Skeet Ulrich interview, Jericho

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It looked for a minute there as if Skeet Ulrich was on the verge of being the new poster boy for critically acclaimed series that were cancelled too soon; he'd already had the experience with ABC's "Miracles," and, seemingly working his way down the networks alphabetically, he'd moved on to CBS and "Jericho." But to the surprise of virtually everyone...including, let's face it, most of the fans and TV critics who'd championed the show from the beginning..."Jericho" had its cancellation order cancelled. A rally cry from the season finale ("Nuts!") resulted in a hard-fought campaign which involved sending crate after crate of nuts to the CBS offices, begging them to reconsider. Whether they did so for the P.R. or not, all that matters is that "Jericho" will indeed be returning to the line-up in a few months, and during the TCA Press Tour, I was able to participate in a group discussion with Ulrich about the experience of having the show return from the dead. Since the conversation actually began as a one-on-one, however, I felt obliged to begin by mentioning that we were from the same state.


Bullz-Eye: I'm from Virginia, too, by the way.

Skeet Ulrich: Oh, really? What part?

BE: Chesapeake.

A chat with Skeet UlrichSU: (Surprised) That's where all my family is.

BE: (Equally surprised) Yeah? I'm a native, actually.

SU: Did you go to Indian River?

BE: No, I went to Great Bridge, actually.

SU: Oh, did you? That's where all my cousins went, to Great Bridge.

BE: Who are some of your cousins?

SU: My mom went to...no, actually she went to Indian River, and then later down the line, some of our family. But I'm all Rudd. Ricky Rudd is my uncle, so all that side of the family.

BE: That's so bizarre. But, sorry, anyway, on to topic. I'm actually a big fan of "Miracles," too, and I was afraid I was going to get a flashback while I was waiting for "Jericho" to come back!

SU: I know! Me, too! Apparently, we had a big fan response then, too, which I didn't realize at the time, either. But it wasn't obviously the size of this!

BE: I was part of that, actually; I sent my postcard of support.

SU: Oh good. I liked that show a lot. It was a fun show to work on.

BE: I talked to...I can't think of his name right now, but one of the producers of the show.

SU: David Greenwalt?

BE: No, the other one.

SU: Um, who did we have? Richard Hatem.

"When people talk about ('Jericho'), they wind up talking about different cultures and about things completely unrelated to the show. To me, that's a big success, to not be about "oh, she's so hot" or his hair or...just any of that. It's about the issues larger than the show itself."

BE: Yeah, Richard Hatem, and he was extremely...he spoke very fondly of you and the show.

SU: Oh yeah, that was a tough time. Shock and awe kind of killed that show. It was right as Bush started bombing Iraq the first time; we came out with good numbers, but then we kept getting preempted for war coverage, and it just kind of disappeared. But it was an interesting show. Angus Macfadyen (Ulrich's co-star in "Miracles") came over to the house the other day, and we were just laughing about different things that had gone on during that year. We're very fortunate not to repeat that...at the moment!...with this show.

BE: What was it about "Jericho" that grabbed you back to TV for the first time since "Miracles"?

SU: I just have always been interested in sort of societies and how they are formed, and who decides the pecking order, and the relative importance of hospitals vs. churches...and, really, that's the first thing that John Turteltaub and I spoke about. I had read Jared Diamond's book, Collapse, and was sort of really into stuff at that time about it. And, then...I like anything that sort of can be contentious and, if done right, that can provoke different ideas. I have to say, this show is unique from anything I have ever done. When people talk about this show, they wind up talking about different cultures and about things completely unrelated to the show. To me, that's a big success, to not be about "oh, she's so hot" or his hair or...just any of that. It's about the issues larger than the show itself.

Reporter: Were you happy that the show's going to be concentrating more on (the town of) Jericho than they originally thought?

SU: I don't know. I don't have the two scripts sitting in front of me to weigh the two out. I'm certainly happy with the script we have right now to shoot the first episode. And from what I've been told of the arc of the seven, it sounds quite thrilling and certainly is not a wrap up to the series at the end of the seven. It's really even a bigger cliffhanger than we ended the 22 with!

Reporter: If it did wrap up, though, would you feel that people would go away at least feeling that they had been heard?

SU: I don't know. From the bit I saw on the message boards and stuff, it looked like people were not going to be content to just get a quick wrap up. But I think (CBS President) Nina Tassler's point is well taken, you know: we have to have more viewers, and that is what we hope to do. You know, maybe this campaign is enough to... we did all of this without the attention of "Entertainment Tonight," without E!, without any of those guys covering us. I'm very proud of us for being a success when everybody said we were never going to make it. Last year, a year ago, nobody expected us to make it.

Reporter: Oh, I thought...actually, I thought you would make it a year ago. I didn't think that nut campaign would make it.

SU: Oh, really?

Reporter: Oh, yeah. We all had to apologize to readers.

SU: Again, I take the general swath of the feeling that seems to be...in a lot of the stuff that I had read, people weren't really big fans of the show when we started.

A chat with Skeet Ulrich

Reporter: Oh, I was a big fan. But I did think that it was pretty hopeless by that time. It seemed like a mistake, because yours is the only show that sort of got punished for what happened at the hiatus. The same thing happened to several other shows on other networks, and the networks absolved the shows themselves of the responsibility.

SU: Irregardless, I enjoy being the underdog, and I hope we can sort of continue to succeed despite...I think this will certainly be a good platform to bring more viewers in. And, hopefully, we get them and get to continue to tell the story. I certainly don't want to end it, you know, after these seven. As a viewer of the show, primarily, I would love to know what happens after what I have heard so far. So...

Reporter: Do you think it is going to be a big change, or a palpable change, for you to go from being under your father's authority to being the leader and having to sort exert that extra bit of authority on your fellow actors?

SU: Well, I think the two are very different things. I think one is a character thing and I think one is more of a work ethic. My work ethic has been the same forever. I mean, before this show even started, I was sitting around with the cast, and we are all leaders of the show. We all want to make the best show that we can make. If anything, I have encouraged people to come to work with their ideas of how to make it better. So I don't know that anybody's stature or position in the group of actors is going to change.

Reporter: I didn't mean...I meant as approaching the character and having to pull up within yourself, making it so that it would look like people were logically following you.

SU: Well, I think that's part of the challenge of the character, and in finding the way to sustain that art. That's primarily what Carol had talked about the character being, anyway: for him to be the ne'er-do-well who becomes a leader. I think it is more interesting to see the challenges that he will face and to see those uncertainties in him...and, yet, he still has to step up to the plate. Which we got a piece of in the twenty-second (episode), but it will certainly be more at the forefront now.

Reporter: What's the most...not the fan reaction, but within the show itself...what was the most surprising development for you?

SU: I loved the Mimi-Stanley relationship and how those two, Brad (Beyer) and Alicia (Scott), how they really brought so much to those characters that they drove them to the forefront of the story by their performances. I think it became larger as their performances worked, and I love watching that. I love seeing it, y'know, be one thing, and people make it into something so full that you can't deny it.

Reporter: How do you experience that, then? Because you're not usually part of those scenes. Is it after you see the...

SU: We're usually there, though.

Reporter: So you are watching when somebody else is working?

"From what I've been told of the arc of the seven (new episodes), it sounds quite thrilling and certainly is not a wrap up to the series at the end of the seven. It's really even a bigger cliffhanger than we ended the 22 with!"

SU: Yeah. There may be a day that I miss a couple of scenes or something, but we're usually around and get to see them. There are many times...well, when they say goodbye on Main Street, I think it's (episode) Nineteen? No, whenever my brother and him are being shipped to Newbern, and he's saying goodbye to her, there were ten of us actors with headsets on at the monitor, bawling. Alicia would come back, "Was it all right?" "No, it was horrible!" (Laughs)

Reporter: Well that's so nice because, usually, when you ask someone about what was surprising or what their favorite scene was, they're always in it! (Laughs)

SU: No, I love that moment...it's a very small moment, when Kenny Mitchell and his wife, April, was dying, and that look when she woke up and met eyes with him...it said volumes more than any dialogue could. Those little moments just...they kill me. Hawkins had one, when his daughter kills Sarah and they just... "We can't be around you!" And they abandon him, and that little tear that just trickles down, and he just shrugs it off and knows he's got to move forward. So I love sitting there and watching those things.

Reporter: So you guys are actually experiencing this as it's happening rather than later, when it's all put together?

SU: Most times. Not always. There are a lot of times that we stick around and watch each others work.

Reporter: How does your character and Hawkins' character...does the relationship change this year? I mean, now, you know a lot about...

SU: I have yet to see it in script form but, yeah, they do become partners. Lennie (James, who plays Hawkins) and I were talking today how the characters really know nothing about each other. He knows what he has read about me in a file, but in terms of, "Well, what's your middle name," we don't really know anything about each other, so there is a lot of interesting growth to happen in those relationships. I think it's a great partnering, and I love doing scenes with him, so...

Reporter: And what was the phone call like? Because you phoned him (to tell him about "Jericho" getting a reprieve), didn't you?

SU: I phoned him and his wife answered.

Reporter: What time was it in England?

SU: It was six in the morning.

Reporter: (Laughs) What did you say?

A chat with Skeet UlrichSU: I was at Alicia's house, and we were having a glass of scotch to celebrate, and his wife answered and I said, "Is Lennie there?" And she said, "He's sleeping. Who is this?" I said, "It's Skeet, and I think you probably want to wake him up for this. He will want to be woken up." He rather groggily answered the phone, and I relayed the information to him, and there was this pause. It is one of the great moments of life to pass on such great news to somebody and to get their reaction.

Reporter: Now, before it was renewed and you knew that it was being written, did you have in your mind what the outcome was with the battle that ends season one? Did you know that everybody died, if one side won, if the Cheyenne government came in...?

SU: I had heard a bit about Cheyenne possibly coming in, but that didn't necessarily answer my question as to what would happen between the two towns. I suspected a lot would have happened, you know. A lot would go down, and people would wind up changed from the experience. There were a lot of questions, but, primarily, at that point, we were concentrating fully on that episode alone...and then once you were able to sleep in, I think story left my mind for a couple of weeks. And then the business side kind of took over, of "are we coming back, are we not coming back," so I didn't think a whole lot about it. But I do wonder mostly who the people are that are greatly effected. And, certainly, Jake is one of them. Both towns as a whole are a part of that, but, personally, I think he is the one we are going to see struggle the most.

Reporter: When (producer) Carol Barbee said this morning that you're off to go save the world and your vision...do you want to talk about that a little bit more?

SU: I think we all craned our necks when she said it. (Laughs) It was new to me! But he does have...Hawkins does have the evidence for what is the biggest crime in history, and it certainly can't be taken lightly, and I don't think the people who are coming to get it take it lightly, either. I think there is a lot left to be answered, and I'm curious to know myself sort of what she meant, and if it takes us outside.

Reporter: I was wondering, does that mean that you leave the town? Do you try to get out of there?

SU: I don't know. I had heard that part of the arc of the stories originally was that there were a few main characters that did leave. Not that they wouldn't come back but that they did start exploring other areas. I am very curious to see...I am really curious to see New York, to see the chaos in New York and what has gone on there. So, hopefully, as a fan of the show myself... (Laughs) ...we can figure that out!

Reporter: Have they had you do anything particular to the DVDs yet, like commentary?

SU: We did a commentary while we were in production.

Reporter: Did you do it by yourself, or paired with Lennie?

SU: I did mine... I think everybody did theirs by themselves. We didn't do, like, B-tracks or anything. We had done those at CBS.com, a few of them, through the year, but we didn't do anything to that extent yet. I think a lot of it is just interviews they've tack on.

"('Jericho') is always a work in progress, and we're always trying to put on the best show we can."

Reporter: Is that pretty standard now?

SU: In movies, it's always standard; they were always doing interviews for DVDs and shooting B-roll for DVDs. I don't know. It's been standard for me since I have started, so I'm not sure if, in TV, that was ever the case.

Reporter: Do the fans know, or do you get from the fans, what they most like, and why this show was something they felt was worth fighting for from them?

SU: No. I honestly haven't had time to sort of ask them all. Whatever it is, it has been...I can't thank them enough. It has been unbelievable the amount of support, and, like, we were talking earlier this morning, and we were caught unaware by...or certainly I was...I wasn't aware of how many fans we had. All we heard for the last few weeks was how we don't have enough fans, and then suddenly to see this uprising really bolstered us all and made us think maybe we did make something that touched people. It was clear to me that that was it. I don't know necessarily what they disliked or liked.

Reporter: Do you check out the fans' sites ever?

SU: I have been there when I realized I should probably say a few words for all of the efforts that people were doing, and I looked around at some that day. It's a bit overwhelming.

Reporter: Did you make comments?

SU: I had one piece I said on there, and that's kind of been all the comments I've written, but it was really overwhelming to see the response and...I'm not a blogger, so I wasn't quite aware that this kind of thing really existed, to some extent. It has been really humbling, and I think Lennie put it right: it really puts into perspective why we do what we do. You don't get that kind of contact necessarily in movies. It is cut and dry. By the time it comes out, you've usually shot two other things or are in the midst of something else, and it doesn't really have that same immediacy. It has been a very pleasant surprise and if I could individually thank them all, I would.

Reporter: Is there any one thing that you would like the press to be asking you that you think is essential to the understanding of this?

SU: Well, I think it's important to know the genesis of the show. There are story lines we want to follow and make meatier, and sometimes there is no format necessarily, or no way for us to get that to happen. We're aware of some of the pitfalls of the show, and we're aware of where we are succeeding, and we're trying to make the successes a lot more. It is an interesting process, starting the show and then finding out that, well, this may not necessarily be the way people want to go with the show, and we need to go this way, and really creatively fighting for the things you believe in about the show. It has been a great collaborative effort from everybody, Carol and CBS and Paramount and all of us, to try and tell this story in the best way we can in the time slot we were in. I think everybody was worried about it being too dark early, and then everybody was worrying about it being not realistic enough. I think at the end we found what we were after and, to some extent, it takes that many episodes to set it up for it to even matter by the end. I think that's the thing I want people to know: that it's always a work in progress, and we're always trying to put on the best show we can.

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