Dances With Wolves
by Jay S. Jacobs
Who says every actor craves stardom? Stephen McHattie has been a busy working actor for over 40 years now, but he loves the fact that his character roles tend to give him a certain amount of anonymity.
Despite the fact that he has appeared in roles in iconic projects like Star Trek, The X-Files, 300, Seinfeld, Watchmen, Kojak, Miami Vice, The Twilight Zone, Beverly Hills Cop III and all of the Jesse Stone TV movies, most people could not pick him out of a line-up. And that’s the way he likes it.
He currently has three leading roles in upcoming indie films Big Muddy, The Dark Stranger and this week’s opener Wolves. Not only that, he is playing a very significant recurring role on Guilermo Del Toro’s FX fright series The Strain.
In Wolves, McHattie is working again with Watchmen screenwriter David Hayter, who is directing his first film. McHattie plays Jack, the uncle of a young werewolf who finds himself in a huge lupine civil war. Working with actors Lucas Till, Merritt Patterson and Jason Momoa, McHattie enjoyed the opportunity to go against type in the role and play the level-headed and affable voice of sanity in a dark world of violence.
A few days before Wolves had its premiere, we caught up with McHattie in his native Canada to discuss his movie and his career.
I enjoyed Wolves. Are you a werewolf movie fan in general?
Boy, I remember seeing the first werewolf movie when I was a kid. No, I never got it. I always got tangled up in what it would feel like, turning into a wolf. I got caught up in the makeup, I think. It sent me around the corner.
You had been in Watchmen, which was also written by David Hayter. Did you get to know him back then? Was that how the Wolves connection happened?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, that’s right. Watchmen, yeah, that’s right.
What’s he like as a director, since this is his first time doing that?
Man, he was very impressive. The great thing he did was (laughs) the first read through, usually the first AD (assistant director) or somebody reads everything that isn’t dialogue. He read it. He’s a superb reader. Yeah, and he was terrific to work with. I like him a lot.
Wolves was interesting, because instead of the whole lone rogue wolf idea of most werewolf films, this was more of a turf war of an entire society of werewolves. What intrigued you about the script that you wanted to be in the film?
I wanted to see if I could do the kindly old guy. Because I usually don’t go in that direction. Also he had the little backup thing that he was also part wolf, so he wouldn’t just be strictly the kindly old guy.
Like you said, your character in Wolves is very much a peace keeper, someone who is trying to hold everything together. In what ways is he similar to you, and in what ways is he different?
I don’t try to think about any similarities to me. I’m playing it, so I don’t have to think about that. Well, there was… I have a little farm, so all that stuff was very familiar to me. Being the guy who tries to hold it all together, that was just different. I don’t usually get those parts. That was interesting.
There was a lot of good young talent there. What were Lucas, Merritt and Jason like to work with?
They were great. Jason, he’s a handful. (laughs) He’s a nice guy. I got along with him well. Big, big guy. But he was great to work with. Nothing unusual in how much energy he has.
Your character didn’t ever completely transform to wolf for, but at one point he did partially. How was the makeup done? Did it take a long time?
No, that was just the contact lens. Yeah. There was always a debate as to how far they were going to go with that. Whether they were going to focus on it or just hint at it. I haven’t seen the movie yet, so I don’t know how far they went.
You seem to do a lot of work in horror and genre shows and movies. Are you a fan of the genre, or has that just been something of a coincidence?
Hmm, boy, you know, that whole genre has taken off. It seems like everybody’s getting into it. Yeah, I like things that are surprising and dramatic. I don’t like the ultra-horror stuff, the blood and guts. I don’t like that, no. But anything that’s dramatic or surprising, yeah, I love that stuff.
In the past year you’ve also been on Guillermo del Toro’s series The Strain. Are you starting to feel like a pro at playing supernatural creatures fighting against his own type?
(laughs) Yeah. Am I comfortable with it? I’m not sure how comfortable I am inThe Strain, because I’m covered in like three hours of makeup. It’s a pain in the ass, no matter what, but there is no way around that three hours in the chair. But the effectiveness is interesting.
Will the character of Quinlan be coming back for the second season? What do you think we can expect of him?
Yeah, I think I’m in a couple of them. I think I’m headed for an early demise.
You also have another movie coming out called Hellmouth. What is that film about?
Yeah, right. That’s right. That was really… wow, Hellmouth, we shot that in ten days in one tiny little studio, probably about 30’ x 20’. It was entirely green screened. It was the most unusual thing I’ve ever done, I think. It was mostly me, doing it with no sets. We had a couple of sets, but a lot of it was just against… it was nothing. It was kind of like doing a play on a bare stage. There was very little support. But the odd thing was, I loved doing it.
How about The Dark Stranger? I believe that you’re finishing that up now. I was reading you play a character in a graphic novel come to life…
Yeah, that’s right. You know, now that you mention it, I am in an awful lot of these. In that one I play two characters. A guy who switches. That one was not that much CGI. No CGI? Well, let me see, I haven’t even seen it yet, but my impression is that they weren’t using that much CGI. They were doing a lot of hand-drawn stuff, rather than the computer generated. So, it’s much more graphic.
Well, speaking of graphic novels, as we mentioned before, you were inWatchmen. How did that happen? What was that experience like?
[As] you mentioned, I did meet David on Watchmen. That was a strange, strange exercise. The director (Zack Snyder), I had done 300 with him. I didn’t know the book. He sent me the book and I read it and was like, “This is great.” (laughs) Then he sent these scripts. The character… I called him up and said, “It’s not worth killing this guy.” You see so little of him. In The Watchmen, it’s all… do you know the book?
Yes, I read it many years ago.
Yeah, well Hollis Mason (his character) has written a book. So, maybe a quarter of The Watchmen was his autobiography. They couldn’t do that, so they had a hard time working that character into it. I said, “All we need is at least a couple more scenes if you’re going to kill him like that. Right?” He said, “Oh, okay.” So they wrote a couple more scenes and we did them, but when we were doing them, I could tell that the producers weren’t really behind them. Then when the movie’s coming out, the director called me up and says, “I’ve got good news and bad news for you. Those two scenes you did are not in the movie. But, the good news is they are in the Blu-ray edition.” (laughs) So we wound up where I started.
At least they got seen at some point.
Yes, somewhere in the universe.
You’ve played so many roles over the years, but one that you may be best remembered for is playing Elaine’s “sven-jolly” Dr. Reston on Seinfeld. How did you get that role? What was it like to be part of a few episodes of such an iconic series? What was the experience like on the set?
I got it because I think they knew me from New York theater. I think. I never found out. They called me up and asked me if I wanted to do it. I didn’t really know what they were up to [with the show]. I knew it was a three-camera [series] and that everybody was crazy about it. Yeah, it was quite a little army outfit they had going there. That show was incredibly well run. Everything about it was sharp. Any little thing they re-did, anything they didn’t like. A lot of things that would slip by in other shows, they would redo. Those guys were on top of the world right at that moment in time. (laughs) They were sailing. So it had a great energy about it, doing it in front of the audience. It was really alive. The energy was just great. A great bunch.
You had mentioned that the Seinfeld people you believed had heard of you because of theater. With your busy schedule in TV and film, do you still have time to do theater?
Boy, I haven’t in a long time, no.
Would you like to get back to that?
Theater is kind of like hockey to me. I don’t like hockey when I’m in the US. In LA, [theater] always felt out of place. New York theater is kind of it. And there is such a stretch of time you need for it. I have a family, so no I don’t [want to do theater]. I think about it, but to actually spend that kind of time and concentration on that now? No.
You’ve been in lots of projects with very avid fanbases — things like 300, Star Trek, X-Files, Watchmen, Seinfeld. Do people still recognize you for that? Are the fans generally pretty positive? Have you ever had any odd experiences with hardcore fans?
The only one I’ve really had… I did a movie called Life With Billy which was a recreation of actual people who existed. That one, when I did that, it caused a lot of sensation here in Canada. That one, I still get people coming up to me and telling me how much they hate me. And that was a long time ago. But the others…. Well, I kind of like not to be recognized. That’s kind of my whole aim in life. (chuckles) Of course people do. You do something that through luck or whatever sticks in people’s heads. But I’ve never had anything unpleasant, other than Life With Billy.
Copyright ©2014 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 14, 2014.
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