Stargate Atlantis' Colonel Steven Caldwell (Mitch Pileggi).
Once again, I have decided to open up the interview vault and revisit some of the many interviews I have had the pleasure of writing over the years and that just appeared in-print and not on-line. In today's interview, veteran feature film, stage and TV actor Mitch Pileggi talks about taking command as Colonel Steven Caldwell in the popular Sci-Fi TV series Stargate Atlantis. Enjoy, and keep coming back for more familiar faces and shows!
When he was in the third grade, Mitch Pileggi would go up onstage on rainy days and entertain his classmates and teachers with Elvis Presley tunes. That was his first taste of performing in public and he’ll never forget it. “There’s nothing quite like the immediate feedback you get from a live audience, and if you’re in the third grade it’s an even bigger thrill,” smiles Pileggi.
“I did some acting in high school and college, but after I graduated I went overseas and got into a very different line of work. Eventually I came back to the States and was looking for something new to do for a career. A buddy of mine in Texas called and said, ‘There’s plenty of theatre down here. Why don’t you come down and give it a shot.’ That sounded interesting to me, so I packed up, moved to Texas and once I walked onto a stage again I was hooked.”
After working hard to establish himself as a theatre actor, Pileggi then began pursuing feature film and TV work. Among his movie credits are On the Line, Brothers in Arms, Shocker, Basic Instinct and First to Die. On TV, the actor is best known for his portrayal of FBI Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner on The X-Files. Nowadays, Pileggi is having the time of his life cruising through outer space as Colonel Steven Caldwell on Stargate Atlantis.
“My character is commander of the Daedalus, which is the new space battle cruiser that’s come on the scene,” explains the actor. “When I first heard about the part I thought, ‘Hey, I get to play Captain Kirk.’ Then I walked onto the set and saw the command chair. That was so cool. I was like, ‘This is great. I’ve got my own ship. I am Kirk.’
“Caldwell is, I don’t want to say he’s a hard nose because I played one for nine years [on The X-Files] and I’m trying to give him more dimension and take him in other areas. That’s something I spoke about with the Atlantis producers when this role first came up. I explained that I didn’t want to play Skinner again. Not that there’s anything wrong with Skinner, but I’ve already done him. I want Caldwell to be different, and the writers and producers are helping me like crazy. I have nothing but appreciation insofar as how they’re writing for my character.”
The colonel and the Daedalus crew make their debut on Atlantis in the season two opener The Siege, Part 3. They arrive in the Pegasus galaxy just in time to help the Atlantis team defend the city against an onslaught by the Wraith. Although this was Pileggi’s first time working with this cast and crew, he did not feel the least bit out of place.
“For any actor it’s always great to come onto an established TV show and be accepted,” he says. “Everyone here has been very warm and receptive to me. They have a terrific sense of humor and like to have fun. I do too. I remember the first episode I did that Peter DeLuise directed [The Intruder]. I hadn’t met him yet and I walked onto the set while he was setting up a shot. Peter was like, ‘OK, this is where Mitch Pileggi, the star of The X-Files does this, and this is where Mitch Pileggi does that.’ I was standing behind him watching and listening to all this and just howling. Peter turned around and said, ‘Oh, there you are.’ That was my first impression when it comes to working on Atlantis, and things haven’t changed a bit.
“Something else I’ll never forget is that after my first couple of episodes, David Hewlett [Dr. Rodney McKay] came up to me one day and said, ‘You know Mitch, it feels like you’ve always been here.’ That’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.”
While the actor has been welcomed with open arms into the Atlantis family, the same isn’t exactly true of his onscreen alter ego. “I think one of the main things that Caldwell has on his mind when he first comes into the picture is taking over military command of Atlantis,” notes Pileggi. “Major Sheppard [Joe Flanigan] and Dr. Weir [Torri Higginson] are in some respects obstructions to that because they’ve got their own ideas. Initially, I don’t believe Sheppard really cares. He’s a cowboy. He doesn’t want that responsibility but it’s pushed on him and he takes it. So that contention has been established and it’s building over time.
“There’s a certain aspect of Caldwell manipulating these people. Not that he’s a villain, but he has his own agenda. There are specific things my character wants to accomplish and wants done in a way that he perceives is right. So I feel he’ll continue to develop alliances with certain characters, like Sheppard, Dr. Weir and even McKay, just to try to further his own agenda.”
Despite all his acting experience, there are still one or two things that Pileggi has had to get used to working on a show like Atlantis. “At times there are long stretches of action, especially battle sequences aboard the Daedelus, that they’ll shoot straight through,” explains the actor. “So you have to know all your dialogue, sometimes pages and pages of it. Believe it or not, I’ll occasionally forget a line. Fortunately, they do what’s called block and shoot, so they can tell you the line while the camera is still rolling and you just continue with the scene. It was a little overwhelming at first for me, but they held my hand and walked me through it. There’s an episode coming up where I have to do more of this, so we’ll see then if I really have a handle on it,” he jokes.
Having worked a great deal in Vancouver over the past 15 years, Pileggi is delighted to be back on familiar turf with his role on Atlantis. “My wife [Arlene] is from here, my daughter [Sawyer] was born here, and I love being up here, “he says. “So things couldn’t have worked out better.”
Pileggi spent nine seasons walking in Walter Skinner’s shoes on The X-Files, so it’s not surprising that playing the part eventually became second nature to him. Ironically, that proved to be a double-edged sword for the actor. “The longer you play a character the less challenging it becomes because you get to the point where you’re on autopilot, and that’s a problem,” he says. “I think I got lazy with Skinner and I made him less interesting. That was one of my concerns about playing Caldwell on Atlantis because I don’t want that to happen again. So the challenge as an actor is trying to keep what you’re doing fresh, interesting and enjoyable for you as well as the audience.
“Despite any regrets I may have about my performance on The X-Files, I always enjoyed working on the show. When Robert Patrick [Special Agent John Doggett] came onboard the series it was like a breath of fresh air. I love the guy. We had a lot of laughs on set and drove plenty of directors crazy with our antics, but it was all in good fun.”