411Movies Interview: Lost's Sam Anderson
Posted by Al Norton on 01.27.2009
411's Al Norton sits down for an exclusive interview with Sam Anderson to discuss Lost, his guest spot on Leverage, and his long and successful career as a character actor.
Sam Anderson is the definition of a veteran character actor; while you may know him as Bernard on Lost, his IMDB page has to be seen to be believed. Recently we talked about his role on Lost, his long career, and his guest spot on tonight's episode of Leverage.
Al Norton: How do you feel about the label "character actor"?
Sam Anderson: I love it more than anything I can say. It's a great compliment.
Al Norton: What were your goals when you started out in the business?
Sam Anderson: That's exactly what I wanted to be.
Al Norton: Assuming that you don't have to read for parts much anymore, how do you choosing your rolls?
Sam Anderson: Sometimes I do read for things and sometimes they just call an offer the parts to me. For me, if it's different from something I just did, that's great. If it's someone I really want to work with, that's great. And if it's clever, has something to say, and isn't' really exploitive, and I'm free, well then I'm happy to do it. I like jumping around a lot.
Al Norton: I like that standard; it's good, not exploitive, and you're available.
Sam Anderson: Exactly (laughing). And all that changed when I had kids, the whole exploitive thing changed so drastically. I remember not long after they were born somebody calling and saying. "we've got this great sleazy part for you on this show. The guy is a pedophile." And I went, "I better read that first." It wasn't about the psychology of it; it was about, "how can we exploit the situation a little bit" so there was no way I was doing it.
Al Norton: Are there parts you played earlier in your career that you wouldn't play now?
Sam Anderson: Sure, probably very early on. When I started out I did some comedy for a while and when I was jumping over to do dramatic stuff I ran into a period where, for whatever reason, I played a lot of pimps. (Laughing) It's so not who I am but I did, and it got old pretty fast.
Al Norton: What appealed to you about this episode of Leverage?
Sam Anderson: A) Dean Devlin (the show's executive producer). Big fan and I really wanted to work with him. Tony Bill was directing and I had been directed by him once before on High Incident, an ABC cop show from a few years ago that I thought was terrific, and I thought he was great to work for, a very laid back kind of guy.
I loved the script when I read it; I thought it was hysterically funny and I thought it had a great underlying point about all the corruption we deal with all the time and those guys who seem to get away with it. In this case they don't and I love that.
Al Norton: Do you have any preferences about playing the good guy or the bad guy?
Sam Anderson: No, it all depends on what the writing is like. I enjoy going back and forth. Bad guys are generally more fun because they're just so interesting but I have to say that Bernard changed my whole outlook on playing good guys because it's been one of the greatest rides of my life.
Al Norton: When you got the first Lost script, did you have any how much the audience would embrace Rose and Bernard?
Sam Anderson: Oh God, no. As a matter of fact, the funniest thing about the whole thing is that I didn't know who I was playing until they hired me for the job. I did audition for them with some material that was emotionally similar to who Bernard is; it was a scene about a guy on the island who had been separated from his daughter on the plane and ran into a group of the original characters on the series and asked if she was alive, and had a big emotional response to finding out she was alive. I kept thinking as I was looking at the material, "who the heck are these people and where have they been the whole year?" because I had watched the show and been hooked on it. But I said, "ok, if that's what it is, that's what it is" and I met them and auditioned and then after the fairly lengthy approval process that went through the studio and the network, they finally said "you've got the part but you're not the part you read, you're Rose's husband." I went "holy cow", and I think her (Lost co-star L. Scott Caldwell) response was "Sam? Is it Sam Jackson (laughing)?"
Al Norton: The two of you really come off like a married couple.
Sam Anderson: First of all, I don't have to work at that at all because she is so fantastic as a scene partner. We just show up and we're off and running. When they did the flashback episode where you find out that we are newlyweds and that she has cancer and I married her anyway, I'd never quite had an experience like that before. No matter what happened on the set – a camera could have fallen off the tripod, the wind could have been blowing, a plane could have flown overhead – we could pick it up exactly where we left off with all the emotion necessary to be there. That's a great testament to a scene partner.
Al Norton: Do they let you know how many episodes they will need you for at the start of each season? Not that it's a pain to go to Hawaii.
Sam Anderson: Not at all, it's never a pain (laughing). We have a good idea how many at the start. I don't know exactly when but they give us advanced notice. I have to clear my schedule so they have to give me advance notice. In the meantime I'm free to do whatever else I want to do, which is how Leverage came about and it worked out so great.
Al Norton: You may have my favorite IMDB page of all time; I didn't know it at the time but I grew up watching you on TV.
Sam Anderson: (Laughing) I know exactly what you mean. I love that.
Al Norton: Do the residual checks you get come labeled or do you ever wonder what one of them is for?
Sam Anderson: They are definitely labeled and in case you want to know, I have gotten them for $0.03, going back to a very early, early episode of Growing Pains. They still come in but I know where they are from.
Al Norton: Have you taped into the revenue stream that is Sci FI conventions?
Sam Anderson: I actually did one convention in London last year for Lost.
Al Norton: Lost and Angel individually would get you invited, let alone your spots on X-Files, Next Generation, Alien Nation, The Pretender…
Sam Anderson: That was my big shock. Never having done one I was a) surprised by how many people who were there and b) really surprised by how many people brought in Angel stuff and had been waiting for me because I missed a convention a few years ago. The last year Angel was on they had done a big one and I was scheduled to go and then I couldn't at the last minute because I was shooting a film and for a lot of those people who were die hard fans, I was the last autograph that they didn't have. I was mobbed for that and then people came in with old black and white photos that they must have taken from their television sets of Star Trek: Next Generation. There was one from Pretender, there were some X-Files, there were some Millennium people.
It was just shocking to me but just great. It was a huge emotional response from a lot of people because of Bernard and Rose and I think I find that more gratifying than anything. That it's not just "look who's here", it's that we've touched them and connected with them in some way and I find that very gratifying indeed.
Al Norton: Now when people recognize you it's probably for Lost but before that did you get a lot of, "I know you but I don't know how I know you"?
Sam Anderson: Yes, that would happen a lot. There have been various times however when something came out that was so big that for a little while…
Al Norton: Like Forrest Gump.
Sam Anderson: Right. For a little while people made piggy noises at me, orgasm noises.
Al Norton: Did that get old fast?
Sam Anderson: Yes but I found it funny. When I started on ER as Dr Kayson the nasty cardiologist, which I've been doing on and off for 12 years, I was on it a lot. My kids were infants in a stroller and I would be pushing them through a mall on a Saturday morning, and in those years I didn't have an article of clothing that didn't have a food stain on it somewhere, and I had a diaper bag and all that stuff… I couldn't have looked anymore harmless and women would come up to me and just start bitching me out like you wouldn't believe about how cruel I was to that nice young intern on that show. It was hysterical.
Al Norton: Having been in the business as long as you have, do you have any "I can't believe I turned down that part" stories?
Sam Anderson: Let me think…I am not typically a guy who spends a lot of time looking back…There were early things on The X Files, before it got going, that they wanted me for but I didn't do. I just didn't know what they were trying to do or what the show was going to be. When I finally did one it was great fun but I waited like four years. One of them they wanted to see me for was The Smoking Man. At the time it didn't happen but I thought, "oh, this is kind of a go nowhere role." Who knew?
Al Norton: There were a number of shows where you did multiple appearances as different characters. I think you played four people over three seasons on WKRP in Cincinnati. Was that strange to come back?
Sam Anderson: It was absolutely great. It was so early in my career and it was just the kind of career I wanted and Hugh Wilson saw that in me. We had such a great time and for whatever reason he just got me. The stuff that he wrote for me were these wonderful characters in these crazy situations, like the immigration official in a small town forced to deal with a Russian defector. I played two different disc jockeys, one who was a gawky as could be at the beginning of the series and in the last year one who was God's gift to women, or so he thought. His signature on the air was to take a soft drink like 7Up and pour it into the glass next to the microphone because, like him, it was so bubbly.
Al Norton: I remember the Russian defector episode because the guy kept saying, "hold me closer, tiny dancer."
Sam Anderson: That's exactly right.
Al Norton: I'm frightened that I can remember that.
Sam Anderson: I'm a little scared, too (laughing).
Al Norton: If you were to talk to a young actor just starting out…
Sam Anderson: Which I do a lot, by the way.
Al Norton: With what you've learned in your career, what advice would you offer someone who was just trying to get started in the business?
Sam Anderson: The best advice I would give anybody who wanted to do this is the same advice someone gave me when I started out and was getting rejected a lot. She said, "no matter what they say about the rules of this, you have to always remember that it's completely subjective. It's a completely subjective business. No matter what the rule is, somebody's going to come along and break it. So, never say never." That's one of those things that went right into me and it never left. Over the years it's been a great thing to remember and I think it's absolutely true.
Don't miss Leverage tonight at 10 pm on TNT and Lost tomorrow at 9 pm on ABC.