Sunday, February 07, 2010

Interviews With People Who've Never Been In My Kitchen: Maury Sterling (Part 1)

YJ: I’m here with Dame Judi Dench…
MS: {laughing}
YJ: Actually, Maury Sterling. Actor. Thespian, if you will. What are you working on now, Maury? Little independent film?
MS: Small, independent movie called, The A-Team, based on a little-known TV show from the 1980s.
YJ: I think I’ve heard of it.
MS: {chuckling} Yeah, a coupla people have seen it. It was big.
YJ: Wasn’t there a guy from Battlestar Galactica in it or something?
MS: Yeah, Dirk Benedict. I got to meet him. It was rad.
YJ: He’s in the new one?
MS: Yeah, ooh, I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that. Off the record!
YJ: It’s on IMDB. [Editor's note: Check out Maury's page on; it reads like Santa's naughty list...]
MS: It is?
YJ: Yep.
MS: Yeah, he’s in it.
YJ: And so is the original Murdock, I believe: Dwight Schultz?
MS: Dwight Shultz. He was there. I met him, too.
YJ: And how was that, ‘cause you were pretty excited about watching The A-Team as a kid, right?
MS: I was pretty geeked out. I was pretty excited. It was really cool to meet Dwight Schultz; they were childhood heroes.
YJ: And Dirk Benedict?
MS: It was very cool to meet Dirk. He spends time in Montana; I like to go to Montana.
YJ: Any residual anger about Starbuck being a girl in the new Battlestar Galactica series?
MS: Oh God, I didn’t ask him…
YJ: {laughing} Don’t. Don’t bring that up.
MS: {laughing} I don’t think that…I think it would be a very touchy subject.
YJ: He might be okay now. Is it true what they say about working with dogs and kids?
MS: Yes.
YJ: How so?
MS: The that a word, truism? It is a word. My father would be so unhappy…
Um, that they steal focus? Yeah, I remember when I did Beverly Hills Chihuahua; my friends were all excited because I was number five on the call sheet. They were all stoked, like, “Dude, this is big for you, this is really great.” And I’m like, yeah, there’s like, 20 dogs before they start counting humans, soo…
YJ: {laughing}
MS: Some of them are very touchy. You have to work with them in just the right way. Like, one of the dogs, I couldn’t like right in the eye or he’d get spooked. This dog, if you looked him in the eye, or spoke to him, he would get nervous.
YJ: So only the trainers could address him?
MS: Only the trainers could address him. And it’s pretty hard when... It’s the part where the Chihuahua jumps on my nose, so it’s kinda hard not to look him in the eye. And he got spooked. {laughing} Yeah, it was bad. It was really funny. It’s like, I didn’t realize you were so delicate.
YJ: Were you scared by El Diablo [Doberman villain of the film] at all?
MS: No, El Diablo was awesome. He was the most, sort of rough-and-tumble dog of the dogs. I think his name was Ajax...he was cool.
YJ: {laughing} Seems less tough now.
MS: Yeah, I know. Ajax? It’s a tough name, c’mon.
YJ: So, you played a character named Rafferty and you were involved in the kidnapping of said Beverly Hills Chihuahua?
MS: Yes, I stole the Chihuahua.
YJ: My niece, Indiana, who’s 3, wanted me to ask you…
MS: Right…
YJ: How do you sleep at night?
MS: {chuckles} I’ve met some children since and this is a dangerous conver… Yeah, it upsets them. It’s tough, they can’t separate… So, yeah, they would give me this look, like, “You horrible, horrible, horrible man.”
YJ: She was not impressed that we were friends.
MS: No, that’s not a claim to fame. It’s not cool. “You stole the Chihuahua…WHY?”
YJ: So, for the record, kids: NOT REAL.
MS: Not real. I like dogs very much. I was very nice to the Chihuahuas when we weren’t working.
YJ: Now, another role that people will remember you for is Lester Tremor. Lester Tremor was one of the three…well, you tell them.
MS: Lester Tremor was the middle brother of the three Tremor brothers who were in the original Smokin’ Aces…a bunch of whacked-out, hillbilly, methamphetamine, crazy weirdoes.
YJ: So, how do you get inside the head of someone like Lester Tremor?
MS: {laughing} My mother will forever be upset...and proud. It was actually really fun and it’s a terrible thing to say. It helped a lot with wardrobe and make-up and cutting one’s hair. I shaved my head and shaved my eyebrows, and that helps a lot; just when you look in the mirror and you look so freaky. It’s surprising how that can open up a lot of doorways because you just start thinking, who would do this and feel comfortable…“Yeah, I’m gonna go outside lookin’ like this today. Sure, I look grreat.”
But the three of us worked a lot together, seeing how we’d feel...
YJ: You bonded with your brothers, played by Kevin Durand, who’s Canadian...
MS: Mm-hm. Thunder Bay.
YJ: Chris Pine, who was in a little film called Star Trek
MS: I’ve heard of that one.
YJ: Yep, didn’t do very well at the box office.
MS: I don’t think so; I think it’s really struggling.
{both laughing}
YJ: I hope he makes it.
MS: He might. We’re worried. Yes, the two of them. We spent a lot of time together. We were shooting in South Lake Tahoe, and we decided we’d go out to dinner in our full regalia. We found the fanciest restaurant we could find…and we had the Mohawks and the shaved head and the straggly…We just looked awful and we tried to look as bad as we possibly could. All of our tattoos were on fresh , and long story short; by the end of the night we had a table of older women, probably in their mid-sixties, coming up, going, {in little old lady voice} ” Oh, so uh, what are you guys doing…are you in a band? Oh, they’re so cute.” And the maitre de was inviting us out the next day for lunch. We’re like, “No! We’re scary.”
YJ: {laughing} We’re assassins!
MS: Yeah, we’re dangerous. We’re freaky. But we did some other stuff, sort of, role-playing out at night, which was creepy and fun, too, to get in the mood.
YJ: Are villains more fun to play than good guys?
MS: It is fun. It’s so not who I am. There’s more wiggle-room, it’s a different world to inhabit. We got serious about it; we’d talk about the Tremor brothers and what would be their mindset? ..To actually feel purpose behind being highly freaked-out killers, basically, and believing that they were serving a function and having a belief system that they really were behind. That’s where it gets spooky: where you just take off the normal roles that we all try to agree on or have some relationship to, and go, yeah, these don’t exist. Total sociopaths. Different rules, completely different rules.
YJ: They were pretty loyal to each other though, weren’t they?
MS: Totally loyal to each other. We were brothers, we were family, we loved each other, looked out for each other. [They] believed in almost a spiritual purpose in their work, helping clean the world. And [they were] professionals; if you give them a job, they’re gonna get it done and it’s probably not in your best interest to be in the way when they’re getting it done. There’s purpose behind it…and that is where it gets a little strange.
YJ: So, you finished the prequel [Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball], tell me about that. You had different brothers and a sister?
MS: I had a sister, a father and a new brother, which was fun, to sort of expand the family. Whole bunch of different types. We had a good time, yeah.
YJ: Tell me about training/shooting stuff; I hear boys like to shoot stuff.
MS: Boys do like to shoot stuff. I know some girls who like to shoot stuff, too. It’s fun. Good to know how to use a gun. It’s fun; it’s exhilarating.
YJ: I just saw the trailer and it looked like you had a lot of fun. Do they train you to...?
MS: Rob Fournier and his partners, Lem and Craig, were the armorers on that and they’re very, very, very safety-conscious, to the smallest detail: how you pass the gun back and forth between you and them, making sure everything’s checked, making sure everything’s safe. The entire crew is covered in plexiglass covering and goggles and earmuffs and soundproofing. It’s a big deal when weapons are on set, just because of any kind of freak accident.
YJ: Like, Brandon Lee?
MS: Like, Brandon Lee. So, it makes sense.
YJ: Now, you’ve worked in television and film. Some of my favourite TV shows, actually…Angel, Six Feet Under, Deadwood. Do you have a preference and how are they different?
MS: That’s one I struggle with all the time. I think I prefer film; I like locations. It’s really different per project. I think it has a lot to do with the people, a lot to do with the writing, and a lot to do with the other creative energies around you. I’ve really been enjoying doing film; I think that’s what I’d like to continue doing. But the TV…I feel fortunate…I mean, I had a blast doing Angel, working with Joss [Whedon] and that whole world…
YJ: He’s amazing.
MS: You get to step into that world, and that’s what I mean by the people and the writing. When you get to dance with certain elements, that’s what’s fun. A lot of the TV stuff I’ve done is guest-star stuff and it’s interesting because, a lot of the time, you’re coming in to be the person whose wife just died and you’re being framed for murder. They often tend to be intense kind of roles which you have to shoot out very quickly. It’s an interesting kind of demand; you have to get out a lot of information, because the series regulars have to bounce off what you provide. So it’s an interesting kind of dynamic to have to play with, and you wanna give your best performance, as well.
YJ: Television’s obviously changed a lot. It’s not just cable anymore, there’s Showtime and HBO, which are putting out some pretty amazing shows. When you have time, are there any shows you…?
MS: Big fan of The Wire, I think Dexter’s great…Breaking Bad is great…Modern Family… I’m actually trying to research a little more TV. 30 Rock is a show I’ve not been watching and would really like to.
YJ: Dexter’s good. The assassin in you is probably relating to him.
MS: Yes.
YJ: It’s kind of scary how relatable that character is…
MS: He’s great. There’s relatability about it; he’s struggling with relationships. He’s just contextually more extreme.
YJ: But he always had to hide the fact that he’s…
MS: Right. But plenty of people are hiding stuff…
YJ: {laughing} That they’re sociopaths?
MS: {smiling} That they’re sociopaths…I mean, what’s the big deal?
YJ: Do you think because you’re used to playing characters, it would be more challenging to try to be closer to who you are?
MS: Mm-hm. You can’t hide, in a way. I mean, you always wanna be honest in what you’re doing and have it be believable. It’s vulnerable, you know. There’s no angle that’s protecting you.
YJ: Wow. ..I feel like I’m in Acting 101.
MS: {chuckling} I’m in Acting 101.
YJ: No, you’re not. You’ve been in a ton of stuff…
MS: I’ve been in a ton of stuff, but I really am still learning. The best thing, for me, is when you have an expectation of how you’ve plotted it out and you sort of set a goal for the scene, and then you end up surprising yourself. Something happens that you did not see coming. ..And those are the best moments, because then you really know you are being honest. Something just happened and you had the courage or the wherewithal or the freedom or the preparation…that you just kinda go with it and that’s when it really gets neat. Because now, you know you’re not controlling. ..You know for a second, you were there.
YJ: ..And it’s recorded. That’s the great thing about film – when you do something that you’re proud of, right? That’s the closest we can come to being immortalized. [Editor's note: besides, vampirism]
MS: Right. And that’s my goal in life.
YJ: To be immortalized?
MS: Immortality.
YJ: I thought you wanted to live with Amazons…
MS: {laughing} That was before the interview started. That was off-the-record.
YJ: {laughing} Off-the-record!
YJ: Anything you’re looking forward to, film-wise, that’s coming out?
MS: I’m curious to see how the prequel turns out. I’ll be really excited to see The A-Team when it’s all put together, just because-- Oh. You mean, stuff I’m doing, ’cause I’m totally self-referential, or like, other..?
YJ: {laughing}
MS: Hi. Ask an actor a question. Oh, you mean about me? Well, I’ll tell ya about me
I’m excited to see Avatar. I wanna see The Road. The [last] movie I loved seeing was This Is It – the Michael Jackson movie. I didn’t really wanna see it [at the time], but it was amazing. Amazing. I think anybody’s who’s an artist or who aspires to be an artist should see it. Because watching a man of his control and authority and talent at work was just incredible. He knows his own work so incredibly well. It was really inspiring.
YJ: Is there anyone you’ve met where you’ve been surprised by just how normal and down to earth they were?
MS: No. No one. They’re all whack jobs. All the things the public thinks about them are true. Jessica Biel has been a total treat to work with…Bradley Cooper…This whole set on The A-Team has been fantastic. I haven’t worked with a lot of jerks, actually. [Working on] this movie’s the first time working with some big names, where I could really see, without going into too much detail… I could be on set one day, go home and see something in the tabloids, and see how they were completely not correct. It was really amazing. I think I’ve been a sucker for the tabloids. One tiny picture that the press gets a hold of and they can manipulate it. This was the first time where I went, wow, just not true. ..And here’s the cover of US magazine.
YJ: That must be a nice perspective.
MS: It was really striking. It caught me, because I have my own judgments. I fall for stuff, I fall for press. And then you realize: you’ve got no idea.
YJ: Tell me about your character in The A-Team.
MS: I play a guy named Gammons, who’s partnered up with a guy named Ravech (played by Canadian actor, Terry Chen). We’re basically Jessica Biel’s bitches. Where she goes, we go. We’re her security detail; we work for the Department of Defense. She’s a Department of Defense agent. We’re chasing down the A-Team. We’re usually about one step behind where they are. It’s been fun to do.
YJ: So, Gammons is a good guy, then?
MS: Yeah, closer to good this time. I’m the law.
YJ: Wow.
MS: I know. Big change.
YJ: So, no pup-napping…
MS: No pup-napping, no sociopathic murder-frenzy…
YJ: No assassinations…
MS: No demon tendencies, no psycho-killer stuff… Yeah, it’s great. This is good. This is progress. This is a huuuge step in my career.
{both laughing}

stay tuned for Part 2... (it's shorter and just as unboring)  ;)