EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Charlie Jade‘s Michael Filipowich
Sometimes cool stuff happens when you’re not even looking for it. Like how Mike and Jason were looking for writers to expand the roster on Pop Critics just a couple weeks before one of my favorite shows was premiering. And how even though Sci Fi saw fit to bury Charlie Jade after two episodes, we’ve managed to keep a nice little group of fans coming back each week to talk about the show.
A couple weeks back, Mike forwarded me an email he’d gotten from someone who’d worked on the show and wanted to thank us for taking an interest in it: Michael Filipowich.
We weren’t actively looking for another interview, but if we had been, he would have been top of my list. His take on 01 Boxer is… well… crazy. But after exchanging a series of emails with him, I’ll tell you this is about the most carefully crafted, well-planned crazy I’ve seen in a long time. He knew exactly what 01 was doing, why he was doing it, and what his endgame was. He took a character who had initially been written as a one-dimensional psycho and fleshed him out into the crazy, funny, scary dimension hopper we know and love.
He was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, taking the time to provide some really thoughtful responses. His take on his character and the show are quite different from everyone else’s and very interesting. One of the great things about film and television is its collaborative nature. It’s that collaborative nature that lets great ideas about characters filter up from the actor to the creators.
Read the interview twice. Trust me. The first time through, you’re probably going to think he’s just crazy. But like 01 Boxer, Michael Filipowich knows exactly what he’s doing and saying.
Richard Porter: I get the feeling from watching your performance, and even your brief note earlier, that you have a very studied approach to acting. I’m assuming you had some pretty formal training. What’s your background?
Michael Filipowich: I come from a long line of criminals and madmen… theater and philosophy in university… before that I was always doing plays and was raised by television… my parents were pretty much non-existent… I now hate both TV and my parents.
Basically my background is in Meisner but I am always taking classes. I have this very estranged relationship with acting – almost toxic – I just can’t leave it but it is a source for endless disappointment, frustration, and angst… actually just today I am teetering on I never want to do this (acting) again.
It’s a dirty business kids please don’t try it at home… don’t stay in school either… just start revolutions en masse!
RP: Continuing along that line, what’s your process like?
MF: My process is always different depending on the project and character and how much I am moved internally. I like to do work with body type and posture and experiment with breathing… where you breathe from dictates your reality. I choose things that I want and go after them as honestly as I can in the relationship with whomever I am playing with.
Clothes are important and look…also depending on how much time I have to prep and how much freedom I am granted – more often than not I claim all rights for myself and the rest is negotiation between me and them. I do what interests me… it is an expensive experiment where others are paying… I don’t care if it’s good or even if it works… I am there to stretch and bring as much presence and energy I can and the rest I leave alone… acting is kind of a battle for me, with myself.
Did I mention revolution?
RP: When production was starting up, how much did Robert Wertheimer and Chris Roland tell you about where they hoped the show would go, and specifically 01 Boxer’s journey? Did you start out thinking you’d been cast as a whacked out sociopath, or did you know he was intended to have a lot of layers?
MF: Bob and Chris were both very good to me but they did not have a clue about things… the show was all over the place and they did not know what was going on.
Sensing this I just started bringing stuff, directing myself and fighting for my guy… the situation and circumstances were roughed in but he was totally one dimensional… I wanted his journey to be as strong as Charlie’s even though he had no real stories written for him and had about 1/10th of the screen time. I had to invent relationships with Essa and Julius because they didn’t exist… I took some cues from the writing but that was changing daily, often right before takes… can you say guerrilla style.
I know a lot of people find the show confusing but I am amazed at its relative coherency. Viva la revolution!
RP: Following up on that, the first time we see 01 in Gammaverse is episode three, “You Are Here”, which you also narrated. 01 seemed pretty together, if maybe a bit devious, dealing with the Vexcor chairman in Gamma and starting to move all the pieces around on the chessboard. Was it your decision or the creators’ to vary 01’s personality so much between the verses?
MF: In the beginning and all the way through 01 always had a mission… for me that was different from the actual, literal plot… he is absolutely Machiavellian… he also had a great deal of trickster energy and some real longings.
The other thing was how to deal with his mutations from jumping universes and he had done it sooooo many times whereas Charlie had only done it a few and Reena only once… and he was originally doing it with a prototype that he ripped off of his dad – kicking it old school. I started to play with a version of MPD [Multiple Personality Disorder] where 01 had different vibrational patterns that were set for him to slip into. He also used drugs, sex and violence.
I remember shooting that scene in episode 3 – it was actually the first thing I shot – the guy playing the chairman turned to me after a take and tried to set me in the direction of respecting him more that I was to kind of be subservient – I just gave him an 01 look – his face got so red… it was awesome.
01 is always playing except when he is not… and you can catch him being real here and there.
RP: When I spoke with Alex Epstein (ed: Interview), he said he didn’t think there was any magical reason you were different from verse to verse, just that you were happy in Gamma because it was far from your father and a much saner world. My gut tells me that’s not how you saw things. Thoughts?
MF: Happy in Gamma… poor Alex Epstein… knowing full well that Gamma is the future 01 is what he needs to be there.
There was so much going on in Gamma that you didn’t see… in Freudian terms higher self – Gamma; lower self – Alpha; mask – Beta. It’s like when a man goes out to an S&M club, gets loaded, things get out of hand, but has self awareness and a mission, and a longing… days later he stumbles home… his clean wife his adoring obedient children.
Gamma 01 is who he is – alpha and beta are his exorcisms.
RP: 01’s personality varied a lot; did his motivations vary as well, or were they pretty consistent from verse to verse? What *were* his motivations, in your eyes?
MF: 01 pushes for truth… he cannot stand bullshit… he is wounded and needs to heal… he is all powerful but impotent…he needs to father and mother himself and bridge the darkness and rage in himself to make a different choice… even though he was filled with hate there was still a kernel that wanted to protect, to save.
He was the classically abused child… never seen, never touched, to me he was Pinocchio always trying to turn into a real boy… looking for a boundary… ultimately facing fears in the hopes of breaking through to realization.
RP: You mentioned that you looked at the show differently from the producers. Could you elaborate on that?
MF: To me the show is very religious – a man stripped of everything and thrown into a hostile environment, wandering in the desert. Charlie goes looking for 01… man’s search for truth… the balance of the Tao… the eternal recurrence… the Tibetan Bardo… the nature of consciousness… free will, mind control… reality.
Bob and Chris wanted to make a show about a detective. Anything else you read into it is divine intervention.
RP: About the dumbest thing I think the writers did is keep you and Jeffrey Pierce separated as long as they did. That first time you two shared the screen was electrifying. Did you know ahead of time how good that was going to be? Did you push to get Charlie and 01 together sooner and more often?
MF: They were always worried about putting Jeff and I together… I swear they said this – “we don’t want to blow our load too early” – wow. I always thought they needed to come together early and that the opening episodes were weak – not enough electricity to grab.
Jeff actually pitched the idea to start with episode 13 and then go back which would have worked better. Too many non-creative people making decisions hurt the show
RP: An actor you did get a lot of screen time with was Danny Keogh. Just now I was trying to think of a comparable dichotomy of performance styles on screen and East of Eden popped into my head with the way Dean visibly discomfited Raymond Massey. Were you trying to push buttons like that, or was Keogh playing along the whole time?
MF: Danny was my favorite… he was awesome…we never spoke really off camera… I thought he hated me… then when the show wrapped he came up to me and was all gushing about the great time he had with me.
Danny is a tough dude, he is for real… yes I was pushing buttons but unlike the Gamma guy he just came right back… I loved him.
RP: So I know you’ve seen my comparison of you to Daffy Duck (ed: “Devotion” recap). Here’s the whole insane quote:
Filipowich is a short fuse, a real-life Daffy Duck. His silences are more frequently broken by unexpected mania than a wry smile while his tightly coiled muscles bear the threat of sudden violence or passion. The closest comparable actor I can think of is Joe Pesci, though Katee Sackhoff shares similar traits of unpredictability.
Two questions on that. First, how close or far off is that to your own view of yourself as an actor? Second, rabbit season or duck season?
MF: Interesting you choose Daffy because Looney Tunes were a big inspiration for 01. In episode 14 when I sneak up on Julius I improv the line – “come into my shop let me cut your mop, it’s free”, Looney Tunes Barber of Seville… wow man you got it. So I don’t think that you were seeing the actor but definitely the character… Daffy was a template. In episode 10 maybe where I beat a dude down… I put a lot of cartoonish moves in which were mostly cut out… but there is this like weird little step thing that I do. (ed: It was actually ep 11, “Thicker Than Water”)
Also that one scene where I paint a road on the side of a cliff and walk right through but then fall, but as I’m falling I pull out my cell and order a huge umbrella from acme which gets delivered to me while I am still in the air and I open it and safely float to the ground but then a Vexcor anvil falls on my head and my teeth become piano keys.
Duck hunting season but I keep my feathers numbered.
RP: What projects do you have coming out that you’d like us to keep an eye out for?
MF: If you don’t mind going blind from watching stupidity I have some delicious straight to DVD action films coming out, starring washed up action stars… I am involved in producing a couple of shows, one is a reality show and the other is called My Mom’s a Bookie… and I’ll be making a grande nonfat to your specifications somewhere in the San Fernando valley.
This one’s for Nathan.