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Wednesday, July 10, 2002

LUKE PERRY TALKS JEREMIAH -- AND MORE

By Rob Allstetter/The Comics Continuum

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Luke Perry might always be linked to Beverly Hills 90210, but the 35-year old has had an eclectic career, from doing the voice of Rick Jones in The Incredible Hulk animated series to playing a rodeo cowboy in 8 Seconds to starring in The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Broadway.

Perry is currently starring in Showtime's comics-inspired Jeremiah and appeared in a panel at Wizard World Chicago last weekend.

Following is an edited transcription of the question-and-answer session from the panel:

Question: Why should viewers watch Jeremiah?

Perry: Do you have any interest in topless women? (laughs) That's the nature with the fact that the show is on the cable. It's interesting that you should ask that because I recently had this discussion with somebody else who actually had no right to ask me that question because they were one of the producers. But they asked me in a hypothetical sense and they were trying to get the same sense as you.

At first, I'm supposed to tell you that there's a science fiction-based premise, but I don't know if that's the case now. As I watch the episodes - and I just watched six of them back-to-back, sort of the tail end of the ones that came out in post-production - it's character-driven, it's a show about these guys and their world after a catastrophic, cataclysmic event. And to me, I think the best drama is going to be found spending too much time examining the catastrophic, cataclysmic event. The forensic nature of that is kind of boring, with the facts and figures of how it happened and why.

To me, what is more interesting is the way the world is set after in our show what is called the Big Death and how people deal with it. Because then it forces it to be more character driven and forces us to be more inventive each week in and out, asking what has happened to the world and how to make it a better place.

Because the one thing we all agreed upon going in with the nature of the Big Death - and that's pretty gnarly - is we wanted to find a way to make the show about the positive side of that and how it can get better.

Question: How rigorous was the shooting schedule for this?

Perry: This is a hard one thing because I'm just in everything, so I'm pretty much there all the time.

Question: You did the voice of Rick Jones in The Incredible Hulk? Were you interested in playing Rick Jones in a movie?

Perry: It'd be interesting. But that was great doing the voice for Rick Jones because Lou Ferrigno was there. It's not unlike this (looking around at all the microphones), and there's actually people in the chairs. When you do a big animation session like that, there's all these people lined up, Shadoe Stevens, Lou sat beside me, and there was Kathy Ireland and other people.

GIVE'EM A CLICK

And a lot of Lou's stuff was, "Arrrrrrr!" And decades of doing it, he's the master, no question. The thing that's scary about doing it with Lou, when he does that stuff, he actually has to stand up and he goes through those motions. And I'm sitting right next to him, and I had never worked with him, and I didn't know he did that. And neither did Shadoe Stevens.

And then he goes, "Arrrrrr!" And I jumped out of the chair. It was unbelievable! He was Hulking out right beside me! He's a very nice man, a very nice guy. But when he does that, it's unnerving. His calf is like the size of my head.

So I would read ahead in the script and I would see where I would have a line and then he would have an "Arrrrrr!" and I would say my thing and give him his room.

Question: What's it like shooting in Vancouver?

Perry: It's beautiful up there, I'll tell you that. They have a lot of beautiful trees, and we're outside all the time. The weather is a little foreboding if you let it be. We sort of made this little deal up front with ourselves that we were just going to shoot whatever. Whatever happens. If it starts pouring down rain, we shoot pouring down rain. If it gets dark, we shoot it dark.

It's really good because I've been on productions where they will spend so much time and so much money trying to make it look like I'm not getting wet or like I'm not freezing to death or, you know, all the various things. But here, you know, you can see I'm freezing to death or it's raining. It's the nature of the show.

You just sort of come in without any makeup or anything. The great thing about the show for me - we have very good departments when it comes to hair and makeup and all that - but there are days when I just whack my own hair off. I'd say, "Can you give me a straight razor?" And they wouldn't give me a straight razor. But I'd say, "Gimme a pair of scissors." It's really cool. Instead of those movies where they worry about your hair, on this show it's great. I just walk in and if it gets long, I just cut it off. That mentality I sort of carry throughout the day on the set.

We work in a lot of fun places where the world is not in so good of shape and sometimes I get on the set and it looks a little neat, a little clean. So I take a hammer and start breaking windows and knocking shit over. And it's fun.

Question: Are much of the creative process as far as Jeremiah goes?

Perry: You know, the nature of me as a person is kind of is I just do a lot. They have rules about who can move furniture on the set. If you're in a certain union, you're allowed to move the furniture, and if you're in a certain union, you're allowed to move the microphone. And some directors will be like, "I need the microphone moved." And they'll stand there for 10 minutes waiting for some guy to go (moves his microphone). And I'm like, "Move the goddamn microphone."

It's a very hands-on process for me. I was on (Beverly Hills) 90210 for a long time, so I don't wait for someone not to grab the microphone. I grab the microphone and move it. And I encourage that spirit in everybody else, too. Let's not spend 10 minutes waiting around for a guy to grab the thing and move it. And the day just goes a lot better. That's how I approach that.

Question: Does J. Michael Straczynski have much to do day-to-day on the show or does he just write scripts?

Perry: If you know anything about Joe, he's got his hands in a lot of stuff. He's really into everything. He is pretty much singularly responsible for the post-production, the editorial choices and the stylistic kind of things that happen on the show.

Sam Egan is a guy who gets talked about enough in the overall equation of the show. A lot of people ask about Joe, and Joe is a talented guy and has a great track record with a helluva lot of things.

Same thing with Sam Egan. His work on The Outer Limits was unbelievable. He's doing this thing with Nic Cage and Nic Cage said it better than I ever could. He's very eloquent about Sam's caliber of writing and the nature of the stories he wants to tell.

The fact of the matter is they sort of split the script writing 50-50. And Joe's in there for post-production. It's a weird triad. I'm a producer, and they produce. And I'm there all the time and they're there some of the time. There's shifting and balancing of a lot of stuff. Like I said, whoever is there do what needs to be done, do that.

Question: Do you like playing characters who are dark like in The Triangle or who are a hero like Jeremiah?

Perry: You know what? At this point I don't care or whatever. It's fairly ambiguous - is he dark or is he not dark? Because nobody is one thing all the time. I look for the writing and the dialogue.

I've learned a lot of times with dark characters as I read them and get to know the people who write them, is that they're working out a lot of their own therapeutic stuff. They're dark guys and troubled. It makes for interesting work to make choices with that kind of stuff.

Question: Did you ever see that episode of The Simpsons where they made fun of you?

Perry: That was me doing the voice. (laughs) Now, The Simpsons is a much different scenario. Every time you see somebody on The Simpsons, like Steve Martin, it's usually them doing the voice. On this episode, it was me and Steve Martin and Elizabeth Taylor and Bette Midler. But obviously, you're not going to get all of us in the same room at the same time at the same day. They're weren't there, but I was laying down my track.

That's the nature of being high profile. People take their shots; it's going to happen. Simpsons is a great shot to have taken because they're not really taking a shot, they're incorporating you into a really cool, great thing. Matt Groening's a cool guy, and it was a lot of fun. It was a blast. It was my first time.

I've done a lot of animation since, but Simpsons was my first time. It's weird because when I listen to it now, it doesn't sound like me, it doesn't sound like my voice.

Question: Congratulations on the diversity of Jeremiah.

Perry: Thank you. That's always a good thing to hear about anyone's program. We got knocked out 90210 a lot, because that certainly wasn't the case.

They were looking for someone to be Jeremiah and they came to me, and a lot of this was already in place. Malcolm (Jamal Warner, who plays Kurdy) was actually there before I got there. What's interesting about that is in the comic book Jeremiah, the graphic novel that this is based on, Kurdy isn't black. Kurdy's a skinny little white guy. Real tiny.

On one level, I was skeptical at the beginning. Oh, so we're going to have to have one of each, one of everything, to satisfy some kind of demographic thing. But over the course of time, all the actors proved to me what they were about and why they were there. And Joe writes their characters in such a way, while it serves the character elements in a way that they are compelling, and the race and ethnicity of these characters are a secondary element, really, when you look at these character.

To speak specifically about Malcolm, there is just no way you can write Malcolm into a lesser or more specific stereotypical role. His presence is that of dignity and wisdom. It's remarkable for me to work with Malcolm.

There's obviously issues of ethnicity where things come up. We did a show where there was a black militant group where they talk about those issues. The great thing about Malcolm and Kim (Hawthore, who plays Theo) and Byron (Lawson, who plays Lee) is that they won't make an issue out of it any more than it need be on a specific basis of a scene, a sentence or this or that. Other than that, we're just trying to make the characters real and the world real.

It's neat for me because I've never been on a show where the cast has been so ethnically balanced. Where all there life experiences have been so different.

Kim Hawthorne, who plays Theo, she's a remarkable young lady. And I didn't know at first. I got there the first morning and I saw her in the chair and I wasn't sure. We had to cast a lot of actors from Canada, and I'm not familiar with the talent base up there. They're not the guys I've grown up, they're not the actors whose work I've known or seen.

So I didn't know about Kim. Kim's an American actress who lives in Canada. She never ceases to amaze me. We had it set up in such a way that if it didn't work out with her, she's gone after three shows. Now, we just can't get her in enough. What goes on with me and her is great, what goes on her with her and Malcolm is great, what she brings to the overall thing is great.

You mentioned Star Trek. I remember as a kid - Nichelle Nichols was great. And Whoopie Goldberg, when they asked her why she was doing Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Whoopie was like, "When I was a kid, that showed there would be ethnicity in the future, in space." And that is important. And yet it would be arrogant to think that there wouldn't be. So we incorporate it as much as we think is appropriate.

The thing that I think that we do on the show is that, being true to the premise and the way that world is set 20 years in the future, sexual roles would be defined very differently - the way men and women react toward each other, the way relationships progress, without any parental element. Development would take place in a twisted, different, weird kind of way. So there isn't a real norm to the way a relationship is supposed to work. And that's something I want to jump into more this year and explore the fact that, without that kind of social structure and without different label and social status, who people become and who people are about. I think that's what TV is supposed to be about. I think that's the beauty, to me, of science fiction. It allows you to invent and explore.

Sometimes it's not about addition. It's about taking certain things, take away certain elements in society and then see what happens.

E-mail the Continuum at roballs@aol.com



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