Peter Weller Discusses Fringe
" The hit Fox series Fringe is returning from its hiatus with brand new episodes starting tonight, April 15 at 9 PM ET on Fox. The show is also welcoming guest star Peter Weller to the series and the actor recently held a conference call to discuss his involvement on the show. Here's what Weller had to say.
Peter, tell us a little bit about how this opportunity came about for you?
Peter Weller: Well, you know they just called my; it's the usual stuff. They called my agent and said we'd really like him to do this and I'd seen a little bit of the show. I've been finishing a PhD at UCLA, so I didn't get a lot of time to watch primetime television. But, I'd seen a little bit of the show and my wife's a big fan of it, so I said, "Listen honey, we got this offer and what do you think?" 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. So my wife said, "I think this is brilliant." I said, really? Okay, so I read it and it was brilliant. So I said I'm in. I don't care what the money is, it's fantastic. Sometimes, whether it's a lot of money or a little money, Robert Mitchum always said he looked at the money and then he looked to where he's going to shoot it; those are good criterion. But I always look at the script and look at the director, too. I thought it's fantastic. It's just rare. I've just got to say Josh; it's rare that you see episodic television that has like a four page acting scene. It's usually a lot of guns and cars these days or a lot of police work, but this is different, man. This is unique and wonderful.
What can you tell us about the character you're playing?
Peter Weller: Well, that's the thing that really turned me on about it. It's a romantic. It's a guy who is going back in time and he's making some serious sacrifices in terms of other people's livelihood and well-being to get back to save his wife from dying in a ridiculous moment, mistake that he made. So he's trying to find redemption and go back to the only person that really means anything to him. It's a complete; I don't know. It's just tremendously romantic and very moving, so that alone was enough to make me want to jump on it.
So what challenges did you find in this role? You've got a long, wonderful career, great characters that you've played. What was really challenging for you with this character?
Peter Weller: First of all, that there are scenes that are four pages of explanation and dialogue, but really well written. They're not just expository, but their dramatic scenes to justify love and need and family. Those were challenges. Those are challenges to make come alive. The thing is predicated on losing the person you love. I come from the method. I come from Elia Kazan and Uta Hagen and you've got to plug in your personal life into that stuff and it's upsetting stuff. So you have to sort of imagine what it would be like if I lost my wife, if a guy lost his wife or lost his fiancé anyway. That's hard stuff to tap into. At 60 years old, you want to kind of sit by the sea which I'm doing now; smoke a cigar, have a cappuccino and not take a look at those possible horrors. So that's the biggest challenge; how to access the sorrow of losing the dearest person to you in the world.
It looks like there's going to be some time travel involved in this one.
Peter Weller: Yes.
What was it like to kind of delve into that type of a story?
Peter Weller: Well, it's entertaining. HG Wells was maybe the first to do it. The ... thing about science fiction, it's sort of like an autobiography of the world. If you can follow me with me, it's like if you read history; I'm finishing this piece ... essentially history at UCLA, you have 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 sort of linear experience. That's the great gift of science fiction. So it's fun. What can I tell you? If you have any kind of inventive mind at all, you go racing with it. I just think it was great. Also, particularly the way they're handling time travel; what the electrical field does around the person whose time travelling. It's sucking the energy out of the physical space, where one lands such that that energy gets re-rooted. It's just fabulous to me. 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.
You just mentioned what science fiction is like. What's your view of Fringe science?
Peter Weller: The reason why I love Fringe and not just because I was on it, is that it goes past the surface adventure of science and sort of plums 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 in my opinion, at 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.
Speaking of time travel, if you, personally you Peter, were able to go back in time at some point in your life either to warn yourself about something or to tell yourself about something or even just relive an experience in a better way, is there someplace that you think you'd like to go?
Peter Weller: Yes, 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 fiancé, 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 1200's who gave Jews and Muslim's 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.
Don't you find it remarkable about science fiction that what science fiction one day can very likely be science the very next day?
Peter Weller: I think you're absolutely right. I think that Philip K. Dick and H.G. Wells; I did this wonderful movie with a bad title called Screamers based on a Philip K. Dick short story called The Second Variety or The Fourth Variety, I forget the name of it. But Philip Dick's whole theme was that kind of a Zen thing, that if you invest your consciousness into building a robot or an automaton, it will eventually have consciences because you put your soul in it. Even though it might not be inanimate right now, it has an animation of its own. I think those guys are rolling in their graves about what's going on with world communication now and the possibilities of space travel. And who knows, it might be like Albert Einstein thought; a general theory of physics may allow us to cross into some dimension at some point. The whole para psychological thing that one time I thought was goofy when I was a kid, now looks more and more real to me and I can understand why places like Duke study it. So yes, it's astounding, which would be great with being alive in the day and age. My grandmother grew up on a cattle ranch and essentially got to fly on a jet plane and she said I can't ... past that when she lived for 100 years. It's a great trobe. It's a great thing to invest in is why and the heck the world is developing exactly as the science fiction writers saw it.
What was it like working with the cast of Fringe?
Peter Weller: Fantastic! One of the most fabulous crews, on the ball, some old friends and the cast is egoless, which is sometimes and many times not the case. I've been in the movie business for, I don't know, many years and I'm sure when I was a younger man I threw my own little hissy fits once in a while. But after a while, you just want to get the work done, particularly if it's a great part in a great show. You just want to really get the best work out and the way to get the best work out is that everybody puts their ego on hold and although a movie set is not a democracy; it's essentially an oligarchy, there's somebody in charge and somebody else in charge. If everyone's receptive to ideas, then you really get something done. And that set and I'm not saying this just because I was on the show because after 60, 70 pieces of work that I've done in the movie business and television business and theater, that 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-... running the thing, everybody feels like a son-of-a-.... That show is the antithesis of that. That 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.
Is there any chance that you will come back and direct an episode of Fringe and put Fred Weller in it, as well.
Peter Weller: And put Fred Weller in it? Yes, 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 think that Graham Beckel; I don't know if you know who he 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.
We know that Joshua Jackson is a big sci-fi genre fan. I'm curious having you on set, did you guys get to do a lot of back and forth talking about some of the amazing things you've done or did any of you guys talk about sci-fi at all?
Peter Weller: You know, it's funny. When you're on a movie set, all Josh and I did was smoke a cigar together and talk about Vancouver and cigars. We didn't talk about sci-fi at all. It's kind of interesting like when I was doing Odyssey 5, in the midst of Odyssey 5 or in the midst of the set of "White Tulip;" and you've got to make that real, I don't have a propensity to stand outside of it and talk about it as a ... or as an entity. It's kind of you're in the middle of it, you're in the foxhole of making the thing and it's really hard to stand outside of it and objectify it. Like I never had a conversation with Manny Coto about sci-fi, who invested Odyssey 5. All we'd talk about are the human relationships and what next to do and when I was directing an episode, what we want the human beings within the story to do. So it's odd that you ask that. Yes, I never sat on a movie set talking about the genre of the film that I'm in. That's fascinating.
Wanted to find out maybe if you could tell us a little bit about your experiences working with the director of White Tulip and what that was like for you?
It was his first directing gig on that. He's the DP, he's one of the two DP's and he was fabulous. I mean he was absolutely fabulous. He had a structure and within the structure, John and I, because it was mostly with John, 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 theater and everything, so it's not like the director was working with a couple of guys at a diner, a couple of newbies. John is so in tune to a physical space and movement within a room and so forth and one of the things that I am good at, of the many things I'm not so good at, is physically inventing in a room. Some people say I'm prop heavy, but I don't call those things props. I call them physical life. 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 as if he were directing all his life. And a lot of times, I have to say, you get a DP and many times they don't make the directors, gifted DPs, because they're so obsessed with a look and a shot that they can't leave the room for actors to play. So a lot of times they micromanage and sometimes a scene needs to be micromanaged. I know when I'm directing, sometimes I wish the actors would just shut up and do what I say, but you've got to listen to them man because they're going to come up with ideas. And as Robert Duvall said, if you don't listen to an actor, you're only using half the actor. But he used everything in me, man. He got everything out of me he wanted.
Fringe returns with brand new episodes, and guest star Peter Weller, tonight, April 15 at 9 PM ET on Fox.