|Fulvio Cecere GALACTICA.TV interview|
|Written by Marcel Damen|
|Tuesday, 09 January 2007|
In December 2006, Marcel Damen caught up with Fulvio Cecere, who starred as the cruel Cylon interrogator Lt. Alastair Thorne in the Season Two episode "Pegasus" of Battlestar Galactica 2003. He talked to him about his extraordinary part in the episode, and also about his other work as an actor as well as a writer, director and producer of his own films.
You started out to study law first, but later switched and began taking acting classes. What made you switch?
It's funny, because college for me was pretty easy and I enjoyed it. I didn't really know what I wanted to do when I was heading out. So, I decided I'd like to have a law degree, applied to some law schools, got in, and then when I got there, I realized it was nothing like what I'd expected. It's not a subject that I really enjoyed. There were only a couple of classes - criminal law and torts that I found remotely interesting. That's when I said: "I'm in California here and I always wanted to take acting classes." I'd like to say that law school drove me to acting.
Would you say there are similarities between acting on screen and acting in front of a jury?
Well, yes. The two classes I did enjoy were criminal law and torts, because if I would have done anything, I would have been a trial lawyer. The only thing about that, is that only like 4% of lawyers actually do that. The rest is just spent in the library doing research, writing briefs and all that. I can't possibly think of anything more boring. No, offence of course, if you're a lawyer! (both laughing)
No, I'm not a lawyer. Was there a specific thing that got you hooked and made you say that this is what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
I think I always wanted to act. When I was in the 6th grade, I was in a school play. Are you familiar with the HMS Pinafore?
No, I'm sorry...
It was a very famous Gilbert and Sullivan operetta and I played the captain of the Pinafore. I caught pneumonia and my understudy took over. So, I've always had this...thought that I didn't give it my all, that I really wanted to do this. Life got in the way and here I am in law school and thought: "You know what? I'm going to follow what I really wanted to do." So, I went from law school to parking cars and taking classes.
Okay. You worked in daytime drama, you did some industrial work and you also worked as an extra in several movies...
Oh yeah, I've done every possible thing that you can imagine. Extra work, student films, soap operas in New York, industrial films, point of purchase stuff, you name it, I've done it. Big budget action adventures, small low budget stuff, independent movies, I've worked all over North America. I've been at it for quite a while...
And then on a vacation in Vancouver you decide to send your pictures to some agents, while you were there? Was that a gut feeling?
A friend of mine was an accountant and some of her clients worked up here, so she suggested I do that. I did and everybody wanted to meet me. After like the fifth interview, I realized this might be really something I should look in to. I did and it was the best thing I could have done. I haven't stopped working...
Did you decide beforehand, before you went to Canada, that you wanted to move back there?
No! No, we just went on vacation. The only reason we actually went on vacation, at the time, was due to a lot of airlines were having big price wars. It was very, very cheap and we decided amongst ourselves where is it that that both of us have never been and that was the Pacific North-West. So we said: "Okay, let's go!" We're going to go to Seattle and then I started thinking: "Oh, well, I'm Canadian. I've never been to Vancouver. I hear it's beautiful. I hear there's a ferry we can take from Seattle to Vancouver. Why don't we do that"? And that's when she said: "Well, you know what, some of my clients are there. You should maybe sent your pictures and blah, blah, blah..." So, I did and I guess it was destiny.
Was Vancouver already like the second Hollywood back then?
Yes! I mean, they did have a pretty good TV industry at the time, but still not what it is now. But yes, you could definitely see that there were signs that this was going to be the new place. Toronto and Vancouver are both kind of called Hollywood-North, which is kind of silly, but I could see that, because it goes through cycles. Sometimes, some years Toronto has more work. They do a lot of indigenous movies there, Canadian movies. So it seems they have more work at times. But because we do a lot of Los Angeles service industry work, we're usually the ones that have more work, I guess.
Fulvio Cecere as a police officer
You also did an impressive amount of movie and television work over the years. I noticed that if you ever wanted to quit acting you could always become a police officer or a detective. Is that a role you like playing or are you asked a lot to do that?
I'm just asked a lot. On the one hand it's a bit of a challenge, because you have to come up with and develop a new character every time. You're not playing the same cop, over and over. So each character has its own issues, history and background. I try to make it as interesting and as different as I can every time I do one, but it can be a challenge because a lot of the material is very similar. Unfortunately sometimes TV sometimes is not that... creative, let's say. You find that you keep doing the same thing over and over again. So, it's tough to me. It's my job to keep it kind of fresh. Yes, I played a lot, a lot of cops.
Yeah, but lately it's been different. I've been working on one show here in Canada, which is a really, really great show, one of the best shows I've ever worked on and I'm playing the head of the bikers. It's such an excellent premise and the writing is outstanding. I don't know if you're familiar with the Canadian TV show called Da Vinci's Inquest?
Yes, I am.
Okay. It's the same producer, writer... Chris Haddock. And I'm so grateful, because he sees me in a different light instead of just doing cops and stuff.
There's some Battlestar Galactica cast, that were also in there, wasn't there?
Oh yeah. Well, if it's in Vancouver you are going to see the same people over and over again, because it's a very tight net community and I guess small in terms of a tactful talent pool, but I think we're very deep in talent. There are a lot of good actors in this town.
Fulvio Cecere as Fred Durkin on Nero Wolfe
In 2001 you played Fred Durkin on Nero Wolfe. The show was extremely unusual that they used the same actors to play different guest characters each week. Was it difficult for them or was it difficult for you to act with them when they kept playing different types of people?
No, not at all. It was actually almost liberating. It's like working in a repertory company. It's the same people over and over again doing different characters, but it's a question of trust and you know that they're extremely capable of doing this and they're all familiar with the material. Not only that, I was Fred, so I couldn't play any other part, because I was so established as Fred, but I would have welcomed the opportunity to be able to play different parts every week. I think that's really the actor's job and dream.
Can you talk a bit about how they did the period costumes, the cars and other props that gave it that 1930s feel?
Oh yes! Before we even started, they were very well prepared. They all gave us a booklet on what live was like back in the 40s and 50s, songs that were popular back then. We discussed the way we would deliver our lines. If you noticed in a lot of those old film noirs movies and in the 40s and 50s everybody was speaking very fast. Personally, I loved that. It's one of my favourite things to do, period pieces. I think I could have been a very big star if I had been back in the 40s and 50s.
Okay, that's too bad then...
Yeah, I know! (both laughing) But that's okay, I'm making a living... I have this great affection for film noirs and stuff. I hope to write one.
You also played a boxing referee with Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man, directed by Ron Howard. That also was a kind of 1930s set. Can you talk a bit about you role in that movie and the differences in the way a television series and a movie would create a 1930s feel?
1935, yes. The first and foremost is the budget. We're talking Russell Crowe, we're talking Ron Howard, Renée Zellweger, so you know this movie has plenty of money. And they have the where with all to get the best people possible. I mean, right down to the location. They used the Maple Leaf Garden in Toronto which is one of six buildings that was built to the same specifications as the original Madison Square Garden and happened to be available and empty in Toronto. That's why they shot there.
You come to this set and it looks like you're in a time machine, because it's outstanding, it's just incredible. That's what happens when you get talented people and you can afford to do it. Now, I must admit that I think what we did with Nero Wolfe was quite impressive too, because we didn't have anywhere near that budget and yet we were able to pretty much recreate that era and I think we did a very good job of it.
Ron Howard and Fulvio Cecere on Cinderella Man
So which do you like better as an actor, since you both starred in a lot of films as well as television?
Ultimately of course, I think any actor would tell you that they prefer film, because especially if it's a big hit, it's so recognisable. People see you and it kind of helps your career. But it's a tough one for me, because I really enjoy TV and I think it actually even reaches more people, especially on a weekly basis. It's a more intimate thing, because fans seem to recognise you and really respect your work, write you and really recognise you. Film is more about celebrity and fame and all that. So, it's a tough one, because they both offer their unique perspectives, I think. Ultimately, just working is the reward.
Budget wise, you also have a lot of big budget television series, which can easily get to the level of any film. A good example of that was the original Battlestar Galactica back in 1978. Did you see that series?
You know, I didn't. I was always a Star Trek fan when I was a kid. That was when I was growing up in Montreal. But then after, when I moved to the States, I was thirteen years old, for the longest time I just stopped watching TV. I don't know why, but I never really got into it at the time. But I can totally see the difference in the budgets compared from now to then, because that was one of the things people used to complain about. That it was kind of like cheesy looking..
The cheesy looking thing is how most people look at it now, because when you put it in that time frame, a lot of people liked it because it was a family show. People now look at it as cheesy, because they look at it in a different time frame.
Right! I was just at a film festival this past week. I went to the Whistler Film Festival and there was a short film there. Ray Harryhausen was one of the producers on it. It was a stop-action film and it was so well done, but you could tell that, that was what the technology was like back then. You look back on it now and you're like: "Oh wow, that's pretty bad". Even if you look back on the original Star Wars you think: "That's nothing compared to what we can do today". It has to do with time and technology and advances and so on and so forth, but the fans have been very loyal. Obviously it hit a nerve and it's popular for a reason.
So, how were you approached for the new Battlestar Galactica? Did you read for a part?
I was just asked to audition. So I went in and it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. At least I don't remember it being anything out of the ordinary. I auditioned, I got it, I had no idea that it would be such a -- what's the word -- controversial show. I didn't know that at the time when I auditioned for it, but when I got to the set, when we started really talking about it, I was really like: "Will we be able to do this? Are we really going to do this?". Then I realized that this is pretty out there. It's not your typical TV.
We learn that Alastair Thorne is very much respected by the crew. Colonel Jack Frisk even states that many people owe their lives to Lt. Thorne. Were you given any background information on the character or did they tell you what that was about?
No, not really. That's the thing that really surprised me. I haven't seen the box set, because I know that it has some deleted scenes that showed my scene more like we actually shot it. I know that it was very... It was well received, but it also sparked a lot of controversy among the fans. Believe me when I tell you that what you actually see is so tame compared to the way we really shot it. And at the time I was like: "How are you going to do this? Okay this is cable, I guess, but this is pretty violent. This is not TV". Of course, they did tone it down. I'm not sure exactly why. I guess, because it was so violent, but obviously it made its point.
Yes, the actual rape scene of Boomer was cut, but we do see some proof of the methods that Lt. Thorne used when they showed the state of Gina, another copy of the Cylon #6. That was apparently worked over by Thorne and his men. Thorne was a rather dark character. Was it fun to play a character as dark as that?
Oh yes! It's almost so much easier to play it, because it's easy to play a villain. It's just so much fun. Unless you actually are one in real life, you don't often get a chance to do things like that. Not that I'm saying that I would be out raping people, but what's it like to be this kind of character, this despicable. What makes this guy tick? It's fascinating, it's really an interesting thing to get into. So yes, it's actually a lot of fun to play.
Fulvio Cecere as Lt. Alastair Thorne on Battlestar Galactica
Does portraying this type of personality bother you or make you feel guilty afterwards? Or can you easily separate yourself from your role?
I can, very easily. I must admit though that this one was a little different, because like I said, at times I thought that there was no way we could do this. It's just a bit much and I felt a little bit uncomfortable at times but ultimately: No. That's my job. This is what I do. If I'm going to tell the story that I am a paedophile, I can't possibly shrug away from that or else you're not going to buy it. There's no way I can show you the terror of that unless I actually believe it and sell you on it. So, that's my job. And besides, Thorne is not a bad man. Thorne is really a patriot. He's doing his job and you may question the methods, but ultimately it's about saving lives and protecting my crew and the ship.
Yes, at one point Colonel Jack Frisk says that he saved the lives of a lot of people and they owe their lives to him, but they never go into that. They only show the really violent stuff and not the good side of him.
Well, I've got to tell you: I wished that somebody would think of some kind of way to bring me back as a Cylon. (laughing). That would be great! Not only from personal point but, that would make for a very interesting story. Audiences will think: "Oh my God, what were they thinking? What's going on here? How could it be?" I think it has got a lot of dramatic possibilities...
Cylons hitting on Cylons. We saw it before. There were scenes at the end of the second season where one Cylon shoots the other, so...
Right! Not unprecedented. I'm not sure what direction they're going in, but I hope some day they'll remember me. Because I must admit, that that was one of the best shows I have worked on, on so many levels. They have the money and so forth, the ratings and the respect. It's also the way that they shoot. They're a very well-oiled machine. They shoot like you would on a feature. They were taking their time, they weren't rushed, because they know that they have a product and people believe in them. It was very... (sighing) I don't know what the word would be... not unusual, but it's not the way most TV is run.
Usually they shoot seven pages a day because they work maybe on a seven day week, so seven-eight pages a day they have to do. Most actors get one-two shots at a take and if it doesn't work, they have to move on, because it's so fast. This set was completely different. These people just took their time. They spent precious time to get all the little nuances right. I was very, very impressed by that. It was Michael Rymer that directed my episode and it was really a pleasure to work that way.
Okay. So the actual rape was scene was cut, but the death of Thorne was shown very explicitly, even in slow motion.
Yes, I know! I actually was in Los Angeles and I had to fly back to Vancouver to do some reshoots on that. As a matter of fact my elbow still hurts because I kept doing it over and over again. I kept falling the wrong way. But yes, they did spend a lot of time on that.
Were you surprised how the scene turned out in the episode? That they had cut the whole rape scene, but they show your death very explicitly?
Not so much about the death, I didn't care about that, but I was kind of shocked about the way we shot it to the way it turned out. I felt like: Was there pressure from the studios? Who made the decision to tone this down, because it was very, very violent? And if we're going to shoot it that way and you made a conscious decision to do this, then how come at the end you decided against it? So, I was a little... not disappointed, but I wondered about that. As far as my death... No, I die a lot in the movies. (laughing)
It was a very violent scene. Aaron Douglas [Chief Tyrol] was in the scene as well and he's known for his practical jokes. Was it all serious between takes too or was there also time for some laughs?
No, I remember it was pretty serious. We spent a lot of time together, Grace [Park], Michael [Rymer] and I. Really discussing the character. It was more of a serious tone to it I think, because it was a very serious thing. I think she did a great job, especially in light of what she had to put up with. Like I said, it was violent. (sighing) I kept making sure that she was okay because I didn't want her to think that I'm going over the line or crossing the line. There's a lot to take into consideration there.
I'd like to talk to you about something else. I read a story on your website about your short movie The Regular Guy. It's based on a script you wrote long ago, but you waited a long time to do it right and do it yourself. For people who haven't read the story on your website, can you tell a bit how this came about, since it involved a lot of begging, I read, and it took years to get it all finished.
Yes, it did. Basically when I went to film school, they required that you write a script and then you have to pitch it and if it gets picked then you make the movie with your fellow students. So this was a ten minutes short that I wrote and it was a friend of mine who gave me the idea, since it was something that had happened to him. So I wrote it and it didn't get picked and it just sat back there. Fast forward about six years later, I had finished writing a full length feature script and I said: "You know what, I want to direct, because getting acting work is difficult. I need to get to the next level. I want to show people that I can do this, but how am I going to do this?" and I decided: "You've got that little short script, why don't you direct it and then show people you can do this? You know, maybe you can raise some money to do your feature... Okay!"
Fulvio Cecere in The Regular Guy
So I decided that's what I'm going to do and that's when I had to start begging. So I went to Panavision and they were so great. I went in there and the receptionist came up to me and said: "Can I help you?" and I said "Yes, I'm here to beg!" So she's like: "Excuse me?" and I said: "I'm here to beg". She goes in to get the manager. The manager comes by and says: "Can I help you?" and I'm like: "Yes. Look, I'm an actor in town and I've been here for so long, I've done this, this and that. I've written a script that I want to direct and I need to make a short film to show people I can do this..." and he was like, very nice and said: "Well, you need some insurance..." and I'm like: "I can do that, no problem..."
45 minutes later I came back and he then agreed to give me a camera package. It winds up to be a REBL 3, which is a CAN$ 500,000 - 600,000 camera package with the lenses and everything. So I immediately went over to another place called PS Services and they do grip equipment, dolly grips, generators and all that stuff. I told them I was over to see Adam over at Panavision and he's like: "Oh yes, you need some insurance..." and it was just that easy in Vancouver! So within 45 minutes I had a 500,000 - 600,000 camera package and all my lighting and grip equipment.
Yes, it was outstanding. This town nurtures their filmmakers. It's the only place I know really that you can do this, because I have spent time in New York and Los Angeles, I've lived in Miami, Toronto. You can get stuff done, but it's much more difficult. Here, there's a great spirit of: We're a team, we're building an industry here, let's do this together. It's just really wonderful. Anyway, bottom line is, this script is a little comedy about my friend Alf who told me this story. We were pitching ideas around and he was like: "Well, just the other day I was stuck in traffic and I had to go to the bathroom and I had no place to go." I'm like: "That's kind of interesting. That's something that happens to a lot of people. There could be some humor in that".
So basically I wrote a story about a guy -- it's two brothers really and how they're so different. The idea was that this one guy is very plain and he does the same thing every day, eats the same food every day, he has the same type of shoes, he drives to work the same route every day. One day he has too much bran and there's a traffic block and he can't find his way to work. In the mean time the bran is taking effect. It's a little comedy about trying to find a place to go. Now of course it's a comedy and comedy is very subjective. Some people absolutely love it, some people think it's very immature and childish. It's had mixed response, but I did get into twenty film festivals. I won some awards and it was an incredible experience. I can't wait to do it again!
Are you sure? Because it took years to make this one.
Well, the reason it did that was, because especially as a first time film maker there's so many things that come along that you just have no idea about. They're out of your capacity or you didn't expect it. I have some special effects, because I play both brothers. I look very, very different in both of them. I have got wigs, I've got contact lenses, I mean I really, I look different. But there are scenes where I'm talking to myself. Basically I'm talking to my brother and so we did split screen stuff, but it's composite screens and I shot on 35 [mm]. The film was donated, for the most part. I got 9,000 feet of film for like CAN$ 500. That's just tremendous. I had 25-30 people working for me for free. I mean, it really was an incredible thing. So I had a couple of guys that were doing the special effects for me and we worked on that. It was wonderful.
Now it was up to me to get the film transferred and digitized and all that. Well, the whole movie cost me about CAN$ 25,000 out of pocket and that includes everything: trends for sound, catering. Which is incredible, because my film, if anything, if you didn't like it as a comedy, you had to admit was a pretty well done movie. It looks great, especially for the money paid. Anyway, to make a long story short, I went to the people that transferred my film and they wanted CAN$ 44,000 to digitize about 45 seconds of effects that I had. (laughing) And it just, it devastated me. I had no idea! The whole thing cost me CAN$ 25,000 and now it's going to cost me CAN$ 44,000 to do 45 seconds of this effect. And I can't make the movie without it, because it's me talking to my brother. That was pretty hard, I didn't know what to do for a long time.
Bottom line is it took me a very long time to admit that, you know what, I have to do this, but I can't do it on film. So I decided to finish it on BETA SP. Which is still top quality and it's tape, but it still looks really, really good, but it doesn't the special kind of feel to it. That's why it took me so long. I could have done it in months if I hadn't been in doubt. Now the technology is so good that people can do a final cut pro for like nothing. It was just timing and all that. Personally I can't wait. I just recently sold, finished my tour and made the movie back to Vancouver. Just since I've been back, the creative juices are starting to flow. I'm running into a lot of old friends, people that I've worked with on the movie and I can't wait to get back into it.
Fulvio Cecere in The Regular Guy
So what did you like the most: directing, the producing or the writing?
*Phew* I liked the collaborative part of it. I mean, it was like a big party. I mean it was serious, because this was something that I had to show people I can do this. So there's that aspect of it. There's an area in Vancouver that is called the Dunes, it's right near this river, the Fraser River. You don't expect these dunes to be there. It looks like you're out in the desert. As a matter of fact, Brian De Palma used the same location to do Mission to Mars. So, you know, it's a very, very cool location. But there we are on the weekend and these are people that work in the industry and they're out here helping me, because it's fun. This is like their, this is not like work, they're getting together with some people and they're shooting a movie on the weekend. It was just a fun shoot.
People were thanking me for having them out there. They're doing me a favor and they're thanking me. So it was really a fun, fun thing and that's what I miss. The writing itself, like I said, was really an exercise. It wasn't this big message that I'm trying to say. I had a little thing that I had to put in for class, I did it, but the feature that I wrote, that has lots of issues and I'd like to direct that some day. The directing was difficult, because I'm directing myself. We didn't have a monitor. I couldn't see what I looked like or what I was doing, so I had to rely on some of my crew. Also I feel kind of cheated because I didn't get to yell "Action!" and "Cut!", because I'm in the scene. I think really it was the actual doing of it... So that's why I can't wait, I have to do it again.
So can you tell us about future work that you have planned now?
I'm working on a pilot, called Nobody this week and I'm not that familiar what the show is about. It's their first episode, so I've got that. I just finished doing my 8th episode of that show called Intelligence. I've got two episodes of Stargate coming out. It's the second to last and third to last episodes. Actually, I had a very, very busy year. I've been back since April and this show on Monday will be my 21st episode, will be my 21st job. I've did 3 episodes of Blade, although that's been cancelled, so that's not coming back. I worked on that Renée Zellweger movie, a tiny little part, it's called Case 39. I'm in a Catherine Zeta-Jones movie that's coming out in May. That's called No Reservations. Scott Hicks is the director. So there's quite a few things coming out.
Yeah, pretty busy.
Well, like I said, it's kind of ironic. I work so much and yet people don't know me, which is kind of nice. I like the anonymity of it, but there are times I guess that it would be better for my career if more people knew who I was.
We'll try and help there! (laughing)
Well thank you!
Do you have other things that you do besides the acting? Do you have things you can do in your spare time? Do you have spare time at all?
Well, it's funny that you say that. I've had lots of spare time it seems, but what I've been doing for the last two years is basically pursuing this career and I've been all over the place. In the beginning of the year, I'm in Los Angeles for pilot season. Then when that slows down I come up to Vancouver and usually I stay here until the summer time and then I go to Toronto, because I got a condo in Toronto. I work in both cities. My parents live in New Jersey in the States, so I go to New York and try to find work in New York. I finally decided that I've had enough. That's it's time that I pick a place and relax and that's what I've done. So I've sold my place in Toronto and decided to move back here.
I've recently just started a wine tasting class. I'm thinking of perhaps getting my certificate as a sommelier. Not for any particular reason other than just personal satisfaction, but kind of like a hobby. So, it's settling down. And of course, once the new year comes, because this is basically the slow time of the year. Everything is going to start shutting down now in December, but when I get back I already have some ideas for some short films and I've made some contacts over at the film festival this year. There are lots of people wanting to help, so that's definitely something that I want to do next year.
Do you have some ideas already that you still want to do?
I also have one that's already done that's been sitting around for a while. I wrote it for a competition a couple of years ago and it didn't get picked. So again, it's one of those situations where I've got something that I could do and I could do the same thing. Go out and ask friends for favors and start all over again, but this time it's going to be a little different because I want to be behind the camera completely and I don't want to act. So it will just be me, and being creative in the editing sweep.
Do we still see you back as an actor on screen in one of your movies?
Not in the next one I hope. Not in a short. I mean, you know what, I really enjoy it and that's the bottom line and why I do it, but I do want to concentrate on... I want to see... Again, these are all tests. Because am I kidding myself, am I good at this? Okay, my very, very first film I made it into 21 film festivals. Maybe I'm on to something, maybe I am good at this, but I need to prove it to the powers that be, so that's what I'm going to do.
Okay. we wish you good luck on future things...
Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
...and I want to thank you for the interview.
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