Human Target Interview With Jackie Earle Haley And Jonathan Steinberg
There’s something a bit hard to watch about jetliners flying upside-down and fight sequences that go on past fifteen seconds, but there’s something a little different about FOX‘s new show Human Target that makes it easy to overlook some of the more common irritants of wild, action television. If you’re unfamiliar, the show, based on the DC comic and graphic novel, stars Mark Valley as Christopher Chance, a short-term bodyguard/security expert who steps in when normal means of protecting against (and eliminating) a threat won’t work.
A good deal of the interest in the show comes by way of co-stars Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley. McBride plays Winston, who is Chance’s partner/handler, and Haley plays Guerrero, a mysterious figure who isn’t exactly part of the team, but who has skills which come in handy rather frequently.
There’s a little Rorschach floating around this character frankly, and throwing him into the dynamic makes up for a lot of the impossible motorcycle jumps.
Haley took some time for a Q&A session recently, and was joined by Jonathan Steinberg, one of the show’s executive producers and writers.
It went something like this -
Q- Jackie, you’re really quite wonderful in it. Question for you, I realize it would be hard to have the same kind of mad computer skills that Guerrero has, but how computer savvy are you in your daily civilian life?
J. Earle Haley I’ve gotten my computer to do just what I need it to do and then I’m trying to quit from there, so not very. It’s like word processing, I get a word processing – Microsoft Word or whatever – to kind of write a letter or to kind of write script-type stuff, but the program is much more powerful than that and you could do like a college course just learning the thing. But I’m not real computer literate, but I’m not real computer illiterate either.
Q- Okay; well that’s why they call it acting, isn’t it?
J. Earle Haley There you go.
Q- What was it that turned you on to this role in this show?
J. Earle Haley Jon came to me and I read the script and I just thought it was real kick-ass; I thought it was a lot of fun. I liked how it was just kind of comic-book related, that it was light in tone, that it seemed to be this really cool kind of action hero character, and the character of Guerrero supporting that character I just thought, “What a well-written character.” It just seemed like a lot of fun and I loved the idea of getting in there and working with these guys on a long-term basis, and working on one specific character as opposed to like what you do on a movie – you know, you do it and you’re done. This is an ongoing process and that’s kind of neat.
Q- Jackie, I just wanted to ask you, we’ve seen two episodes so far, and your character still is a little bit of a mystery. How much did you know about the character and how would you describe him?
J. Earle Haley How much do I know about the character? That’s what’s fun about this guy, it seems like we’re kind of all learning it together. Obviously, we’ve done more shows than what you’ve seen, but this guy is – it still seems like I’m getting more – I’m just coming up with more questions for him than we are with answers. But I think as each week starts to go along, we start to, I think, add a little bit more of Chance’s background and the fact that there is some event in his past that was quite a pivotal event that kind of caused Chance to kind of go from one side to another, and I think Guerrero was a part of that. That holds a lot of interest for me; I definitely know that Guerrero has worked on the dark side of things and now he’s working on the more righteous side of things with Chance, but what’s neat about Guerrero is you never really quite know where his loyalties lie. It’s really fun riding that line with the writers and stuff. It’s just – I don’t think we want to get to those answers real quick; I think it’s fun kind of exploring the multi-dimensionality of this guy, and seeing where it leads and who he is – what makes him tick.
Q- And did you kind of create your own back story about where he was when the show started, or how he got to be this hired gun?
J. Earle Haley No, we’ve been working on that together.
Q- Coming off doing mostly movies, what has been different for you about doing a TV series from an acting standpoint, or just a logistical standpoint? What is it like doing a TV series versus being in the movies?
J. Earle Haley Let’s see, it’s a much faster process, although these guys are really doing a heck of a job technically. I mean these things look like little movies; it’s amazing what you can do on TV now. I think the biggest difference is in the development of the character. So often you kind of get a screen play and then you can work with the directors and the writers really kind of learning and developing who this guy is, what his back story is, what kind of brought him to this point, and then you dive in and you do the work and you’re done. This one is kind of – it’s that and then the reverse of that as well. It’s like you try to figure out so much before you’re shooting what you’re shooting, but so much of the development and the answers come later. It’s a different process because it’s like a – I guess instead of making one two-hour movie, hopefully we’re making 100 one-hour movies.
Q- Have you found that you like one over the other or they just offer different things, movies versus TV?
J. Earle Haley They’re both just so different. I’m not sure that I could call one over the other, and it’s still kind of early in the TV process, we’re just about ten into these things. But it’s a – I’ve got to tell you – it’s a wonderful job, the guys out here are awesome, the writers, producer guys are incredible; they’re doing a great job at producing such an ambitious show. Hanging out with Mark and Chi is golden. I mean, to be on a show with a couple of regulars, those guys are just an absolute blast, and the crew is amazing. It’s a really neat gig.
Q- And, your bio on the Fox Press Website talks about your making the epitome of the Hollywood comeback, and that was six years ago when you did Little Children. So, for you, are you surprised six years later that you’re still having all this great work or things like that, or were you worried when you had the comeback that it might not last, having been kind of a child star, and coming back into the industry. What do you think now, six years later, that you’re still having this kind of great successful comeback?
J. Earle Haley Well, I’m an actor so I’m perpetually nervous and scared and frightened. But I’m pinching myself that I’m getting to work and to work on so many different things in different genres. I can’t tell you what a blast it is to get to work on movies and to get to work on TV, I’m a fan of both, and I’ve just been having an incredible time. Yes, man, I’m just – it’s amazing. Sometimes I really – it gets very real and I’m doing the work and it can be arduous and time-consuming, and I’m flying all over the place – I’m not even sure the last time I was home; it was like September or something – but what an incredible, I don’t know, just gift to be able to practice this craft again and to get to work so much. It’s just unbelievable.
Q- As a perpetually nervous actor, when you were starting to get really good roles after Little Children, like Watchmen, when a TV show came your way, did you see that as a great long-term opportunity or was it just another chance you’d take or what?
J. Earle Haley It definitely was cause for pause to think about it. Especially with the movie thing kind of tracking so well and suddenly the notion of doing a television series, I had to really kind of consider the medium. It had been so long since I’ve dealt with any of these issues, the last time I looked at this stuff it was like the early ‘80s, and I think since then that the lines between television and movies have blurred quite a bit. I particularly love the whole HD 16×9 aspect of television and the 5.1 sound; it seems like we’ve got little movie theaters in our living rooms now. So it just really seemed kind of like this cool opportunity. Everything’s probably a risk no matter how you look at it, every choice that you make, but it just seemed like such a fun show, it was comic-based and I love that, I had such a great time on Watchmen. But it just really seemed like a neat character and a wonderful opportunity, especially if this thing becomes a wonderful hit. It would be just a great show to work on episode after episode and to see what it’s like to work as an actor on such a demanding, ongoing basis, and also to get to develop Guerrero and to see that character become even a more integral part of what’s going on in Chance’s back story, in his curve. It’s pretty exciting.
Q- Most people haven’t had this perspective of being a star and then being away from it for quite a while, and then being back in it again. Tell me how does it feel different to you this time; how is your life different, and how does your approach or anything else about it feel different than it did the first time?
J. Earle Haley I think probably the biggest difference is my age and perhaps I bring a little bit more maturity to it, meaning this is – I probably kind of took it for granted when I was a kid. I definitely was in love with the craft as a youngster, but I probably didn’t fully understand it and fully get the depth of it. I think I appreciate that more now and I think that all of those fears and insecurities that I was joking about – I think being a little bit older and more mature helps to temper that a bit more than it was when I was 20.
Q- So far Guerrero has been very much a character who operates from his intelligence, but this being an action series I’m wondering if he’s going to get a chance to mix it up a little bit physically or get into some action scenes with Mark and fight that way.
J. Earle Haley That’s a good question.
J. Steinberg I would say, without giving anything away, there’s a lot more to Guerrero than you see yet. I will leave it at that but there’s some really fun stuff we have planned for the end of the season with him, and I think that where you met him as a guy who is – you’re not quite sure what he’s capable of; I think he’s capable of quite a bit more than you’ve seen.
J. Earle Haley Just wait until you see the master juggling episode.
J. Steinberg Right, exactly.
J. Earle Haley I’m really excited about that.
J. Steinberg Buzz saws and torches.
Q- Jackie, you were wonderful at the TCA Panels in Pasadena; there was such great energy with you and Chi and Mark. You and Chi McBride seem to be a tribe of two with a lot of inside jokes and I was wondering if you could elaborate on that and talk about the chemistry that your characters have.
J. Earle Haley Chi is just such a hilarious guy. I mean he is a fun guy to hang around. It’s always fun to hear him kind of go on one of his political rants too; you should try to get him going. Some of that fun I think, even though he’s so different from his character and I’m so different from my character, I think some of that, I don’t know, fun we have just somehow kind of just transfers into our roles even though our characters are kind of at odds with one another. It’s really fun playing off one another and kind of discovering these characters together as we go; it’s been fun.
Q- Jonathan, I was hoping maybe you could tell us, what were some of perhaps the biggest production challenges getting the series off the ground, and maybe shooting the first couple of episodes?
J. Steinberg It’s a great big show and it’s a show that can’t lean on a lot of the short cuts that some other shows that have done big action have been able to. We don’t spend a lot of time on our sets. I think it was important to us, especially early on, that these stories start hot, and that we start well into the story. And so, there are any one of a number of challenges that go into trying to make something that feels like an action movie in eight days, where the next one starts the very next, in terms of production.
I think there’s a really good reason why nobody does this on TV and nobody has for a long time. When we started talking about it, that was what was really attractive to us about it, is that it hasn’t really been done ever, and certainly not in a long time. I think it took us a little while to realize the harsh reality of why that is. But I think the show looks pretty good considering the challenges we’ve been through; it looks pretty good, I think, notwithstanding those challenges. I think we’re getting better at it and we’re learning how to do more with what we have and to do more with less. I think it’s – there’s no story reason why you can’t tell this kind of a story on TV, I think it’s just about trying to figure out how to make it work. So hopefully we’re getting there.
Q- I just wanted to ask – Jackie what’s with all these DC properties in your resume? You did Watchmen, you’re doing Human Target, how do you keep getting involved with all of these?
J. Earle Haley I purchased some stock in the DC Universe. I don’t know; I guess I got some good buddies over at DC. It’s just – it’s awesome; DC materials rock. Yes, some of it’s – I can’t even say, it’s not coincidence. I guess the DC guys kind of thought of me for this after Watchmen. DC comics are awesome. After Watchmen, I really started to kind of get into the comic book world; I’m still nowhere near quite the fan that some of the fan boys are, but after reading Watchmen, I kind of went on an Alan Moore jag as well as reading a few others, and I’m still poking around through some comics.
Q- You’ve really been able to kind of create interesting full-bodied characters with some very dark characters – characters that always have very either morally questionable backgrounds or with what you’ve done with the last few films that you’ve been in, and of course, this character – we still don’t know his whole story. What attracted you in particular; I mean I know you’re particular what projects you take and those seem to be a running theme with what you’ve chosen. What about that kind of conflicting character’s particularly attractive for you to explore?
J. Earle Haley I think part of it’s a function of – you know, you do a few pieces of work and then people kind of like to gravitate toward similar type characters. So what I’ve been doing is trying to kind of find diversity within those type of characters. There’s definitely something very interesting to me about troubled souls and unhinged and characters like that. But at the same time, I – again, I try to find the differences between…. There’s definitely similarities to characters like Ronnie or Rorschach or Freddy, or Guerrero, but yet there’s huge differences in the approach and demeanor, and how these guys are, what they’re about. So that’s kind of what I look for; stuff that I can kind of sink my teeth into and find some diversity in.
Q- Jonathan, I’m just wondering as the series goes on, are we going to get more background on the characters week-to-week, or might you just focus more on one character one week, one character the next. And, Jackie, are you invested more in the back story now or are you just kind of happy to let it ride week-to-week for the time being?
J. Earle Haley I’ll jump in real quick first. Yes, I think that to us from the very beginning, the back story of these three guys was important, and not just as a mystery for its own sake, but it defines where they came from and their shared experience defines their relationships now. I think that was interesting to us was that they all share this one traumatic, but also sort of very big kind of mythic experience between the three of them. It was interesting to us to see how that rippled through their relationships currently. I think before the end of this season, you’re going to learn a lot more about them and a lot more about that event.
Q- I was wondering how you balance Guerrero’s darker nature with the lighter action feel of the show.
J. Earle Haley I can’t really speak to the performance issue but I think it is always a balancing act for all three characters, especially for Guerrero, that the show needs to be fun; it needs to feel like an adventure in the truest sense of the word, and I think part of what that means is not just that it’s light, but that there’s something hankering it underneath – that there’s some gravitons to it. I think that’s a large part of what – in some ways I think Guerrero is right at ground zero of that tight rope that we try to walk every week; and it’s being able to have one foot in both worlds.
J. Steinberg Yes, that’s what I kind of find with Guerrero that’s kind of interesting; if he’s kind of in this piece that definitely has this fun kind of tongue in cheek tone from the ‘80’s and like I said earlier, Mark Valley is just nailing that and Chi McBride is brilliant at playing Winston. And Guerrero is kind of fun because I think he definitely kind of has a little foot in that world in the sense that he kind of plays the straight guy for Chi and stuff.
But I think he’s an interesting addition to that tone that there is this unhinged character that is – his background is a little bit questionable, his morality, his ethics. It is kind of neat how he brings this little darker tone to this otherwise light tone. I think it’s an interesting balancing act that the writer guys are just – I think they’re nailing it.
Q- Your last big role – well one of your biggest roles so far since you returned has been – was behind a mask for most of the movie. And upcoming you’ve got Freddy where you’ve got makeup on for most of the film. Is it good to be acting with your own face or does wearing a mask sometimes, or makeup, help you really embody a character.
J. Earle Haley Wow. Wearing the mask for Rorschach definitely helped to embody the character. Wearing the makeup for Freddy was grueling. It was so arduous and uncomfortable. It was a great experience but at the same time, it was pretty harrowing in terms of the makeup. But, yes, I would take all of that uncomfortable feeling and hand it off to the character between action and cut. We were doing some re-shoots over the Christmas holidays and I have to tell you, in the middle of doing those re-shoots, I started to miss Guerrero. I really did; it’s like getting into makeup for Guerrero versus getting into makeup for Freddy is like night and day. It made Guerrero just seem all that much more pleasant.
J. Steinberg That’s when we abandoned this fire Guerrero goes through for season two.
Q- What notable guest stars might we be able to see in these coming weeks are, and who are your favorites?
J. Earle Haley I’ll let you go ahead, Jon.
J. Steinberg Who are we seeing in the next week or two? This coming week – Emanuel Vogier is our big guest star, who’s a lot of fun, and is hopefully going to be a part of kind of an ongoing relationship that I think you’ll kind of see teased at the end of the episode that airs this Tuesday night. Who is after that? There’s a fun cameo – not really a cameo – fun, it’s a smaller role, but it was a lot of fun for us. The episode that airs I think two weeks after that that was a little bit – I don’t want to ruin it but we’re all big X Files fan here so there’s an actor who played a big role in that show who we were able to get and come play a fun role for us in an episode called Run that I think airs in two weeks. So there’s a lot of fun coming down the pipe, and I think after that, there’s – actually this following week, there’s another Mitch Pileggi and Autumn Reeser came on to do a show, and Kevin Wiseman from Alias, who’s great, and who is just so much fun. So there’s some good stuff coming down the pike.
Q- Which of your own personal character traits did you inject into Guerrero’s DNA?
J. Earle Haley Which of my own personal character traits? Dude, right. I mean that just kind of came out when we were shooting and then the guys embraced it. I guess I kind of say dude every other word. That’s so embarrassing. I hate that I admitted that so scratch that. No, absolutely nothing. The long hair – that’s what it was; it was the long hair. It was my own personal character trait that I had maybe 30 years ago. Alright, that’s it.
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