Features > Interview February 2008

Q: How do you prepare yourself for the character that you are going to play?
VA: That's a loaded question. First...that depends on what kind of venue the role is in ....theatre....film....TV. In theatre you have rehearsals and you prepare for the role with other people preparing for theirs. It's a more communal event. You're pretty much on your own until the day of the shoot with most roles in TV and film; usually the most you can get is a phone call to talk about the character, and it's understandable; Directors are under a lot of pressure to do a lot of things in as short a time as possible. There are exceptions, directors who do like to work with actors prior to the shoot, but that's rare.

When I take on a character I first try to understand who the guy is, what he loves, what he wants, what he wants to do to the person in the scene with him. I try to imagine what my characters last experience with the other character was when we last met, or talked, or whatever; whether it be something that happened before we walked through the door to the room we're in now, or whether it happened 20 years ago. I try to picture the physical things in the room while I'm reading the script. I try to detail the physical experiences....what I see...hear...touch. I try to imagine my own life prior to the scene I'm in....where did I grow up...what were my influences... am I married...do I have kids...what do I do for fun...if anything...etc. What my goals are in life and in the scene.

Now I'll read the script again and start writing notes in the script, how I feel during a line or paraphrasing how I would say it with stronger language, or answers to the questions above....anything that seems important to me as I read it.

I then repeat the process and write more notes. I sometimes have a page full of notes when there is only one line on the page.

I then read the notes more than I read the script, so that by the time I start to actually memorise the lines, I often find I already know them. I have a great guideline from which the character can react to what's being done in the scene; then a day or two before the shoot, I clean up any problems with memorisation.

With heavy make-up characters.... Klingons and Cardassians and Borgs and such....there are other considerations as well. I watch as the make-up is applied, and try to imagine what in this beings evolution caused him to look like this. I remember when I did my first Klingon, one of the other actors said that they looked like they grew up butting heads with the goat in the back yard. I thought that was cool, so I used that as part of my character. The result was that when playing the character I was always ready to butt the other actor in the scene with my forehead; that gave me a warlike posture; with the Cardassians I imagined that they had been staining with such pride for so long, that the muscles on their neck grew....that gave me a complete air of uneasy superiority; stuff like that, the method varies with the need.
Q: Is there a person or persons that you would like to do or have done a special turn with the EBB?
VA: Vaughn - Yes there are several. I'd love to have Gary Graham play with us, he plays several instruments and has told me his interested jamming with us; also Ethan Philips, I'd love to have him play the saxophone. There are others....Chris Decker, a friend from Germany who played on our second CD, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Stevie Wonder, Janis Joplin...etc
Q: When are you going to write your autobiography?
VA: When I learn how to spell.
Q: Where did you train to be an actor?
VA: Lots of places. I started in high school, then went to a 2 year college, San Bernardino Valley College for the first year. I then moved to LA to be a star....where I learned a lot. Part of what I learned was that I knew nothing. When I saw that my draft status was primed for action, I auditioned for a performing arts school in San Diego. I got in on a full scholarship....then I was drafted after the first year...long story. I became the only entertainment personnel in my base in Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam, at one point ...a whole new education. When I got back to the States I became the Non-commissioned Officer In Charge of the Ft.Carson Little Theatre....that was more education still. When I got out of the Army, I came back to LA and went to LACC Theatre Academy for two years on the GI bill. The rest of my education has been on the stage and on the set.
Q: Did you have any well known actors come to your college whilst you were training to be an actor?
VA: 'Fonzie' (Henry Winkler), from 'Happy Days' came while I was in school in L.A, that's about it. There were actors who had worked in stage and TV and Film, teaching at one of the schools, but I don't think they would be someone you would know as a household name.
Q: Did you have any other jobs whilst you were training to be an actor?
VA: Not really, you don't really have time whilst you're in school. They use you a lot for their shows. I did get paid as a teachers assistant at one point, but really all I did was tutor other students in their scenes; that school was in Los Angeles. I was collecting the GI bill at the time so I had an income from that. At that age other things are far more important than money, so it seemed to be enough. No kids yet. In the Summer, when all we did was an outside show at the college during the evening. I did work as a house painter during the day. I'm so happy that didn't last long. Acting is much easier..Oh yeah, I also worked as a carpenter in the scene shop of the university I attended in San Diego.
Q: How would you describe yourself as an actor?
VA: Good but old.
Q: There is a book called 'An Actor Prepares' by Constantin Stanislavski, have you read it?
VA: Yes...I read it many years ago.
Q: Do you like to improvise; i.e. emotions?
VA: Let's say I try to live the character as completely as possible.
Q: What is the favourite role that you have played to date?, and what research do you undertake for that role?
VA: This answer is harder to come up with than you might think. In general I just love working. I've had great roles from Brutus in Julius Caesar to 'The Witch in Hansel and Gretel'. They were all a hoot. The research varies from being very extensive to none at all....depending on the need of the play; but I think I have enjoyed them almost equally. I do love the ones I have to travel for. I've been to Japan and Mexico and Canada and several states, to beautiful parks around the country, all to shoot various films or commercials. I think those were the ones I enjoyed the most...the ones that require me to go some place I haven't been before.
Q: Do you have any words to aspiring actors, producers and directors?
VA: Listen. Relax. Find the love in a role. Find the physical. Don't give up. Be prompt. Behave with propriety. Don't burn your bridges. Stay in shape, mentally and physically. Do something artful on your time off, which is often most of the time. Know that you can do anything. Don't be a jerk. Don't be afraid. Be patient when working with others and they will be patient with you. Do at least three things a day to further your career. Find the right people to help you. Don't let your career be your entire life. Keep learning. Don't be bitter....Many other things, details of each at the bar next time we meet.
Q: What would you say at the Pearly Gates?
VA: Can I come in?

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"You're pretty much on your own until the day of the shoot with most roles in TV and film...

"...try to imagine what in this beings evolution caused him to look like this.

"I became the only entertain-ment personnel in my base in Cam Rahn Bay...

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