When Stephen Root appears on this week’s episode of Fringe [Fox, Fridays, 9/8C], it will mark the first time he’s appeared onscreen in film or TV with his real life wife, Romy Rosemont.
He spoke to a group of bloggers earlier this week and talked about that experience, as well as his love for science fiction – and why so many projects he’s worked on have such fierce fans.
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Stephen Root: It was a great opportunity to be able to work with her. We have been able to do readings and things like that for films, but never in front of a camera. It was tremendous to be able to work together. I think the first day that we worked, was just the two of us and the director and the crew. It was a joy. It was tremendous.
What can you tell us about your characters, since they also play husband and wife in the show?
Root: Not much, or they’ll kill me. But I can tell you that they’re a husband and wife that are both scientists and have something going on in this universe, not the other one. It’s something you need to go ahead and see. But, we’re both scientists trying to accomplish something.
Okay, fair enough. One more quick thing and I’ll let somebody else jump in. What are your views on some of the Fringe science we see in the show, like parallel universes and dark matter?
Root: I love that. I’ve been a sci-fi guy from way back, including comics in the 60s and sci-fi from the time I was 13 years old. It’s always fascinated me, whether we’re in a situation where, ‘Are there multiple universes? Is the nature of time itself—is it possible to travel back through time?’ That kind of stuff has always fascinated me. I’m happy to be addressing it a little bit in this show.
Can you tell us a little bit about it how it came about? Was this something that the two of you were actively looking for? Or did Fringe pitch it to you? How did this opportunity come about for you guys?
Root: It came through—actually Romy had went to Northwestern with one of the executive producers and we were actually at a party and talking to him. They were saying, ‘Would Stephen be interested in doing a Fringe?’ And Romy popped up, ‘Well, yes, if you invite me.’ And strangely enough, Mr. Pinkner a while later said, ‘Yes. Please. Come on and do the show.’
We were just more than thrilled to be able to work with each other and come on a quality program.
Right. I think it’s a great cast. I think it’s a cast that’s oftentimes very underrated.
Root: Me, too.
What was it like working with John and Anna and Joshua and the cast?
Root: We actually didn’t get to work with a lot of the cast. It was mainly us and Josh. Anna we saw a little bit. It was kind of an insular episode for us, which was good in that there was limited involvement. It’s kind of a stand-alone thing.
I actually watched the episode and I loved it. I thought you guys did a great job.
I’m going to try to phrase the question so it doesn’t get totally into spoiler territory.
Root: Yes, I know. It’s tough.
Yes. The relationship that you guys are playing there is obviously, there are a lot of emotions going on. It’s very tricky because you are dealing with a disease. Since you guys are a real-life couple, as an actor, does it make it easier to know, ‘Okay, I’m working with my wife here?’ Or would you both prefer to maybe work with somebody where issues don’t come up later on that you’ve talked about?
Root: I appreciate that question. I think to play husband and wife and be real husband and wife, it’s easier to emotionally connect quickly to a big emotional place, since we’re actual husband and wife. You don’t have a lot of time on television to do that usually. There is not a lot of rehearsal time. Us knowing each other so well—we’re probably knowing where the other person is going to go emotionally, was a help.
As a little bit of a follow up to that, just to talk about your performance. It almost seems like you start out very even and then slowly get unhinged during the course of the episode. Would you say that’s accurate?
Root: I’d say that’s accurate because he thinks things are going to go along swimmingly, until they don’t. It was a nice little arc to play. I really appreciated the chance to do it, especially with my wife.
I’m curious to know, with guest starring spots versus a series regular, was there anything particularly challenging about that for you? … that you prefer?
Root: Yes. I think there always is. You’re always the new kid on the block when you come in as a guest star. Their series has been going on for four years and they’re a well-oiled machine. They know each other emotionally and intellectually and then you come in and go, “Hi. Here’s my episode. I want to play with you guys.”
I always feel like it’s the first day of school for me when I’m doing a guest star thing, but it’s kind of good because you jump; you’re pushed to an emotional high quickly. On TV, there is not a lot of time to rehearse, so it was nice to be able to work with your wife, somebody you knew so well.
I can imagine. Is there anything you can share about any other upcoming projects in the works for you?
Root: I’ve got J. Edgar opening on the 9th. I’ve just finished filming Robert Redford’s The Company You Keep. Actually did that the week after we did the Fringe, I started working on that. Those are a couple of projects coming up.
I’m just wondering, at first glance, you’ve done a variety of projects that would seem to have nothing in common. But, all of the major ones, from Office Space to NewsRadio to True Blood and Justified, have a core of really fierce fans.
I was wondering, what draws you to these projects, and if maybe your reasons for doing these things might be the same reasons that they get such loyal fans?
Root: I think you’re right. I’m hoping that I’m picking projects that I believe are really well-produced, well-written, and star people that you want to work with. At this stage in my career, I pick projects according to who you want to work with, how well it’s written, and the director.
All those things that you’ve mentioned are the criteria for what I’m working with now, which is why I was thrilled to work with Eastwood on J. Edgar. I was thrilled to work with Redford on The Company You Keep and The Conspirator. You try to keep working with people you think are better than you, or you want to work with because you really admire their work. Yes, that’s pretty much the criteria.
Terrific. Also, I was just wondering if you know if you’ll be on the next season of Justified?
Root: They’ve actually—I’ll say this; they put a pin in me for an episode later on this season. Hopefully that will come about. But, yes, it looks like [I] will.
I walked past you at Actorfest this weekend.
Root: Yes, I was happy to do that. It’s always good to come and tell your horror stories to the younger actors and tell them not to do it unless they really love it.
That’s good. I was going to ask you, I’m sure you said this there, but what’s your advice to actors?
Root: That you shouldn’t be doing it unless you have to do it, not to do it because you think it would be cool, or you think you’re going to make a lot of money, but because this is an artistic expression of yourself that you have to do.
You have to be able to stick it out for a number of years. It’s a hard thing. I think probably determination is the greatest thing and talent isn’t. I’ve seen a lot of talented people go by the wayside who couldn’t stick out the day-to-day. It’s determination and guts and luck—have a lot more to do with it than anything else.
You’re just one of my favorite character actors and everything you do when you’re on screen is just so interesting. Do you ever get bored with some of the things you’re offered? Like, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ Know what I mean?
Root: Those things I don’t take because I’m in a place where I really love not being pigeon-holed to do one thing or another. I’ll do a comedy and then I’ll do a drama and then I’ll do a sci-fi and then I’ll do an animation. I’m in a hugely lucky place to be able to work in a variety of things which kind of define the words, ‘character actor.’
What’s your, you probably said this at Actorfest too, what was the worst audition you’ve ever had?
Root: Worse audition I’ve ever had? Nothing jumps to mind. I’ve been horrible in so many. It’s hard to pick out a single one. But no, I couldn’t really do that. I just know that at this point when I come into a room, if I’m able to do what I want to do, I really don’t care whether I get the job.
If I’ve presented what I want to present in the room, then I’ve done that job and then it’s not up to me. But, if I haven’t done that, then that’s when I get upset. It’s like anything else, you want to be able to present what you want to present. Let it go from there.
You’ve done a lot of great TV shows and movies. What would you say, aside from Fringe, was the one that you enjoyed the most?
Root: That’s an impossibly hard question.
Root: Because you do so many things, probably series work has got to be your most favorite because you’re going through a family situation. I did King of the Hill for 13 years. Brittany Murphy was 18 when she started that project and by the time we finished we’d been through births and deaths and marriages.
I would have to say something like that or the run on NewsRadio were really your most favorite because you’re dealing with what has become your family.
Do you still stay close to the actors from NewsRadio and …?
Root: Yes. I get to see Dave every once in a while. Maura I see—I just saw her in New York. She’s doing well after her bout with cancer. She’s great. I see a lot of the King of the Hill people because they also do other animated shows that I’ve been connected with. Yes we still all stay in touch.
Alright. One more question. I was going to ask you about your time on True Blood. That’s probably the most out there thing I think I’ve seen you do. Was that difficult at all?
Root: You got to do things that scare you every once in a while. This was pretty far away from me. I really wanted to tackle it and see what it was like. I was really, really pleased with the way it came out. I was happy to work with those people.
Yes, I think you have to challenge yourself. You really have to stretch every once in a while. Sometimes it doesn’t work and sometimes it does. But, unless you’re challenging yourself, then I’m not doing my job as a character actor.
Is there any one role of yours that people still stop you in the street and say, ‘Hi. I recognize you as’ whatever that –
Root: Yes. It’s pretty much—has to be Office Space. I’m currently in Georgia at the moment to see a friend of mine in a play and that’s pretty much what I get stopped for. It’s okay. It’s like the little movie that continues to be seen by people. Every couple of years they’ll discover that. I think it really speaks to mid-America. It just stays current.
Do you get a lot of fans sending you red staplers in the mail?
Root: No. They want me to send them red staplers and they cost a lot so I can’t do that. I’m happy. If they send me one I’ll most certainly sign it, but yes I still get a lot of requests for that.
Are there any shows that you watch that you really enjoy that it’s something that you really would love to guest star on?
Root: There are a few that I really—I love The Good Wife. I’d love to work on that. I love well-written stuff. I saw Kelsey Grammar’s new show Boss. I thought that was pretty good. You want to work on well-written stuff and with people you like. Off the top of my head, a lot of HBO stuff and FX stuff. I love doing, obviously, the Justified, Louie. Whatever’s well-written, really.
My question is, which of your roles have presented most of a challenge in terms of getting to a comfortable level where you can stretch?
Root: I think that True Blood was farthest away from me in the recent past. I think back in the beginning of the 90s when I was doing a lot of guest star stuff, it was fun doing a Klingon because I could actually use my Shakespeare training to talk over the dentures. That was interesting.
Anything you do you approach from, ‘What would this character be?’ How would you make him interesting to solve the problem that has to be solved? I’m just happy to work.
Are you reading anything now you can share?
Root: Not really. There are a couple of movie things coming up in next April that are possibilities that I’m excited about. Can’t really talk about them though. I’m interested to see what people think of J. Edgar and when the new Redford movie comes out, what they think of that. Because they were both fun to work on.
Fringe/Justified Photos by Liane Hertscher and Prashant Gupta/courtesy Fox