Harris didn’t do this one.” If you want to praise me on my pieces, that’s great, because I’m a struggling freelance writer and can use all the ego boosts that I can get, but don’t bash other people’s work. That’s just not cool, man.
Okay, now that that’s taken care of, let’s start working our way through the Random Roles I conducted during the course of 2015.
I went through the interviews and pulled out my favorite anecdote from each, and I’ll be listing them along with the photo that originally accompanied the interview, so if you’re all, like, “Hey, that’s not what Martin Starr looked like in Yo Gabba Gabba!” you’re right, it isn’t. Try not to let that distract you from enjoying the anecdotes, though, because I think they’re all pretty great. I mean, if they weren’t, I wouldn’t have included them, right? Here’s hoping you feel the same way.
A.V. Club: You were on The Aquabats! Super Show, but IMDB only credits you as “Actor.” Who or what did you play?
Martin Starr: Oh, that was really fun. That came through… I had done Yo Gabba Gabba! so the same producer reached out to see if I was available. I wasn’t too familiar with them till I went up there, but they were the nicest guys, and that show was such a fun experience. It was a battle of the bands, and there was one weird band, and a whole lot of different things, and I got to riff around and have fun. I remember they gave me free range to just play, and I knew it was a kids’ show, so I played in their really silly world.
AVC: So were you in one of the bands?
MS: Oh, sorry, no, I was, like, the emcee hosting the whole thing, so I was introducing all the bands, which made it even more fun.
AVC: And, actually, IMDB doesn’t even list you as having been on Yo Gabba Gabba!
MS: Oh, yeah! John [Francis Daley], Samm [Levine], and I were in an episode. We found out they loved Freaks And Geeks, so we did an episode, the three of us, doing a rap. [Laughs.] It was really fun. Very easy, simple fun. After that, we went and did a live show in L.A. as well. That was the second time I met “Weird Al” Yankovic, and he remembered the first time, which was 10 years prior. And it blew my mind. We had met in a bowling alley right around the time we were shooting Freaks And Geeks. I was a bowling fanatic, so I used to take my bowling ball to the lanes three times a week. I had my own ball, I had my own shoes. I was just—well, I know you can’t use the word “fucking,” but…
AVC: Sure you can. This is the Internet.
MS: All right! Well, I was fucking bowling up a storm. [Laughs.] I was dominating those pins. And there was this one day that I happened to be in there that I saw “Weird Al” Yankovic. And I was a huge fan—and still am, but at that point it was, like, I knew it all. So I think I may have said “hi” to him, and he said “hi” to me. I think he said that he liked the show, Freaks And Geeks, which was rare for someone to have seen it, because we weren’t watched a lot in the early days. Our numbers were—they seemed intentionally low. [Laughs.] It seemed like NBC was trying to get low numbers, by switching us around or showing episodes on Sundays, when that wasn’t our time. So he was very nice, and he clearly probably remembered because of that connection he had to our show, but I was still amazed that he remembered meeting me. He’s the nicest guy. I can’t say enough good things about him.
“Wow. General Katana. How can you not like a guy where they give you… Look, I’m bald. I have not had hair since I was 27, 28. But I showed up for work, and they glued a full mane on me, give me a cape, leather boots that go to my thighs, and a four-foot stand that I can cleave people in half with. How can you not want to go to work, you know? That was an absolute joy! And then I get to hang out with Sean Connery?
“I just saw Russell Mulcahy, actually, when I was in Nova Scotia. The new Lizzie Borden miniseries, I’m doing a piece in that, playing a crazed mountain man who’s wanted for murder and stuff, and while I was there, Russell was directing the second section of it.
“But we hadn’t seen each other since after Argentina, when he was in town shooting a music video for Elton John—he did a bunch of his videos—and he calls me and he says, ‘Hey, let’s go to dinner! We’ll all go to dinner!’ So I’m at dinner with my wife and Russell, and Chris [Lambert] came along, and he brought Diane Lane with him, because he was married to her at the time. Diane’s a hoot. She’s a great friend. We did The Perfect Storm together, too.
“But, anyway, I’m sitting there at dinner, and there’s this guy with a beard and long hair across the table, and he’s talking about how he’s working on this Western he’s been wanting to do. I said, ‘How long have you been working on this script?’” He said, ‘About 11 years.’ I said, ‘Dude, you’re a cliché! Do you know how many people in this town have a first and second act and an unfinished third act?’ And we were laughing about it, and he said, ‘Yeah, I know, but it’s an obsession with me.’ And I’m sitting there… and I go, ‘Oh, my God!’ And he said, sounding surprised, ‘What?’ He actually looked around, because there were, like, eight of us at the table. And I said, ‘You’re Bernie Taupin!’ And he said, ‘Yeah! And you’re Michael Ironside. I’ve got a copy of Scanners. Could you sign it for me?’ I’m sitting there for a fucking hour and a half talking to Bernie Taupin before I realized who he was! One of the greatest lyricists of all time! I mean, just Tumbleweed Connection alone! And Russell was sitting there, and he looked down the table—he’s got these blue, devilish juvenile eyes —and he said, ‘You guys are getting along famously, aren’t you?’ It was one of those perfect dinners, where everyone at the table just added to the conversation, and it was wonderful. Stories just rolled around the table. It was a 10-star dinner.
“So that’s basically what General Katana reminds me of, but… in Highlander II, do you remember when I fall through the ceiling of the subway? Well, here’s an anecdote from that. The stunt guy was my double—I won’t mention his name, ’cause he’s got kids—but we shot that in Argentina, and he’d never been anywhere where cocaine was so cheap. You know, you could buy a gram of cocaine for about four dollars American, and you could buy a brick of it for about 150 dollars. And he was hammered out of his mind on drugs while we were there. And we go to do this scene, and… I’d done all of the sword-fighting training, and Frank Orsatti, a dear friend of mine, and Tommy Huff were the stunt coordinators. They’ve both passed now. But we learned how to sword-fight and did all that stuff, me and Chris Lambert, we were all getting along great, but… My stunt double… came and knocked on my door in the middle of the night, and he was totally naked, and he had paint all over his testicles. And I said, ‘Are you all right?’ He said, ‘Can I borrow a pair of sweatpants?’ And I said, ‘Well, why don’t you go to your room?’ And he said, ‘There are people in my room.’ And I went, ‘Okay!’ So I went and got him a pair of sweatpants, and he said, ‘Thank you!’ And he smiled and ran down to the exit.
“Two days later, he had to do that stunt for me. We’d built a subway car, and he had to walk along and crash through the floor—because I come to Earth, if you remember, on a comet—through the cement into a subway. All he had to do was sort of hang on the ceiling, and they’d blow the thing, and he’d fall face-first, flat body, through it. And he was so whacked out of his brains when we went to do the stunt, they blew it, and he decided, ‘Wait a second,’ and came through backwards and upside down, and he landed on his ass. And not only was it totally not usable, but he broke his ankle in the process. And Russell was sitting there, and he went, ‘Christ, what are we fucking going to do now?’ And stupid, stupid me, being from Canada, where we used to do all our own stunts, I said, ‘Well, I could probably help you out there. I could probably do it.’ He said, ‘Well, we don’t have another train car. I don’t know how we’re gonna do it.’ I said, ‘Well, I think I know how to do this.’ And then I thought, ‘What are you doing, you stupid asshole?’
“So we set it all up, and I hung from above the hole of the ceiling of the subway car, and he called, ‘Action!’ I let myself fall, and if you remember, they piled all this plaster shit on my back, so that when I fell, it looked like a bunch of stuff fell with me. We kind of made it up as we went along. And in the film, I land, and… I said, ‘No matter what happens, Russell, keep rolling, because if I break anything, we’re only gonna get one shot at this.’ Well, I dinged my head a little bit coming through. I hit a crossbar on the subway. But when I landed on the floor of the subway, everyone’s staring at me, the dust is clearing, and I remember thinking, ‘Did I break anything?’ I’d broken my back before, so I stood up, I checked my back, my shoulders, and my hands while I was half-bent over. But when I realized I’d done it and I hadn’t broken anything, I threw my head back and I went, ‘YES!’ That’s when I realized, ‘Wait a minute, the camera’s still rolling!’ And I went, ‘A-HA!’ And I walked off-camera. So that was not acting in its purest sense. That was just me surviving a stunt! And Russell said, ‘That was fucking brilliant! Let’s leave that in, and we’ll build on that!’ So that’s how I got the coat and the cape and all that other stuff, walking through the train. But we kind of made that up as we went along… all because my stunt double had screwed up the stunt so bad!”
The Equalizer (1986)—“Judge Paula G. Walsh”
Center Of The Universe (2004-05)—“Marge Barnett”
Olympia Dukakis: The Equalizer? Where are you pulling these things from?
AVC: I try to keep people guessing.
OD: [Adopts a Southern accent.] I played a judge. I remember that one pretty vaguely, too. We’ve practically had a world war since then! What’s the matter with you? [Laughs.] I didn’t do much episodic TV, because I wasn’t much good at episodic TV.
I tried to do a series, though. My husband shamed me into it. He said, “You always say you want to do these things to learn. Why don’t you do one of these series and learn about that?” He wanted me to take it because it was a lot of money! [Laughs.] That’s why he wanted me to do it! It was with John Goodman and Ed Asner. It was called Center Of The Universe, and it was unbelievable, it was so painful. I finally decided that the reason the universe had sent this to me was because I had to figure out how to live with humiliation! Ed Asner said to me once, “The problem is that you come here to act.” I looked at him like he was crazy. He said, “No, no, no. You come here to have a good time. That’s what this is about. Just come and have a good time!” And I tried to do that! Actually, it helped a little. It did help a little! But John Goodman was punching holes in the scenery, he was so upset. I mean, it was really wild, wild, wild.Fortunately, it didn’t last that long.
AVC: Well, at least you got the experience.
OD: Yeah, the experience of how to live with humiliation! [Laughs.] You know things are bad when your friends call you up and say, “You know, you’re the best thing in the show.” I thought, “Oh, my God, it must be really bad if they have to prop me up like that!”
Alanna Ubach: [Writer/director] Rob McKittrick knocked on the trailer door of every actress. I was the last one he came to. He asked Anna Faris if she would show her bush, he asked Kaitlin Doubleday if she would show her bush. He asked everyone. And they all said, “No, absolutely not, I will not lift up my skirt and show anything.” And he was, like, “Come on, it’s all in the name of comedy!” And they all said no.
And he finally knocked on my trailer door, and I said, “You want me to show my bush? Absolutely! But it better be the ugliest looking vagina you’ve ever seen this side of China. I want paperclips hanging from it…” [Laughs.] “I want cottage cheese… the whole bit. It’s got to make the fourth-grade boys laugh. I want the little boys to laugh at this. They have to howl with laughter. And the only way we’re gonna do it is if we show a double.”
So they decided to go across the street and find this stripper who was working at this bar across the street. But they managed to use her as a double, with a giant merkin taped to her crotch. It was very funny. And I sat and gave her direction while she was being filmed.
AVC: And you’ve still probably had to spend the last decade having people ask, “So was that really you?”
AU: Oh, sure. And it’s very funny, in fact, that if you look down at the message board on IMDB, a lot of people are saying, “You know what? She really needs to do some grooming. It’s just not the style these days. What’s up? Hasn’t she ever heard of a Brazilian wax?” It’s a lot of fun. You just kind of sit back and enjoy, and you know what you know. Ah, the magic of moviemaking…
“That was a great one to be on. A really interesting cast… We filmed it almost all in one spot, except that there was one location that we had to be at across the state. We were on the eastern part of the state, and on the western part of the state, on the gulf, there was one location where we were going to be filming, and I thought it would be kind of great… Edie Falco had told me that she had never been in a helicopter, which isn’t that uncommon, but one of the people working locally had a really great rate for helicopter rides. So I arranged to make a sort of surprise for Edie and say, ‘Hey, I know that you were planning on driving however many hours it is to the next location and everything, and I was going to be doing the same, but… what if I told you we can get there in about 45 minutes instead of three hours?’ Or whatever it was going to take. And she said, ‘Yeah! How?’ I said, ‘Well, I rented a helicopter and a pilot, and that’s how we’re going to get to location.’
“The next morning, we had to be there at, like, 11 o’clock or something, so I picked Edie up where she was staying, and we went over the airfield… and it was the worst possible storm you could imagine. Rain and wind, low cloud weather, just miserable. And we saw the helicopter, and the pilot was walking around the helicopter, making final checks, and he looked really concerned. He kept looking up at the sky and shaking his head. His name was Otto. And I said to him, ‘Are we okay to fly?’ He said, ‘Well, with this pilot you are.’ And he was an amazing pilot. We went up in this helicopter, and it was both terrifying and exhilarating, all at the same time. I’m sure it’s something that Edie Falco has never forgotten!”
AVC: I’m mostly curious about this one because it’s such an early role, and your character doesn’t even have a real name. You’re just “Chrystie’s lover.”
Dean Winters: Yeah, I played basically—okay, so Francie Swift wakes up, and you think that she’s banging Luke Perry, and then I roll over, and… it’s me! That was my first movie ever, and that was an interesting gig because I showed up and went to wardrobe, and they gave me, like, a banana hammock for my cock. I’m like, “What is this?” They’re like, “This is your wardrobe.” I’m like, “Excuse me?” Because I hadn’t read the script. [Laughs.] I got called in because the actor who was playing my part got stung in the face by a bumblebee in Central Park, so they called me to come in right away, because I knew Luke. And I came in, and I had to crawl into bed with Francie, and then I had to simulate sex with her, and it was really rough. And then they called “cut,” and they took Francie out of the bed, and they brought in the Penthouse Pet Of The Year as her body double. And I’m in the bed, naked. I’m, like, “Is this a fucking joke?” And it got awkward, as you can imagine. It was just a really, really weird day.
AVC: But memorable, it sounds like.
DW: Memorable, definitely. I told her, “Look, I’m an all-American male, so just don’t expect for nothing to happen.” [Laughs.]
AVC: Presumably you were well familiar with the original British series.
Eddie Izzard: Oh, yeah, I was a big fan of that. Have you seen the film? I think they must’ve shown it in tests, and it wasn’t quite getting the reaction they wanted it to, so they thought, “Well, we’ll put it all out, and the reviewers won’t get advance copies.” So I think people who were going to review it, they were kind of passionate on that, and they kind of got the hump. ”We’re not allowed to review it before it comes out?” So they’d already sharpened their blades before it came out. So it was really attacked, but… I think it’s fine! But it’s got this big, black mark over it.
AVC: People obviously compare it to the original series, but it never seemed as bad as all that.
EI: No. It was fun to do. And I was back at Pinewood [Studios], which I’d broken into when I was 15, and… yeah, it was a big, fun production to be involved in. And doing scenes with Sean Connery? [Grins.] That was crazy. Unfortunately, I think people aren’t going to really find it. They aren’t going to look for it because of its reputation.
AVC: Sorry, if we could just jump back for a second: How did you break into Pinewood Studios?
EI: [Laughs.] To get into films! I was trying to break into films, so I thought I’d just go to the film studios and see if I could work out how I could get into a film. I was very logical about things: I’d been watching films, I wanted to be an actor, and I thought, “These films on the telly, real people make them. They don’t just turn out from a factory where they just push out these things. People make them separately, then they put them on the screens in the cinema, so they must make them somewhere.” And at the bottom it said, “Filmed at Pinewood Studios, Iver Heath, Bucks.” So I thought, “Well, then, I must go to Iver Heath, Bucks, to Pinewood Studios!”
So I got a map of Britain—this is before Google and the Internet—that had every town in the whole of the U.K. listed, and I found it alphabetically. I took a train to London, I took a tube to Uxbridge, and I took a bus to Iver Heath, and then I said, “Is Pinewood Studios here?” They said, “Half a mile down the road!” So I walked down the road, I walked up to the front gate, this gabled entrance, and I said, “Can I come in? I’m going to work in films.” And they said, “No! Fuck off!” [Laughs.]
So I thought, “Well, that’s no good, because I’ve come miles!” So I found there was a second entrance, so that’s when I decided not to ask at this entrance and just watch people. And some people were just walking in, some people were showing documents and giving them things to check, but the people who seemed to know what they were doing were just marching in. So I thought, “Well, I’m just going to march in.” I don’t know if I had something out, but if I did I probably held it like this. [Looks straight ahead and mimes flashing an ID.] That always looks good. So I marched in—and suddenly I was in. It’s like Where Eagles Dare, where Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood get into the Schloss Adler. [Laughs.]
So I got in, and then I just crept around in Pinewood Studios, trying to get a job. I failed after, like, 30 minutes. There was nothing there that said, “We need people! We need this kid!” I just thought it might be like Hollywood, where they just discover you. “You! You’re in!” But no. It took longer.
The President’s Analyst (1967)—“Wynn Quantrill”
The Graduate (1967)—“Mr. Braddock”
The Parallax View (1974)—“Austin Tucker”
AVC: How did you enjoy doing The Parallax View?
William Daniels: Well, let me think. Alan Pakula directed that. We did it in Seattle, and one of the scenes was up in the Needle. It went pretty well. It was kind of funny. I got a couple of laughs. One was, “You don’t play with that gun, son. That’s my car gun.”
Bonnie Bartlett: No, that’s a different one.
WD: Oh, is that a different one?
BB: The car gun is from that movie The President’s Analyst.
WD: [Laughs.] Well, it’s been awhile. I get them confused.
BB: Well, you went through a period where there was a lot of violence, dogs, and guns.
WD: I’m sorry about that. But you asked about The Parallax View, and I was up there in Seattle for a while doing that. I remember I had a scene with Warren, and we did the scene, and it went well. But then Pakula asked us to do it again. And we did it again, we remembered all our lines, and he said, “Let’s do it again.” And at that point, Warren went over, and they started talking quietly. And we went back, and he asked us to do it again, which had never happened to me. We did about 12 takes! Nobody dropped any lines or anything like that. And afterwards I remember having lunch with Pakula and asking, “What the hell was going on there?” He said, “We were fighting.” What he wanted was a more emotional response from Warren, but Warren has a firm grip on his film image, and he wasn’t about to show some kind of emotion. [Laughs.]
BB: In that scene. We don’t know who was right.
WD: [Slightly prickly.] No, I don’t know. I’m just telling you: He was not going to get emotional, and that was that. But the film itself was very well received.
AVC: Since you brought it up, how did you enjoy doing The President’s Analyst?
BB: That’s the one with the car gun.
WD: Yes, I know! [Laughs.] At that time, I was working on another picture, with Mike Nichols. I was working on The Graduate.
BB: They all came together, because Theodore Flicker was doing The President’s Analyst, and you were playing all of these same kind of guys. You did it in The Graduate.
WD: And I got pretty tired of playing it, too.
BB: The character in The Bob Newhart Show, too. They were all kind of the same character.
WD: Anyway, I had a meeting with Mike Nichols and the producer, and the producer said, “I have reservations, because you’re not old enough to play Dustin Hoffman’s father.” And Mike said, “That doesn’t matter.” He said that to the producer. He actually wanted all Broadway people, all New York actors, in The Graduate. So I left that meeting thinking I wasn’t going to get the part, so I took the other job and went to do The President’s Analyst, and when I came back, I get this call from Mike Nichols, saying, “What did you do? I want you for this part, and you went and did another job!” I said, “Well, yeah! I didn’t think I was gonna get the part!” He said, “Of course you’re gonna get the part!” [Laughs.] And he yelled at me, but I had finished the other one by then, anyway. It just made him nervous when he heard I was in Seattle.
BB: You weren’t in Seattle. You were somewhere else.
WD: All right, well, wherever it was. San Diego.
BB: Washington. I think.
WD: Okay, Washington! [Laughs.]
BB: Well, I don’t know. Do I know?
WD: Well, you seem to be interrupting like you do!
BB: Yes, I do. Go on. Please, go on.
WD: [Sighs.] This is a marriage that’s gone on for a very long time. [Laughs.]
Sesame Street (1993 & 1994)—“Air Mime” / (1998-2009)—“Mr. Noodle”
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (2008-2011)—“Nate Haskell”
AVC: You actually started on Sesame Street playing a character called Air Mime.
Bill Irwin: Wow! You are erudite. [Laughs.] Yes, and then I was very briefly something called Mr. Television. But finally a wonderful producer there—who’s no longer alive, unfortunately, he died way too young—thought of this character and called him Mr. Noodle. But I’ll tell you, the brilliant defining feature was that kids knew things that he didn’t know, and it empowered the kids so much. When we first started shooting that, there were kids in the studio. Eventually, it had to be made more cost-effective, and the kids did it all in post-production. But they would explain to Mr. Noodle what he was doing wrong, and it was very sweet. They often went from a kind of raucous, “No, you dumb bozo!” to, “Mr. Noodle, no, let us help you out, do it this way.” And it was a pretty sweet experience. We had to shoot them so fast that I was forever complaining about that, and they said, “Okay, well, we’ll get somebody else, Bill,” which always shuts an actor up.
AVC: If ever there was a flip side to Mr. Noodle, it’s Nate Haskell.
BI: I do have a letter that I keep on my wall at home that says, “Dear Mr. Irwin: I enjoyed you in CSI. My children watch you on Sesame Street. This kind of creeps me out.” [Laughs.] Those are pretty much the exact words. It is kind of the flip side of Mr. Noodle, but I did love doing Nate Haskell, at first. And then he kind of creeped me out. I was not unhappy when he met his demise. But the first episodes especially were written by a guy who spent some time doing some prison interviews with guys who have this pathology, this psychopathology, and—well, you know, an actor’s adventure is to go places that you would never really want to go, but in a storytelling sense, it’s your job to go there.
John Heard: That was a tough one. Paul Schrader, he’s a… son of a gun. [Laughs.] He’s a very feisty, very straightforward guy. He’s your auteur director. He sent me to a fat farm down in Palm Springs, I think it was, and got mad because he said, “You’re just getting massages and backrubs!”
AVC: Was he right?
JH: Yeah. [Laughs.] He got the bill, he looked at the itemization, and he said, “You’re not doing anything to lose weight! I could’ve had William Hurt for this part!” And I said, “Well, you’re stuck with me, so…” He was funny, though. He’s a funny guy. And he’s one of those directors who really gives a shit. I mean, he really cares. The whole day, he’s on everything. So it’s a pleasure in the long run. But he’s tough. He knows what he wants.
AVC: How was it working with Nastassja Kinski?
JH: She’s a sweetie. She’s very quiet. But smart. I hung out with her mother more than Nastassja. I think Nastassja was more worried about Schrader and doing the part, so her mom and I kind of became friends. She gave me a book—Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations—and said in her Polish accent, “You remind me of this guy.” I didn’t know nothing about Arthur Rimbaud or why I would’ve reminded her of him. [Laughs.] But I remember her saying that.
We were in New Orleans, so we were always cavorting around. Schrader tried to wake me up one morning because he wanted to catch the light in a shot that was down the street at Tulane [University] or something, in a park, and I was out cold. He had someone pull me out of bed and throw me in the car, and he was pissed off at me because he’d just missed the light that he’d wanted to shoot, so he sent me to what they called “the penalty box,” which was the bar next to the hotel, the St. Charles. I think it was called Igor’s or something. He said, “You’re going to have to spend 30 days in the penalty box. You can sit there in the dark bar by yourself and play the jukebox all day.” I don’t know quite what it meant, but it was like having to go to jug in high school. [Laughs.]
I got Paul kicked out of Paul Prudhomme’s restaurant in New Orleans. Paul Prudhomme had this cocktail in a martini glass that had cayenne and a lot of peppers in it, but it was a gin drink. And Schrader came in—we were lucky to get in at lunch, there was always a line—and I was sitting there with somebody, and he said, “What are you drinking?” And I said, “One of these. They’re great! Get one!” And he got one. And he got another one. And I think he got another one. And Paul Prudhomme came out and got angry with him and said, “You’re ruining your meal! That drink is only to whet your appetite, not to indulge!” And he asked him to leave. [Laughs.] That was another thing that Schrader blamed me for. Prudhomme was, like, “You’re not here to enjoy my Creole cooking, you’re just getting loaded at lunchtime!”