In today's Sci-Fi Blast From The Past, Peter Weller talks about helping save Earth as Captain Chuck Taggart in Odyssey 5.
Time: present day. Location: outer space. It’s just another day on the job for the crew of the space shuttle Odyssey. Unfortunately, it’s a day that Captain Chuck Taggart and his people will never forget. Without warning, the Earth is destroyed. The only survivors are those aboard the Odyssey, and they are given the chance to alter history and save their planet as well as the human race. It’s a mission that actor Peter Weller, who portrays Taggart on the new Showtime cable Sci-Fi drama series Odyssey 5, couldn’t turn down.
“I was one of eight students chosen by New York’s Syracuse University to go to Florence, Italy to complete my Master’s degree in Renaissance art history,” recalls Weller. “Because of last year’s potential SAG [Screen Actors Guild] strike, I felt it was a perfect time to visit Italy and do just that. I’d just finished my studies when I received the pilot script for Odyssey 5. I read it and thought, ‘Man, this is a fantastic idea!’ I have a good relationship with Showtime. I’d worked with them before and the network subsequently offered me a movie to direct if I did the show, so I said, ‘Yes.’ I also like Manny Coto [series creator, writer and executive producer]. Everything felt right. I knew I’d be leaving Italy to get back to work. So here I am in Toronto doing Odyssey 5 and I couldn’t be happier.”
In the show’s feature-length pilot, Chuck Taggart and co-pilot Angela Perry (Tamara Craig Thomas) are on a mission to repair a damaged satellite as well as deploy another orbiting device code-named Bright Sky. Also onboard are Taggart’s youngest son and fellow astronaut Neil (Christopher Gorham), scientist Kurt Mendel (Sebastian Roche), and TV reporter Sarah Forbes (Leslie Silva). Suddenly, the shuttle loses contact with Houston Control, and minutes later the Earth is sucked into a galactic vortex. The Odyssey crew is rescued by an alien entity called The Seeker (John Neville), whose world along with 50 other planets have been obliterated in the same way as Earth. The Seeker has the ability to project a human consciousness back five years into the past. Taggart and the others agree to this, and within that time must find out who or what annihilated humankind and stop it from happening again.
“Chuck is basically a space cowboy/space trucker and not a superhero,” explains Weller. “As such, he’s got to deal with all of life’s everyday challenges including a wife that doesn’t trust him, competition between his sons, etc. At the same time, he has to be the ringleader of his crew and work with them to find out why their world was destroyed. Aside from that, we figure that as long as we’re in the past we might as well clean up any mistakes we made. Naturally, as soon as we start screwing with our lives the more things go haywire.
“I love the human drama of Odyssey 5,” he continues. “That’s what initially drew me to the project. I have to admit that although I’ve worked on some wonderful science fiction projects, I’m not a science fiction fan. However, I do find the genre to be an incredible venue in which to tell a good story. I mean, you can do just about anything. I was extremely pleased with how the pilot turned out. The director, David Carson, is a really talented guy and I’d work with him again in a minute. To be honest, the only thing I really didn’t enjoy filming was the techno-stuff, you know? Sitting in a mock-up shuttle, pressing buttons and pretending to be in space wasn’t my idea of fun. I know it’s fascinating, entertaining and lovely to look at, but it’s just so dreary to shoot. I’d much rather be out on-location,” he jokes. “As far as the rest of the filming goes, though, I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
As Weller points out, the main characters on Odyssey 5 must deal with several real-life problems and some emotional baggage. Besides having a big ego, Kurt also has a gambling problem and is addicted to sex. Sarah’s first marriage broke up not long after her child died of stomach cancer. As for Angela, she was injured before her consciousness was sent back in time and nearly dies when she wakes up disoriented while on a space walk. Meanwhile, Taggart has to confront marital and family problems.
“Chuck has issues with his son when they go back in time because Neil thinks he’s better than his brother,” says the actor. “Chuck’s other son opted not to become an astronaut, but maybe now he will depending on how my character and the others change the future. This does not sit well with Neil and deep down he’s jealous. We shot a scene yesterday where Neil asks Chuck, ‘Why are you on my brother’s back?’ Chuck says, ‘I’m not, but I think you are. Don’t you realize that things are changing? What’s going to happen if you and your brother end up following in my footsteps?’ As much as Chuck loves Neil he has to reel him in every so often because of this sibling rivalry.
“Despite the tension between father and son, Chuck is getting along far better with Neil than he is with his wife. One of my favourite scenes in the pilot is when Chuck attempts to explain to his wife what’s happening and why he’s been sneaking behind her back. He tells her, ‘Look, my consciousness is here but my body is really in the future. You see, there was this alien…’ Chuck is trying his best to open up to her and is praying she’ll say to him, ‘Honey, what can I do to help?’ Instead, she says, ‘You’re having an affair.’ Man, that’s such a typical response,” he laughs, “but so real. If the situation were reversed and my wife told me a story like that I’d probably say to her, ‘So what’s the guy’s name?’ That’s what I mean about the human drama in Odyssey 5. It’s stuff the ordinary person can relate to.”
How does the actor view Taggart’s relationships with the show’s three other main characters? “Chuck has known Angela for a long time,” says Weller. “They’re buddies and he loves her as a friend. With Kurt, my character is slowly getting used to him. Both of them are scientists but Chuck is far more instinctual. Because of this, Kurt tends to get in his face a lot about theory. Let’s just say they usually agree to disagree. As far as Sarah, we haven’t had time to really develop that relationship yet, but we will. Chuck respects her a great deal and needs her on his team. She’s a smart woman and as a reporter has access to people and places that they will need if they hope to save the Earth.”
Weller is understandably reluctant to reveal details about upcoming Odyssey 5 episodes. “There are too many cool things going on that I don’t want to spoil for viewers.” However, he is happy to hint at what audiences can look forward to. “We just wrapped production on an episode involving a deaf girl and what happens when computers are allowed too much control. In the story we’re about to start filming, Chuck and the rest of the characters forget they know one another and what they’re doing back on Earth. That should be an interesting one. After that, I’m going to direct an episode where we run into people that represent horrific experiences in our lives and with whom we haven’t had closure. Chuck is reunited with his father and we delve into that relationship. The writers are using parts of my own history with my real-life father who was someone quite dear to me. So I’m looking forward to working on that story.”
A talented and versatile actor who has built a solid career in TV, feature film and theatre, Peter Weller is also a gifted musician. “I originally wanted to be a jazz/trumpet player,” notes the actor. “Nowadays, I play in a jazz band in Los Angeles with [actor] Jeff Goldblum. At 20, though, I realized I wasn’t going to be the next Miles Davis,” he jokes, “and at that point I decided to give acting a try.”
The actor made his professional debut in the 1973 made-for-TV movie The Man Without a Country starring Robert Ryan. “I’d met the great Robert Ryan while studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts,” says Weller. “In fact, he was the first movie star I ever met. I sat next to him at a dinner, we talked, and then there I was a year-and-a-half later acting with him. He was an amazing influence on me just from the short amount of time I spent socially with him when I was in acting school and then during the making of this movie.”
Besides his TV work, Weller has appeared in countless big screen features including Butch and Sundance: The Early Days, Leviathan, The New Age and Naked Lunch. Sci-Fi fans will recognize him from his roles in RoboCop (and the sequel RoboCop 2) and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai. “I had a ball making both of them,” enthuses the actor. “On Buckaroo BanaziI was laughing all the time because I was working with some of the greatest comic actors ever including Jeff Goldbum, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd and John Lithgow.
“RoboCop was probably the most disciplined thing I’ve ever done. In order to prepare for the role I spent six months working with Moni Yakin, who’s a terrific mime and a professor at Julliard. At the same time I was training to run the New York marathon. I can’t remember ever working so hard,” he chuckles. “I don’t know if I could do that again.”
When asked what he enjoys most about acting, Weller is quick to respond. “The people. The success and money is fun and so is making a good movie, but the best thing about this business is meeting, working and sharing all those things with so many wonderful individuals. That and travelling to all sorts of neat places. I’ve met native tribes in the Sahara Desert, Zulu politicians in South Africa, and even hill people in Transylvania. You get to see how beautiful people really are. You can’t beat it.”
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