Some might call Ray Wise a character actor, but to use that description is to damn him with faint praise. There aren’t many guys in the business who can come across as so mischievous, so ominous, so downright evil with just a simple look…and when you actually get to talk with him and find out what a nice, funny guy he is, you realize just how great an actor he is. Wise secured television immortality during his gig as Leland Palmer on “Twin Peaks,” but he’s managed to score the role of a lifetime on The CW’s new action-comedy, “Reaper” (#9 in the Winter 2007 edition of our TV Power Rankings), where he plays The Devil. One look at the above picture, and it’s clear that it’s one of the most perfect jobs of casting, like, ever, but would you believe he was one of the last people they saw for the part? True story. And we know because we asked him about it, along with what we can expect from upcoming episodes of the show. We also asked him a bit about the films he’ll have in theaters come 2008, and, of course, quizzed him briefly on “Twin Peaks.” (How could we not?)
Ray Wise: Hello, Will?
RW: It’s Ray Wise calling.
BE: How are you, Mr. Wise?
RW: I’m good!
BE: We actually met for a brief minute or two at the CW party during the TCA Press Tour.
BE: I don’t know that you’d necessarily remember me, but my wife told you about how she and I almost didn’t get married because I introduced her to “Twin Peaks,” only to loan her a tape that ended in a cliffhanger without giving her the subsequent tape.
RW: Oh, yeah! (laughs) That’s great!
BE: So “Reaper” probably received more positive press than any other show of the new season.
RW: Yeah, I think so! We were very fortunate.
BE: I’m sure you’ve done enough TV where you don’t get too excited about a project’s long-term chances right off the bat, but did you ever find yourself slipping and thinking, “We might be onto something here?”
RW: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I did that from the get-go. It was a great pilot script and a great character, and I felt that, y’know, with Kevin Smith on board as our director for the pilot and as a consultant of the series, I thought we were really onto something.
BE: Were you a fan of his work?
RW: Oh, yes, of course! Tremendously, yeah. Of course, “Dogma” is a favorite Kevin Smith film of mine.
BE: You actually came into “Reaper” relatively late; I’ve heard that they hadn’t actually thought of you for the part, but when they did, it was, like, “I can’t believe we didn’t think of him!”
RW: Yeah, exactly! I came in at the end of the process. I think they had seen probably more than a hundred actors, some of them quite well known and even some that had played The Devil before, and I came in at the end, and I prepared a little scene for them, and I walked in and did it, and I think they thought that I was it. (laughs)
BE: And, of course, you already knew a fair amount about Hell, having played Professor Klum in the “HellHoles” series.
RW: (laughs) You saw that, huh?
BE: I did! It’s great!
RW: Well, good!
BE: One of our other editors was wondering if you’d ever had a better intro in your career than knocking on someone's door, kicking them in the nuts when they open it, and saying, "Don't worry, I'm here to help?"
RW: (bursts out laughing) Isn’t that great? How about that?
BE: Do you know if the show’s producers had seen it prior to hiring you?
RW: I don’t think that they had. They may have since then, I’m sure, but I don’t think when I first came in that they’d seen it, no.
BE: Not to get too personal, but are you a religious-enough person to have had any trepidation about playing the devil?
RW: Oh, well, you know… (trails off) No, I didn’t really have any trepidation about it. I’m, uh, really not...it really didn’t bother me that I was playing this iconic character, The Devil, because it was written in such a way that it was a different kind of Devil. It was kind of the antithesis of everyone’s conception of The Devil. This is an entity that’s actually doing some good work on Earth…if you really look at it objectively. (cackles)
BE: Even if the viewer can’t necessarily tell, are there any other portrayals of The Devil that you’re thinking of in the back of your mind as you’re doing the part?
RW: Well, of course, you know, I’m a movie-phile, so I have a whole wealth of material to dwell on, and every Devil that’s ever been, I think I’ve seen. From Walter Huston in “The Devil and Daniel Webster” through Ray Walston in “Damn Yankees” to Gabriel Byrne in “End of Days,” Al Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate,” Robert DeNiro in “Angel Heart”…
BE: …George Burns in “Oh, God, You Devil”…
RW: Yeah! And, of course, The Devil in “Rosemary’s Baby,” and some of the later Devils, like Viggo Mortensen in “The Prophecy” and Peter Stormare in “Constantine.” And, of course, I can’t leave out Jack Nicholson and his Devil in “The Witches of Eastwick.” So, yeah, there were a whole variety of Devils that I was familiar with, and I suppose, y’know, that they all sort of congealed in my mind, and I use them from time to time, I suppose. But my Devil is a little different, I think, than all of them. So he’s kind of a fresh Devil.
BE: He’s definitely a funny Devil. I don’t think I laughed harder during the pilot than I did at your line, “Gag! What a tool!”
RW: (laughs) Yeah, and the “gag” was mine!
BE: (laughs) That’s awesome!
RW: Yeah, the “what a tool” was written, but the “gag” was all mine. (laughs)
BE: So how many episodes of the show did ya’ll manage to get in the can before the writer’s strike kicked in?
RW: Well, we have 10 episodes, and we’re working on number 11 right now.
BE: So is that one on hold for the time being, then?
RW: No, we’ll go ahead and finish work on number 11. But beyond that, I don’t know what the plan is. I’m going to go into the studio today and try to see a little bit about what they have planned. I think this is throwing us into a little bit of a tizzy. The whole industry, we’re all hoping that the strike is short-lived.
BE: Well, given the situation, I don’t know how far ahead you can offer up insight, but I’ll ask you a few questions about what’s upcoming.
BE: The Devil’s certainly beginning to show how deft he is at telling lies, convincing Sam that Andi’s new beau is seeing twins when they’re really the poor guy’s sisters. Do the writers let you in on what’s a lie in your dialogue and what’s not?
RW: What’s a lie and what isn’t? Not too much in advance, no. I, of course, know when I get the script, and we discuss it. But we pretty much do it on the fly. (laughs)
BE: Thus far, you really haven’t had much interaction with the cast, other than Sam. Will that be changing soon?
RW: (in his most ominous Devil voice) Oh, yes. (bursts into laughter) Yes. I can say that that’s a big “yes.”
BE: The Devil absolutely, positively didn’t want to talk to Sam’s dad when he requested a meeting with him, so clearly there’s more to this soul-selling situation than has been revealed thus far.
RW: Absolutely. I think we’re going to get down to the nitty-gritty on this soul-selling situation, and just what it means in contractual terms.
BE: Are the writers intentionally taking it slow so as not to give away the game too soon?
RW: Yeah, I think so. They want to just reveal things at a slow pace and not give to much too soon. And I think they’re going to explore all the different areas, the whole mythology and the hierarchy of Hell.
BE: Excellent. And I know you’re not a writer on the show, but what do you hear about Sam and Andi finally getting together?
BE: Because that’s really the only plotline that I’d like to see resolved sooner than later. I mean, if I were Andi, I would have gotten fed up with being jerked around by Sam a long time ago.
RW: Yeah, I think so, too. I think that’s gonna get a resolution soon. You know, I for one…my opinion is that I would like to see her get together with the boys and be one of the soul chasers. I think that would be a nice added dimension. But we’ll see what the writers have in store.
BE: Is the show as fun (to do) as it looks like it is?
RW: Oh, yeah, it’s a lot of fun. My goodness, are you kidding? (laughs) Man! All the stuff we get to say and do, and some of The Devil’s little special effects, and some of the gags that they write for us are just hilarious. It’s sometimes hard to keep a straight face, y’know? It’s hard not to crack up and ruin all the takes!
BE: Do you stick around when the trio are filming their action scenes?
RW: Oh, yeah, I like to watch them. They’re so much fun. You know, Tyler (Labine) is just a hoot as Sock, and Rick is such a voice of reason in all of it, and he’s such a sweet guy. Rick plays Dan. And, of course, young Sam, Bret Harrison, he’s just a delight. He’s like a young Jimmy Stewart, you know? He has that little crackly voice, and he’s so sweet-looking, and he’s, well, all the young kids on the show are just a joy to work with.
BE: It’s nice to finally see some of Bret’s range, because I loved him on “The Loop,” but he’s definitely getting more of a dramatic turn here.
RW: Oh, yes, yes, yes. And they’re going to explore that, too, in the future. He’s going to be all over the place, I think, emotionally.
BE: I’ve just gotten my copy of the “Twin Peaks” Gold Box set…
RW: Oh, good!
BE: Yeah, and I’m really enjoying that.
RW: Yes, there’s a wealth of extra material on that.
BE: In fact, I’m working my way through the new documentary that’s on there, and I was fascinated to learn that, when you first got the script for the pilot of that show, you actually saw yourself more as Sheriff Harry S. Truman than Leland Palmer.
RW: Yeah, that’s what I thought I was going to be up for. Yeah, the sheriff. I didn’t even…I don’t think Leland Palmer even crossed my mind. He seemed like kind of an insignificant character when I first read the pilot script, and, uh, boy, was I wrong! (laughs)
BE: David knew best.
RW: Yes, David always knows best! (laughs)
BE: I’m really pleased that the show still feels just as dark and disconcerting as it was back in the early 1990s, which is really quite an achievement.
RW: Yeah, it really holds up well, doesn’t it? I think it was a show for its time, but it was certainly before its time, also. I think it holds up well, and I don’t think anything has really come close to approaching it since.
BE: Given how far TV can go nowadays, I’m still impressed by the intensity of the scene where the possessed Leland kills Maddy. I mean, that’s a “Sopranos”-level murder.
RW: Wasn’t that something? That episode, I think, was one of the most startling and intense episodes ever for television…and it would be even for a movie. It was amazing. Amazing.
BE: I’ll start to wind down by asking you about a couple of movies you’ve got in the works. You’ve got “One Missed Call” scheduled for release on Jan. 4.
RW: Yes, “One Missed Call,” a remake of that Japanese horror film. I’m in it with Ed Burns. I’m looking forward to that coming out.
BE: How was that to work on?
RW: Oh, that was great fun. Eric (Valette), the French director who directed it, we had met up at the Fantasia Fest up in Montreal, and he was a big fan of “Twin Peaks,” and he said… (adopts French accent) “Perhaps one day we can work together, Mr. Wise.” And I said, “Yes, perhaps we can. I hope so.” And by goodness, he called me in for this movie, and we did get to work together, and we had a great time making it. Down in Atlanta, George, we made it.
BE: And then there’s “Infestation.” I’m not sure how big a part that is…
RW: Oh, it’s a big one, yeah. “Infestation” was made for Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions, and it’s all about giant bugs taking over the world, with some great special effects, and I play one of the leaders of a pack of survivors who are trying to fight the bugs.
BE: I’m very pro-giant-bug movies.
RW: (laughs) Well, it’s great. That was a lot of fun. It was a hoot to make, and we made it in Bulgaria, of all places. We were in the mountains of Bulgaria and just having a great old time. (Writer’s note: further research reveals that the film is the work of Kyle Rankin, creator of the aforementioned “HellHoles,” which makes me even more excited about it.)
BE: And just to jump back slightly, I’ve only just heard about this film that you made…I guess it was last year? But it’s called “Cyxork 7.”
RW: “Cyxork 7,” yes! It’s kind of a science fiction spoof, all about making a movie. It’s actually a movie within a movie. They’re making a movie out in the desert, a science-fiction film, and then a big cataclysmic earthquake in Southern California comes along, and they decide to take advantage of it and film as much of the earthquake as they can while it’s happening. (laughs) It’s pretty funny, and very satirical about the business. And then I have another one that I think is gonna come out soon…or, at least, I know they’ve been talking about it…with Richard Gere and Claire Danes, called “The Flock.” It’s all about tracking serial sexual predators, and I play the head of a public safety department in a large American city, and Richard Gere and Claire Danes are two of my agents, and they go after several perpetrators in the film, and…it’s pretty gritty and pretty graphic, and I think it’s good. And I hope it comes out soon.
BE: I’m actually working my way through Claire Danes’ box set right now, too: “My So-Called Life.”
RW: Oh, yeah! That was great!
BE: I’ll wrap up with this last one: has there ever been a project that you worked on which didn’t do as well as you hoped it would?
RW: (considers the question) Well, you know, I did this series for The WB called “Savannah” back in ’95, ’96 and ’97, and I played Edward Burton. He was kind of the scion of a fine old Southern family in Savannah, Georgia, and he was the richest man in town – he owned a textile mill – and it was kind of “Dallas” in Savannah. And I wish that that one had stayed on the air a little longer, because they were just starting to open up some of the closets and letting out the skeletons. (laughs) And I just wish we could’ve been on a little bit longer than the 31 or 32 episodes that we were on, because there was some great stuff coming up. And I still don’t know why that one was cancelled. It was getting decent reviews, and I think it was purely some kind of a business decision that was made. So, yeah, I guess “Savannah.” I wish that had stayed on the air for a season or two longer.
BE: Well, it’s been a pleasure talking to you again…oh, and I just wanted to mention that I really loved those Halloween commercials for “Reaper,” with you lip-synching “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
RW: Oh, thank you! (laughs) Yeah, they were fun to make.
BE: So, basically, you’ll take any opportunity to sing and dance, is that it?
RW: I hope so! As you know, I did it in “Twin Peaks,” and I’ve already expressed my desire to the producers of “Reaper” by mentioning that The Devil has a decent baritone. I want to do some show tunes on the show!
BE: I’d buy that soundtrack album.
RW: (laughs) Okay!
BE: Okay, well, again, good talking to you, and thanks!RW: All right! Thank you very much, Will. Bye-bye!