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Wingman Wednesday

Todd Stashwick

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*Feature originally ran 5/22/17

Todd Stashwick has made a career out of playing interesting characters. Or, perhaps it’s that he has made characters more interesting by the choices he has made in playing them throughout his career. Either way, the Chicago native has been entertaining us for decades, perfectly walking the line between drama and comedy and turning out memorable roles in series like “The Riches,” “Heroes,” and “Gotham.” For the last three years, Stashwick has been playing Deacon, AKA “The Scav King,” on the post-apocalyptic time travel drama “12 Monkeys.” The series returned to Syfy this past weekend with the network opting to take a more binge-centric approach in releasing all 10 episodes of the season between Friday and Sunday.

We recently sat down with Stashwick to discuss making choices in a world ruled by time travel, getting to play a sociopathic Hans Solo, and what goes through the mind of a shapeshifter pretending to be Bela Legosi pretending to be Dracula.

TrunkSpace: Something needs to be said before we jump into the interview. You would have made a damn fine Negan on “The Walking Dead!”
Stashwick: You’re very kind to say. I think Jeffrey Dean Morgan is crushing it. By the time that they were casting the show, I was already The Scav King, so I already kind of had a post-apocalyptic badass role. And I’m thrilled with the arc that Deacon gets to follow over the seasons of the show. It’s been fascinating. Look, I’m a huge “The Walking Dead” fan and I’m flattered that people see me in that world because it’s certainly a great, ripe world to play in, but I’m very, very happy with my Scav King.

TrunkSpace: You mention Deacon’s arc. Time travel can be a tricky thing in storytelling, but at the same time, it sort of allows for an “anything is possible” approach. Has the direction that the writers have taken Deacon in surprised even you over the course of your time on the series?
Stashwick: They never cease to surprise and amaze me with how they spin these plates and it’s no less surprising with what they do with Deacon. They know what to do with this guy, we have amazing conversations about it, and I’m always thrilled and excited with every script they send me.

TrunkSpace: When you were starting out and discovering Deacon, did you have to be careful about the choices you were making knowing things could go anywhere?
Stashwick: You know, careful is never the way to approach an acting role, especially a role like Deacon. It’s actually the opposite. It’s about taking risks. It’s about being bold and surprising yourself. When I came on in season 1, he was very much an antagonist. I won’t say that he was a villain because obviously there were bigger fish to fry with The Messengers and The Witness and everything in season 1, but he was certainly an antagonist. But the way that Terry (Matalas) and the writers saw an energy with this guy and what I was bringing to the role, they wanted to explore deeper within the mythology of the show and with the dynamic of the team. In the shooting of the last episode of season 1 when I was up there, Terry said that he had a lot of ideas for Deacon in season 2 and that’s when they made me a series regular and started transitioning him out of straight up antagonist to sociopathic ally.

And then, once you have this character who is opportunistic and who is hard on the outside but soft on the inside, it gives a lot of opportunity mixing and matching his energy and his point of view with the different characters on the show. When he’s with Jones, because we are older characters, we have a different understanding of the apocalypse than when he is with Railly. When he’s with Cole, he certainly kind of sees his brother in him. And with Jennifer I think he sees a kindred. They both are outsiders and they both have survived in this harsh environment in unique and creative ways. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: That’s a great way of describing him… sociopathic ally, but at the same time, like you said, soft on the inside.
Stashwick: Well, he is a human being and that’s what I think is interesting about the character. Often when you get these antagonist roles, it’s easy to head right towards kind of smirking and villainous, but it’s more interesting to reveal his motivation… to reveal the pain that pushes these people. In many ways, Deacon saw himself as a hero and a leader because he kept 200 people alive in this wasteland.

TrunkSpace: Well, because at the end of the day, often times people who are acting in a certain way are still doing so because THEY think it’s the right approach to take.
Stashwick: Absolutely. And he also has the ability to say and see things that other people might not. He can be the canary in the coal mine. I love at the end of season 2 when we’re stuck on Titan and he’s talking to Jennifer and he’s like, “There’s a reason that they wanted us here. Let’s not stick around and find out!” He’s not blinded by the mission. He’s just trying to keep himself alive and the people… I don’t think he has this huge altruistic “let’s save the world” view. I think he has the “let’s all not die” view, and if he can save the world, well, if it stops the virus from happening in the past, then maybe all of the people that he loves won’t die. He sees the big picture but he lives very much within the confines of his own needs and reality and it’s the people that he cares about and what’s important to them. And what becomes important to him. I don’t think initially he has this “we need to stop the plague” thing. I think he grows to care for Railly and he obviously has a kindred with Cole and Jennifer. And so he’s like, “Let’s us not die!”

TrunkSpace: So in terms of how this season feels for you as far as the roll out is concerned… how different is it knowing that it will all be released over the course of the weekend? Does it shorten the high for you?
Stashwick: You know, it’s a different kind of high. It’s a little bit more like your birthday as opposed to Christmas. (Laughter) Because Christmas kind of lasts all month long and people are talking about it and gathering about it, singing about it and having parties throughout the month of December all leading up to the big climax. This is like, you might have a crazy birthday weekend. So it’s a lot more intense and it’s a lot all at once and you just sort of surround yourself with people that mean the most to you and everybody raises their glass. I think this roll out is… I’ve seen it. And I’ve seen it in two binge worthy chunks. I saw the first half of season 3, all five episodes, in one sitting. And then last weekend we watched the last five episodes. I’ve got to tell you, it plays like a roller coaster feature film. It really moves and moves and moves. It has movement and energy and it propels itself. I think the ability to binge it… and you don’t have to binge it. People can just DVR it and nibble on it a little bit at a time if they want. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: What’s really cool as well is that the way that Syfy is rolling this season out, it could change the way that other networks approach releasing their shows. It could be a game changer.
Stashwick: Yeah. And it’s interesting because something has to be on the air. Rather than us being every Monday night at 9:00 or every Friday night at 9:00, the fact that we’re giving it to you through a weekend is a little more Netflixy. I think the fan engagement is going to be different because they’re not going to be speculating between episodes. There will be a lot more frenzy, as if it’s like a bender. (Laughter) I think the hardcore fans are going to actually lock in and go on the ride for the three days. And… Terry and the writers have outdone themselves. We are so lucky to get to say these words and play these parts. And the team… from the crew to the special effects to the score… everybody is bringing their A game and I am so fortunate to work with this cast of people. I said to Terry, “I will feel bad for the show that I have to do after ‘12 Monkeys’ because it’s been such an amazing experience.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: We also read that you’re a lifelong fanboy, so just being able to play in this science fiction/genre sandbox must be an exciting thing for you?
Stashwick: Oh you have no idea! Growing up, wanting to be Hans Solo and then Terry pitching Deacon in season 2 as a sociopathic Hans Solo… I’m like, “It’s like you read my dream journal!” The thing about Deacon is that they really gave me all of the notes to play. They gave me the vulnerability. They gave me the badass-ness. They gave me the heroic. They gave me the sarcastic. They gave me the laconic. The wounded. I get to do it all and that’s a rare and wonderful thing… in a genre that I consume veraciously. And I get to work with people that I’ve admired through the years from Battlestar and Christopher Lloyd is on our show. It’s just been such a bucket list of joy for me on so many levels. Like I said, it will be a hard thing to finish, but I’m glad that we get to finish it on our terms.

TrunkSpace: If you were given a blank check to develop any property what would fanboy Todd put on the slate?
Stashwick: Wow. Interesting. You know, I have ideas, pilots and things, that I have written that I would love to see developed, but if I was going to adapt I would love to adapt two different projects. I would love to adapt Shane Black’s “The Nice Guys” into a TV series. I would love to play the Russell Crow role in that. I would like to do an adaptation of “The Cell” and play the Vince Vaughan role. I think there’s something really interesting about the mythology of “The Cell.” And, I would love to… I have a really cool…

You know, I’m not going to tell you that idea. (Laughter) I’m going to keep this last one for myself because I think there’s something interesting and fun about it.

I also have original ideas for series. I wrote a web-comic called “Devil Inside” about the devil quitting hell and going on the run in the Nevada desert. And so I would love to adapt that into a series.

TrunkSpace: There’s one show that has an amazing fandom and you touched down on it in a major way years ago, playing the ultimate fan character. That show is “Supernatural.” That character is Dracula. Well, sort of.
Stashwick: Super rewarding and fascinating to have to deconstruct something another actor did and one that is so beloved and intimidated trying to get to the heart of Legosi’s theatricality meeting with his pathos. And then to have that character flip and see the scared man/shapeshifter that was choosing this image… there was a lot of meat on that bone. There was a lot of blood in that neck.

Stashwick as Dracula in SUPERNATURAL on The CW.
Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/The CW
©2008 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TrunkSpace: There were just so many layers to him that it feels like there was so much more to learn when all was said and done.
Stashwick: Well, where’s the fun in playing something one-dimensional? And that’s also a testament to the writers. They wrote those speeches where he was talking about his abusive father or talking about just wanting to feel important and majestic. Elegant.

As an actor, you get a few of these really good ones. I came from a comedy background but then I also had a theater background, so when I was in college I was doing some Molière and Shakespeare and all of that. And then I was a Second City sketch comedy guy. And then the fact that I’m six foot two with dark circles around my eyes and this weird voice that comes out of my head… it gave me access to really left-of-center roles that I could, no pun intended, sink my teeth into.

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Wingman Wednesday

Dania Ramirez

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Ramirez in Lycan

Welcome to the second installment of our LYCAN WEEK ongoing feature!

Opening Friday in select theaters, “Lycan” tells the story of six college kids who revisit an old Georgia legend, the strange and puzzling story of Emily Burt, the Talbot County werewolf. Based upon true historical events, the film stars and is produced by Dania Ramirez (“X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Quarantine”) who teamed up with best friend Crystal Hunt to turn a lifelong dream into a cinematic reality.

We recently sat down with Ramirez to discuss how the film was a family affair, the cultural importance of local ghost stories, and why the 1980s did such a great job capturing an authentic and suspenseful tone in the horror projects of the time period.

TrunkSpace: Our chat is very timely because it was just announced that you’ll be playing Cinderella in “Once Upon a Time.” Is there anything with this version of the character that will be different than what we have seen of her in the past?
Ramirez: I think every time you see a different actor take on a role, you’re going to see a different take on it. As actors, we bring our own flair to things. The world that we’re setting up for this particular Cinderella will be a different kind of world. The great thing is that it’s still a love story and so essentially the aspect of the Cinderella story will still be there, but there will be different circumstances in which everything sort of happens to her. It’s kind of how the love story goes. That’s the one thing I really do love about the creators of the show, Adam Horowitz and Eddie Kitsis, is that if you watch the show at all, you know that they are very committed to making female characters very bad ass and not damsel in distress types of characters. I think that in itself makes the Cinderella character different.

I also come from a different background with a different set of situations that I’m going to go through in the real world that are going to take my journey in a different direction. I’m also a mother, and I’m really dealing with different kinds of struggles in my life. But essentially, it’s a Cinderella story so we all want a happy ending.

TrunkSpace: Between “Once Upon a Time” and “Lycan” also due to be released, it seems to be a bit more of a happy beginning for you in terms of a new chapter in your life and career?
Ramirez: It’s been such an incredible journey in my life. For me, the journey with “Lycan” does feel kind of like a Cinderella story because I started my journey in the Dominican Republic in a very, very humble background just dreaming of something better. Coming to the States as an immigrant, figuring out the language, and then finally getting into the world of entertainment has been a journey within itself. I remember just at a very young age being in my acting class. That’s where Crystal Hunt and I met, who is one of the “Lycan” executive producers. We made a pact back then. We said, “Hey, one day we’re going to make it. We’re going to produce our own films.”

And we’re making it a family affair. My husband, Bev Land, wrote and directed it. His brother, Donnie Land, is one of the producers. Crystal’s mom really came in and helped us out a lot. It does feel like a fairy tale to be done with the film and then right before the film premieres, be able to get this role in “Once Upon a Time.” The journey feels like we’re writing our own happy ending. That’s kind of cool.

TrunkSpace: And from a work standpoint, it must have a special feeling attached to it when you’re so emotionally invested in a project?
Ramirez: I think every time I work on something it feels really special, but this particular project was our baby. I was pregnant when my husband was writing it. It’s interesting because I had just given birth about four months prior to starting pre-production for the film and then we started shooting about a month later. The hard work that it takes to really get something off the ground, and that persistence and work ethic to make an independent film work, it’s just really about not giving up. Every time something comes up, it’s being able to just tackle it and say, “Hey, we’re going to get this done! That’s talking from the pre-production aspect of it to actually shooting it, which by the way, we shot it in 13 days.

TrunkSpace: Wow!
Ramirez: I know. It’s insane.

TrunkSpace: Having just given birth a few months prior to production, how did you find the time and energy to both star in and produce the film?
Ramirez: My motto is that I’ll rest when I’m dead. For right now, if I have an opportunity to make something happen, I will. I’m just a hard worker and I’ve always had that work ethic in my life. Again, I come from a different kind of background. The way I see it is, I have nowhere to go but up. I just dedicate my life to doing something that I love. Being able to touch the masses with a story and have people relate to it, it’s a gift. I see it that way. Whenever I wanted to just take a nap in the middle of the day, I just thought, “No, we have something that we have to do!” We just kept trucking.

TrunkSpace: And you shot in Georgia, right?
Ramirez: My husband’s mom was amazing and let us use her entire land. She has acres of land in Columbus, GA near Talbot County, which is where the Emily Burt legend started. That’s how we ended up finding out about the legend of Emily Burt.

TrunkSpace: Did shooting an indie film in such a secluded location force you to think outside of the box from a production standpoint?
Ramirez: I remember at one point we didn’t have enough money to rent lights. Somebody said, “One of our guys knows how to build lights. If we just buy the parts and ship them in from China, we can build our own lights.” That’s what we did.

All these little challenges kept coming up. We just trucked on and made it happen. It’s really beautiful to be able to do that. That’s also what I want in my life, to inspire and show people that, “Hey, you can do it! Just say that you’re going to do it and don’t stop!”

Ramirez with director Bev Land on the set of Lycan

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how your husband grew up around the area where the legend of Emily Burt first took shape. Did you have any local legends or ghost stories in the area where you grew up in the Dominican Republic?
Ramirez: In the Dominican Republic, especially where I grew up, we didn’t have much electricity, so we didn’t have TV. I didn’t even grow up watching television. I think I started watching television around the age of 5. So yeah, there are always legends when you’re growing up in a remote area like that, because that’s what people talk about. “So and so died and she was there and the spirit went inside her.” I grew up listening to ghost stories like that my whole life.

I’ve always been fascinated by the horror genre. The one great thing about “Lycan” that I really responded to was the fact that it was based on something that people knew about. You can research it online. The way I see it, “Lycan” is more of a Hitchcockian suspense thriller. It’s something that you can look up and inquire about. It feels a little more scary if you know that it is something that actually happened to real people.

TrunkSpace: They always say that something needs to be grounded in reality to connect with an audience and what better way to ground it in reality than with actual reality!
Ramirez: That’s what I mean. My husband, as a writer and as a director, is interested in those kinds of stories more than anything. He has an incredible mind. He was able to take this legend and then write a story around it. We kind of made it a little more interesting because we really wanted to put a face to the disease of lycanthropy. That’s what makes it a little more interesting than just the legend, the fact that lycanthropy is a disease that to this day is misdiagnosed as schizophrenia and is something that still occurs.

TrunkSpace: And that’s when people believe they are wolves?
Ramirez: Yeah, it’s when people believe they’re turning into wolves and believe that the hair is growing out of their faces and that they’re transforming. We wanted to really bring light to that disease as well as talk about this legend.

Ramirez as Cinderella in Once Upon a Time

TrunkSpace: And in addition to all of that, it’s also a period film.
Ramirez: Yeah, our film takes place in the 1980s, which I love because I grew up watching those kinds of movies. The temperament of the film also has that old school feel to it as a suspense story, so that’s really cool. I do think that the 80s had a sensibility to the take on a horror film that I really enjoyed. It felt pure and youthful, but really interesting. I grew up and I was a teenager in the 80s, so for me it was really good to kind of go back and reminisce on all of that and watch all of the movies and see their take on all that stuff.

TrunkSpace: Even the poster has that great throwback feel to it.
Ramirez: Yeah, the 80s sensibility is great because, I believe, films have taken such a science fiction turn. As far as feeling that eerie suspense, I’ve always liked the tone of the way the 80s films were made, especially the idea of a bunch of young kids in the middle of the woods. There’s something really authentic about that. We wanted to really tap into that and bring that back. Even the look of it and the feel of it has that vibe and makes it a little different than other films that are coming out today.

That’s why I really loved tapping into the disease as well, because it’s more of a human psychosis film than it is a jumpy horror film. That’s what makes it not only authentic, but I feel, way more scary than just watching a movie where you’re fascinated by the effects.

TrunkSpace: As you look back over your first producing experience, is there anything that you would have done differently, either to make your own life easier as the producer or for the production as a whole to run more smoothly?
Ramirez: It was really challenging to do it independently and to do it for no money. As a producer and as a creative entity, if you ever finish a project and feel like you’re completely satisfied and that there’s nothing that you wouldn’t change, then you have stopped your mind creatively. There are always things that you’re going to end up, after the project, saying, “Oh man, I wish I did…” Not everything is going to be 100 percent exactly what you thought it was going to be.

The great part about this project is that there are things that I didn’t expect that came out even better than I thought and that’s a testament to the people that were a part of it. Not just in front of the camera either, but the people who really fought and worked in the trenches with us making sure that even after we shot the film that the look of it was great and that the color was perfect.

Lycan” arrives in theaters this Friday!

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