Exclusive: One Tree Hill’s Cullen Moss on the Evolution of Junk, Making of Dear John and Blood Done Sign My Name

21 02 2010

Think One Tree Hill is the only place to catch Cullen Moss? Not true, my friends, not true. In the month of February alone, Moss had two movies come out in theaters, the based-on-a-novel Dear John and the based-on-a-true-story Blood Done Sign My Name.

But there’s no denying Moss is most familiar to us TDWs for his role as Junk Moretti, a character we first met way back in 2003 in the One Tree Hill pilot. In our exclusive interview, Moss talks about his longevity on the show, improvising in Dear John and the connection he has to Bethany Joy Galeotti’s The Notebook musical.

TeenDramaWhore: Do you remember what your audition for One Tree Hill was like?

Cullen Moss: Yes, I do. It was a surprise. It started with a call from my agent that the [casting agency] Fincannons wanted to see me. I just this past year found the piece a paper where I wrote the details down. I wrote “Jump McCready, 17-year-old baller.” This was when I was 27! My agent, she even told me, “Now, I asked them if they knew how old are you” and she asked if they were sure they wanted to see me and they did. I went in and I found out it was not Jump McCready. But for some reason, that name, Jump McCready, made me go in and do this character-y New York dialect. I guess they liked it. The line was about somebody stinkin’ and needed deodorant. It sounded like something from The Bowery Boys in a 1940s movie. Or somebody out of The Sandlot. It was weird. But when I went back for the call-back, I said, “You know, I can lose that accent. I don’t have to do that” because I realized that it was supposed to be set in North Carolina, and they were like “No, no, no. Are you from New York?” and I said I wasn’t. I forget who was there. [Creator] Mark Schwahn and…

TDW: [Executive producers] Mike Tollin? Brian Robbins?

Moss: Yeah, I think they were both there. I’m pretty sure Brian Robbins was. Anyway, they were like, “No. Keep it. We like it.” So I did. At the time, I was supposed to go over to Japan to visit my brother who was living there but my agent kept saying, “You’re still in the running. You’re still in the running.” It was this long process. So I had to postpone the trip to Japan and then the final audition was a shoot-out. They set up a basketball hoop outside the casting office. I was by no means 17 and by lesser means a baller. I would play little pick-up games with my friends but I was terrible. I had poor form. I would describe my court-style as frantic. I practiced the night before the shoot-out and I tried to pass to one of my friends and my back went out! I was just feeling decrepit and old and useless. But the morning of, I stretched it out and kind of played through the pain. It was down between me and a black guy for the role. He had played high school basketball and stuff but, for some reason, he wasn’t hitting his shots. I was talking trash, needlessly because I was horrible, but all my garbage I was shooting was going in! I remember Mark Schwahn saying, “Your form is horrible! How are you making these shots?” but I couldn’t miss that day. Then I got the part.

TDW: Did you ever expect all these years later that your character would still be around?

Moss: No, I didn’t. Vaughn Wilson, who is such an awesome and cool dude, plays Fergie. Usually when we would shoot, it was like smoke and fire. One of us wasn’t working unless the other was. They would call us in together, Junk and Fergie, Junk and Fergie. I was working at the studios, actually, during the second or third seasons, in the lighting and grip department. I was in the shop, inventorying equipment and fixing equipment. I would deliver stuff to the set of One Tree Hill and try to get the scoop–was I in the next script? I remember somebody at the beginning of the third season saying, “Oh, yeah. You’re coming up soon” and then they looked at the script later and were like, “No, I think it was just Fergie in the script.” It happened another time, too, where he was working and I wasn’t so I thought maybe they were just done with me and I wanted to find out. So I e-mailed Mark Schwahn and said, “Hey, if you’re done with me, I understand. I don’t want to be on edge here. Just let me know if that’s it. If that’s it, that’s fine and thank you for keeping me around as long as you did.” He answered back–and he’s such a sweet dude–he said “You know, honestly, we really don’t know. We don’t have a point of view for your character. We don’t know where we’re going to go so I don’t have an answer for you but that might be it for you. Oh, and you’re not looking so high school.” And I understood that.

So I wrote him back and pitched an angle. I don’t know if it had anything to with his ultimate decision but I pitched it that maybe Junk was this older loser guy. They had never shot me at the high school. I said maybe he’s the older loser guy who hangs out with the kids on the River Court. He never really grew out of his high school years. He doesn’t have anyone his own age so he’s clinging to this group and maybe he’s the guy who buys the beer. I didn’t know. But I pitched it to him and he brought me back in and I thought it was in that capacity, as the older loser guy who found his niche with these guys. I thought it was that until they had me going to prom [Episode 4.15, Prom Night At Hater High] and graduation [Episode 4.20, The Birth And Death Of The Day]. I was like, “Okay. So I actually graduated. I actually went to prom.” They actually had Fergie and I go together. We didn’t have dates. So we walked in together.

Mark Schwahn, he’s a loyal guy. Our characters certainly have not been so integral that they couldn’t have just been dropped at this point. There wouldn’t have been some huge outcry from the general public that watches One Tree Hill, I don’t think, if Junk and Fergie disappeared. But they did keep us around. I was surprised when I found out that there were people who actually knew who Junk was, that people did watch the show that intently. “They’re the old crew. They’re the River Court kids.” I think Schwahn saw that, too, and felt the need to bring back those roots, every now and then, to the River Court and to where the pilot began, the story began. Throughout whatever changes have gone on, he’s brought us back to represent those roots and certainly occasionally for comic relief. It is kind of a surprise that seven years later I’m still playing Junk and that, in the small capacity I’m in, people know who Junk and Fergie are and appreciate us. It makes me feel like maybe if I was gone, I would be missed. I don’t know.

TDW: I think it’s remarkable because the show has had tons and tons of supporting characters over the years and you two have outlasted nearly all of them.

Moss: Yeah. I think part of it might be due to the fact that we’re local actors. They don’t have to fly us in. So part of it may be a budgetary issue. But Mark’s been loyal and kept us in mind when there’s gatherings and weddings and stuff. He’s like, “Even if you don’t have lines in the episodes, you guys need to be there. You’re part of the crew.” He hasn’t forgotten the roots of the show and that’s cool. While we’ve never come in and had very specific storylines or characters arcs, he’s felt us somewhat integral and necessary, I guess.

TDW: Your most recent episode was the John Hughes tribute [Episode 7.15, Don’t You Forget About Me]. Were you a fan of Weird Science and Home Alone before then?

Moss: I was with Weird Science. I hadn’t watched Home Alone in its entirety until this last year. I showed it to my six-year-old son and we got to enjoy that together. But I was a big fan of Weird Science.

TDW: What was it like filming those scenes with Jackson [Brundage, Jamie]?

Moss: It was a lot of fun. He’s always fun to work with. He was such a cool addition to the show when he came in. It’s cool whenever the cameras stop rolling and we get to horse around with him. Actually in the paintball scene [in 7.15], there was a point in the shooting where they used stunt guys. Vaughn and I took the first few hits with special effects guys firing the paintball guns because they were not entirely trusting of Jackson’s aim, not to hit us in the face or the cracks of our padding. But once they got the stunt guys in our places, they let him have a turn with the gun and he did not miss. He was nailing them repeatedly. He was a good shot.

TDW: On some level, that doesn’t surprise me. He’s proven he’s good at like every single thing the show has handed him.

Moss: He is. He’s such a little fella. I’m sure his percentage on the basketball court is better than mine. He puts up these wild shots and they go in. He’s good. He’s a sporty little fella. He’s just a lot of fun. I’ve been doing this show longer than my son’s been around. He was born [in season 1] so it’s an interesting timeline, just to think I’ve been doing this show as long as its taken to this little human being to become who he is. The point of that being is that I’ve got a six-year-old kid and he’s a little younger than Jackson, but I love kids and interacting with them. So Jackson is also a joy to be around.

TDW: Have you heard anything about the chances of there being an eighth season?

Moss: Probably as much as you have. I’ve got two theories. One, we will get an eighth season and my second theory is that we won’t.

TDW: Very scientific.

Moss: That’s as far as it goes. I really have no idea. I know the show was doing well with ratings towards the beginning of this season. I don’t know quite where it is right now. I don’t know who wants it, who wants to continue. I don’t know who doesn’t. So I don’t know what will factor into it but I’d love for there to be another season, of course for myself and for the Wilmington crew, too. From the PAs to the DPs, the grips, the electrics–that’s kind of the only gig in town right now outside of independents. I’m hoping all the talented guys on the crew can stay employed another season. And hopefully by the time the show has seen its last episode, there will be enough other work in town due to the film incentives that were recently passed so they can stay employed and stay in their own town.

TDW: I have to congratulate you on the success of Dear John. You guys took down Avatar in your first week!

Moss: We did. Our special unit dudes tackled those blue aliens. That was a shock. It was pretty cool to be a part of that.

TDW: For that audition, did you go in for a specific one of John’s army pals or a generic one? Because I thought they all had unique personalities but I wasn’t sure if that was determined by the script or if you brought that to the role.

Moss: Well, it was a little bit of both. To answer the first question, I originally auditioned for one of Savannah’s friends. And then they brought me in for Rooster, who was who I got cast as. As far as what I brought to it, that was something again with the name. When I hear names, I put voices to them and with Rooster I decided maybe he was a Southern guy and brought that to the audition. I got called back and the director Lasse Hallstrom was there and I said, “Now I don’t know if you want him to be Southern” but he liked what I had done. He asked where I was from and I said North Carolina and he said, “Oh, but you don’t have an accent?” and I said, “I do but I don’t have the accent I auditioned with.” I made him a little more Southern.

Hallstrom did let us bring a lot to it. Very little of what you heard my character saying was scripted. I’m trying to think of any of it was. There was “requesting to extend my stay as well, sir”–that was scripted. But he would let us improvise a lot. There’s that scene where John drops his letters in the mud before he burns them off. Hallstrom decided at the last minute, “Let’s pop this shot off” and he asked if I would walk by and say something. I asked, “Anything in particular?” and he said, “No, maybe you can just say something smart-ass to him, make a little joke about it. Or ask him what’s wrong. It’s up to you.”  So we went over a few variations of it and did it. And the scene in the humvee just before John gets in a firefight, there was this whole little written monologue about being a little upset about being a soldier sent overseas and there not being any combat where we were. We tried that and he said, “No, it sounds too soldier-y, too military. Can you just tell a story?” And I said, “What kind of story?” “I don’t know. Any kind of story. Something personal.” So I told part of a story from a buddy of mine, a fishing story about a catfish eating a squirrel and the squirrel getting away and swimming to the shore. So I did that in one take and I was just ad-libbing in the surroundings for other stuff. So we all did get to bring a lot of our stuff to it. Hallstrom would just try to breathe life into it by saying, “Forget the script. Here’s the situation. Act as you would naturally.”

TDW: You also have a new movie out now, Blood Done Sign My Name. What can you tell me about that?

Moss: That was a great experience because it was the only time I’ve played an actual real-life person. It’s a true story. It’s based on the memoirs of Tim Tyson. He observed the racial tensions in Oxford, North Carolina in the 1970s, where riots and protests came about when three local white men–a business owner and his two sons–weren’t convicted of brutally beating and shooting to death a young black Vietnam veteran who had just gotten back. I was cast as one of those sons, Larry Teel. It’s an important story. As a North Carolinian and as well as an American, you don’t hear all these stories. You hear about the civil rights movement and it’s kind of confined to this time in the ‘60s but you find out shit was not fixed in the ‘70s and it’s still not. That should be common knowledge but you don’t hear these little stories. It’s not a part of North Carolina history. They teach North Carolina history in their schools and you don’t hear about this. It was cool to be a part of a true story. There were people on set that were there during the riots, during that time, and saw the tension after these three men went on trial and got off scot-free when there were witnesses. It was really interesting. It was a great experience.

TDW: You also worked with fellow One Tree Hill stars on it.

Moss: Yeah, I worked with Lee Norris [Mouth] and Michael May [Chuck]. It was cool to have Lee there. It was comforting.

TDW: Speaking of One Tree Hill stars, you also narrated The True-Love Tale of Boyfriend and Girlfriend, which starred Hilarie Burton [Peyton] and Austin Nichols [Julian].

Moss: Yes, I did. That was really cool. [Writer-director] Nick [Gray] and Hilarie asked me to come in and do that. I think they both had seen me do really broad kind of character-y voices from different things that I have done so they wanted me to come in and provide them with this crusty narrator guy. It was a lot of fun to kind of disappear into that voice.

TDW: If I didn’t know that you were the narrator, I never would’ve guessed.

Moss: Well, thank you. We toyed around with a couple of voices but that was pretty much the first idea and they liked it. It was like a Southern-fried William S. Burroughs.

TDW: I think I read that your girlfriend was on One Tree Hill recently.

Moss: Yes! She’s awesome. Madison Weidberg. She is an incredible actress and quite a talented actor. We actually met doing a play in Wilmington. We met [in 2008] during Debbie Does Dallas: The Musical–real high-brow stuff. But it was a blast. Anyway, she was involved with The Notebook musical, the workshop that Bethany Joy [Galeotti, Haley] did. She played a couple of characters in that and she did a great job. She and Bethany Joy got along really well and so when the opportunity came for back-up singers for the episode where Haley has her big concert [Episode 7.13, Weeks Go By Like Days], she called upon some of the girls that had been in The Notebook.

TDW: That’s very cool. What’s next for you?

Moss: Since Dear John, I got to do a part in The Conspirator, which is a Robert Redford-directed film about the trial of Mary Surratt after the assassination of Lincoln. I play a senior officer in the war department and I get to have a nice scene with Kevin Kline–and under the director of Robert Redford, so that was amazing! To be there and looking at Robert Redford’s face telling me what to do–that was a real thrill. Then I went down not long ago and had a day on The Hungry Rabbit Jumps, which is a Nicholas Cage thriller. It’ll be out in a year or so. And I just got cast in Army Wives; that’s a Lifetime show that shoots in Charleston. There’s a possibility that that’ll be a recurring role.

TDW: That’s exciting.

Moss: Yeah, I just shot that this past week. I guess that’s the next thing that will be seen. Vaughn and I worked on another One Tree episode about Skills [Antwon Tanner] coming back and some drama there with Mouth.

TDW: Is Antwon in that episode?

Moss: Oh, yeah. He is.

TDW: That’s great. We’ll keep our eyes peeled for that and everything else you have going on.

Moss: I’ve got a couple pilots out there that are kind of little independent ventures that I’m hoping will come to fruition. I shot a pilot called Hardwell with some good friends. It’s a comedy we shot and pitched to FX. Nothing’s happened with it yet but we’re crossing our fingers but not holding our breath. And there’s a golf pilot I shot with some guys in town here about a golf pro. Wilmington is really cool. There’s so many creative, talented people in this town that just drum up [projects] when there’s not any big things in town. The independent film scene in town is thriving and alive and will hopefully get realized and make some dough. When there’s nothing big happening, you can usually find something to do, something to act in, some way to work whether it’s for free and the thrill of the project or what.

TDW: I wish you the best of luck of everything.

Moss: Well, thank you so much. Thanks a lot, Shari.

Come back next Sunday for another exclusive interview!

TDW Interview Index

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Exclusive: John Wesley Shipp On Being A Dawson’s Creek Dad

20 12 2009

What’s better than a dad? A superhero dad. And, yes, my friends, they do exist. Look no further than John Wesley Shipp. Not only did he play a bonafide masked crusader in The Flash as, um, The Flash but he was also the most kick ass dad Capeside ever had on Dawson’s Creek.

Shipp and I discussed Mitch’s most memorable scenes, the heyday of soap operas and his independent film work.

TeenDramaWhore: What was it like living and filming in Wilmington? It’s so far from Los Angeles where most things are filmed.

John Wesley Shipp: You know, it’s funny. Not just in terms of where to work but at different points in my career when I’ve really wanted to have an experience, I’ve noticed that if I really hold it in my mind, the experience will present itself. Right before Dawson’s happened, I was thinking, you know, I’m sick of living in L.A., the land of perpetual glare. I sure would like to do a series somewhere that had seasons. I’m from the Southeast, so close to my family, which is all in Atlanta, would be nice. Not a series like The Flash, where I’m killing myself every day, practically opening a vein with each episode. But something that had some interest and was cool. Dawson’s Creek presented itself so it’s kind of what I asked for. At least in the beginning, the parents had vital storylines. Of course, they were subsidiary but they were independent and intersecting with what the kids were experiencing. That was fun. It was fun for a couple of years and then it was fun again at the very end. But in terms of working in Wilmington, Wilmington’s a cool town. I love the fact that the water–which Dawson’s Creek used very effectively–was almost a character in the series. It was very effectively used. It’s very much a part of the landscape. And the town is sort of like traditional, small town, historical society, Southeastern coastal town meets Hollywood. And then there’s the beach culture. On one side, it’s all new, the Outer Banks, cool places, houses to rent, condos. The other side, which is on the Cape Fear River, is older, historical. They had downtown candlelit carriage rides to view the houses that had been restored. There’s a river culture. There’s even a little sophistication in it. They had this wild club there for a while. They have cool cigar bars and eateries and restaurants down on the river. So I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it a lot. I also think that given the fact that the show exploded the way it did and we had such a young cast–and I know it was a pain in the ass for them being separated as the years went on–I think the production probably benefited from the fact that we weren’t in L.A. or we weren’t in the fastest-track place, because those kids became international stars overnight. Even as intelligent and well-intentioned as they were, it probably would’ve been very heady stuff for them had we been, say, in L.A.

TDW: Let’s throw New York into the mix, because you filmed in New York City, too, when you were on Guiding Light.

Shipp: Yeah, I lived in New York City for 14 years. I love New York City. I started my career there and I had my first success there. When I was living there, I was living there the way you’d want to live there. I had a great apartment on the Upper West Side overlooking the river and I had a house on six-and-a-half acres in Woodstock to go to on the weekends. So that kind of was the ideal way to live in New York. Then I went back in 1992 for a year when I did Dancing with Lughnasa on Broadway and a stint on All My Children. I don’t know if it was my youth or my success that I remember fondly or if it’s entirely New York but I’m actually wanting to move back there. L.A. can be very oppressive. There’s many opportunities about L.A.; I don’t want to be a whiner about it. But it is a one-industry town and everyone is in the motion picture industry. Everyone has a script in tow and everyone is an actor and everyone is a producer and everyone is on the hustle, getting this project made–you know what I mean? It can be a bit mind-numbing. Plus all that sun. New York is, as they call it, the great teeming metropolis. It’s teeming with life. Everybody does something different and nobody is particularly impressed with what you do because everybody is so busy carving out a piece of the rock themselves, a piece of that island for themselves. It’s just such a melting pot and it’s exciting. You walk out onto those streets and you’re alive. So many different people from so many different worlds. I think for an artist or an actor, it’s probably much healthier creatively to live in New York than L.A. But I’ll only speak for myself.

TDW: If you came back to New York City, would you want to do Broadway again or another soap? One of the ones that’s still here, anyway.

Shipp: I don’t know about daytime. Daytime seems to be in a pretty tough spot at the moment. I wonder, and I’ve heard speculation, about whether there will be any daytime dramas left in 5-7 years. Certainly I would like to do theater. I’m attached right now to the production of a little play with the Firebone Theatre Company called Song of the Bow. I’m attached to that and they’re looking at production next September. I’m also, after our phone interview, talking to a producer from Atlanta. He’s actually in New York right now checking out theater space. They’re taking the play from Atlanta to New York in January and he’s talking to me about the possibility of whether it would be a good fit for me. I would love that. I would love going back to New York doing a play. I think it would be the best thing for me right now so we’ll see. We’ll see if it holds true that what I hold in my mind happens. Of course, first choice, I’d really like to do an interesting series in New York because (whispers) that’s a lot more money. We’ll see what happens.

TDW: What was your reaction when you found out Guiding Light was going off the air after 72 years?

Shipp: Well, the Guiding Light I knew, from everything I had heard, no longer existed. They weren’t shooting in a studio anymore. It was practically students with handheld cameras in driveways.

TDW: That was very much my understanding of it as well, from what I’ve read and from watching it.

Shipp: I would watch it. It would be on at the gym and I’d look up. I just thought the production values had flipped. I was at a Guiding Light Emmy party at Krista Tesreau’s on August 29 in L.A. I have some pictures up from that party on my Facebook page. It seemed like ancient history. I left that show, what, 25 years ago? A quarter of a century. It was exciting. Guiding Light was a great time and it was a great time to be in daytime. That and when I went over and did the story on As The World Turns with Julianne Moore and Steven Weber. It was a time when the youth explosion, the numbers, the ratings were way up from what they had ever been before. As a consequence, the networks and Proctor & Gamble were putting money in. I went to the Spanish Islands on location. I went to St. Croix on location. Of course we also went more regionally. I don’t think they did even local locations anymore. We went up to Connecticut, Kent Falls, where we did the whole Laurel Falls Kelly-Morgan wedding and story. It was an exciting time. If you were going to do daytime, the early to mid-80s was the time to do it. I was very fortunate to work for Douglas Marland on both Guiding Light and As The World Turns. I had the best of the best in my daytime experience.

TDW: So if that was so wonderful, what 10-15 years later made you switch not only to primetime but a teen drama?

Shipp: It was what was offered. I mean, I had been through The Flash and that was disappointing in many ways. It was handled so badly by the network and that’s not just my opinion. That’s the network’s opinion. We had a number of things going against us for that show, even though we were a critical hit and the industry really dug us. But we had a network that had the oldest demographic so all of our in-house advertising fell on deaf ears. Plus we debuted in the fall and then we were off for baseball because CBS had the World Series that year. So we went on and off then we went back on. Then the Gulf War broke out. Then we went back on and George H.W. Bush threw up in Japan so we were preempted again. Then they moved our night. So it was impossible to find an audience, although it’s doing well now on DVD. It was released in 2006. So after that I went back to New York and did the play Dancing at Lughnasa on Broadway and a series of guest shots and TV movies and things like that. And then Dawson’s Creek presented itself. The interesting thing about that is they had already shot the 20-minute pilot presentation. I believe at the time they were auditioning for Mitch, I was in Moab, Utah with David Carradine, Lee Majors, Cathy Lee Crosby and Michelle Greene doing a movie called the Lost Treasure of Dos Santos. What a cast, huh? It was a riot. But, anyway, then I heard about this project. They were deciding to go in a different direction with the father and they sent me the pilot presentation. If you can think back to before Dawson’s Creek exploded on TV–and as a result of it, so many spin-offs and so many teen dramas and so much saturation and copy-cat shows to the point where it became something of a cultural joke almost–if you think back before Dawson’s Creek, there was nothing like it. I mean, yeah, you had Beverly Hills 90210 but it was completely different in tone. The kids were beautiful and–ours were, too–but theirs were popular and sexy and with it and hip, slick and cool and, let’s face it, didn’t have the brain power of our characters. What was interesting about Dawson’s is that it was not slick. The kids were not hip, slick and cool. They were a little bit on the outside. Joey Potter [Katie Holmes], that whole story–not exactly your typical teen queen there with the problems in her family. Pacey Witter’s [Joshua Jackson] father being a drunk. And that Michelle Williams [Jen] character being a real outcast at the beginning. And even Dawson [James Van Der Beek], his mom cheating on his dad and experimenting with an open relationship. There really was nothing like it. And, also, I noticed the language that these kids were using. I thought, wow! We were even criticized for that. We’re writing up to the youth audience; we’re not writing down to them. Why would you criticize that? Isn’t that a good thing? You mean the dialogue is too smart? That’s a criticism? But, anyway, how did I come to do it–I didn’t really look it as a teen drama. Now, when [creator] Kevin Williamson left the show [between seasons 2 and 3] and it became more and more of that and the parents were increasingly de-emphasized, that led to my leaving. At the end of the four seasons and the kids were going to be going to college, I saw the handwriting on the wall. We would be standing in the background with Lily and waving at Parents Day and I really had no interest in doing that. So when they wanted to renegotiate our contact, I set my price really high. Then they started production on the fifth season and two weeks into production, the WB shut them down because they had no story and that’s when Paul Stupin came to me in L.A. and said if we gave you the money you were asking, would you come back and kill the character? I kind of budged my heart for a minute but I have to tell you, it was a great decision. It was the perfect time to leave Dawson’s Creek. I did indeed get two beautiful episodes that made me feel like the previous four years had been about something. You know what I mean?

TDW: Yes. Those episodes [5.03, Capeside Revisited & 5.04, The Long Goodbye] are just incredibly moving. For a show that was, at times, a lot about sadness, those really stand out as sadder moments and turning points for Dawson, his mom, for the way that it affected his relationship with Joey. We got that in that episode after Mitch’s death. We see how his death has affected everyone as there’s those flashbacks or re-imaginings of Mitch with each of the characters.

Shipp: And imagine for me–what a sendoff?! And what a tribute to Mitch. I mean, I really got to tie up each relationship. I got a retrospective of what Mitch had been and, as you say, what he had meant to everyone and went out on a real high note. It worked out really well for me.

TDW: The other scene [in episode 2.05, Full Moon Rising] that stands out in my mind–and I was talking about it to someone just a few weeks ago; they were watching the series for the first time–was the scene where you’re in the kitchen with Dawson and he’s kind of confronting Mitch about having an open marriage and Mitch kind of breaks down and says, you know, “I was never taught what to do if my wife had an affair.” And the way that you just delivered that line was just heartbreaking.

Shipp: Honey, thank you so much. I loved that. Kevin Williamson wrote that episode. I didn’t even have to act it, you know what I mean? Just the idea of this man and those words. You can barely even say them. I think I even heard you choke up trying to say them.

TDW: Yeah, it’s true.

Shipp: “My dad taught me how to do this, he taught me had to do that but he never taught me what to do if my wife cheated on me. I never knew to ask.” I mean, I can barely say those lines now. So beautifully written and so incredibly vulnerable, particularly for a male character on television. I love that scene. I love that episode.

TDW: Did you keep up with the show or its storylines after you left?

Shipp: Not at all. I never saw it after I left. And it’s not that I sat down and made a conscious decision and it’s not that I had a resentment about the way things went down, because it was totally a collaboration. They needed something from me and I wanted something from them and we both got it. But, having said that, when you’re such an integral part of a family–and that’s what you become and it’s also an impact of being in Wilmington because we only really had each other. So on the weekends, you’ll be going out on boats and going out to Masonboro Island, we’d throw the football around, ride around on wave runners. We did everything together so it was very much a family and to know that your family was going on without you, it was too sad for me. I really had to make a clean break. It’s interesting. They had asked me to come back recently. AFI–was it in AFI?

TDW: The Paley Center. They had the panel.

Shipp: They asked me to come and be a part of it but I couldn’t do it. I think James did it and Meredith [Monroe, Andie].

TDW: Yep. It was James, Meredith, Kevin, Paul Stupin and Busy Philipps [Audrey].

Shipp: They had actually asked me to do it and I wish I could’ve. That would’ve made me feel like a part–it would’ve completed something for me to be able to do it. But I’ve been up in San Jose. I’ve been very busy and I just got back from doing an independent film in Ohio that I’m very excited about and had another, a comedy with Jodie Sweetin, play to really good notices at two film festivals, one in Wilmington.  And another film I had premiered in New Orleans at the New Orleans Film Festival in the last several months so, you know, I’ve been busy. But one thing James had said–they said something about the death of his father and he said “I was really sad because I wouldn’t get to see John anymore” and that’s the way it was. I was literally killed off. When you leave a show, you leave a show. And it was accentuated by the fact that we were sequestered in Wilmington. So, no, I never saw an episode after I left.

TDW: Well, I can tell you that, in the series finale, Gale [Mary-Margaret Humes] actually remarried.

Shipp: Yeah, I knew that because I keep in touch with Mary-Margaret. But do you know that I just found out–and I mean a couple of months ago–that Jen died, right?

TDW: Yes.

Shipp: I just found that out, like two months ago.

TDW: If you have the time, I really recommend picking up the complete series and watching the last two seasons. The emotion that we talked about earlier was there for Jen’s and maybe that goes back to the fact that Kevin Williamson returned for the series finale after he had been gone for so long. You really had his voice, his emotion and his rawness that he would put into things.

Shipp: I’ll tell you, those are good words to describe it. It seemed to me that–this goes back to the pilot presentation when I first watched it–this had a sound and a look and a feel that was unlike anything that was on television. It’s difficult now to imagine as there’s been so many copy-cats and spin-offs and it’s been run into the ground. There was a rawness amidst the sophistication. There was a bumpiness, a sense of dis-ease about the emotional lives. And also I always felt that Kevin really was Dawson, I think. I haven’t had this discussion with him. I could be wrong. But I thought we were seeing all of this life on the creek through the eyes of Dawson, which were Kevin Williamson’s eyes. I felt for James after Kevin left because I really felt that Kevin is the only one that really gets Dawson and I’m sure that was difficult for James after Kevin left. It was much easier to write for Pacey, much easier to write for Joey. To a lesser degree I think it was easier to write for Jen. I don’t really think they quite knew–they experimented with different things. But it was easier to write for Pacey and Joey. But the more awkward unique perspective of a Dawson was Kevin’s voice. I mean, my god, Greg Berlanti is a wonderful writer and oh, god, the man–I just blanked on his name–who wrote my last two episodes was just brilliant and some of the best stuff I had. But I do feel the show suffered from Kevin’s awkwardness and the lack of the Kevin’s awkwardness. There was something really awkward in the writing of Dawson that Kevin really got that we missed after he left.

TDW: Going back to you and your storylines, did you think the show gave a realistic portrayal of parent-child and husband-wife relationships?

Shipp: I don’t know about realism. I think realism is overrated. I would say it gave an interesting perspective. One thing I will say is with the explosion of information with the Internet and the sophistication of kids–I mean, my nine-year-old niece and twelve-year-old nephew have their computers in school and their this and their that and they’re so much more aware of the world and what’s going on–that I sort of think that the parents, adults, have a much wider ranger of possibilities. They’re not locked into authoritarian roles in modern society. In other words, in the 40s and 50s you started wearing suits and you got a corporate job and the dad was the head of the house and the mother was the nurturer and the father was the provider and everybody knew what their roles were and everybody got old very soon. I sort of think after the 60s and 70s and all that, and certainly today, there’s a much wider range of possibilities and, in a sense, the kids are growing up faster and the parents aren’t growing up as fast, getting old as fast. So they’re meeting in the middle. Does that make sense? I know what I’m trying to say. It’s that consequently you have a lot of more options. What I enjoyed was when Kevin would turn the–and he did it many times–he would turn the father-son relationship on its head. Another thing we were criticized for. I read things saying what kind of parents were these, what kind of role models, blah, blah, blah. But what I enjoyed was the intentional flip-flopping, the parent becomes the child and the child becomes the parent. I think that was interesting writing. Is it realistic? I don’t know. Again, I think realism is overrated. If I want realism, I don’t have to ever turn on the TV. I just live my life. But I think it has to be true but it doesn’t have to necessarily be real if there’s a sense of truth in it, and I think there was. I was tickled to death that Dawson goes out on his first date and I’m more comfortable talking about it than he is. I tell him, “Have fun, play safe.” And he’s all “For chrissake, dad!”  You know, coming in and finding his parents making love on the coffee table, he’s totally grossed out and disgusted by that but I thought that was great. I loved that. It certainly was more fun for me as an actor than if I had to come in and be “the dad,” you know what I mean? I mean, who was Mitch? What did he do for a living? Who was this goofy, kind of lovable, sensitive, lost character? There was a certain wisdom that he had, simple wisdom. Certainly he wasn’t the stereotypical patriarch of the family and I was glad ‘cause that would’ve been boring as hell.

TDW: Are you recognized for the role at all when you walk down the street?

Shipp: Oh, yeah. Constantly. You know what I’m most amazed about? And my mom has picked up on this, too. The amount of times I get recognized for Guiding Light. I wouldn’t even recognize myself from Guiding Light! But the two things I get recognized the most for are, of course, Dawson’s Creek and The Flash.

TDW: Are you back in touch with any of the Dawson’s Creek cast or crew?

Shipp: Yeah. I never was out of touch with some of the people. Mary-Margaret and I, in fact, our friendship if anything has grown deeper since the show. We’re very close. We’re constantly in touch and she kind of plays the mom role and gets the gang together every now and then. I haven’t talked to Katie in years but she and I have messaged. She sent a message through an agent at the premiere of a movie but she’s got her own thing going on now and that’s consuming her. I’ve actually seen Meredith several times and her husband. Michelle, of course, has been in New York. The person I’ve most consistently been with–and I keep up with everybody through her–is Mary-Margaret.

TDW: One of the films–I think you already mentioned it–that you’ve been working on is Port City.

Shipp: Yeah, that was the comedy with Jodie Sweetin at the festival in Wilmington.

TDW: Well, coincidentally, that also stars Matthew Laurance and Barabra Alyn Woods, who also played parents on teen dramas.

Shipp: Oh, yeah.

TDW: Matthew was on 90210 [as Mel] and Barbara was on One Tree Hill [as Deb].

Shipp: It’s like, where do teen drama parents go to die? Port City. (laughs) And then this last film that I did–I just got back a couple of weeks ago from Ohio where we filmed it–was a company out of Chicago called Glass City Films. It’s a wonderful script called Separation Anxiety, in which a young man either falls to his death accidentally from an icy dam or commits suicide and we don’t know which. His two best friends, one female and one male–there’s also some sexual tension there that we find out about–and his father, who is me, spend the movie trying to make sense out of his death based on what we need to believe. Interestingly enough, the father needed to believe it was suicide, which I immediately found interesting. He saw his son as kind of a drifter, where his life was just sort of a series of accidents. It was intolerable for him to think that at the end of his life, it was just one more accident. He needed to believe that it was an intentional act that he set out to accomplish and accomplished. Now isn’t that an interesting perspective? That’s not something I’ve ever seen, where his father needs to believe his son committed suicide. We fight it out, the three of us–me and the two best friends. Most of my scenes are with the girl who–that’s a complicated relationship so I won’t go into it but it’s more than just best buddies with her and my son. We spend a lot of time hashing and thrashing that out and what we need to believe and finally come to an accommodation where I’m able to go bury my son. It was a good group of people, a talented crew and cast. I can’t wait to see it put together.

TDW: Where we can we actually see you next? Is Port City going to get a wide release or is it just doing festivals?

Shipp: I don’t know. Karma Police, which debuted at the Dallas Film Festival the year before last, is out on DVD and on I think–I can’t keep up with these sites–Blockbuster Online or Netflix, so I know it’s out there. Grotesque, my little short film that I’m so proud of, we banged out in New Orleans last year in about a week. I play a priest with a dubious past. That’s online and the trailer for that is in my Facebook videos and there’s a link to the actual 29-minute version. And then Separation Anxiety will also do the festival market.

TDW: Do you like the festivals better than a major motion picture that’s in theaters everywhere?

Shipp: No. I would rather it be straight to theaters. Again, it’s a matter of what’s offered. I will say one thing–and it’s not just my particular insight–but there’s a lot more creative freedom the less money there is riding on a project, you know what I mean? The more money, the more hands in the pie. The more sets of suits that have their handprints on the script and the edit and the this and the that, the more of a business it is. I understand that. It’s wonderful and spontaneous and creative working in an independent film atmosphere but make no mistake: I would not turn down an A film that would be set for a major release.

TDW: I hope to see you in one soon! And I’d really like to see Port City.

Shipp: You know, it’s funny. I was kind of worried about it because it’s sort of a screwball comedy and my character’s really a jerk, a goofy filthy jerk and that’s not necessarily been my trademark but all the feedback I’ve gotten is “Wow! What a great departure! You should do more comedy!,” which my brother has been telling me for years because he knows how innately ridiculous I am. But I’ve managed to shield the rest of the world from that.

TDW: Hopefully not for long!

Shipp: I’ve actually taken off the last year, for all intents and purposes. Those projects that I mentioned came to me of their own volition. I’ve not been interviewing. I’ve not been auditioning. My dad came up to San Jose to pastor a new liberal church out here that’s been facing some difficulty and then he had heart surgery. Well, I came up to San Jose and they ended up losing their music director and my background is music. I was an opera major at Indiana University in Bloomington before switching my major to theater and I’ve studied keyboards since the age of 5 so I grew up with music of the church and for the last year, that’s been my primary occupation–rediscovering my love of music and my spirituality in a very inclusive and liberal atmosphere. It’s been great for me being of service to my parents, who are now back in Atlanta. My dad’s doing fine. And I agreed to stay on at the church through Christmas, the Christmas Eve service. So I have two more Sundays to plan musically and then I’ll be flying to Atlanta to be with my family and probably re-engage my career full-time beginning in February.

TDW: Mary-Beth Peil was an opera major as well.

Shipp: Yep. She has a glorious voice. A wonderful woman. People who only knew who her from Dawson’s Creek have no idea who that woman is.

TDW: I interviewed her, via e-mail actually, last month and I would’ve loved to hear her real voice because I know her Grams voice isn’t actually hers.

Shipp: No, she’s young and sexy and funny. You just wouldn’t know her with her hair down and all that. And she tends to be play those severe, more matronly parts because she’s good at it. She’s on a series now, isn’t she?

TDW: Yes, The Good Wife with Julianna Margulies.

Shipp: Right.

TDW: Alright, well, I’m glad we were finally able to connect.

Shipp: My pleasure, Shari. It’s been great talking to you.

Come back next week for another exclusive interview!

TDW Interview Index





Spoiler: You Ask, I Answer

30 01 2009

You are the best for 90210 scoop, Korbs! So excited about Donna Martin’s return, but do you really know for sure that she and David are still married? -Linds
Yep. They’re still hitched and co-habitating in Japan. But Donna’s contemplating a move back to BH, because she’s not happy overseas. However, if she does relocate, her already rocky relationship with David will be in real danger. Best cast scenario? Donna opens a store on Robertson and while here, David returns to be with her. Brian Austin Green tells me he’s down. And if Terminator tanks after its upcoming move to Friday, he’ll be freed up to do so.








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