Creating new mythology around the notion of the supernatural is always an odds ratio but the game gets stepped up when the character you are playing against is that of “Locke” in the seminal series “LOST”. Carefully picking his follow up to the infamous and multi-layered castaway is no small feat but Terry O’Quinn has fashioned his approach as the mysterious Gavin Doran in ABC’s new fall series “666 Park Avenue” with pinache. Dressed in tuxedo trim with the same piercing gaze that made Locke’s eventual tendencies so iconic, O’Quinn talked to IR’s Tim Wassberg at ABC’s TCA Summer 2012 Cocktail Mixer about the allure of evil, the intentions of will and physically manifesting his characters.
Tim Wassberg: Can you talk about the allure of such a character as Doran with his temptations, his manifestations of power and what enters into the mindset of playing him.
Terry O’Quinn: If you don’t have that in your life, it is nice to play it. This is a very intransigent man and he is very one minded about where he is going. He is kind of immovable. He is cold, except to his wife, who is even more so. He can’t be warmed to people because he is unscrupulous.
TW: What is the hardest thing about playing the line between approachable and dastardly?
TOQ: The hardest thing is finding out where to start. This guy started at go and was going 100 miles an hour. You couldn’t tiptoe your way into this character. The hardest thing is starting at punching somebody in the face and then being nice and having a normal life after you do that kind of thing; to able to speak softly or have any kind of warmth or charm. And everybody already knows you are capable of that [other end]. It’s easy to introduce a character softly and then have people surprised by the evil. It is very difficult to introduce a character with a punch to the face and then convinced people (chuckling) that he is not a bad guy.
TW: How do you modulate the energy of this guy with that specific kind of tone?
TOQ: That is what I am trying to figure out because everybody knows about the punch in the face so, consequently, whenever he speaks softly or seems to be warm, you all assume he is being manipulative. So the trick is going to be [trying to] display moments when he is not being manipulative and just being warm…if, in fact, that happens.
TW: Can you talk about expectation, both in terms of the audience and yourself, as to what you find intriguing to bring you into this specific world.
TOQ: The funny thing is when the writers and producers asked me to have dinner, they said “We want to pitch this to you” but the truth is I had already read the script. They didn’t need to pitch it to me because I would have taken it anyway. All they risked is by [doing that is] losing me when they pitched it because I could already see what I wanted to see. I might have questions such as “Where is this going to go?” or “What are the colors I can give this guy?” Normally, they [the producers] are listening to what your questions are and trying to guess the answers you want to hear, and give you that answer. So, it is an act of faith to take a part like this. To be quite honest, you look at a bunch of scripts and say “I don’t like this or this” then “This isn’t bad” or “I kind of like the character”. [Then it becomes] “OK…I guess I better take this” because the river keeps moving on by. The next thing that comes by might be total shit.
TW: You spoke about taking things on faith, and with a mythology-based series like “666 Park” as well as with “LOST”, you have to go on the perception that you don’t know where it is going.
TOQ: But I play like I know where it is going so you believe me. Every script really is: You’re in a forest. But I don’t have to show you the forest. I just have to show you the next tree. My job is to get to that tree. If I get to that tree, I get another scene or I get another script. It is like a puzzle. If something comes along and I say “That doesn’t jive with what you have given me” or “I have a question of where that ties into that”, they may have to answer me or they [the writers] say “Trust me” in which case I have to trust them.
TW: Can you talk about the importance of the physical interacting with the emotional within your characters.
TOQ: I think it is important if you can bring it. I am not always comfortable [with it]. You take on a role like this and you go “What if this lasted [for] 5 years?” I think of my friend Michael Emerson [“Benjamin Linus” on “LOST”] who started working with a limp on “Person Of Interest” [on CBS], and now he has to walk with a limp for the next 5 years or so. I haven’t asked him if he regrets making that choice.
TW: But it is all about choice.
TOQ: It is all about choice. I rarely consciously make an effort to sound different or look different because I don’t have a lot of faith in my ability to do it. I hope I can convince an audience that the character is feeling and believing what he’s saying, despite how he looks or sounds. That is my first job: to make sure they [the audience] understands what I want as a character.
TW: And the second part?
TOQ: Colors. The rest of it is painting. But you have to stay within the lines. A scene is written to make this point and you have to make that point. How you decorate that point is where the creativity comes in.
“666 Park Avenue” premieres on ABC Sunday September 30th, 2012 at 10pm.