Interview date: 06/15/2008
Run date: 07/14/2008
Whether you know him from playing Elliot on “Just Shoot Me,” Keith Mars on “Veronica Mars,” or Mathesar in “Galaxy Quest,” it’s a fair bet that you’ve gotten a laugh or two out of the work of Enrico Colantoni. Now, Colantoni is taking on a more serious role, playing Sgt. Gregory Parker in the new CBS drama, “Flashpoint.” Okay, the guy’s got a delivery that ensures a certain amount of laughs when he’s off duty, but when he’s working with his tactical team that rescues hostages, busts gangs, defuses bombs, and takes on other tough cases, he’s all business. We spoke with Colantoni about his new series, chatted about his earlier gigs (and what he’s heard about a possible “Veronica Mars” movie), and what it’s like to play both Celine Dion’s husband and the director of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
EC: Hi. It’s Enrico Colantoni calling.
BE: Hey, how are you doing? It’s a pleasure to speak with you.
EC: Well, thank you. Where is area code 757?
BE: Chesapeake, Virginia. Right next door to Virginia Beach and Norfolk.
EC: That sounds romantic.
BE: I’ve lived here my whole life, so I can’t even tell you anymore. But they do say Virginia is for lovers.
EC: That’s beautiful.
BE: Well, I checked out the pilot for “Flashpoint.”
EC: Oh, you saw it?
BE: I did, yes. They sent me a copy yesterday.
EC: Very good.
BE: Yes, it’s very nice. Very stylish.
EC: Yes, it is pretty, isn’t it?
BE: Was this an opportunity that you stepped into immediately after you got word about “Veronica Mars” being canceled?
EC: No, this was about a year later. I did it mostly because it was an opportunity to come home (to Toronto), and it was an opportunity to pay homage to my brother, who is a retired policeman in Toronto. He was a policeman for 30 years, so I sort of liked the idea of playing my brother on some level.
BE: So I guess you didn’t need to do but so much research before you started filming.
EC: You know what? I grew up watching my brother and all of the cops I’ve met, officers of the Emergency Task Force – which our unit is based on – in Toronto. So I’ve always had this romantic notion of who they are and what they do. So, no, not a lot of research was done by me…except how to hold a gun, maybe.
BE: You’re known for the sense of humor that you’ve brought to most of your prominent roles. Is that a hard side to work into “Flashpoint,” given the serious subject, or…
EC: Nah, come on. You’ve got to have it somewhere.
BE: I was going to say that guys in that line of work probably need to blow off steam, anyway.
EC: Yeah, I slipped it in. It slipped in. They hire the whole package when they hire me, man! I come with a little humor.
BE: I understand it was originally called “Sniper.” Did somebody just decide that was too on the nose?
EC: Well it was first called …it was “Critical Incident” first, and then it went to “Sniper,” but I think it was changed because it became more of an ensemble piece as opposed to just the sniper character. The pilot revolves very much around him, but as we go into the series, we see everybody else. We get to know everybody else very intimately.
BE: Good. Actually, that was a concern I was going to ask you about. Hugh Dillon’s character certainly gets a lot of exposure in the pilot, but we don’t really learn a whole lot about anyone else.
EC: Yeah, that was just how the pilot was designed. I’m thinking that maybe they wanted the series to go that way, but I think they changed their minds as things began to unravel. Well, not unravel, but just unfold. (groans) “Unravel.” Oh, God!
BE: Yep, that’s going to look great in a pull quote.
EC: Yeah, oh, boy. I retract that please.
BE: So have you filmed all 13 episodes already, or are you still…
EC: No, we’re on number six right now.
BE: But you’ve got an order for 13, right?
BE: Okay, cool. Had you worked with anyone in the cast before, or is this the first time around for all of them?
EC: Yeah, first time for everybody.
BE: I know the creators, Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern, have more of a history in acting than in writing.
EC: Stephanie and Mark, yeah, they’re a husband and wife team. I’m glad that they’re writing now.
BE: I’d guess that they are able to bring a certain amount of their acting experience to the writing.
EC: They sure do, and they’re really approachable in that way, because you can talk to them on that level.
BE: I see you’re also in the cast of a Canadian mini-series, “Zone of Separation.”
EC: It’s an eight part miniseries for the Movie Network up here which will probably see the light of day in America on some cable network. But, yeah, that was a lot of fun to do. That was all about…well, it wasn’t about the Bosnia conflict, but it was sort of based on what was going on in Bosnia with the peacekeepers, the Canadian peacekeepers. I played a Chetnik; a guerilla, a Serbian guerilla.
BE: Nice. Definitely a new one for the resume.
EC: That was fun. Yeah, they called him Speedo Boy and all he wore was a Speedo brief and a long, black leather trench coat. And he had long…in fact, I’m looking at his wig right now…he had long blond, flowing hair, and, well, basically, he was magnificent.
BE: You realize those photos are going to be all over the ‘net sooner rather than later?
EC: (laughing) I’m sure.
BE: So how often were you getting back up to Toronto prior to this?
EC: It wasn’t a lot. It all started again last year because my parents had moved back to Italy, and my brother had recently moved back to Italy, so I got back maybe once a year for a little bit. Now I get to do it a lot. My kids get to spend the summer here. They get to see how and where I grew up. That’s exciting for me.
BE: I would think.
BE: You have played a chef in two upcoming films. Do you have a culinary background because of your Italian background?
EC: Well, you know, I like to cook, but I wouldn’t say I’m a chef. But I like to throw things together, and sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t. I like to cook for the kids; I like to cook on a Sunday afternoon and invite people over. That connects me to who I am and where I come from.
BE: Do you have a signature dish?
EC: Well, you know, it’s a comfort dish. I love pasta, but I try to spice it up as much as I can. I love a simple tomato sauce, but sometimes I’ll throw a little bacon in there, sometimes I’ll add an egg and beat it and make an alfredo. It’s just…anything on a pasta makes me happy and reminds me of home.
BE: You know, I think I’ve watched more of “Just Shoot Me” in syndication than I did when it was originally running on NBC.
EC: Isn’t it remarkable that most people have? And “Veronica Mars” is dealing with the same sort of posthumous fame, you know, with the DVD sets. It’s really remarkable. If we had all those people watching us when we were actually on television, I think we would still be running.
BE: On “Just Shoot Me,” it seemed like the cast had a pretty solid chemistry…or, at least, certain pairs had chemistry, given that they were always paired together.
EC: You know what? It didn’t matter who we got to work with; we all knew that there was something exciting about each of those people. I mean, Wendie (Malick) and I had our own unique little thing when we worked together, and Davey (Spade) and I had our own lovely balance. George (Segal) was always a pleasure because I could just sit with him and talk, listen to him all day. And of course Laura (San Giacomo) is just sexy and downright beautiful.
BE: Actually, I was going to say you and Laura clearly work well together since she turned up on “Veronica Mars” as well.
BE: Whose idea was that appearance?
EC: Well, they asked me, and I said, “Yes, please,” and it sort of happened. I would love to keep working with them again and again and again.
BE: I read an interview…I guess it was from a couple of years ago, but you mentioned that the cast of “Just Shoot Me,” was still getting together about once a month for dinner. Is that still an ongoing thing?
EC: It’s become more seasonal now. We try to do it four times a year, just because of our schedules, but yeah, we’ll always check in and we’ll always make sure we share a meal on some level.
BE: About how long would you say it really took you to get the feel of Elliot on that show?
EC: You know, he changed every season. A lot. He started off as the womanizing guy, he turned into the fop, he became a little nebbish near the end, and then he was the romantic. I never really got my Elliot legs, you know, but that’s what made it fun. He did keep changing, and it kept me on my toes, and we kept exploring new ways to make him work and stuff.
BE: Was there a particular aspect that you preferred over the others?
EC: He, either way, was all foreign to me. He always served as an alter ego, no matter where we was going. I sort of relied on the writing, because the writing was so good and it just depended on where they wanted to bring him that particular week, and I just willingly would go. I kept comparing him to Louis Utz, on “Hope & Gloria.” I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that?
BE: It’s been ages, but yeah.
EC: Yeah, but you know what? Louis Utz was a solid guy who you just knew what to expect from him and he was a lot of fun to play. Elliot was fun in the sense that he kept surprising me, I didn’t know exactly where he was headed; where he was going. I know somebody in that writing staff is going to come back and give me a hard time for this. Shit.
BE: Well, it’s funny…the way that I started actually watching it was because I had David Cross as a TiVo selection and pulled all the episodes where he played your brother.
EC: See, those were genius episodes.
BE: Oh, absolutely. And that’s what got me into the show.
EC: Oh, good. Thank you, David Cross.
BE: Exactly. You certainly have a lot of “Veronica Mars” fans here at Bullz-Eye. I mean, a couple of us broke down weeping like little girls when it was cancelled.
EC: (laughing) And that’s the way it should be.
BE: Especially some of the series that ended up on the CW in its wake. Not to speak to the quality of the show, but I’d much rather my little girl watch “Veronica Mars” than the teens on “Gossip Girl.”
EC: You know what, I haven’t seen “Gossip Girl,” but I appreciate what you’re saying…
BE: I’m not even commenting on the quality of the show. I’m just saying…
EC: Yeah, no, I understand. There is something positive about a character like Veronica Mars for any girl. I’m assuming your girl is like a young teenager?
BE: (laughs) Actually, she’s only two, but I have “Veronica Mars” on DVD, so…
EC: Oh, she’s two. Of course she’s going to like “Veronica Mars.” She’s like a superhero!
BE: What did you think of the reboot of the show that had been planned, with Veronica going to the academy?
EC: Well, that wasn’t determined. That was, I think, and I may be speaking out of turn, but I think that was an alternative to if we were going to get cancelled. I’m pretty sure that Rob’s intention was to continue from the third season. Where we had left in the third season was Veronica being on the outside again; that was going to be exciting to explore in the fourth season. The FBI thing was sort of the alternative plan, I think.
BE: Did the CW keep you guessing down to the last second or were they forewarning you ahead of time that you just might not be coming back and making you aware of the possibility?
EC: No, they kept us in the dark, Most networks will, I guess. That’s what they did on “Just Shoot Me.” They didn’t really give us any sort of idea of what was going to happen.
BE: Has there been any real talk of doing a “Veronica Mars” movie?
EC: I hope so. I hope somebody comes along and entices Rob to write something. But I haven’t heard anything yet.
BE: Certainly, it’s a fan boy dream, but I didn’t know if there was any reality to it or not.
EC: Well, you know what? Like you were saying, more people are watching shows after the fact. The “Veronica Mars” fan base is getting bigger and bigger thanks to DVD, so why not? Why not?
BE: I take it you would be back in a heartbeat?
EC: If they ask me, yeah.
BE: So now that you’ve been in a Celine Dion bio-pic, are you a Celine Dion fan?
EC: I became a Celine Dion fan.
BE: You were not one prior to doing the movie?
EC: You know what? It was just sort of…I knew the songs, but I didn’t know anything about her life. It’s a lot of adversity. Adversity, yes, but also the sheer…sort of skyrocketing to stardom is just inspiring. How from child to present, this is what she loved to do, this is what she wanted to do, and, by gum, she’s doing it. So it’s a beautiful story and, ultimately, a lovely love story, because they are still together and they still seem very much in love. God bless them.
BE: Did you meet Rene prior to playing him in the movie?
EC: No, he was hands off. I think he had and has issue with the fact that we did it without his okay.
BE: I can see that, I guess.
EC: I don’t think he’s seen it yet, though, because it’s an absolute love letter to them.
BE: Speaking of other real life people you played, you played Elia Kazan in the James Dean TV bio-pic.
EC: I did, I did. Just sort of a sliver of his life. But that was…I got to work with Mark Rydell and Jimmy Franco…well, James Franco. That was just…to watch Rydell do his stuff was just pretty great.
BE: Was playing a character like Kazan intimidating, given how formidable he was in the industry?
EC: It was intimidating, because I had to sort of exude that. He was…he was an icon at that time. He is still an icon, but at that time he was a force to be reckoned with. This little guy who was just revolutionizing the film industry. How do you capture that in all of 10 minutes? And the fact that Mark offered me the role just based on meeting him at his house, it was, like, well, how do you do that?
BE: On "NYPD Blue,” you kinda sorta kicked Peter Boyle’s ass. Do you think you could have ever done that in real life? I mean, not to belittle your fighting abilities, but he seemed like he was a bit of a scraper.
EC: Peter was a big, big man. A big, big man. You know what was absolutely lovely about him is that he had the spirit of a child. At that point, he was who he was, but he still approached the work with the innocence of a young acting student. So there was a vulnerability to him that made him far less intimidating than he looked.
BE: “Galaxy Quest” was definitely one of my favorite comedies in recent years, and I think it would be even if I wasn’t a “Star Trek” fan.
EC: I think most people would agree with you.
BE: I think it’s particularly funny that a lot of people don’t even realize that you play Mathesar.
EC: I think that’s a complement.
BE: I think it is as well. Who came up with the unique delivery? Was that your own, or was it a directorial choice?
EC: I sort of just…it seemed obvious to me. It seemed like such an obvious choice. I thought, “Are people going to buy this?” But they seemed to like it. I was just being silly and I go, “Well, that’s what aliens sound like, right?”
BE: It’s not like English is their first language.
EC: He’s like an innocent alien? All right.
BE: You worked with Spielberg on “A.I.”, if not necessarily for an extended period.
EC: Right. No, it was a very short outing, but it was thrilling nonetheless. He had met me during “Galaxy Quest.” When he hired me for “A.I”, I thought it was based on “Galaxy Quest,” but when I got there, even he didn’t know that I was Mathesar. And then when he realized I was Mathesar, he started to do imitations of Mathesar. When Spielberg is doing imitations of you…I mean, I can walk away right now. I can throw it all away; it’s all good.
BE: Did you enjoy working with Steven Soderbergh on “Full Frontal?”
EC: Can’t think of a better experience.
BE: Oh, really?
EC: Yeah, talking about a student of acting…Peter Boyle would approach things like he was still a student of acting, but Steven just seemed…he continued to be fascinated with exploring what he does. I got to work with him during one of his experimentations. “Full Frontal” was an experimentation for him. Just to sort of watch him go through it, doing what he does…he was generous and lovely. Just a soft, mild manner and just perfect.
BE: Was it a challenge for you, given that it was kind of an experimental film?
EC: I don’t think so. Maybe an exciting job as opposed to just a regular job.
BE: How was working on “Stigmata?”
EC: Well, that was only exciting because that was my first movie. I mean, I was working with Jonathan Pryce and Gabriel Byrne, so I was like, “Woo woo!”
BE: You’re not a huge fan of the horror genre?
EC: You know, I watched it. It was good; it was exciting. My parents watched it; they were pleased to see me in a priest’s frock.
BE: Hey, you lived up to your Italian heritage.
EC: You know what? I had to do something at that point. I had to show them something, or they would write me off.
BE: How did you get into acting in the first place?
EC: I took an elective in drama at the University of Toronto and was sort of encouraged by my peers and my teacher at that time. So I just sort of listened to them because it felt good while I was doing it, and I needed the encouragement because I certainly didn’t have the balls to do it on my own. And so I just put one foot in front of the other and applied to the American Academy, then got accepted and had to deal with that with my parents. I got to New York and continued to get the encouragement from my teachers and just sort of trudged along, thinking, okay, I guess this is good; being petrified the whole way. And then, at some point when I needed to really stand up to my parents and say I wasn’t coming back, I knew I had to embrace the whole journey. That’s when I started thinking about going to the Yale School of Drama and that kind of stuff and really, really upping it little bit. Upping the stakes. Does that make sense?
BE: Yeah, it does. Where do you keep your Carol Dye Award?
EC: (laughing) It was dented when I got it.
BE: On the subject of your early acting gigs, I’m sure you will be thrilled to know that “Friday the 13th : Season 1” is getting ready to come out on DVD.
EC: Are you shitting me?
BE: I shit you not.
EC: Oh, my God. Oh, my God.
BE: I am very excited to see that performance.
EC: That’s hysterical.
BE: Do you remember anything about that job?
EC: Of course I do. It was my first job! It was my first job, but it was in Canada, and I was just not good. I approached it like a raw nerve; it was all I knew. Just be vulnerable. Play it vulnerable and crazy.
BE: I wasn’t sure if that was your first job, or if “Night Heat” was. They credit that for you for the same year.
EC: It was like…it happened that they were simultaneous. One right after the other.
BE: Actually, for “Night Heat,” IMDb doesn’t even give you a character name, they just refer to you as actor.
EC: And you know what? That’s how it should be.
BE: That good a role, huh?
BE: I’ll just close with a couple of quick questions of curiosity. What’s your favorite album?
EC: My favorite…oh, wow!
BE: You can narrow it down to three or four.
EC: Well, there’s The Joshua Tree…what am I listening to now? So many of the early R.E.M. albums…
(At this point, we’re abruptly disconnected, but before I can call Mr. Colantoni back, he beats me to the punch.)
BE: If it was too much pressure, I withdraw the question.
EC: You know what, it was an insulting question, and I didn’t know how to deal with it.
BE: My apologies.
EC: You should have seen me. I’m thinking out loud and going, “How about that album? Will? Hello?”
BE: Yeah, I heard you up until you started talking about early R.E.M., and then I lost you.
EC: Yeah, early R.E.M., then Green. All That You Can't Leave Behind, another U2 album. Breakfast in America.
BE: I’m actually quite a big Supertramp fan.
EC: Yeah, I like that one.
BE: Do you have a favorite project you worked on that didn’t get the love that you thought it should? And we can leave “Veronica Mars” out of the running.
EC: Yeah, “Hope & Gloria.” I was a big fan of “Hope & Gloria.” I thought we cornered the market on quirky. Louis Utz was such a great character to play, and we only got to do 35 episodes. Cynthia Stevenson is brilliant, and Alan Thicke was just wonderful. Jessica Lundy was a blast. It seems like all those people…I’m sorry that it didn’t live longer than I thought it should.
BE: Is there a project that didn’t take off at all that you still regret the fact that it didn’t?
EC: Well, yeah, I just did a film called “Sherman's Way,” a little independent film that is still bopping around film festivals, and I’m hoping that gets a release soon. I think it’s a little gem of a movie.
BE: Any pilots that never took off?
EC: Yeah, a couple, but I don’t sort of…
BE: Don’t dwell on them?
EC: No, I don’t dwell on them.
BE: Well, I think that is pretty much everything. Like I say, it’s been a pleasure talking to you, and, uh, thanks for calling me back.
EC: My pleasure, buddy. Take care.