Exclusive: Cress Williams on Being 90210’s Basketball Star and Prison Break’s Hit Man

22 11 2009

Over the course of 13 episodes in 1993-1994, Cress Williams added drama, humor, athleticism and, perhaps most importantly, color to Beverly Hills 90210.  As D’Shawn Hardell, we saw Williams challenge Brandon (Jason Priestley), woo Donna (Tori Spelling) and show off some pretty smooth skills on the basketball court.  Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Williams appear on one of my favorite non-teen drama shows, Prison Break.

Williams was kind enough to discuss both with me:

TeenDramaWhore: When you joined Beverly Hills 90210 way back in October 1993, were you familiar with the show?

Cress Williams: I knew the show existed, but I had never seen the show. After I got the job I watched an episode. I was in the middle of finishing college, so I didn’t watch a lot of TV.

TDW: Your last appearance was just over a year later.  Did you keep up with the show after you left?

Williams: Other than watching it that one time to get a sense of it, I never really watched it again. After I finished on the show, I was done with school and fully involved in life and career.

TDW: On the surface, D’Shawn was just a basketball player who hassled Brandon.  In reality, you brought some much-needed diversity to the show.  Did that cross your mind at all?

Williams: Most definitely. I knew there wasn’t really any people of color on the show. In fact, when I met the assistant casting director at a little seminar before ever auditioning for the show, I pretty much blew it off because I didn’t think I had much of a chance of being on a show like that.

TDW: Are you actually skilled at basketball or was it the “magic of television”?

Williams: Basketball was and is my favorite sport. When I was younger I played a lot. So at the time of doing the show, I was in good shape and played it a lot. All the basketball stuff was me, not movie magic.

TDW: Do you have a favorite memory or episode?

Williams: 90210 was my first professional job, so all of it was a new experience for me. Mainly I just remember being a trained actor and knowing about acting, but not knowing about acting on television. Everyday was a learning experience.

TDW: Are you still in touch with the cast?

Williams: Not really.

TDW: Last year, you were on another one of my favorite shows, Prison Break.  What was it like joining a series that you know is in its last season?

Williams: Like 90210, I have done a lot of work on shows that had been in production for a while. I know how to step in and fit in on the fly. I really enjoyed playing a character so different from me and what I have played in the past.

TDW: Did you have to catch up on the complicated back story and conspiracy?

Williams: Not really. My character was a hired gun who was simply called in to clean up. A lot of the crew were big fans of the show, so they helped to give me any back story I needed.

TDW: You played a hit man, who ironically had his own unexpected death.  How do you approach a character like that?

Williams: Well, I saw the character as a man who didn’t really do what he did because he enjoyed it. I saw him as someone who killed because it was simply a part of who he is. He took no pleasure in it, and he never took it personal. It was all business. He was so good at what he did because he had a distance from what he was doing. I felt like if he could, he would love to be normal, but he couldn’t change who he was. So I tried to keep what I did acting-wise very simple.

TDW: What projects are you working on now?

Williams: Recently I just finished an episode of Cold Case, which [aired] in October. I am currently working on writing a future TV series of my own with a couple of friends. I hope it makes it to the small screen someday.

TDW Interview Index

Exclusive: Michael Cudlitz Shares 90210 Memories, Bonding With Benjamin McKenzie

19 07 2009

Michael Cudlitz had a recurring role as Tony Miller during the first few seasons of Beverly Hills 90210.  Since his days of jock straps and proms with Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty), Cudlitz has appeared in a number of programs including Band of Brothers, Prison Break, 24 and CSI.  Cudlitz now stars alongside Benjamin McKenzie (Ryan, The O.C.) on the NBC cop drama Southland.

Cudlitz was generous enough to answer a few questions via e-mail about his teen drama experiences.

TeenDramaWhore: You starred in 11 episodes of 90210, and your character is perhaps best-remembered for taking Brenda (Shannen Doherty) to the prom.  Do you have a favorite 90210 scene or memory from your time on the show?

Michael Cudlitz: I think it was 14 episodes… but I could be mistaken. [ed. note: IMDB says 11] At the time, I was also the construction coordinator on the show. So my good memories, go beyond just acting in the show. My favorite memory would have to be the first prom [ed. note: episode 1.20, Spring Dance], before I was cast on the show. We were working at the Universal Hilton and the cast was being housed in the hotel. Let’s just say, the hot tubs were full and the bathing suits were scant.

TDW: You were last seen in the premiere of season 4.  Was there a possibility of continuing on or, at least, interest on your part to do so?

Cudlitz: At the time I was starring with Ben Affleck in my own series “Against the Grain.” So leaving the show was a very logical progression.

TDW: Are you still in touch with any of the 90210 cast members?

Cudlitz: Yes. I’m very close with Luke Perry [Dylan]. I bump into Brian [Austin Green, David], Jason [Priestley, Brandon] & [Gabrielle Carteris, Andrea] periodically. And I share mutual friends with Mrs. [Jennie] Garth [Kelly].

TDW: Are you still recognized for your role?

Cudlitz: Absolutely…….. Up until “Band of Brothers” I thought my tombstone would read “Here lies Michael Cudlitz. Yes, he took Brenda to the prom.”

TDW: What do you think is 90210’s role in television/teen drama history?

Cudlitz: That’s a great question. When the show first started it was nothing more than a teen soap opera. When [Charles] Rosen was brought on as the head writer/show runner, I think he saw an opportunity to deal with actual issues that were affecting teens at the time. Not just just your typical high school teen age “hormonal” crap. He took important issues that teens were facing in all socioeconomic classes, and dealt with them in a very realistic head-on fashion. Trying to explore all sides of the issues and not always having an answer. Because of this, I think it was one of the first shows to realistically deal with what teens actually go through.

TDW: Did you keep up with the show even after your time on it?  Did you expect the show to have such longevity–10 years of original episodes, plus countless airings in syndication. Do you watch reruns of the show?

Cudlitz: No, I didn’t keep up with the show. For as good as the show was, eventually the teens grew up, and the show ran it’s course.

TDW: When you were cast on Southland with Ben McKenzie, were you familiar with his role on The O.C.?

Cudlitz: I never saw the O.C. I think I was 40 at the time…. ( not the demographic FOX was looking for….LOL)

TDW: Do you think your respective teen drama experiences give you and Mr. McKenzie something extra in common?

Cudlitz: Sure… that kind of “celebrity” is reserved for rock stars and young people. It is a very humbling, surreal experience. I’m sure for Ben much more than me.

TDW: What can we expect from your character next season on Southland?

Cudlitz: More bad-ass television….( If I told ya. I’d have to kill ya.)

TDW: What other projects are you working on?

Cudlitz: Southland is consuming all my time right now. But, I have some projects that are coming out soon. “Surrogates,” a sci-fi thriller starring Bruce Willis is coming out in September. And I also have completed two indies: “Tenure” starring Luke Wilson, and “Stolen Lives” staring Jon Hamm and Josh Lucas.

Be sure to check out Southland’s season 2 premiere on Friday, September 25.

%d bloggers like this: