Monday, April 15, 2013

Celebrity Interview: Grant Bowler!

The Australian Fast Bowler

To many people, Grant Bowler will soon become known as Nolan, on the upcoming Syfy original series ‘Defiance’, but to this little Aussie kid, he’ll always be known as the ill-fated Constable Wayne Patterson on the hit Australian show ‘Blue Heelers’, nearly 20 years ago. Since then, he has bowled us all over (groan-worthy pun intended) by going from strength to strength, from a guest spot on ‘LOST’, through to starring as Richard Burton opposite Lindsay Lohan’s Elizabeth Taylor in ‘Liz & Dick’. Mr. Bowler epitomizes the term “Professional”, before the interview officially started I gained a sense of Grant’s easy going nature and yet again I have been blessed with another generously honest interview from one of my personal industry icons. This is Part One of our conversation.

AW: G’day, thanks for taking the time to chat with me, especially at a point in your career which must surely be a highlight, your first leading-man role in a US TV Series, 'Defiance', which has an interactive MMO attached  could you tell us a little bit about Nolan- more specifically, what sorts of layers are you as the actor adding onto the character compared to what was already written? I understand you developed the character during the early game-building stages?

GB: Well, when I came on board… See, this is a really interesting confluence of events… You down in Oz, or Kiwiland (New Zealand, Grant’s birthplace) might “get it”, but, they’d been chasing me for the job for several months, and it wasn’t that I was playing hard to get, it’s just I wasn’t in town, I couldn’t do it. I was in Perth (Australia) the first time it came around shooting ‘the Great Mint Swindle’, and the second time it came around I was on the Race, ‘The Amazing Race’, and I thought ‘ahhh, this thing’s gonna go away’, you know, it’ll disappear, coz there’s that many actors in LA, there’s a hundred and ten thousand SAG actors in LA, jobs don’t hang around long when you’re not in town. Anyway, I got back and the thing was still open, um, and it was a really good pilot, but I had problems with it. It was more like a movie than a “pilot”. The problem for me was that it finished, I really dug the character, and a lot of the dynamics, but it was just a bit too done for me.
Anyway, in between the times where I couldn’t come in, Rockne O’Bannon, who was responsible for 'Farscape'- shot in Sydney, one of his other pilots got picked up, so he left ‘Defiance’ to go do this pilot and they brought Kevin Murphy on, now, the day I went back into town and met them… Jet-lagged and just buggered, and-uh, 'coz I knew I was running out of time on this project; it was actually Murphy’s very first day. So I come in, and he had an empty office, it was the strangest meeting with a show runner I’ve ever had. There was a couple of cardboard boxes and a chair, there was- He’d just thrown out the script, He had no script, uh, Scott Stewart was there, who directed the pilot- Epic guy, I have nothing but respect for him; and the two of them started the meeting, we shook hands, and Kevin was hopping up and down, and he says “I have to tell you, I’m the world’s biggest ‘Outrageous Fortune’ fan.

AW: (Eyebrows rise up) Ah, ok, random!

GB: The first words that came out of my mouth were “How the hell did you get your hands on ‘Outrageous Fortune’?!” Like, where did that come from, he must’ve been the only executive in the United States who’s ever seen ‘OF’. And he said “No, I’m a massive fan, I’ve seen every episode, I loved Wolf (Grant’s character), Wolf was my fave, and it was funny because if I had gone in the week before, Rockne would have still been in charge and the character and maybe the tone of the show might be very, very different. But, Kevin being the huge ‘OF’ fan that he was, he said to me; “I’m so excited about the idea of you playing this role because I loved that “darkness” and that humour you guys had in ‘OF’ and that’s where I want to go, I want to go a darker tone, a much darker world than the original pilot”- And that right away interested me, because that’s territory that I feel very comfortable in, that I think is different to a lot of what you see on TV. Characters are extremely imperfect, extremely flawed… I always get driven crazy by those characters, especially on network on TV, where they manage to say and do the appropriate things…

AW: Solve the crime neatly by the end, with a little bow?

GB: Yep, that drives me nuts, and in doing it they never blow up, they never lose faith, they’re just these kinda stoic, perfect people… I don’t know them in my real life, you know, I gotta screw something up 9 times before I get it right. But I just can’t recognize these characters, so, I think that was the big thing for me, Kevin knew what I loved doing. He’d seen my work on ‘True Blood’ and ‘Betty’, but because he’d seen ‘OF’ he knew the territory I really like exploring, and that was key. Him and Scott, and I sat down and they pitched me what they wanted to write but they didn’t have it, they didn’t even have an outline, they sent me that 4 days later- not only did they not have an outline, they hadn’t even run one past the studio, so they had no idea if they were going to be allowed to do what they wanted to do, at the end of the meeting we shook hands, and we said “OK, let’s have a crack at this”,  and they took everything we talked about to the network and the studio and it got green lit, Kevin wrote it and we then started down that path. So, that was a bit of a situation to be in that I could never have predicted, if I had been on the job the week before that wouldn’t have been the same case. It was just one of those things that happened and I was really fortunate, Mark Stone, who’s the head of SYFY, in terms of new drama, he asked me to come in to one of the studio sets and test with the actors who are going to come on the show, I got to have a level of input that I never would have dreamed of – I just never would have expected to be given- not in this business over here, so, it’s been really interesting. It’s been a lot more creative than often times being #1 on a show.

AW: Does the role of Leading-Man status bring a sense of adrenaline to your craft, than something smaller than, perhaps, your ‘Ugly Betty’ role?

GB: I think I just feel a much higher degree of responsibility and accountability for what we’re making. It’s easy to put your hand up and say you want more input but if you get given it, geez, you better work your arse off to make sure it bares through… It’s a massive project, I think it’s something like $100million split between the game and the show.

AW: Eek, ok, so you’ve got a lot riding on your shoulders then, aye mate?

GB: Yeah, it’s a bit different to what I’ve had before; it’s interesting when you talk about smaller roles… I’ve been so lucky in the States, the first job I got was a thing called ’12 Miles of Bad Road’- it got killed in the writer’s strike (never made it to air)- but it was still an incredibly prestigious thing for me to get on, it had Lily Tomlin, Gary Cole, Mary Kay Place… Just some amazing people on it, and then I ended up doing that and ‘LOST’ at the same time, one show in LA, one in Honolulu simultaneously, and from ‘LOST’; ‘Betty’ and then ‘TB’, and what it gave me, even though the roles were kind of increasingly longer-term and better, if you like, what it gave me was this wonderful pedigree in the States, that I had actually never had in Australia, I had been on all these really awesome projects and people kind of look at that here, you can come out of ‘Bold and the Beautiful’ and there’s no problem with that in the United States. I’ve been fortunate enough to be hired by really good Show-Runners on shows that had all won Golden Globes, and Emmys and all been really successful, and that makes a big difference, and I honestly… I found sitting around a table doing table-reads at ‘True Blood’ more intimidating than anything else I’ve ever done in my life. 

AW: Oh really?

GB: I remember the episode 4 table read… in season 3, there was 2 Academy Awards, about 14 Emmys, maybe 16- and half a dozen Golden Globe winners sitting around the table.

AW: You were in good company then.

GB: Yeah, and everybody brings their A-Game to a table read on ‘TB’, because Alan’s (Alan Ball) sitting there and if he sees something really good he’ll re-write to it. So, it’s uh- it’s the best kind of blood-sport, a table read on ‘TB’, I loved it. Having said that, ‘Defiance’ is a level of responsibility and there’s a whole new level of terror because it’s my head on all the billboards…

AW: 150ft on the side of the Marriott at comic-con?

GB: (laughs) Yep… We’re on the side of another hotel on Hollywood Boulevard at the moment… That’s kind of exciting, I like that pressure.

AW: As you say you popped up on a lot of genre shows, I was beginning to think you were becoming the new Mark Sheppard…

GB: Mark Sheppard!? How so?!

AW: I dunno, I’d just be watching all these shows, ‘TB’, ‘LOST’, ‘GCB’ and suddenly you’d appear in all these places, just like him, and then he got permanent employment (Supernatural), and now you have, but I want to talk about your first professional job- ‘Blue Heelers’, did you ever wonder why there were so many criminals in such a small town as ‘Mount Thomas’?

GB: (laughs) I love talking about ‘BH’… Especially the first bit, I always remember one of the first shots was I get pulled up driving into town, I think it was by Maggie (Lisa McCune) or Nick (William McInnes), I get pulled over on the side of the road and there’s the ‘Mt Thomas’ sign, and the population at that point was about ten thousand, but in the course of ‘BH’ we had a salt mine, we had several hospitals and airports- We just kept developing infrastructure, so that town- in the end- had the best public amenities, and the most productive industry, there was an abattoir, honestly, it had more industry in it than the United States.

AW: (laughs) It made for good story telling, in the very least.

GB: I remember we done one episode, I think it was only the first season, and Bill McInnes and I just lost it, in the first draft of the script Ninjas came to Mt Thomas.

AW: Ninja!?

GB: It got thrown out, but there were these kinds of black-hooded figures, and they were doing stuff and attacking, Bill and I were like “we’ve gone from 10,000 to Ninjas in less than a season, we’ve got to be careful here” and we had a word with the writing department and they said “I dunno, maybe” – but yeah, that town just kept growing. I understand every time someone drove past the town-sign the population kept going up.

AW: I’m pretty certain that was the case.

(AW: Disclaimer- The following section took place at the beginning of our conversation, before the interview officially began, and has been placed here for continuity’s sake.)

AW: As I mentioned, ‘BH’ was your first professional job, if not your first lead role.

GB: And who was the lead in that?

AW: That would have to be John Wood.

GB: You know it’s funny, ‘Heelers’ was probably the best thing that ever happened to me, I haven’t told anyone this story in a long-long time, but I was determined that I was never going to act in front of a camera. The reason for that was I had done 2 ads right after finishing drama school; one before I started with the Shakespeare company- one at the end of the first season, and those times I had such a miserable experience in front of the camera. I got told to do so many takes, one ad I remember there wasn’t a shot that was under 24-takes, and being a young actor I thought every single take was my fault- I wasn’t told any different, they’d just come give me notes- I found it so soul-crushing, I was getting it wrong so many times, all these people standing around, all this money and, uh, by the time I finished the second ad I swore I was never going to work in front of a camera again. By the end of the second season of the Shakespeare company I was broke- just busted up and broke, and the pilot for ‘Heelers’ came up and I did it because I thought it wouldn’t go to series. (Both laugh). And of course it did (13 seasons) - I struggled to… I didn’t feel confident in front of the camera- it gave me my apprenticeship, it taught me everything I needed to know. It was a good job for me, it was a difficult one because I felt so out of place, but it started everything for me in terms of working in front of the camera.

(AW: Back to our interview in real-time.)

AW: Since ‘BH’ you’ve been killed off many shows, but being your first professional television role, did it make you sad to leave as much as it made us to watch it with the rain and the car and the tears?

GB: I left ‘Heelers’, I left over a lot of objections and a lot of really good-will, especially from Hal McElory who had hired me and wanted me to stay… I was, geez, I was 25, 26 at the time, I just had so much going me at that point, and ‘Heelers’ as successful as it was, and great of an apprenticeship as it was, I wanted more, I wanted to be playing different roles, be doing different things. We shot 40 episodes a year, there really wasn’t any time to do anything but ‘BH’, I just felt like I needed to move on, I was frustrated. In the beginning the character (Wayne Patterson) was kinda- he had a lot more to do, when, you know, he had his Wife, there was a lot more story wise for him, in the end I kinda felt like he was wandering around the background looking for evidence, and I just wanted to bite off more, I’ve always been a bit restless that way. I’ve actually left a lot, in the past, and not on bad terms, just, you know “ok, I feel like I’ve done this now”, and Acting is a funny thing, if you can’t keep it up, if you can’t find a reason to get up for a role, you’ll start doing it badly, and I felt like that was starting to happen.

AW: After your 3 years on BH, You moved on next to Medivac, from a Bold Cop to a Bald Doc, which did you have more fun with… Chasing baddies, or playing with fake blood and guts?

GB: (laughs) Nice call, mate… I loved ‘Medivac’; I was always disappointed it wasn’t more of a success. You know, Tony Cavanaugh is such a good writer, I remember at one point he wrote me a three page monologue... There was a scene where I sang ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ over a dead guy on the side of a hill, he was a really brave writer, I really loved doing his stuff. It was an opportunity to act stuff I didn’t know how to do, and big operatic stuff for an Actor, and on camera, how often in an Australian drama do you get the opportunity to lock-down a 3 page monologue on and try to make it work on camera? It just didn’t click with audiences and that’s fine. That’s alright; you roll your dice and take your chances. But I loved Medivac.

AW: Glad I threw that question in then.

GB: No one ever asks about it.

AW: My memory is vague but I do remember you were bald.

GB: I loved the role, it actually set up something for me that I’ve done ever since, and that is I cherry-pick my roles- when I looked at the character description on Arch Craven (Medivac character), they described him completely outwardly; bald head, earrings, motorbike pants, rode motorbike, plays drums in a rock band. I always look for those things- Cooter on ‘TB’ was another one, I look for those roles because I find when you go in to play them you’ve got almost open-slather on how you fill them in.

AW: Blue Heelers, All Saints, Always Greener- in the first 10 years of your career you were in some of the biggest Australian dramas, but you also mentioned the cult favourite ‘Farscape’, was this your first experience with CGI and blue screens? How did you find it, was that a good learning curve for doing ‘Defiance’ now?

GB: ‘Farscape’ came up, I was broke, did it, it was great because my mates were on it, Claudia Black and Anthony Simcoe, and that was cool, but I hated it. I absolutely hated it because of all the make-up and the prosthetics and the mucking around of it, after ‘Farscape’ I swore I wouldn’t do Science Fiction again, and I didn’t not until ‘Defiance’.

AW: Nope, I can refute that- you did ‘The Lost Word’…

GB: Ahhh, that was the Dinosaur show, I kinda consider that period.

AW: (laughs)

GB: Even on ‘TLW’… I shouldn’t be telling people this, but it’s time I came clean. I said to them “Hey, I think this guy has a beard or a goatee or a moustache, I can’t remember what I told them, and they’re like “OK!” and I said “I think he has a hat and a monocle, or glasses” effectively I tried to cover up my face as much as I could (laughs)

AW: (shocked and appalled- jokingly) That’s not cool, Grant! Do you know how much I love that show! (Laughs)

GB: Man, I was just trying to hide my head.

AW: (laughs) ‘The Lost World’, was one of those shows that seemed to have every working Australian actor of the day guest starring, were Aus-USA co-produced shows like ‘Farscape’ and ‘TLW’ your stepping stone into the US market, or at the time were you too focused on your career down here?

GB: I was told at the time that you couldn’t- and we’re going back 12-14 years, so not that long ago in the scheme of things, but back then you were told as an Actor that you don’t go to the US unless you were invited, and if you hadn’t done something that propelled you over there by the time you were 30 don’t go, it’s too late. Those were the 2 golden rules. And the only guy I knew who had broken those rules was Anthony LaPaglia, he came over cold and just ground it out himself and that’s why he was a mentor for me when I came over. So I didn’t think you were allowed to go over until you got that entrée movie or whatever that brought you. In the end I got really pissed off and frustrated and just decided to go anyway. I had done ‘On the Beach’, that was the thing, I did that Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward- who have come over and was working over here, and they all said to me “Why don’t you come over, you’ll get work” and that’s what made me make the decision, because they had done it.

AW: You bring up ‘On the Beach’, I have a Q on it that I would like to mash-up with Liz and Dick, in ‘OTB’ you played Peter Holmes, who was previously played by the iconic actor Anthony Perkins, in ‘L&D’ you played an iconic Actor, Richard Burton, could you tell our readers about the differences in the steps you took to portray each character?

GB: In ‘OTB’ I kinda discarded the original, had to, David Williamson had done a complete re-write on it, and I’m a huge Williamson fan, I really wanted to honour his script, when I watched the original I felt depressed for them 2 (Perkins and presumably Gregory Peck) in those roles because it really wasn’t given an enormous amount of weight, it was all a bit “arch” for me, it was very strained looks, it looked like a Metamucil commercial. Not to say they weren’t fantastic actors but I just think the focus was very different in the original film’s script. Jackie (Jacqueline McKenzie) and I just came at it and went gang-busters together at what David put in front of us. I ignored Anthony Perkins’ performance and- I could, because I was given permission, and it was actually the best thing to do. If you’re going to remake something you have to make it your own, you can’t pay too much homage to who did it before you or else you won’t do your job properly. This was completely different than Liz & Dick; because for ‘L&D’ I had to go back and try my hardest to pay as much homage as I possibly could. As I was capable of, given the lead-up time, the shortness of the shoot, given everything that went on- and my own limitations- to do as good of a job as I could in honouring him (Burton), so they’re completely opposite.

AW:  That same year you began your role as host of ‘The Mole’, one of my all time favourite shows. I understand you requested not to be told of the Mole’s identity, out of the four seasons, how many of the pesky buggers did you guess before the reveal and how soon in?

GB: Just an interesting little link-up, you know I was asked to host ‘the Mole’ while I was shooting ‘OTB’, Grant Rule at 7 (Channel 7) – they had bought ‘OTB’ in Australia, and he came up to visit the submarine set, which was this very expensive set, and he pulled me aside and he said “Listen, we’ve got a show we want you to do”, and I said “oh, great, give me a call” and they told me what it was, and nobody had made Reality in Australia, and I said “I don’t even know what you’re talking about! Why would you want me, you want a host, somebody who’s done hosting!” and they said (GB puts on voice) “No, we want the opposite, we want somebody who can scare the crap outta them so they can’t figure out what they’re doing!” and I went “Oh, then I can do that”. So those 2 jobs are always linked for me, but, on ‘the Mole’… Yeah, no, he (Mole executive producer David Mason) always said to me “Do you wanna know? Do you wanna know?” and I’d say “Nup, don’t tell me, I wanna figure it out”, and doing what I did on the show, being in the centre of all that, I would figure it out eventually. How clever that makes me, I don’t know, because it’s a very privileged position to be in. Sooner or later it’d just become inevitable that I’d figure out who it was just by the nature of my place in the machine, more than any braininess or anything like that. But I enjoyed not knowing, and I’d get it wrong, constantly, before it became apparent to me. Which I always loved, because I think that’s the mark of a really intriguing show.

AW: I wonder, were there any times you tried to make the guilty party slip up, perhaps when speaking to them you’d try to catch them out on a lie?

GB: Nup, no, I was so in love with that concept and that format that if you do something like that you might jeopardize it, if you do it and anyone else is around or anyone catches on you’ve blown the whole thing.

AW: Would you ever like to see Channel 7 merge Amazing Race with the Mole- perhaps… the Amolezing Race, a globe trotting mystery?

GB: The Amazing Mole? The Mole Race? No, never.

AW: Fair enough, still on ‘TAR’ what is a typical day on the set like? Is there a lot of waiting around?

GB: The ‘Race’ is one thing or the other, the ‘Race’ is 98% wondering if you’re going to get to the next place on time, the consequence of it is the whole thing falls apart, so it’s always like the stress level that will kill you, and then the other 2% of the time: bored out of your brain and having no idea where they are. Sometimes they’ll all trip up at the same time and you stand there for 14 hours and then the whole thing explodes and you’ve got to get them  in, and the second you get them in you’re off again – the ‘Race’ is torture, it really is. Everybody earns their money on it, but I had so much fun on it… You get so sleep deprived and so crazy, living with no idea of what’s happening next. We giggle like school kids at the back of the bus, me and my crew. Honestly, we just crack up at the most ridiculous stuff, and cry laughing while we’re driving through the middle of Africa for two and a half hours and nobody able to talk or stand up because you’ve just been reduced to ash by this format. It’s always taken me a month to 6 weeks to recover from the race physically.

AW: So how do you fit this in with everything else that you’re doing? It’s obviously a big commitment.

GB: I’m not sure if I can anymore. I’ve always had a bit of a thing running where at any one point I’m usually doing 2, maybe 3 jobs in one form or another. I love staying busy, I love working, but it’s getting tougher and tougher to do that, I’m having to adjust. ‘Cause you know, the higher up the call sheet you go, and the bigger the project, the more people want you around to focus, and actually focus on that one thing. So I’m having to learn a new skill-set these days which is, you know; “this is my project and I commit to this” then, “now this is my project…” and just do things in a bit more of a linear fashion. 

AW: You’re known for hosting in Australia (as well as acting) and known for your acting in USA, do you ever feel like you’re leading a double life?

GB: No, every job I’ve had I’ve taken for my reasons, and I wouldn’t do it otherwise. There’s a couple of jobs you’ve mentioned in there that were, you know, feeding the kids, or coming back from the States broke and needing to rebuild. You always try to do the best job you can in a job but Actors are just people, sometimes you’ve gotta pay the bills or you’re in trouble. In terms of ‘the Mole’, that was one I didn’t need to do, I was just obsessed with the show, ‘TARau’ was just an opportunity to do ‘the Race’, and I’m so glad I’ve done that- and done it twice- which was incredible, I got to visit 30 countries and watch people run that race. People sometimes say to me “well are you an actor or a host?” None of your business, they ask me “are you Australian or NZ?” None of your business, I am what I am. I’m me, and, and… ‘the Mole’ intrigued me, ‘Amazing Race’ intrigued me, ‘Outrageous Fortune’ ‘True Blood’ intrigued me, ‘Liz and Dick’ intrigued, ‘Medivac’… and ‘Defiance’ intrigues me, and I don’t know what else makes them all fit together other than that I dug them.

AW: Was there ever a point back during something like ‘OF’ where you thought “Wow, I’m the luckiest man alive”- to have quantity AND quality?

GB: Yeah, absolutely, it’s funny because I’ve always been quite driven around work and I wanna do the best work I can, and I’ve been so lucky there’s always been another opportunity, and I’ve been lucky to get the amount of work, I’ve been really lucky to be given the quality of production I’ve been given. And then there’s another thing; you can walk into that and think “Great, I’ve been tapped on the shoulder”, or you can walk in and go “OK, this is an opportunity to get better” and you’re on your toes the whole time. I prefer the second. Every job is an opportunity to get much better at what I do and if there’s no opportunity, then it’s one to learn better at how other people do their job. But, I don’t see a finish, I don’t see any “OK, I’m on top of my game now, I’ll just clock off…” and I think that’s the other half of it, because if you’re Hungry, then you’re Excited, and if you’re Excited, people get Enthusiastic.

AW: I think that’s a brilliant note to end Part One on, with such a fruitful career and bright prospects for the future I look forward to the second half. Thank you kindly.

GB: Thanks, Aaron, enjoyed that, cheers.

Defiance premiers on SYFY channel, April 15th- check your local guides for details.

Grant’s Twitter - @GrantBowler

Interview by Aaron Ware.

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