ENI Talks to Desparate Housewive's James Denton about "Masters of Science Fiction"
Reported by Jack Quan - 05:05 PM 2007.08.10
Itís the future; today as ďMasters of Science FictionĒ brings renowned storytellers, top stars and Professor Stephen Hawking to ABC, for four Saturdays in August.
Rounding out the limited series at 10 PM EST/PST on August 25 is the series finale, The Discarded. Based on a short story by seven-time Hugo Award Winner, three-time Nebula Award Winner and Science Fiction Grand Master Laureate Harlan Ellison (A Boy And His Dog, Star Trek), written for the screen by Ellison and Oscarģ Nominee Josh Olson (A History of Violence) and directed by Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: Insurrection, Star Trek: First Contact), it stars James Denton (Desperate Housewives), two-time Oscarģ Nominee John Hurt (V for Vendetta) and Emmyģ and Tonyģ Award-Winner Brian Dennehy (Assault on Precinct 13, Cocoon) in a story of despised minorities forever adrift in the darkness of outer space. As a last resort Ė born out of their loneliness and despair Ė they are forced to make an ominous pact with those responsible for their plight, in the hope that they will finally be offered refuge at home on Earth.
How did you get involved in the Masters of Science Fiction?
It was kind of a strange occurrence really because they shot in Vancouver and I came to find out that they only budgeted for a couple of actors outside of Canada and they said Brian Dennehy and John Hurt would be on it. Which I think anyone would admit is a pretty good start to a project. My manager happens to handle John Hurt and the promotion of his career. John Crosby is my manager. He knew about this project, saw the script and the role of Curren, and thought I would be perfect for it. So he pitched me, and they said they already got the two guys that are not local hires. I think because John Hurt is not a citizen or did not live in the states and was coming over from Europe. We sort of got in through the back door and got them to hire another American beside Brian Dennehy. That's how I ended up getting involved. Basically, When I saw those two guys were attached. I just told John, my manager, just tell them I will do it for scale. I don't care, just the chance to work with those two guys and I have never done anything kind of science fiction really. I did one episode of a series called "Sliders" that ran here for a few years. It was a lot of fun, but it was primarily the attraction of getting to work with Hurt and Dennehy.
What was the experience like shifting from Desperate Housewives to working with Harlan Ellison and Stephen Hawking?
It was pretty crazy working with Harlan. You know Harlan, I don't know if he is famous or infamous, but obviously a very talented and very prolific writer. He has quite a reputation for being a character. He is actually in the piece, I am not sure what technically his role was, but he was in the make-up trailer the day that I showed up. Being made up to be one of the Discards. I am one of the people up on the satellite so I think that was fun for him. Ya know if you had to pick one guy to work with. I am not really familiar with the genre and I don't know the writers well like many fans do, but I knew who Harlan Ellison was. So that was also a real bonus for me to get to work not only on something he wrote, but be on the trailer with him and listen to him tell stories. It was a real bonus that it was Harlanís project.
As far as the difference between having Housewives I was doing a science fiction awards show where I was presenting an award there. I mentioned that, not being really well versed in Science fiction, I always thought it was something unbelievable or outrageous and I realized that Wisteria Lane was and I already was on a science fiction show. It was a lot of fun working with Harlan.
Tell us about the story of "The Discarded" and your character?
The Discarded is really an interested piece in that is very dark. Itís very sad. Itís about a group of people who have been just that. They have been discarded, put on a satellite and shot up in outer space because they were defective. That was the term that was used. They had different kinds of dieses and all kinds of stuff. Sort of like the satellite of misfit toys. Kind of. So in that respect, as you get to know those people, to John and Brian, among them some fantastic local actors from Canada. It was heart breaking to see the different kinds of things they suffered from. The different kinds of illnesses and deformities. So in that respect you immediate sympathize with that group. My character is sent from Earth to make a deal with them. Obviously, I am not very well received because the healthy normal, the earthlings that sent them into outer space to get rid of them, It turns out needs something from them. I am sort of the envoy that is sent from Earth central to come up and dock and approach them with this request. I am sort of on the surface, the one normal healthy human from Earth who comes up as a sort of emissary to this group.
What did you learn about process working with actors such as John Hurt and Brian Dennehy?
The great thing about Brian Dennehy is a theater guy and has a huge theater resume. He was doing the Iceman Cometh in the Goodman in Chicago when I was there. Slumming around in the theater. So it was fun being around him and listening to him talk about other actors and the different experiences. Doing work on the Arthur Miller plays, he did in New York. And again he's just one of those guys, he's just bigger than life. Not just as an actor, as a person. I made a point to kind of hang around him a lot on the set and just listen and learn from a guy like that. For John Hurt, the most fascinating thing for me was he had never worked on television. This was his first American television performance and he may not do many more be I don't think he was real crazy about it. He's a wonderful guy and really sweet, I'd never met him, but very serious obviously about acting if you've seen any of his work. Televisions as you all know you don't get any rehearsal. You move very quickly. Instead of shooting three or four pages a day like you do on a feature, we were shooting maybe seven to ten pages a day. He was little bit overwhelmed or surprised by the amount of work that we did in a days for television. I don't think he was real crazy about it. So it was kind of fun seeing him be a little bit insecure or self-conscious about trying to work so quickly when he's such a brilliant actor. So that was kind if interesting. For me coming from primarily a television background, watching him try to adapt to the television pace, but of course was absolutely brilliant. It just standing there in a scene with those two guys, because they are sort of on the same side representing the Discards, and I am pleading with them. So most of the scenes are kind of triangular in that it was I going against Hurt and Dennehy. There was time during the day when I would just laugh at myself and have to pinch myself and realize I am in a scene with Brian Dennehy and John Hurt. Itís not exactly where a guy on Desperate Housewives should end up being in an acting situation. So those two guys where just a really really fascinating to be around on a television set.
What are your thoughts on ABC bringing the show back?
Itís been a little big frustrating for us here. Jonathan Frakes directed this. Whom I am sure many of you know from Star Trek and different things. A really great guy and a good director. Many times actors don't make the best directors or the they suffer from the same kind of tragic thing you can fall into as an actor. Jonathan is a brilliant director. So he and I have sort of stayed in touch through the process. Tried to figure out when it might run, you know when they might air it? I didnít know what was going on and did get the feeling the Discarded was one of the installments they were happy with since they are airing it and they are airing it last to prove they are promoting it and the other three. So that was nice that we we're included. I worked for Steve McPherson for a long time. I been on ABC for eight or night years on different programs, a pilot for Steve when he was at Touchstone and I first started. I trust him and I read, but didnít talk to him about because I didn't want to put him on the spot. I did read an interview, one from upfront where he's commented that the work was really uneven because the six installments didnít fit together in the way they had hoped and didnít make as much sense to air as a group. So I am guessing from the in the inference that they weren't really pleased with the outcome. I have no idea why and certainly no comment on the people that were involved in those two. Of the four that they did air, fit together better. Were a little better cross-sectioned in a variety of Science Fiction. Steve's one quote was the work really uneven through the series of six installments. So I trust him and I assume there were things in the other two that they couldnít fix. Through the process realized they only had four of these to air. Of course you know, Saturday in August there is not exactly where you are going to put your most prized program. So I didnít see any of the other films, I have seen ours. I am really proud of it. Itís not perfect, but itís very entertaining. It's a really touching story. That's all can get from what I have heard from Steve McPherson.
Itís a weird little role; there are a lot of traps in it I think. At the beginning, Curren seems like the bad guy. He comes in and misleads these people. I don't know if you guys have seen it, I don't want to ruin it. I am so used to not being able to give away anything after Desperate Housewives. I have to be very tight lipped about what's going to happen. That's the reason I am being a little vague about the Discarded. My character on the surface is a real bad guy who comes in and presents himself in a certain way and then double crosses these people. John Frakes and I decided with Harlan's consent that it would be much more interesting if Curren was an willing participant and really didnít come in there dishonestly but with also as a sort of victim of circumstances by the end of it so it was fun play him a little more sensitive and not fall into the trap of he being the stereo typical bad guy in the story. So thank you, it was a lot of fun and a real departure from a Wisteria Lane plumber.
Are you looking to do more Science Fiction and would you do this show again?
Oh absolutely, I would do this show again in a heartbeat. Especially if I got a chance to work with Jonathan Frakes or somebody like Harlan. The piece was really so much more than what people really aren't familiar with Science Fiction; everybody had a different perception of it. This had so much humanity in it. Then the story so heart breaking and I guess so futuristic obviously, does have to do with some space travel. Science fiction is so much more than that I have learned. I would absolutely work on something like this again weather it was a Masters of Science Fiction like a mini-series or a chance to work with Jonathan who I know does a lot directing of the Star Trek series and films. It was a lot of fun and nice to do something that is a little surreal and a little bit or quite a departure from what my day job is.
Has it been hard to break out of the mold you've set on Desparate Housewives and what sort of other roles are you being offered?
Its funny, I did just say I have not done Science Fiction. That is probably because I donít know the best way to define it. I did a movie last hiatus called Wanted Undead or Alive, it was a Zombie comedy. A whole different genre. Not a lot of zombie westerns out there. It was Chris Catan and myself end up fighting zombies in the old west. Which was hysterical. Obviously very surreal. It was such a rare genre to think they couldn't get a distributor I don't know if anybody is going to see it. The reason I took that was because there was a big broad comedy that I never get to do and a zombie film that was a lot of fun.
Then this past summer after masters, I did a couple films. One is called "Tortured." Its a psychological thriller is what they are calling it. In an FBI story with Laurence Fishburn in the lead, James Cromwell, Kevin Pollock, John Crier, a really interesting cast. So itís sort of a very violent dark FBI movie.
Then couple months later went to Ottawa and did a lifetime movie with Rob Marrow in Cape Hanabaker called "Destiny of the Heart" about two guys fighting over custody, one is a biological father. One is the father who raised the daughter. I am sort of the bad guy; I am the guy who is the biological father. He shows up when she's thirteen wanting her back after Rob Marrow has raised her when her Mom died. So Rob is not the real Dad but he raised her and she thinks her real dad, and I am a rich real estate developer who shows up and just decides I want her back now. So itís again a sort of touching but funny better than average Lifetime movie. So its fun, the first Summer I got offered Mike Delfino as a cop, Mike Delfino as firefighter, or Mike Delfino as a lawyer, he knows all the same guy pretty much in different walks of life. Between Undead or Alive and this one, Masters, and the two I did this summer itís been a pretty good variety that's fun. We spent ten months of the year tossing softballs with Teri Hatcher. I am not knocking it. It put my kid through college. Its time to go do something a little more different. Stretch your legs a little bit. Work on a different project.
Can you tell us what Mike Delfino will be up this year in Desperate Housewives?
I purposely didnít ask Mark Cherry this year, I hate lying to reporters and I hate trying to mince words. So I don't really know exactly where they are going. We're three episodes in and so far its just been really fun romantic comedy. But I know there's some darkness that creeping in from like the past toward the middle of the season. It is going to cause a lot of problems for them because its Wisteria Lane, obviously they can't be happy. So far we have had a lot of fun Mike kind of being a fish out of water. Is he going to be a Dad to Julie? The seventeen-year-old girl he doesn't really know or just try and be a buddy.
How's he going to fit into that house with two women? The first three episodes itís pretty light hearted. I understand itís going to take a turn. Things are going To get tougher for them. Which is has to be interesting. That's about all I really know. Its quite a difference, going first three years is was a pretty high-profile show I was the only single guy. Kind of a mysterious even shady character that you didn't know much about which made it kind of interesting. To being the father of teen-age girl in just another family on Wisteria Lane. Its not the sexiest character for an actor to move, but it can be a lot of fun and I love Teri. I did get to work that much last year between the coma and prison and all the other stuff. So that's one big benefit to the change is I get to work with Teri and Andrea Bolan who's just a brilliant little actress. So far is been a lot of fun.
Any writing or directing in your future?
I have never had any aspirations to write. You know I have written some music when I was in Chicago I wrote music for a few plays and that was a lot of fun. I grew up in Nashville so its kind of part of the deal that you at least dabble in music. But I have never attempted to write at all. I do want to direct. I have directed some theater. When I was in Chicago we were trying to put together a film called damaged goods that I guess you could call a romantic comedy that a friend of mine wrote. I want to direct on this hiatus. My problem is the upcoming strike. Itís hard to get to enthusiastic about the project when either a strike or lock out seems eminent. So that's frustrating. That would be my first directorial debut of anything on camera would be this film called "Damaged Goods." Which we're hoping to do in May in New Mexico and with the writers strike coming up 1st November or June or the potential lock out in the middle. Itís going to be tough. It might not even happen for us. We might shoot straight through May. Where as we normally Warp may 1st. There may not be a Hiatus. Going to make it tougher. Whatever happens may just have to wait until this little Housewives run is over.
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|Man, I can't imagine getting to work with Harlan Ellison. The man has an enormous body of work. Like Philip K. Dick, I hope this means we are going to see a lot more of his stuff made into movies and stuff?
John Hurt is no chopped liver either. He's more than earned his place in Sci-Fi m... read more