Previously Unpublished: An Interview with Steven Weber
Steven Weber is one of those guys I thought was perfect for Random Roles, and I was right, because someone else at the A.V. Club did an interview with him for the feature.
Funnily enough, that interview didn’t take place until 2016, whereas I had this conversation with Weber during the 2014 Television Critics Association press tour. I’m sure I must’ve pitched him as an RR interview at the time, but I obviously didn’t get the green light to do it at the time, and I honestly don’t know why. It could be because they’d already given me the green light to do several other RR interviews during the TCA tour - ah, those were the days - but it also could’ve been because someone in-house wanted to do an interview with him and opted to hold onto that option.
Eh, either way, I still got to talk to Weber, who was awesome, and as you’ll see, I obviously had no problem asking him about a few roles that handily meet the definition of “random.” As to why the interview never ran, I really couldn’t say for sure, but like so many of these, it’s probably just because I didn’t have a paying outlet that wanted it at the time, and I didn’t have the time to transcribe it if I wasn’t going to get paid for it.
This, by the way, seems like a good time to mention that I do have a Patreon page, and if you’re of a mind to help support me in this endeavor, you can do that very easily: all you have to do is click right here.
Just look at it this way: eventually - and probably sooner than later - my Substack stuff is going to be available by subscription, so you’re just getting in on the paying-the-writer-for-his-quality-work thing early!
Okay, plug’s over. On to the interview!
It's nice to meet you. I feel like much of my career involves playing Six Degrees of Steven Weber.
Steven Weber: It's not hard to do!
It definitely is not: only a couple of days ago I talked to Ana Gasteyer about Reefer Madness...and, boom, there's Steven Weber! But before we go down any side paths, we should talk about Murder in the First. So were you actively looking for a new series, or did this one just kind of land in your lap?
I mean, I'm always actively looking. [Laughs.] I am, you know? Because it's my work! But I auditioned for this, and auditioned hard for it. It was a great script, and I really wanted to work on it, and they...showed mercy and allowed me to be in it!
I know this isn't your first time doing something for TNT. You actually starred in a pilot for them a few years ago, one by Allan Loeb.
That's right. It was with D.L. Hughley, and it was called Rabbit Factory. Yeah, and I had a good time with TNT then and developed a good relationship with Michael [Wright] and the people involved, like Lillah McCarthy. So that always helps. [Laughs.]
So your character's name on the show is Bill Wilkerson.
Yeah. [With very precise diction.] Bill. Wilkerson.
It's a great name.
I can barely even... I have this Tom Brokaw thing that I can't even... [Pauses.] Bill. Wilkerson. I have to work really hard to pronounce his last name!
So I've seen the first episode, but tell me about this guy.
I love the guy, but I barely know him. [Laughs.] I know about as much as you do! I work with the guy from Harry Potter [Tom Felton, who played Draco Malfoy]who plays Erich Blunt, and...that's basically all Bill does: he works for him. But here's a little tidbit: I play his private pilot, and the guy playing my co-pilot is Tim Daly's son, Sam Daly.
That's a good tidbit.
It is a good tidbit! [Laughs.] But, yeah, he's his adjutant, his man Friday, and I think that there's something more to it. But I really don't know that much about it!
Have they given you any idea where they'll be going with your character?
The only thing I know is that I'm in every episode. [Laughs.] I have no idea where he goes thematically. But I would imagine that, since he is so close to the guy who is at first thought to be the murderer - and might very well end up being! - then I will at least be in courtroom scenes...sitting there, weeping into a handkerchief.
Are you a Harry Potter fan?
Very much so. I mean, I've read the books, but I've also listened to them. Jim Dale was the narrator, who did an unbelievable job. And then my two sons have seen all the movies, so they're really amped that I'm working with Tom's.
So they were able to move past the fact that you're actually working with Draco Malcoy?
Yes, they're able to distinguish - barely! - their fantasy from reality. [Laughs.]
I wanted to ask you a little bit about your early career. You got to work with Geraldine Page.
I know you worked with her on television, but you first worked with her in the theater.
Yeah, yeah! I did a couple of years at a repertory theater in New York which is no longer around called the Mirror Repertory Theater, and she was the artist in reference. And very few people now reference her, but she was obviously - you know - a mainstay in American theater and film culture for decades. She was a wonderful woman.
Is it easier to say what you learned from her or what you didn't learn from her?
Well, I mean, it's not so much what I learned, because I'm still trying to attain what she had! She was one of these people that had kind of a preternatural serenity about her onstage. She was never surprised. She incorporated reality into everything she was doing. That's not something you learn. I think that's something you can strive for. But she had it in spades. The fucking ceiling could be falling, and she didn't ignore it, but she could still say her line and it would make perfect sense. She was a passionate artist, and it's always good to be around those people. So rather than having learned from her, I'm just happy to have been near her.
When you made the jump from the stage to in front of the camera, I think - because IMDb isn’t always correct - that it was for an American Playhouse performance of Pudd'nhead Wilson.
Oh, God, yeah. That was the first thing I did out of college. I was terrible in it. That's why I've learned a lot, honestly. It was a nightmare. I was really bad in it. I had a few moments where I got it, and then I promptly lost it. But Ken Howard was in it, and Tom Aldredge, who died a couple of years ago. It was my first job, so mostly I just relished the fact that I was getting a per diem. [Laughs.] I was eating shrimp cocktails every night!
Did you have specific visions of doing TV and film, or did you just want to act?
I just wanted to act. I suppose I could've been more pointed in my trajectory, but...I just wasn't. I was just kind of letting the winds blow me in whatever direction, and I was lucky enough to start working right away, really, right out of college.
You also did The Flamingo Kid right around that time.
Yeah, see, that was another great learning experience, because I worked with all these great character people. I was on set with them and could really observe them, and it was fascinating to watch these guys who started in radio - Richard Crenna, Hector Elizondo - but even the younger actors, like Fisher Stevens and Matt Dillon, they were great to be around.
To jump around and keep you guessing, here's just a simple Wings question: were you surprised that it ran as long as it did?
I think we were all surprised that it ran that long, and we were, for the most part, grateful every moment. It might've happened, but it was certainly rare that we took it for granted. Of course, I still wish it had ran longer. [Laughs.] But at the time - and for many years - it was in the top 20 series of all time that had run that long, so we were very fortunate. Looking at it now, it was actually a very strong series, still funny and viable without ever jumping the shark. And there was very little nudity...and what there was, it was usually Roy.
I know you've worked with Tony [Shalhoub] a couple of times since then: once on Stark Raving Mad, once on Monk.
Oh, yeah, and that was always fun. And I see Tim all the time. In fact, what we did was... He and his son have this web series called The Daly Show, which you should check out, and when the season ended last year, he and I get together and try to start a Wings reunion show. And he's not having it, and it ends with him murdering me. On camera. I die. It's hilarious. [Laughs.] But despite that, we still see each other all the time.
How do you look back on the experience of doing The Shining?
Well, grateful to have done it. Grateful to have worked with all those amazing people. Mick Garris and, of course, Stephen King. I would like to go back and redo a bunch of it, because I clearly had a limited understanding of the character of an alcoholic, I had a limited understanding as an actor of what I needed to do. And almost similar to Pudd'nhead Wilson, the American Playhouse thing I did, it was inconsistent. So there are moments of which I'm proud and moments of which I'm unbelievably humiliated.
But I think overall it was good, in that it was faithful to its purpose. It was Stephen King sanctioned. It was one of the first - if not the first - television miniseries to use then-embryonic CG technology. And there was a lot of effective direction in it, and some good acting in it, too. So I'm proud of it, but it's funny how... [Hesitates.] You know, people will immediately crap on it because it's not the Kubrick film. But I think it served its purpose and did it rather well.
Had you seen the Kubrick film at the time you did the miniseries?
I'm always surprised when I ask a question about a project like that, and the response is, "No, I'd never seen it, and I still haven't."
You know, the weird thing is, I never really had any fear or hesitation about doing the role that Jack Nicholson did. And maybe I should have! Or maybe I should've taken it more seriously. But it just didn't occur to me. And moreover, I didn't worry about comparisons about the original film because, again, the weight of Stephen King's sanction was behind it, and it offered things that that amazing Kubrick film didn't offer.
Okay, now it's probably safe to circle back to Reefer Madness. How'd you enjoy doing that? It seemed like they did an exemplary job of bringing the stage musical to the screen.
Yeah, Andy Fickman did an amazing job bringing it all to the screen, and it was just a complete blast. It was great to work with Ana and with Christian Campbell and...you name it. And Kristen Bell! Everybody! It was really superb and fun, and I wish they would do more television-sized musicals. Funny, adult musicals.
Do you have a favorite number from it? Yours or otherwise.
Oh, God...There's so many brilliant numbers. Well, there's a great one where all these zombies come to life in the corn field that I'm in, but I have very little to do in it. It's called "Murder!" It's mostly between John Kassir and the other characters. It's a great, kind of penultimate number where they all come to life, and it's beautifully choreographed and hilarious, and it's, like, a screaming rock 'n' roll song.
Speaking of rock, I do a feature called Pilot Error, where I look at pilots that never made it to air, and I was curious about one you did called Rock and a Hard Place.
Oh, yeah! Well, look, that's a script that... [Sighs.] See, what IMDb does sometimes is, they get releases and vague facts, and then they post them. There's a couple of things on there that, when I see them, I'm, like, "They've never been in production!" Or they were offers, or they were cases where I said, "Yeah, I'll do this," and then they never get made. Rock and a Hard Place is actually a great idea, about an old rocker who comes out of rehab and, of course, he's deluged. He's got a daughter, he's got his brand new sobriety, he's got a wife, who we hope will be played by Rosanna Arquette, and...it's very funny, it was written very well, and it should be made. But there's nothing to it yet.
I will just say that it's the most in-depth entry I've ever seen for something that doesn't actually exist.
I guess I'll have to look at it!*
*Don’t bother looking for it. It’s not there. Not on Weber’s IMDb listing or anyone else’s. Maybe the title changed, or maybe it was just deleted altogether, but I can’t find a reference to it anywhere at the moment, so your guess is as good as mine as to what happened to it.
Has there ever been a pilot that you did that wasn't picked up but you wish had been?
Well, you know, that TNT pilot was absolutely flawed, and we kind of knew it as we went on. It just didn't have the qualities that it should've had. D.L. Hughley was wasted in it. So it would've been nice to have a second chance. But as for something that should've been picked up... Yeah, I did a pilot a long time ago with a guy named Jack Bernstein, who wrote the original Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and it was called The Expert. It was quite sweet and funny and wacky. I think that could've had a shot.
But, really, the heartache for me was that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip didn't get a second season. I think it deserved it, only because of what it intended to do. I think it would've gotten a lot of the bugs out of what was holding it back. One of the things that was holding it back was that critics had their knives out, I think, for Aaron [Sorkin] and the show right away. That's just my opinion. But they were standing at the birth of a baby, and when it was born, they said, "Why can't you walk? Why can't you talk? What the hell's the matter with you?!" [Laughs.] So he was under a lot of pressure, and so was the show. It was very expensive, they tried big things, and NBC - I guess rightly or wrongly - just kind of jumped ship and went to 30 Rock, which was arguably the smart thing to do. I mean, they could've co-existed, but...that was the real heartbreaking one that should've aired, I think.
Looking back, what are your thoughts on Sour Grapes?
[Laughs.] Sour Grapes. Well, well... I think Sour Grapes is a totally underrated movie. It was never meant to be a blockbuster laugh riot. It is a funny movie for people who like the Larry David kind of flavor, and obviously there's plenty of people who like that. Again, it was a movie that was unfairly treated. It's a piece that works. I don't know if you've seen it, but it's got sort of a cult-y tinge to it. There are a lot of people in college who have come up to me and said, "Hey, Sour Grapes!" Or at the video store. "Sour Grapes!" That makes me feel good!
The back story of that was that it was actually an incredibly popular script that was going around. Big stars wanted to do it. For some reason, Larry wanted me and Craig Bierko, for which we were incredibly grateful, and we were very pleased that we made it. And then when it came out, it was kind of ignored by...Castle Rock, I think? And simultaneously the Seinfeld finale was happening, and we just got...knocked away. So it's just a little thing that may be rediscovered on some TV show that looks back on obscure films.
Is there any other project you've worked on that leaps to mind as something that didn't get the love you thought it deserved?
You know, I did a short-lived show called The D.A., which James Duff did before The Closer. It was a very worthwhile show and had a lot going for it. The only element it didn't have, oddly enough, was a sexual element, which... You need that in shows these days. [Laughs.] It seemed to be one that was curiously lacking in it. Other than that, it was compelling and beautifully shot and beautifully written. It was an interesting project.
Lastly, what was it like working on an Ed Wood project (I Woke Up Early the Day I Died)?
SW: It was... It probably... [Starts to laugh.] It was very abstract in itself, because Ed Wood had been dead by two decades. It had everything that an Ed Wood project had, except for Ed Wood! And I think at the end of the day, that was the element that made those films good…or bad. Or so bad they were good! Because they were trying to accomplish something that... I mean, it's almost like me learning from Geraldine Page: they were trying to achieve something that only someone as insane and bad as Ed Wood could've beautifully achieved. Does that make sense?
Oddly enough, yes.
[Laughs.] It's a weird paradox, right? Again, I'm grateful for everything I've done. I've definitely gone past the common expiration date for most actors, so I'm happy to be working!