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Orville

Wingman Wednesday

Scott Grimes

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FOX 2017 PROGRAMMING PRESENTATION: THE ORVILLE cast member Scott Grimes arrives at the FOX ALL-STAR PARTY on Monday, May 15 at Wollman Rink in Central Park, NY. ©2017 FOX BROADCASTING CR: Anthony Behar/FOX.

*Feature originally ran 11/08/17

Beepers. Enron. Blockbuster Video.

Scott Grimes’ career has outlasted them all. In an industry where an actor’s longevity seems not too far removed from the on-field expectancy of NFL defensive linemen, that is an impressive feat. Even more extraordinary is that the roles Grimes tackles in front of the camera continue to inhabit worlds that exist within multilayered, high profile projects.

As a boy he starred in the horror classic “Critters.” As a young man he appeared in “Crimson Tide.” As he matured, so too did the characters he portrayed on-screen, from Donald G. Malarkey in the HBO classic “Band of Brothers” to Archie Morris in the long-running medical drama “ER.” For the last 13 years the Massachusetts native has voiced Steve Smith in “American Dad!” and most recently he joined the crew of an interplanetary exploratory space vessel, serving as ace pilot Lt. Gordon Malloy in the new science fiction series “The Orville.”

We recently sat down with Grimes to discuss finding the comedy in “The Orville,” why it’s show-up-television, and how a chance conversation with a friend led to 13 years of animated greatness.

TrunkSpace: When young Scott Grimes was dreaming of a career as an actor, did any of it involve spaceships, aliens, and sci-fi storytelling?
Grimes: Everything you just said. I always loved medieval and stuff like Middle-earth. I was a big Hobbit fan, of the books, and “Lord of the Rings” and all that. I was also a big sci-fi fan. There’s so many levels to this on a childhood dream level, which is pretending to be in space. Now we’re also just throwing a little comedy in on top of that. And then, working with someone for so many years… I was never the kind of person that wanted to, or thought I would, just jump from director to director. I always knew that I’d continue to work for the same people because you don’t really wake up in the morning and say, “I want a redhead in this role!” So, when you get someone that wants to work with you, like me, you usually want to stick with it, because they like you.

All those things, and to get to work with Seth MacFarlane on a daily basis, is just a gift. So yes, it was a childhood dream of mine to pretend to be in space.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned the comedy dropped in on top of things with “The Orville.” Does having it be a sort of genre hybrid allow you to do things from a performance standpoint that you can’t in something that is strictly drama or strictly comedy?
Grimes: Actually, you know, it’s more difficult than I imagined. I did “ER” for seven years. My job on “ER” was to be the kind of comic relief of a drama show and I found that a little easier within the realm of the medical genre, because the comedy could come from fucking up, from being not a good doctor, and just the banter when things aren’t in an emergency. But now, with “The Orville,” Seth and I spoke, and Jon Favreau and I when we did the pilot, on end about where this comedy is gonna come in, in the midst of a dire battle situation. When we film it, I always give a couple versions, because the comedian in me, and the comedian in Seth, want to give the funniest version of the line that was written. But you can’t do that. You can’t do that. Then it becomes the movie “Airplane.” Then you’re saying a joke in the middle of something crashing.

I think we figured out a way for it to work, and it’s right on that line. And that’s been the most difficult thing for me on “The Orville,” throwing in my job, which is to be a little bit of the comic relief during something that people are taking pretty seriously. You don’t want someone at home to go, “Dude, why did you have to say that stupid thing when we’re in the middle of this great explosion?”

TrunkSpace: You don’t want to pull the viewer out of the moment?
Grimes: No. That was a big thing for us, so I choose to say these funny things within the moment of – maybe say it because you’re scared. Maybe it’s coming from an uncomfortable place in you that you can’t handle. So that’s been the biggest challenge of this for me.

TrunkSpace: So was a big part of the process for everyone as a whole on “The Orville” just finding the right tone with the show?
Grimes: Of course. Seth knows what the show was. And when I watch it, I see it now, but you can’t crawl into somebody’s mind. You can try to explain it. He’s a bit of an introvert, so he can try to explain everything to everybody, but it’s our job to kind of figure it out. But, yeah, that was the whole thing. Favreau, I remember in the pilot, he sat us down and said, “We’re either gonna knock this one out of the park, or we’re gonna fail miserably.” And I actually think that is such a great equation for success – for great success in any athlete or anybody trying an invention or anything like that, because you’re swinging for the backseats. If you hit it, it’s gone, and people are talking about it. If you miss, you miss flailing. So that’s what we did on this one, which not a lot of people do. A lot of people play it safe, and this show didn’t play it safe.

TrunkSpace: It’s hard to be inventive and recreate the wheel playing it safe.
Grimes: Exactly. And I think just because we’re not getting “Seinfeld” numbers, what we are getting is, people love the show. And they love it because they’ve never seen it before.

TrunkSpace: With that being said, nobody is getting “Seinfeld” numbers anymore, but with “The Orville,” you’re getting today’s equivalent, right?
Grimes: I think so. Especially for a new show. But you know, for many years people loved procedurals, because what procedurals were, and I’m not knocking any procedural – they’re all great and I’ve done a bunch of them – but they’re kind of cheap little movies. Well, what Seth did is, he realized that he has to do these mini movies, because people don’t really want, or I don’t anyway, to watch a soap opera. I don’t want to watch something that I have to see every episode in order to understand the last one. And with this, we’re doing kind of hour long movies every week.

And I think people are getting that, and they’re enjoying it. It’s very popcorn. They can just sit down with the popcorn, and go, “Let’s watch Orville, man!” And that’s what I’m hearing a lot of is, people just really love the experience. They’re like, “Okay, I’ve got my this, I’ve got my that, it starts in four minutes. God, am I ready? Cool, I can’t wait!” And they sit down for that show-up-television kind of feel, like when you knew something was coming on, you know?

THE ORVILLE: L-R: Scott Grimes and Seth MacFarlane in the “Pria” episode of THE ORVILLE airing Thursday, Oct. 5 (9:01-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2017 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Michael Becker/FOX

TrunkSpace: Absolutely. It becomes event TV. And when you don’t have that connective tissue holding every single episode together, you can watch it without having to amass every episode on your DVR.
Grimes: Yeah, and if you get like I’ve gotten… like with “Stranger Things”… I’m kind of starting “Stranger Things” right now because what happened was, I got so behind that I was like, “Fuck it. I can’t. It’s too much work for me right now to start. I’m gonna start another show.” I had to go back and watch the first three that I watched, because I don’t remember what happened. You don’t have to do that with “The Orville.” I love “Stranger Things,” don’t get me wrong – I think it’s an amazing show – but, “The Orville” is a little easier.

TrunkSpace: It seems like science fiction is a bit like a brand more so than a genre. People who love science fiction tend to tune in regardless of if it is based on something existing or not. Did you find that was the case with “The Orville?” Did it already have a built-in audience when you guys kicked off?
Grimes: Well, I’m gonna, in a weird sort of way, argue a little of that, because our built-in audience was “Star Trek.” Again, there’s never been a show like “The Orville” that is kind of a modern look at the future. Instead of, the kind of dark look, which I love. I love “Blade Runner” and all of those shows that show this dark kind of, “we messed up as people” kind of look. This is more, “we figured it out and we’re in a positive, Seth MacFarlane’s version” of a positive future.

But, I think that the audience that we had of “Star Trek” fans were also sitting back in their chairs with their arms crossed going, “Why are you messing with what I love? Why are you taking something I love and not just redoing it. This is exactly how I love it.” So, we actually had to start from beneath, to win these people with this new idea. I think we had to really, really show these people that we cared and that we were doing an homage to “Star Trek” and adding to it.

TrunkSpace: It’s the Trojan horse of science fiction shows.
Grimes: (Laughter) Absolutely. That’s exactly right.

TrunkSpace: So when it comes to the character, what did Lt. Gordon Malloy offer you in terms of performance that you have yet to be able to tackle in your career?
Grimes: I’m a little bit more intelligent, I hope, than Gordon, but it’s been a great opportunity for me to be comfortable in playing closer to myself. How many times have I pretended to drive a spaceship? (Laughter) I’m very good at pretending to drive a spaceship in real life. On “ER,” pretending to be a doctor is a little bit more difficult. That wasn’t what Scott Grimes would do. So this guy was really close to me.

And also, being comfortable working with, as an actor, a man, all you really need, all you want, is to be comfortable with failing. I remember doing the movie “Robin Hood” and I was so nervous working with Ridley Scott that I was so nervous to mess up. There’s helicopters everywhere and horses, and if you messed up, it cost a lot of money. So I didn’t do my best work, because I wasn’t as comfortable as I could have been. On “The Orville,” this character, it’s the first time I’ve been just crazy comfortable on a set to be stupid, to fail, because when you’re comfortable with doing that, you’re also comfortable with getting it right, and when you hit it, you hit it big.

TrunkSpace: Is a part of that also being so comfortable with the creative team already?
Grimes: God, yes. The producers and the writers… this is the first time I’ve felt a part of a production, instead of just feeling a part of the acting. And not that I’m writing anything, but David A. Goodman, one of our writers, will come up to me and say, “Hey, should we say this line instead of this line?” And I’ll go, “Oh, God, that’s funny. Let’s show Seth.” Not that I wrote it, but he’s coming to me and asking me my opinion, and that’s never happened to me, so you just feel like you’re a part of something a bit bigger, when you actually watch it and it’s doing well.

TrunkSpace: You’ve done over 230 episodes of “American Dad!” now. Is there any better job in the industry than a prime time animated series?
Grimes: It’s unbelievable. It’s a gift. Again, to bring up “ER,” I had a lunch break on “ER” and I walked up to a friend of mine named Mark, and I said, “You know, Seth wants me to go over and audition for this thing called ‘American Dad!,’” and this friend of mine, Mark, he said, “You should go.” I’m like, “Well, I don’t really know how to do voices well…” And my friend talked me into it. I owe that friend some money, because it’s been 13 years now of a steady, beautiful paycheck and great friends, and great work. And I owe it all to that decision that I made, because it is an absolute gift.

TrunkSpace: When people stop you on the streets or reach out to you via social media, what’s the one project that they most want to ask you about?
Grimes: “The Orville” would be the one now, because for some reason people love to shout that one out, but it would be “Band of Brothers,” just because of how long it’s been, and how much it keeps growing. When I walk down the street, I feel like “Band of Brothers” just started two days ago.

“The Orville” airs Thursdays on FOX.

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Wingman Wednesday

Peter Macon

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Photo By: Diana Ragland

Classically-trained actor Peter Macon is experiencing multi-layered career fulfillment as a pretend crew member aboard the imaginary spaceship the Orville.

On one hand, his current adult self is venturing on a journey of discovery with a character who is not only complex in personality, but is an entirely new species never-before-seen on film. It’s rife with opportunity.

On the other hand, his inner child, the one who grew up loving science fiction, is pumping his fist in excitement because his future self is spending every day on a spaceship venturing into galaxies far, far away. It’s a little boy’s dream come true.

As Lt. Cmdr. Bortus on the FOX comedy/drama hybrid “The Orville,” Macon is reveling in every on-screen opportunity, playing a prosthetic-wrapped straight man in a world crafted from the mind of Seth MacFarlane – which means even a straight line is given its own quirky curves.

We recently sat down Macon to discuss the anonymity of the role, playing Macbeth 150 times in one year, and what aspects of his craft help to shed a little light on the folly of humanity.

TrunkSpace: Is there something kind of nice about taking on a major role in a big network show and still being able to retain your privacy due to the nature of the role with the makeup and prosthetics?
Macon: I love it. I love it because it’s what it is. I don’t pine to be, “Oh, I wish my face was on the billboard so that people would recognize me.”

I worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for like five years, and it’s a really small town, but it’s a huge Shakespeare festival. You have like zero anonymity. You walk down the street and people are like, “Hey, I saw you in that show!” “I hated it,” or “I loved it,” or whatever.

But with this, it’s cool, because Los Angeles is already kind of an anonymous city – you can just disappear. It’s fun being Bortus with his voice and mask work, and people don’t recognize my face. I don’t care one way or the other, but it’s certainly fun to be standing at a bus stop and people are like, “Oh, look at this poster, look at this guy,” and it’s me, but I’m not saying anything. So that’s fun.

TrunkSpace: Did the makeup and wardrobe force you to change the way you would approach the performance at all, due to any sort of limitations?
Macon: I mean, not going into it, no. You can’t really plan for that, you kind of just have to get up there and do it, but once I got the prosthetics on, and saw what the limitations were – I lose about 30 percent of my hearing, I have kind of limited range, like periphery and turning my neck, and stuff like that. But then you just use that for the character, because he’s kind of stiff and he’s kind of a rigid, no nonsense, very serious cat. So, you know, it just kind of works itself in. You just take what you get, and you make it into what you’re supposed to make it.

Until I got into the suit, and into the prosthetics and stuff, it was mostly his demeanor, and the tone of his cadence… stuff that I had access and control over before I got into the makeup. And then once the makeup was on it was a whole different ballgame, because it does it by itself. I don’t really have to do anything.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how Bortus is a very serious cat, but in a cast of zany characters, is it fun playing the straight one?
Macon: Well, as you’ll see, that is a loosely defined term, the “straight one.” (Laughter) There are things that come up that, for instance, there’s a conversation where Bortus at one point says, “I can sing, I can sing,” and he says it so matter of factly. And then people were like, “Wait, what?” And so Seth was like, “Well, we should probably either prove or disprove that.”

I mean, he’s stiff in the sense that that’s his species – they’re very cut and dry, black and white – but being that he’s interacting with all these other lifeforms, and we’re stuck on the ship, you get affected by that. And the greatness of the writing is that there’s an arc, and there’s a lot of contradiction.

He’s a dark horse. He’s stiff, but he thinks a lot of things deeply… still waters run deep kind of thing. And you’ll see that it’s nuanced, and varied, and it’s not just like one note. It’s very complex.

TrunkSpace: From what we could tell, this is the longest you’ve ever played one character. Is that an enjoyable process for you, getting to spend an extended period of time inside one mind?
Macon: The only other thing I can compare it to is playing Macbeth 150 times up at the Shakespeare Festival. We started in February and we ended in November. It’s a heavy, crazy play, to be in that skin for that long. I think sometime in July I was like, “Man, we’re only halfway here!” But what started to happen was, there was this depth, like a whole other layer, that really reveals itself. And I mean, that’s theater, but you’re doing it every night.

This, I guess it’s comparable because we’re working 16-hour to 17-hour days on average, but then it’s like every day, Monday through Friday, sometimes Saturday, and so it’s equivalent. And there’s so much going on. That’s what’s great about doing series regular work because you really do get to take your time and figure it out. I don’t have to blow everything in one episode, I can kind of calibrate it for the length of, say an arc of four episodes, or over two episodes.

So it really is a joy. And plus, sometimes I have no idea, unlike a play where you know the beginning and the end over and over again, what’s going to happen to this guy until we get the script, and I love that because I’m like, “So you have to now fold this in.”

Photo By: Diana Ragland

TrunkSpace: Choices you made early in the process can come into play in an entirely different way than you originally expected.
Macon: Yeah. It’s good to make strong choices, but also you have to be malleable because you don’t know everything about this person. But at the same time, you have to build as much backstory as you can, and then it all just works in concert with what you’ve come up with. And then if it doesn’t work, you kind of keep reinventing it to keep it fresh, because what you may have discovered or figured out early on may not even be relevant down the road.

You have to be flexible – as strong as water but as flexible as it. And that’s just so exciting, because that’s what we do. That’s the greatest thing. I was doing this interview yesterday on the radio and I was like, “That’s the greatest part of being an actor, I get to have this experience of the human condition that is so varied, because you get inside of these people and you don’t judge them, and you just become them.” You live, you walk through their shoes, and it’s pretty amazing. It builds for great empathy, and you just have an understanding for people, to a certain extent. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s still make believe, and I’m being paid to do it.

TrunkSpace: Absolutely, but to be able to take on characters, particularly those who may make some questionable choices, and have to understand why they’ re making those choices, it’s fascinating because everybody does what they do for a reason.
Macon: Jean Genet, the playwright, said that the greatest tragedy in life is that every man has his reasons. Everybody thinks they’re right. No one really thinks they’re bad. Some people are born without a gene for empathy, they can’t feel, like serial killers can’t feel what their victims feel, so therefore they’re disconnected to it, and it’s a completely cerebral experience.

Just to get in the mind of someone like that, and just to see what that’s about, and just investigate it… it helps to shed some light on the folly of humanity. It’s a really cool job, at the end of the day.

TrunkSpace: And on the opposite side of that coin, 10-year-old you must be psyched because you’re on a spaceship getting to bring this really fun, alien character to life?
Macon: Dude, all the models that I’ve built… I cannot wait for the model for the Orville. I’m going to build it and hang it in my son’s room. I’m just totally nerding out. I mean, I’m on a space ship dude! Crazy! The kid in me, and I love science fiction – I’m watching “The Force Awakens” for the 90th time again, with the sound off, just because I like the visuals. There’s always something new to see. I love it.

TrunkSpace: Science fiction and fantasy projects, when done right, can amass very passionate fandoms. We know you did it some time ago, but you guested on a show with an extremely passionate fandom, “Supernatural.” When you were doing that in season 3, did it have the feel of a show that would be around for 13 seasons?
Macon: I didn’t know what to think. I kind of came late into the game. I had never even seen the show before, so when I got the show I just went back and I watched everything that was up to that point. I click on the TV now, and I’m like, “This show is still going, what the hell?”

I remember season 3, and this is before shows were… there were not very many shows that were going 10 seasons, and certainly not science fiction shows. But this show, man, I mean, I get it because the formula is great. It’s like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” meets the “Dukes of Hazzard.” (Laughter) It’s kind of like a cool concept, and again, limitless material, because you’re redefining a genre, and so good on them for having just a wellspring of stuff. And I’m not surprised that it’s going this long, but I had no idea.

I don’t know if it would have made a difference, but maybe I would have thought to like, not die. (Laughter)

The Orville” airs Thursdays on FOX.

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