MAYBE it's Global Warming, natural climate change or, perhaps, Mother Nature just having an off-day (or more), but there is no denying that weather across the planet has turned more violent as well as unpredictable over the past few years. In the upcoming NBC miniseries event The Storm (airing Sunday July 26th and August 2nd @ 9 p.m. - 11 p.m EST) art imitates real life and it's man versus nature as a single human being manipulates the elements and causes death and destruction to rain down on Earth (no pun intended).
Scientist Kirk Hafner (James Van Der Beek) attempts to stop billionaire Robert Terrell (Treat Williams) from destroying the Earth with his "weather creation" technology. Terrell's determination to manipulate the weather causes catastrophic weather conditions - a combination of hurricanes, sandstorms and drastic temperature changes that cause panic and hysteria across the globe. With government cohort, U.S. Army General Braxton (David James Elliott), the billionaire envisions the technology as a key military weapon to ensure super power status. Hafner enlists the help of news reporter Danni Nelson (Teri Polo) to help him expose Terrell's quest. Complications arise when seemingly trustworthy authority figures aren't who they initially appeared to be. This exhilarating action thriller follows Hafner on his journey to save the human population from extinction. The miniseries also stars David James Elliott, John Larroquette, Luke Perry and Marisol Nichols. Earlier this week, James Van Der Beek and David James Elliott very kindly took some time out of their day to speak with myself as well as other journalists about their work on The Storm as well as various other topics. An edited version of our conversation follows.
[caption id="attachment_2157" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="James Van Der Beek as scientist Kirk Hafner in The Storm. Photo by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC"][/caption]
Can you tell us a bit about your characters in The Storm and any specific acting challanges you found with these roles?DAVID JAMES ELLIOTT - I play the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I'm awfully young for the role, but we decided that my character was a brilliant military mind who rose up through the ranks at lightening speed. And as the miniseries kind of supports, he may have gotten there just a little too soon. As far as challenges, every role is challenging and you have to bring nuances as well as levels to your character and keep it truthful and interesting. General Braxton is a military man and I've certainly played one of those before, but there were definite differences. Ultimately, he has to struggle with his morality.
JAMES VAN DER BEEK - I play a scientist who is working for Treat Williams' character. Kirk Hafner is someone with a huge imagination, very creative, very brilliant, and all of a sudden he has all the tools at his disposal to push the limits of science as far as his mind will allow. My character is then kind of betrayed by the guy he's working for, and from there on he has no idea who he can trust. He has no idea who's after him, but is now charged with putting a stop to this thing that he's helped create. And I'd say the biggest challenge for me was keeping warm at 4 a.m. underneath rain towers. That pretty much trumped any other acting challenge.
What were the visual/special effects like in the miniseries? Was there more green screen versus practical or vice versa?DJE - I didn't really face any of the effects challenges, so James will have to answer that one.
JVDB - Let me tell you, the rain was real. There was no green screen rain in this thing. In fact, we didn't have to do much green screen work at all. A lot of it was practical and right there in front of us - everything from the lightning flashes to the wind and even explosions. If they were in-frame with me, then they were there and happening on the day. So it was a pretty real environment, and therefore I didn't have to use too much imagination for a great deal of it.
What attracted you both to the story?DJE - The script looked like it would be a lot of fun and it was certainly an interesting topic. Also, the director is a very old and dear friend of mine; he directed maybe 50 episodes of JAG [which Elliott starred in], so any opportunity to work with Bradford May I knew would not only be fun, but it [the work] would remain interesting and the film would look fantastic. That's why I wanted to be a part of this.
JVDB - I was fascinated by the idea of a scientist who is kind of in love with the exploration and follows his knowledge as far as he can. Then, however, he creates something that somebody else can use for all kinds of other nefarious purposes. My character created this technology with the best of intentions, and then somebody else took it and using it for their own power. So it puts my character in a difficult situation. He's trying to the right thing, but the right thing isn't entirely clear. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely - that was one of the themes in this story and that definitely attracted me to it and made it interesting. And it sounded like a great deal of fun, too.
[caption id="attachment_2158" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="David James Elliott as General Braxton in The Storm. Photo by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC"][/caption]
You guys both grew up in very different weather situations. If someone had said to you, "OK, you could harmlessly change the weather," would you have wanted to? David, when you were growing up in Canada would you have changed the weather if you had some way to do it?DJE - Oh, I'd have changed it in a minute. I hated the cold, so when the opportunity arose to come here [California] I jumped in my car and left immediately, and I haven't looked back. I'm not a fan of inclement weather. I like snow if I'm skiing, but I don't enjoy slogging around in it. I dislike rain as well, so that's why Southern California is a great place for me because I like the heat. I also don't like hurricanes or earthquakes, but who does?
JVDB - There are three things I do not miss about living in Connecticut - January, February and March. I would certainly do away with that kind of post-winter, pre-spring, cold, dry wasteland.
James, what was it like working with Luke Perry, and did you have a chance to talk with him about being in the same situation as him, albeit a decade apart, and working on a really popular teen show. (Perry worked on Beverly Hills 90210, while Van Der Beek was on Dawson's Creek).JVDB - Luke was, I think, a little bit further beyond it, so it wasn't as present for him, but it's always interesting to talk with someone who has been through something as unique as that. It's something you could only really know from the inside, and there's kind of a mutual understanding that comes from that. Luke is a great guy. He's got a wonderful perspective on it and I really did enjoy talking with him in-between set-ups.
James, you're the hero in this story but your character spends a lot of time in front of a keyboard. Is there a new kind of "geek hero" emerging here?JVDB - Possibly. You know, more and more these days you start relying on people who are good in front of the keyboard. So I mean, that was kind of the idea behind this guy, too. I've played characters who were athletic and strong, the kind of typical action hero, but what I liked about Kirk is that he's not your typical action hero. He's not particularly suited to being on the run, being shot at or chased, but through his own internal fortitude he somehow scrambles his way though it. That to me is more of an exciting journey as opposed to, for example, watching Rambo.
[caption id="attachment_2159" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Former Dawson's Creek star Van Der Beek and Beverly Hills 90210's Luke Perry (as Stilman) team up for the first time in The Storm. Photo by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC"][/caption]
James, would it be fair to say that you've taken a break from lead roles since Dawson's Creek, and is The Storm sort of a reemergence for you?JVDB - Yes. I mean, I was pretty burnt out after six years on a TV series, and I don't know that I was really ready to jump back in. I will say that one thing that's happened in the past year-and-a-half is that I've really started to rediscover my passion for acting and being part of a story in a leading role capacity. So I'm really having a good time right now.
What was your most memorable moment from filming The Storm?JVDB - We were shooting in Van Nuys around four in the morning and it was very, very cold. We were underneath these rain towers, the entire crew, the camera crew, everyone was standing in the 'rain' at this point. I was hiding behind a dumpster and there was a big Rottweiler that was supposed to come up against the fence and snarl and scare the heck out of my character. I was attacked by a dog when I was very little, so I have a natural fear of dogs anyway. So this huge Rottweiler, which probably weighed about twice my weight, was being held back by a chain and ready to come up and pounce against this chain-link fence. By four in the morning, though, when they let the dog go he just kind of ran up to the fence and was not angry at all. He more or less sat there panting. In order to save the shot I knew I had to rile him up, so I turned around and actually started barking at the dog and snarling and baring my own teeth. Only then did he start barking - so in the dailies I probably look pretty ridiculous on my hands and knees in the pouring rain and barking at a Rottweiler.
DJE - I was just excited to work with Treat Williams, so my first day was probably my most memorable, working with someone who I'd been a big fan of for many years. Other than that it was business as usual.
What did you like most about working with The Storm's director, Bradford May?JVDB - His passion and energy. As David can tell you because he worked with him more than I have, Brad comes in every day with a huge zest for life and loves being on film sets. He started [in the business] when he was 14 and has pretty much done every job there is to do on a film set. Brad's parents were in the industry. He's one of those guys who really knows everybody's job on-set, and was incredibly gracious about allowing them to do it, and then, always in a respectful way, kind of educating them on how they could do it a little bit better. Bradford is one of those pros who you get an opportunity to work with in this business and one of those lifers who reminds you that this is really fun stuff that we got to do. It's a job, it's a business, but when you're on-set we're all telling a story and making a movie, so that's what I loved about him.
DJE - Because Brad knows everybody's job, you move quickly and don't waste time. As James said, he's incredibly passionate and is a gas to be around. So not only is the work done efficiently and extremely well, but the process is a lot of fun, too. I remember the first time I met Brad. He walked onto a set that I had been working on for six or seven years and nothing fazed him. Talk about a character. The first take, he was like, "Cut! Print!" We all looked at him and thought, "Oh, my God, who is this guy? He's not going to last." And within two or three days we fell in love with him. Brad is just that type of person, you know? He's a great filmmaker and probably the most underrated filmmaker in Hollywood.
[caption id="attachment_2160" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="General Braxton has very specific plans when it comes to exploiting the "weather creation" technology in The Storm. Photo by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC"][/caption]
David, doing a project ike this, does it make you think about getting back into series TV?DJE - You know, I'm thinking about it. We're developing some shows at the moment with various partnerships, so we'll see what happens. What I miss about series TV is working on the craft every day, you know? Series TV has changed a lot since I left. It's a different game now and the rules have changed. Reality TV has changed everything. Certainly there is less opportunity for scripted TV, and less money to be made because advertising has changed. TiVo has changed that. The networks may have to change how they do business, and that seems to be happening. So there is less money and less opportunity, but it's less stifling an environment to be creative in, which is great. Standards and practices don't have a grip on cable TV like they've had on network TV, not that that's good or bad, but it's just different. I'm just happy to work, believe me. I've been doing a lot of films lately and I just dig working.
James, you mentioned before that by the time you got to the end of your run in Dawson's Creek, you were pretty burned out. Is there any advice that you might be able to give to, say, young actors who are in a hot TV show now, that might help them avoid that (burnout), or is that just the nature of the beast?JVDB - Wow, that's kind of a complicated question. I think the only way to avoid burnout is to gain a level of appreciation for the work, and I don't know that you can really get that without stepping away from it for a little while. The hours are so intense and the opportunities come so fast and furious that it's almost impossible to be able to appreciate it all to the level that you should. I mean, I was doing movies during the hiatuses as well as press, photo shoots and all that kind of stuff, and Dawson's Creek was a six-year run. Is there anything I could have done to avoid it [burnout]? I don't know. Now that I'm older and can kind of have a little bit of a different perspective on it, I'd like to think now that I can probably handle it and not be burned out for so long.
Also, it started for me when I was 20. And I wasn't in a place of really being able to handle everything that was thrown at me. I came out OK, but what I would say for anybody going through it, is just focus on the work and keep good people around you. And don't believe the hype either way, good or bad. Just really keep it all about the work and make sure that the people you're surrounding yourself with are high-quality individuals, and you should be OK. It's tricky, though. Any time opportunities come up, especially when money comes into the picture, it acts as kind of an indiscriminate magnet. It attracts all kinds of people; some of them with good intentions, some of them not. So it really is tricky. Not impossible, but tricky.
I was just saying to someone the other day that the one thing that I kind of came out of my experience with is a real compassion for anybody else who goes through the same thing. It's very easy to stand on the outside and judge and look at people making bad decisions and say, what the hell were you thinking? Having gone through it and been in the eye of that storm, I think I would try to judge a lot less than your average person looking at somebody going through that type of "train wreck."
As noted above, all photos by Peter Hopper Stone and copyright of NBC, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any form. Thanks!
Last August I had the pleasure of spending the day on-location at a working mine in Abbotsford, British Columbia with the cast and crew of Knights of Bloodsteel, a two-night movie event that will be broadcast this Sunday and Monday - April 19th & 20th - @ 9pm EST on the Sci Fi Channel. Over the next three days I will be posting cast and behind-the-scenes talent interviews from my time on the set. Enjoy!
[caption id="attachment_348" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="David James Elliott as John Serragoth in Knights of Bloodsteel. Photo by Carol Segal and copyright The Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Fans of actor David James Elliott probably best remember him as the clean-cut United States Naval officer Commander Harmon "Harm" Rabb, Jr. in the CBS-TV adventure/legal drama series JAG. This Sunday, he makes his debut played a very different type of hero in the Sci Fi Channel miniseries Knights of Bloodsteel. As the sword-wielding John Serragoth, the actor sports long hair as well as a beard and speaks with a Scottish accent. It was brand-new territory for him and one he was happy to explore.
"I'd never done anything quite like this before," says Elliott during a break in filming on-location in British Columbia. "I had just finished filming a miniseries [Impact!] in Victoria and was on vacation with my family in the Bahamas when I got a call about this project. They e-mailed me the script, I read it, thought it was well-written and they [the producers] offered me the role.
"Again, the fact that I had never really played a character like John was what made it interesting to me. My first day on-set was like most in that it feels as if you're about to climb Mount Everest. Not only are you still digging through the script to find the nuances, but you're also trying to find your character from inside yourself. That was certainly true with John because we took some chances with the character, including making him a Scotsman. We felt that that would help reinforce the fact that he's different from everyone else around him and more of an Earth-type guy. He's from the Moorlands, which is a wild territory on this world where our story takes place. So I was excited about the role and the chance to work with a new group of people."
In Knights of Bloodsteel, John Serragoth is one of four unlikely freedom fighters recruited by the sorcerer elf Tesselink (Christopher Lloyd). Their mission is to stop the evil Dragon Eye (Mark Gibbon) and his minions from acquiring the remaining supply of bloodsteel, a sorcery grade ore that gives powerful magical abilities to those who possess it. Should they fail, the island continent of Mirabilis will fall under control of Dragon Eye. Accompanying John on his quest to find the legendary magical Crucible, which is the source of bloodsteel, are Adric Thane (Christopher Jacot), a charming con artist, the enigmatic goblin Ber-Lak (Dru Viergever), and a fearless warrior elf named Perfidia (Natassia Malthe).
"They're a ragtag group," explains Elliott. "Circumstances thrust them together and John has his own agenda as well as this quest for a Crucible that will help his agenda. The latter is how the Elders of our story sold my character on helping them, and, in turn, this will help John complete his 'hit list' for lack of a better term. So he's a man with a list and he's ticking names off. Let's just say that he's got some vengeance issues," he says with a smile.
[caption id="attachment_351" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="John Serragoth (Elliott) and Perfidia (Natassia Malthe) enter dangerous territory. Photo by Carol Segal and copyright The Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
Off to one side of Elliott, Knights of Bloodsteel director Philip Spink is busy setting up his next shot. This project is the actor's introduction to Spink and in the director he has found a kindred soul. "Philip's enthusiasm is refreshing and he really gets into it, which is very inspirational," notes Elliott. "Like me, he's always digging and looking for the truth in every moment. Yes, we're doing this because it looks very cool, but at the same time it has to be grounded in some sort of reality.
"Before we began shooting I had to get a hair weave, so I came in for a seven-hour process where they were tying hair and attaching the extensions to my own hair. Philip came and kept me company. He and I laughed and talked about the script as well as my character and we had a good time. We sat together until almost two in the morning, and we were starting work at six the following day. It was nice to have that time because you rarely get that; once a project like this gets going there's really no stopping it and taking a pause."
As with many of his previous roles, this one brought with it various acting challenges, including physical ones, for Elliott to face. "The climax of this piece, which we already shot, was extremely challenging just from an emotional point of view," he recalls. "And it was late at night when we filmed it. We were working the night shift for a week straight, so that was tough. Again, you're constantly digging deep inside yourself and embracing areas that you probably wouldn't bother with in your normal day-to-day life.
"There's also been some fighting for my character," continues Elliott, "and I just missed having my eye taken out by a sword. It cut my eyebrow and I had a black eye for a while. People will often ask me, 'Oh, man, do you enjoy doing the fights?' Every time there's a fight I know I'm going to get hurt, and we have a big fight tomorrow, so I can't wait to see what happens then. I'm often cast in physical roles, probably because I have a high tolerance for pain. It's either that or someone has it out for me," jokes the actor.
[caption id="attachment_354" align="aligncenter" width="200" caption="John (Elliott) strikes a blow for justice! Photo by Carol Segal and copyright The Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
"This is a large script and that makes the work quite challenging because there are numerous things to be considered and to have to hold in your mind. It's important to always be in the moment, too. That's tricky and a struggle every day. You're trying to exist in this [make-believe] world and you're forced to exist in the real world at the same time. Some days are better than others, but you endeavor to put your best foot forward."
The second of three sons, Elliott was born in Toronto, Canada and admits that he fell into acting. "Music was my first love, but I just became frustrated because I tried to make a go of bands and you're always having to rely on other people," he says. "I went to Ryerson Theatre School in Toronto and then auditioned for and was accepted into The Stratford Shakespearean Festival Company where I spent a couple of years doing quite a bit of theater."
While honing his craft onstage, the actor made his TV debut in an episode of the Scottish-Canadian historical drama series The Campbells. "I played a mentally-challenged young man who lived in the woods," says Elliott. "I don't remember much about the work, but it was a challenging role, especially from an emotional standpoint and trying to portray my character as truthfully as possible as well as with some dignity. It was a great first [TV] role to have."
Elliott went on to win the Jean Chalmers Award for Most Promising Young Actor of the Season. Not long after, his performance as Dick, a dimwitted stripper in a stage production of B-Movie: The Play, caught the attention of those in charge of the Canadian TV series Street Legal. They cast the actor as Nick Del Gado, the handsome love interest for the show's female lawyers. The program was a hit and made him a household name in his native Canada. Elliott eventually moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting work there. Along with guest-spots on numerous shows including China Beach, Doogie Howser, M.D. and Dark Justice, he has had recurring roles on Knots Landing, Melrose Place and The Guard as well as regular gigs on The Untouchables, Close to Home and the long-running JAG.
"It was a joy to have worked on a character for that long," says the actor. "It was also a pleasure to work with all those people in a collaborative effort for an extended period of time. The show certainly opened a lot of doors for me, so it was a great 10 years spent."
[caption id="attachment_359" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Perfidia (Malthe) and John (Elliott) set their sights on the enemy. Photo by Carol Segal and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel"][/caption]
All too soon Elliott is needed back on-set, but before leaving he adds to his previous response. "Overall, when it comes to this business, it's rewarding to work with people who take it seriously and give it the respect it deserves. It's also rewarding when people find entertainment value in what you do. That's ultimately what we're trying to do, entertain people, and if we affect someone then we're doing our job."
Steve EramoAs noted above, all photos are courtesy of and copyright of The Sci Fi Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any fashion. Thanks!