The Drama Actor Roundtable
Six of Emmy's toughest contenders come clean about their biggest fears, the worst advice they ever got and whom they most admire (present company excluded).
Their collective résumé boasts dozens of Emmy nominations --and several wins -- but the folks on this year's Drama Actors panel weren't always at the top of their trade. One briefly sold ice cream (William H. Macy), another appeared in B horror movies (Tom Selleck), and a slightly luckier one slogged it out as a lifeguard (Timothy Olyphant). Gathered in May in Hollywood to chat about their much-buzzed-about roles as a police chief (Selleck), U.S. marshal (Olyphant), 1920s kingpin (Steve Buscemi), empathic serial killer (Michael C. Hall), middle-aged car salesman (Andre Braugher) and drunk-as-a-skunk deadbeat dad (Macy), these six Emmy contenders revealed their scariest moments as actors (singing is a particularly frightening prospect), how much they hate auditioning and why it's better not to know where their character is headed.
What has been your scariest moment ever as an actor?
TOM SELLECK Standing on a boulder near Alice Springs, Australia [making Quigley Down Under], over a cliff where I had to look down, and it was a big boulder so they said, "Just go stand on the boulder, you'll be fine." But the boulder started rattling back and forth, and
I said, "Maybe you need to tie me off."
WILLIAM H. MACY In Jurassic Park III, it was 3 o'clock in the morning and I was in that little lake they got at Universal. I was in the part that was 14 feet deep and they had bolted me to this mast for safety's sake and then everyone left. I'm screaming, "If this goes down, I'll die!" Then this guy holds up a crescent wrench -- he's a quarter of a mile away -- and says, "We'll come get you."
MICHAEL C. HALL I fell off the stage once doing Cabaret and landed in this old woman's lap. She was pretty horrified. And all I could think to say when I recovered was, "I fell off the stage." It wasn't much of an improvisation. That was more humiliating than horrifying.
SELLECK Has everybody been shot? I mean really shot with blanks?
MACY It's dangerous, man.
STEVE BUSCEMI Squibs are fun, too. I remember doing this episode of Tales From the Darkside. I played a war photographer who had some sort of Agent Orange-type thing. My skin was melting off, so there were a ton of prosthetics, and then I get shot with a machine gun. It was at the end of the day, the lights are going down and the guy who was doing the squibs -- I could tell he was nervous, his hands were shaking and they're yelling, "Come on, we got to get this!" I told the guy, "You just take your time, don't rush!" (Laughter.)
ANDRE BRAUGHER My scariest moment was on this film called Duets. Paul Giamatti jumps right in [singing]. He's fearless. That's a fearless guy. But singing has always been really difficult for me.
BUSCEMI I was once in a play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, where I sang the only song in the show. It was opening night and the music didn't come up right away and I was terrified that I would have to sing without any music. I actually felt my knees shaking. It's the only time I ever felt that happen where they were actually knocking against each other.
What's the worst job you had when you were a struggling actor?
TIMOTHY OLYPHANT Worst job acting?
No, worst day job or night job.
OLYPHANT Oh, because if it was an acting job, that was only like three years ago. (Laughter.) I waited tables. I was a swim coach and lifeguard.
MACY That's a cool job.
OLYPHANT But waiting tables wasn't even so bad. I was in New York and I was doing what everybody did; taking classes and waiting tables. There was a certain enthusiasm about the whole thing.
HALL You were taking that ride.
MACY I was a Good Humor man for five, six hours. I had the truck, rang the bell; the f--ing bell. By 10 o'clock you are about to die.
BRAUGHER Who the hell eats ice cream at 10 o'clock at night?
MACY Exactly. So at 10 o'clock in the morning I drove it to a bar and stayed there until 10 that night and that was it.
HALL Did you sell ice cream to fellow bar patrons?
MACY These little kids come out and they go, "Ahaha!" (waving arms around), and you get out of the truck -- if you're a novice -- and you look at them and you go, "You're 3, you don't have any money. Why did you call the truck?" I had to get out.
What did you do after the Good Humor gig ended?
MACY Chekhov, I think. (Laughter.)
SELLECK Some of my worst nightmares were the acting jobs early on. I only got one take on my death scene in Daughters of Satan. I'm sure you guys all have it in your video collection. I nailed it. I had to! (Laughter.)
You've all worked extensively in film. Does it bother you that in television you don't know where your character is going to end up?
SELLECK Well, you sure can't learn it in the mirror the night before.
HALL That's the big difference with TV. No matter how much success you have, it's an open-ended commitment. There's no beginning, middle and end.
SELLECK It's just a lot more content on any given day. I don't know about you guys, but early on in a project where you're dealing with nerves more, I have to be more fluent with the lines.
MACY On Shameless, there are a lot of lines -- and this sounds bizarre -- but I made the decision to learn them, and it's changed everything for me. You all know what I'm talking about. You learn them pretty well, and some actors don't learn them at all; they'll learn them on the spot. But the combination of my age and everything else has gotten rougher and rougher -- I've really learned them cold so that I can do them first time, every time. I can do them standing on my head. It's transformed the experience for me on the set. I highly recommend it.
BUSCEMI I can't do it the night before anymore. I have to do it two or three days before.
Is it a problem when on-the-spot changes are made to the script?
MACY Our show is pretty consistent. On my wife's [Felicity Huffman] show, Desperate Housewives, they're in makeup waiting for the lines to come down.
Timothy, you're also a producer on Justified. How do you handle conflicts with the showrunner?
OLYPHANT Andre Agassi once said that you have to learn to enjoy the challenge.
That's not answering.
OLYPHANT You know what? It's good. By and large, the relationship between Graham Yost, our showrunner, and I is what the show is -- like the show, it continues to get better and better.
BRAUGHER You know, these guys spend a lot of time developing these scripts -- months and months ahead of time. Usually when you do 20 shows, there are five good ones and 10 passable ones and five abysmal ones, you know what I mean? And these guys have worked very, very hard to develop a really tight, well-developed, linked story. So by the time we came for the first season and again in the second season, there's not a lot of going back and changing things. We'll change little things because of the casting, but there's never been a script where, you know, we throw it up in the air.
You also have fewer episodes on cable.
BRAUGHER That's what really helps us. I've been on a lot of shows and done a lot of seasons of 22 episodes, and somewhere around 16, people go mad. And the quality of the scripts visibly declines. I was on Homicide for six years and right after the Christmas break, all hell breaks loose and I began praying that I wouldn't be in the scripts. Also [on Men], the filming is really efficient. A long day is nine hours.
MACY Because a long day is 16 hours.
SELLECK You guys do how many episodes a year?
BRAUGHER 10 to 12.
SELLECK In a 22-show format, if you're in every scene, you're probably looking at -- if you're lucky -- 12 [hour days]. You guys, you do about 12?
OLYPHANT Yeah. When the show starts running, it kind of becomes a blur. When I'm not working, I'm there, you know, I'm engaged in the whole thing.
MACY When they go to 16-hour days, you might as well call it and come back. The efficiency is just gone.
SELLECK I did 25 [episodes in a season] once on Magnum. Yeah, ridiculous.
Tom, how much has the way television is made changed from when you were doing Magnum, P.I.?
SELLECK It really hasn't too much. The workload's a little different. A 22-episode season is pretty much putting one foot in front of the other and just doing it. There's something I kind of like about the spontaneity of that. I get a little bored when you go on a feature and spend four days doing two pages. I want to go to sleep.
Do you feel you've made sacrifices in your personal lives for your professional success?
MACY We don't really work that hard. (Laughter.) I probably raise my kids more than they would like. Every once in a while, both Felicity and I have to work, but we have magnificent nannies.
BUSCEMI We shoot in Brooklyn. I live in Brooklyn. Now my son is off to college, and this is the job I always wanted when he was little. If I work four or five days in a row, it is exhausting because 12 hours is a short day. But I'm lucky because it's such a big cast that it averages out that I work three days a week.
MACY You got a cush job; don't try to hide it.
BUSCEMI Very long days.
When you watch your performances, what's the biggest criticism you have of yourself?
HALL It's just like, "Stop that, stop that!" Honestly, sometimes vanity comes into play. Any habitual thing I know I do that is neither a choice nor feels appropriate to the scene is annoying. I'll just say that.
BRAUGHER It's always just too much. That's just always it.
OLYPHANT I'm very impressed with [my performance]. I don't know if you guys have seen it, but it's really good. (Laughter.) You know, I haven't really invested that much into [analyzing]. I'm pleased with it. As long as I don't see the work.
Bill, is it more freeing playing a drunk, knowing you're not at all like that character?
OLYPHANT Such a lovely assumption. (Laughter.)
MACY I've never had such fun as on Shameless. For the first time in my life, I actually hold my lines to give myself more time to make faces.
You have a lot more experience than co-stars. are you a mentor on the set?
MACY Oh, that hurt. You're older than me! (Pointing at Selleck.)
SELLECK I'm way older than you.
MACY Thank God. But you're exactly right. There's a huge responsibility if you're number one on the call sheet. You set the tone. I know a lot of actors who don't understand it or embrace the job, but, boy, does it make a huge difference.
SELLECK I worked with James Garner in The Rockford Files, and you could see him lead.
HALL It doesn't take but one person to really disrupt the vibe. So I take that seriously.
BUSCEMI I worked with Dustin Hoffman on Billy Bathgate, and that was kind of cool to see how he treated the other actors. We all revered him, and he couldn't have been nicer.
Who has given you the best or worst advice in your career?
SELLECK I had a director on a film called Terminal Island. It was about killers being sentenced to an offshore island. You have the good killers against the bad killers. When I went in to loop, the director, whose name I will leave out, said, "Tom, we're going to have to loop your whole performance. If you don't change your voice, you're never going to work in this business." I don't know if that was good advice or bad advice, but I do voiceovers now. Some of that stuff doesn't go away.
BUSCEMI I've had dentists who have wanted to help me out, but I say, "You know, I won't work again if you fix my teeth."
Is there a specific role you didn't get that you really, really wanted?
MACY (Making crying noises) First of all, I wouldn't tell you, and second of all there are so many of them. (Laughter.)
OLYPHANT My first thought was, "You mean this week?"
MACY There's so many movies I'm not in. (Laughter.) I don't like to audition. I don't know about you guys. The best -- other than the kids and my wife -- the best day in my life was the day I didn't have to audition anymore. You get nominated for an Oscar and all of the sudden, you don't have to audition. You're at the grown-ups table.
SELLECK [Director] Frank Oz was pretty sneaky on In & Out. He said, "No, you don't have to read, but come to New York and see Kevin Kline." And I went in the room and he said, "It doesn't matter what you do, but why don't you just read a little bit." It was an audition.
HALL Dexter was the first time I showed up on set doing a job that I didn't actually audition for. And I felt really nervous. I was like, "They don't know what they are going to get." They haven't vetted me, you know? Nor I them. So that's an adjustment.
What's the most absurd project someone has pitched you?
OLYPHANT I've passed on absurd projects and they have become enormous, enormous hits spawning numerous sequels, and I'm not in them.
SELLECK I once was offered this movie with Audrey Hepburn. She was a goddess for me and I couldn't do it; I was doing Magnum. Somebody else got the part, a good friend of mine. I was so jazzed that she wanted me in this part that I said it in a couple interviews. And suddenly my friend looked like a second choice. So you've got to be careful.
MACY Yeah, a good interview is when you don't have to call someone and apologize.
What's the best question a journalist has asked you?
MACY I was on the red carpet once and this woman said, "We have terrible traffic in Colombia. What can you say about that?" (Laughs.) It's a great setup. I'm still trying to think of the smart-ass comeback, but I can't. What should I have said? "Take Fountain."
Who are the greatest actors of all time? Outside of this room of course.
MACY Well, you cut the list down a lot.
SELLECK Spencer Tracy. I don't know why. He's just the best.
MACY Gene Hackman.
HALL Robert Duvall.
BUSCEMI John Cazale.
HALL Did you see that HBO documentary about him?
BUSCEMI Yeah, I was in it. (Laughter)
BRAUGHER It changes week to week. I think back to when I was in school, it was John Hurt, John Heard, Bill Hurt. Every week it changes. I'm more fond of actresses than actors. I'm currently on a Hilary Swank jag, you know what I mean? I like what actresses are doing these days. Jack Lemmon's also my favorite from the good ol days.
MACY Did you guys watch Steve Carell's last Office? That guy can act. Man, oh man, I don't know how he does what he does.
SELLECK I always thought [James] Garner never got enough credit. He was such an influence on me, he was almost a mentor.
Outside of your own shows, what's the last thing you saw in television that impressed you?
OLYPHANT I love Curb Your Enthusiasm. I can't get enough.
MACY I'm addicted to 30 Rock and The Office.
BUSCEMI Modern Family.
HALL I really like Louis CK's new show.
Those are all comedies. would you guest star on them if you had the chance?
MACY The worst job in this business is guest starring.
SELLECK It's harder than hell.
MACY Maybe if you were a big fat movie star it would be different and everyone would at least pretend to be happy you are there, but you're walking into a family. They know each other very well, they're all exhausted, and you walk in saying, "Hey, we're going to make some art. Let's meet in my trailer and talk about stuff." And lunch comes and you just pray that someone will sit beside you. It's an awful, awful job.
HALL You're jumping on a moving train.
SELLECK When I went on Friends, everybody thought, "Oh, great idea." I was scared to death. And I did wonder if I'd get asked to lunch.
MACY Did you?
SELLECK No. It's very tough, but that was a good show. It was a comedy that had heart.
I thought I could fit in, so you take a risk. But guesting in television is usually a big risk because the script isn't written yet. When they want you to guest and they're pitching their idea, it may not turn out [well].
When you look at your body of work, is there a moment that you are particularly proud of?
MACY In a film called Cellular, I had a fight with this cop, and it was a really good fight. It was a great fight. It looked real and we were, sort of, slapping each other. I was proud of that.
SELLECK They sent me a script to play General Eisenhower in the lead-up to D-Day, and I'm proud of the movie (Ike: Countdown to D-Day) because I did a good job. You take a risk, but I guess risk is the price you pay for opportunity in our business.
HALL I'm proud of the Dexter pilot. I mean, that question that came around earlier about the most ridiculous things you've been offered. I think it might have been Dexter. I was like, "Really?" Taking that leap of faith and having it work made me proud.
BUSCEMI I go back to one of the first [movies] I did, called Parting Glances. I played a character with AIDS. It was one of the early films about that, and I'm proud to be in the movie.
BRAUGHER The pilot of Gideon's Crossing and the pilot of Thief. For brief moments, there is that certain amount of satisfaction.
About THR's Roundtable Series: Now in its fifth year, The Hollywood Reporter's Emmy Season Roundtable Series has emerged as the television industry's premier showcase for no-holds-barred discussions with the town's top talent. An offshoot of THR's popular Oscar series, the Emmy roundtables also have become predictors of academy winners. In fact, many of last year's participants claimed Emmy gold, including Glee's Jane Lynch, Modern Family showrunner Steve Levitan, Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston and Temple Grandin lead Claire Danes. This year, the series expands to include an executives panel.
Upcoming Roundtables: Check out THR during Emmy season for exclusive panels with comedy actors, reality talent, comedy actresses and executives.