At one point most people have heard a joke that starts with, “A man walks into a bar,” but when Doug Jones walks into Bar Karma it is no laughing matter. Having won the deed to the bar in a high stakes poker game, the billionaire Internet mogul had no idea how much this small and seemingly insignificant thing would change his life. As the newest member of the Karma, Inc. team, Doug is now responsible for helping bartender James Anon and the establishment’s lone waitress Dayna Rollins sort out a patrons’ karmic crossroads and set him or her on the right life path.
For our initially reluctant hero, this all began in Bar Karma’s first season opener A Guy Walks into a Bar, and as actor Matthew Humphreys, who plays Doug, recalls, it was, for him, the start of not only a challenging but an exciting new acting venture as well.
“We actually shot the pilot on-location in Brooklyn [New York] at a place called Floyds,” says the actor. “We’d basically be there during the day when the bar was closed and then had to be out of the place before it opened at night. So every morning the cast and crew would all pile into Floyds while the bar workers were wrapping things up and cleaning up.
“I remember showing up on the first day of work and realizing that this really was a group of people who had come together to do a project that didn’t have any of the fancy trailers, high-end equipment or most of the other things that you usually find on the sets of other TV shows or films. These were all individuals who believed in a concept and the idea for Bar Karma and were committed to doing the best work possible. It’s very exhilarating as well as inspiring to walk into something like that.
“As for the episode itself, it was a big one,” continues Humphreys. “There were a number of challenges in terms of how much material needed to be covered. The entire foundation of the show had to be set up, including my character being not only the first ‘karmic guest’ that the audiences meets, but also how significant Doug is in this world and in this bar. We had to make sure, too, that Doug was onboard by the end of the episode. As a show and storyline it’s hard to fathom that a guy who walks into a bar that exists in an alternate reality would say, ‘Yeah, sure, I buy all this,’ especially after just 30 minutes. Even if your hero character is reluctant, you have to prove to the viewer that he’s going to be onboard and ready to figure out what’s going on and what he needs to do in order to get what he wants out of this world.
“When you throw all that into a 30 minute show, every minute, every line, every scene is a challenge because we had to try to reduce things to only the most important information. Without the commercial breaks, we had 23 minutes to sell this show to an audience as well as a network. We didn’t have the promise of going any further than just the pilot, so we had to prove that we could create a good enough story in 23 minutes to have someone back it up. Again, that was a challenge every day, but a positive one. It’s neat to walk into work as a creative artistic person and know that all day long you’re going to have to problem-solve. Of course, it helps when you have a great group of people surrounding you and who are working with you to most effectively and creatively get the story across to the audience.”
Although the actor was familiar with the basics of his character when starting out on Bar Karma, there were (and are) still many dots left to connect when it comes to who Doug Jones really is. “Looking back at the audition, my agents called and said that I had an appointment to read for this new show,” says Humphreys. “There wasn’t a lot of information about the series, but there was some underground buzz about it and they felt it would be a great opportunity for me.
“I’m not one to turn down an audition, so I went along and they [the producers/writers] didn’t have much to give me with regard to Doug. All they had was a brief character description and one scene, which I read for them. Usually with an audition I get a good feel for what the part is or I’m able to determine in my mind, ‘They need to see this, or they need me to be this [type of guy].’ In this case, though, I had no idea what I needed to do, which kind of freed me up to interpret the role in whatever way I wanted and trust that if they liked me, they would give me some notes and further direction. If not, I would move on to the next audition.
“When I first got the role, the biggest challenge and the most fun I had was figuring out how the hell Doug was going to be OK with staying in this bar. Again, I was given very little information. They wanted to keep me in the dark on certain aspects of my character because of the online community and the fact that so many ideas were being pitched insofar as potential back stories for Doug. Of course, as an actor I created my own backstory for him based on the points of his life that they wanted me to have. From there, I just ran with it, and every day at work was a matter of making sure that I got from A to B to C to D with the character and my performance.”
What does the actor think of the show’s online fan community’s contributions to the show’s storyline and development of its characters? “I think it’s great,” he enthuses. “That’s the short simple answer. What’s amazing about it is that it’s a constant dialogue. It’s constantly growing and evolving. This show is giving certain people a chance to contribute their ideas, which then go to the writers who add their ideas, and then all of that goes to a director and the producers, all of whom bring their ideas to the table. It’s absolute contribution at its heart. It’s like creating a piece of theatre, only we got to do it for a long period of time.
“I think the biggest lesson that anyone can take away with them from this first season – and knock on wood that we’ll move forward with a second season – is that taking sole ownership over anything is the worst thing any of us can do. As soon as one person takes ownership of an episode or storyline, it limits the possibilities and, honestly, his or her ability to enjoy what then happens as a collaborative process develops. It’s awesome to see and be part of something that really takes feedback and makes changes in order to tell the best story possible.”
Along with Humphreys’ character, those of his fellow Bar Karma castmates, James (William Sanderson) and Dayna (Cassie Howarth) have also been further fleshed out in the show’s first season, as have the relationships among the characters.
“I think the relationships within the bar have been one of the hottest topics both on and off the set in terms of the online community as well as the cast,” notes the actor. “From the start, Doug sees James as this almost fatherly/grandfatherly figure who he just feels safe with. There’s something about James, and I think it’s really something about William Sanderson and his ability to be gentle, warm and trusting on-camera. It’s easy to see then how Doug could by convinced by this older gentleman when he talks about all these wild and crazy things that in Doug’s life in the outside world would make no sense.
“Doug’s and James’ relationship begins with my character’s sort of blind faith and trust in James, and as this season has gone on we’ve begun to witness little cracks in that relationship. As a result, the viewer begins to see that Doug is maybe realizing that he shouldn’t have such blind faith in this older man, and just exactly why is James being so elusive about certain things. Why, for example, is he so secretive about the ring he wears and whatever marriage or union that that ring is connected to, or the fact that he has a brother, who Doug later discovers is basically like Darth Vader [from Star Wars]?
“So my character’s relationship with James is slowly deteriorating, or at the very least is developing imperfections. As far as him and Cassie, when my character first walks into the bar, he sees this beautiful girl, and whenever Doug sees a beautiful girl, and if he’s interested, he knows how to get her. He knows how to end the day, or night, with her. It’s very superficial and very surface but that’s how things start out between him and Cassie. However, right from the get-go she gives it right back to him, and that threatens Doug a little bit.
“I also think it turns Doug on in a way that he’s never been turned on before. He’s finally met someone who can maybe break through the hard exterior that my character has. I hope what the audience has seen in the episodes that have aired – and I know that it exists more in the last couple of episodes yet to air – that Doug’s and Cassie’s relationship starts to become more solid and grounded. Hopefully you’ll see that there’s more to Doug than you first expected, and I also feel he’s learning that maybe the best things in life aren’t the one-night stands and short-term relationships, but rather meeting a woman who can challenge him and really be true with him in a way that he’s never experienced before.”
The actor chuckles when asked if he has a favorite episode or scene from Bar Karma. “Can I pick two?” asks Humphreys. “I had so much fun the day we shot the scene [in Hack Job] where Doug can’t move and is lying on a concrete slab while a techie [Edoardo Ballerini] is preparing to implant my character’s brain with an Internet connection. There was something so real about the location we were filming in. All you had to do was walk into that warehouse and feel the cold – it was maybe 20 degrees Fahrenheit – as well as look at all the other stimulus around you. Edoardo is an absolutely brilliant actor and we had so much fun shooting that scene. It’s where Doug learns that maybe this whole poker thing isn’t what he thought it was. He sees memories of events that he doesn’t recall and it freaks him out.
“On a character development level and actor-wise, I didn’t want that day to end. It was extremely exhausting but I could have gone on for hours and filmed more and more. On top of it all, we were being directed by Christopher Leone, who is now one of my truly favorite directors.
“Another scene I really enjoyed is one between Doug and James in the episode with the football player [Fair Catch]. It’s a very short scene where Doug is in James’ office and my character says, ‘I don’t get it. Both girls are great. What’s his dilemma?’ He doesn’t really have a dilemma. It’s a no-lose situation for him, and that’s when Doug questions James about the ring on his finger. As usual, James doesn’t give him much information at all. I remember William and I having a great time when we shot that scene, and, honestly, even talking about it now my heart breaks. That scene was so simple and yet William was able to bring such heart to it and help me bring my heart out in it as well.”
Humphreys also enjoyed working on the recently aired episode Three Times a Lady, which guest-stars Genie Francis (General Hospital) and was directed by Francis’ husband Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: The Next Generation).
“If I could be utterly selfish I wish that somehow Genie could be a regular on Bar Karma and that Jonathan could be a regular director on the show as well,” says the actor. “It was one of the best episodes just in terms of the energy on-set. Jonathan is a total pro and has such experience, both as an actor and a director. He knew how to talk to the actors as well as the crew and get what he needed out of everyone. He made everyone laugh every step of the way, too.
“And Genie Francis, wow, I grew up watching her on General Hospital, and in a way the little boy came out in me the week we shot this Bar Karma episode. I didn’t tell her until the very end because, I don’t know, I was embarrassed, but it was like playing out a childhood fantasy being able to work opposite her. We had such fun in that diner, and I think what’s so beautiful about the episode is that we found the comedy in it, and then in the end it really gets to the heart of what’s going on with Genie’s character. We sort of totally flipped things upside-down and, I hope, made the audience go, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. This is really affecting me.’ You laugh at something and then you realize that this is a person with a past and things from that past that torture her. I thought it was handled so well and quite beautifully.”
When you start a new job you typically never know who your coworkers are going to be or how you are going to get along with them. Humphreys could not be happier with the fellow actors he is working with on Bar Karma. “Cassie and William are just so dear,” he says, “and quite frankly we’re been away from one another for three weeks or so now and I miss them. We were such a part of each others’ lives. Cassie is so sweet and genuine. She really has that quality that Dayna has of just being a good person. Cassie has a huge heart and she shares it with you and wants to be there for you in everything she does. That’s how Cassie is on-set as well as off-set and she’s been an utter joy to work with.
“And William Sanderson, well, I was thrilled when I heard that he was playing the role of James. I know him from his work in [the feature film] Blade Runner and [the TV series] Newhart, and then William’s character and performance in Deadwood changed my life. I can only dream of having a career with the versatility that William has had with his career, and to be able to work opposite him and learn from him truly is like being in an acting workshop.”
From the time he was a child, Humphreys wanted to be an actor, but it was not until he was a little older that he realized that it was his true calling. “At one point when I was young he wanted to be a stockbroker,” says Humphreys. “When someone asked me why I told them, ‘Did you ever see the movie Trading Places? I loved Dan Ackroyd and what they did in that movie, and I think I want to be a stockbroker.’ It was, however, because of the movie and not my desire to be a stockbroker.
“When I was 10 I saw the movie Navy SEALs, and after that I wanted to be a Navy SEAL. Again, what I think I was really responding to was being a performer and acting in these films or plays. I saw people doing something I wanted to do, but at that age was having a tough time differentiating between acting and the actual roles that the actors were playing.
“My true passion is theatre, and eventually I began doing regional theater all over the Midwest and then in New York, where I decided to go back to graduate school. I went to the Yale School of Drama and after I graduated I began getting more work and more recognizable jobs. It’s been a slow journey and sometimes it doesn’t move as fast as I want it to, but the journey is the goal and I’m enjoying every step of the way.”
Obsessed, Chapter 27 and The Good Shepherd, which was directed by Robert De Niro, are among Humphreys’ film credits. He has also guest-starred on several TV series including Big Love, Burn Notice, Medium, Journeyman and the Supernatural episode Fresh Blood in which he played Dixon.
“Supernatural is my favorite acting job so far other than Bar Karma,” says the actor. “That show has done such amazing things and I wanted so badly to go back and do more episodes. They’re an awesome group of people on Supernatural, and with my particular episode I had the good fortune to be directed by Kim Manners, who died a few years ago. He was absolutely unbelievable.
“What I think is so neat and fun about the show is that it’s about vampire, demons and warlocks, and there is no overacting when you’re dealing with those kinds of topics. Yes, it’s on the small screen, but the bigger your performance the better because if you don’t commit to those types of lines then they just don’t work. I can’t say enough about that job. I didn’t want to leave at all.”
Listening to the enthusiasm in Humphreys’ voice it is clear that that young boy who was once enamored of the idea of acting could not be happier about taking the leap and pursuing a career as an actor. “I feel so fortunate to be able to go to work and be a storyteller,” he says. “Sometimes the stories can be silly, other times the stories have really deep meaning, and the fact that I can play a part in telling these stories is the biggest reward that I could ever ask for in this business.”
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