RAY WISE (REAPER, ROBOCOP, TWIN PEAKS)

 

In the long tradition of actors who have stepped into the shoes of the Devil, few have done it with such panache and style as Mr. Ray Wise.  A veteran of stage, screen and television, Wise slipped comfortably into the role for the CW’s supernatural hit comedy “Reaper” and helped the modestly buzzed-about show grab solid ratings on its way to a second season renewal.  With the stakes raised and another season primed to explode, Wise sat down with us for a generous phoner where he discussed the inspiration for the role, his history in television, and his noted collaborators.

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How did you get involved in Reaper?

I got involved very late in their casting process.  I was the last actor cast.  They had gone through a hundred or so actors, and the studio hadn’t felt strongly about any of them.  Really, just hearing that they wanted me to read for the devil was a little, ah, overwhelming.  And then I read the script, and I was surprised.  He was charming, and witty… all the qualities I admire in anyone, really.  I auditioned, and at the end all the producers smiled, which felt very comforting.

 

There have been several popular representations of the devil in mass media, and I wanted to know if you based your characterization on any of them.

I’m a moviephile, so I’ve seen all the great devils, all the way from Walter Huston all the way to Damn Yankees.  There have been some great actors that have played the role, from Jack Nicholson, Pacino, my buddy Gabe Byrne, Peter Stormare, all devils devils, I’ve seen them all.  I wanted mine to be more like a mixture of really good used car salesman and a gameshow host, very vain. I wanted to make sure that he takes good care of himself, he’s got charm, he’s a smiling devil, one that made you feel good about yourself.

 

Is there a strong difference between season one and the upcoming season?

Very much so.  This year, we’re going to be concentrating on character relationships, with some new characters coming in.  t’ll be more about relationships, less of this, y’know, monster of the week stuff.  Also, we’ll get to learn the hierarchy of hell, to see a little bit more of the devil’s world and how it relates to the world on earth.  The relationship between the devil and Sam will definitely intensify as well.

 

Most of your fans notice that you’ve worked extensively on film, but also you have a large television resume.  Are you particularly drawn to that format? 

In acting, like any job, you wanna have a more stable situation, a weekly situation, something you can go back to.  Television provides that.  It’s a job you go to every week, and next week it’s still there.  Gallivanting around the world, making movies- I enjoy that, but I’ve had enough of that.  Less gallivanting. 

 

You were part of an honored, exciting ensemble with 2005’s “Good Night And Good Luck”.  What was your experience like?

Oh, such a wonderful working situation, so rare, really.  It was a special time working with those people, little over a month.  George, David, and Robert, and Frank, and so many great actors, wonderful people and friends.  Just the act of creating CBS in the 60’s and bringing that world back to life, that was a joy, Geoge did a magnificent job, his direction was marvelous.  We all responded so well to the chemistry of the situation, and the film definitely reflected that.  I’m very proud of that one.

 

 

 

 

We’re twenty years removed- did you think “Robocop” would be remembered now

Well, I didn’t know it would be such a big hit, such a classic.  I knew we were making a good film.  I think we all realized that it would be a good action film, very exciting.  We had a ball making it.  We were like 10 year old boys, blowing up everything in sight, me and Kurtwood.  Everything looked monstrous on screen, but when we were shooting, they gave us a number of run down, dilapidated areas to destroy, and we were just having a ball.  When I watch the violence on the screen, I kinda cringe but we were having a ball.  We tore up the streets for four successive nights and had the greatest time running amuck.

 

You were a featured player as Vice President Hal Gardener on “24”.  Have you ruled out returning to that series?

No, I suppose that chance is still out there.  If they get that idea, it could be possible.  I’m not dead, so I guess it’s possible.  When I started doing that show, no one told me about the character, so I had to walk that fine line between whether I was good or bad. 

 

Was there any idea on the producers part that they were putting together a “Robocop” reunion on “24” by bringing on Peter Weller, Paul McCrane, and you, and in this season recruiting Kurtwood Smith?

I haven’t thought about that, actually.  I went to the season five wrap party, and there was everyone from the movie, twenty years later.  Now that you brought it up, it’s kinda strange.  We did have a little Robocop reunion, whichwas wonderful, because I love Peter and Paul.  But you know, since you’re discussing this… Aaron Sorkin cast me in “Sports Night” a while back because he saw me at a play in Syracuse, called “The Truth of Crime”, which was a modest hit, a Sam Shephard play that eventually went off-broadway.  Sorkin was a student at Syracuse, and he remembered seeing “The Truth of Crime”, and when he had the opportunity to cast me, he did so.  You never know what project you do will spark a creative person.  Who knows, there might have been a real “Robocop” fan working for “24”.

 

Was there any specific origin of the name “Hal Gardener”?  Most fans considered it a reference to two characters who had stood in for the Green Lantern in the Green Lantern comic books, Hal Jordan and Guy Gardener.

They didn’t mention that.  I’m not too up on those comics.  Interesting sidenote: I do have copies of the Robocop comic with my likeness on the cover.  I also have a copy of Swamp Thing comic with my likeness as Alec Holland.  So I do have that connection to comics.

 

Regarding Twin Peaks… was there ever any discussion amongst the cast about where the story was going, what the final revelation would be?

We were totally unaware as to where it was gonna go.  Nobody knew who the real killer was and we were all nervously apprehensive.  The whole idea of being my own daughter’s killer was abhorrent to me.  I had a two year old at the time, so it really struck home to me, and I was praying and hoping it wasn’t me.  Then, they called me in the office before the reveal.  We sat in a darkened room, cross-legged, with a lava lamp in the corner.  In darkness, David [Lynch] leans forward, taps me on the knee, and says, Ray, it’s you, it was always you.  My reaction was, Oh, God, I don’t want it to be me, I don’t wanna have to leave town I love it here.  But then he said, Don’t worry about it, it’s gonna be a beautiful thing, a beautiful show.  It was indeed beautiful and redemptive, it was a great episode, and a wonderful note to end on, so I’m very thankful for that.

 

“Reaper” season two premieres next year on the CW.

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