Today’s installment of SciFi Stream’s interview series with the full cast of Eureka — number three of seven — belongs to none other than actor Neil Grayston, who has portrayed Douglas Fargo on the series since its inception.
In our chat with Neil he discusses his acting roots, how much Fargo has changed since the pilot, last summer’s crossover event with Warehouse 13, and much more!
Special thanks go to the Syfy network, NBC Universal, Vancouver Film Studios, Jaime Paglia, Matt Hastings, Eric Wallace and the entire Eureka production team for their support and graciousness.
SciFi Stream: How are you, Neil?
Neil Grayston: I’m very well.
SFS: Tell us a bit about how you got started in the industry.
NG: It started out just doing plays in high school and stuff like that, then I went to a six month acting school sort of thing and they had a scene and monologue contest that I placed second in and I got my agent through that. Then just auditioning and doing all that — that’s sort of how I got started.
SFS: Having been in B.C. basically since birth, almost all of the roles that you’ve been in have been productions that are based here in Vancouver, a good chunk of them genre roles. Do you enjoy the genre itself or is it more perhaps just that [genre] is what’s in Vancouver?
NG: I do, actually. I’m pretty happy with what I get to do. The other day, a bunch of us watched the first episode of the second half of Season Four and it’s sort of like, “Wow! I’m on a, like, cool show!” I can’t tell you what happens in it, but just the effects and everything were so awesome. I’m very lucky to have been born here and jumped onto that whole thing. And I’m also just a fan of sci-fi in general.
SFS: Would you be interested in doing more contemporary stuff that doesn’t have the sci-fi and fantasy genre leanings?
NG: Yeah, of course. I kind of lean toward comedy, so that would be what I would want to do. I think there’s a lot of really good sitcoms happening right now, like Community and 30 Rock. Things like that. So it’d be fun to be able to try something out like that because I’ve never done that before.
SFS: Tell us a little bit about the casting process for Eureka and what attracted you to the project initially.
NG: Well, I got an audition for it! That was cool. [Laughs]
But actually, the pilot script I really liked. It just sort of jumped off the page. It was one of those ones that I think I sat down and read it all in one go, was done in like 40 minutes or something. Then I re-read it again and you could really see who the characters were and everything. It was nice to have something so well-written and fun.
Then the audition process was … as luck would have it, the director, Peter O’Fallon, he had directed an episode of a show called Wonderfalls that I was also on, even though I didn’t work with him on it. But the cast and him went out to dinner and I remember eating all of his ox tongue at a Korean barbecue because he didn’t want it. So I went in and I auditioned for him.
They didn’t really know what Fargo was going to be. They just sort of had it as “Warren King’s nerdy assistant,” and that was it. So everyone in there was completely different, the range in the age as well was up and down. He just had me do it a bunch of different ways, which made it weird filming the pilot because I didn’t know which way he liked the best. So it was like, “Do I do a weird voice? Do I act stoned?”
SFS: There was a pretty big break between the filming of the pilot and when the pick-up for the series actually came.
NG: Yeah, I think it was a year, if I recall correctly. So long ago. We also filmed on Vancouver Island. We had to take a float plane and stay in a hotel and everything, so that was interesting. But now we’re back in Vancouver and close to home.
SFS: How much of the Douglas Fargo that we see now was on the page initially? Did you play him as written in the pilot or was there any chance for you to actually mold him initially, in the beginning of Season One?
NG: Yeah, in the pilot he wasn’t a huge character and because of that I was in a few scenes but I was kind of background in them. I got to do weird stuff and they were really cool with letting me make little suggestions. Like, “What if I’ve got the stick in the back and I’m just practicing with it?” and they’re like, “Yeah! That’s all right, that’s funny, let’s go with that.”
I was actually only contracted to be in seven episodes but they just kept on throwing me in there and giving me stuff to do, so it was nice.
SFS: What ways are you and Fargo different and what ways are you similar?
NG: I am definitely less clumsy than Fargo. But last year especially, or maybe it was Season Three, it was really rubbing off on me, I think. Because that was the one where I was just knocking over stuff in my house and stubbing my toe every day. I’ve kind of got it in check now, but that’s the big one. [Laughs]
Differences? I’m really bad with math. I will look at math, it can be explained to me many times. But once you start mixing letters and numbers together, I’m just like, “Wha-at? I don’t know any more.” So there’s the difference.
SFS: From the pilot, I think Fargo was probably one of the Eureka characters who has changed and grown — and this is not a knock at the character by any means, but I think as far as in terms of change and growth overall — probably the least among the main characters in terms of certain aspects. He was less of a bumbler in the pilot, that’s kind of grown more as the series progressed. But overall, are you happy with the character’s progression through the years? He’s head of GD [Global Dynamics] now in this alternate timeline. How has that changed him in the short term?
NG: That has definitely let him grow up and grow into his own more. For a while, there was risk of making Fargo just a whacky, bumbling klutz and the cause of all the problems. It gets a little one-dimensional after a while. So now with him being the head of Global and actually having to try to run things and be a little bit more able to do stuff, I think it’s allowed him to grow. And I like that aspect, too. For a while, it was like, “Oh, man! I’ve just go to play this clown all the time,” so now it’s sort of humanized him.
SFS: He may be kind of like the resident trouble-maker to a degree on the series, but I also think in terms of fans of the show, I think they also find him as one of the more endearing characters. What traits about him do you think make him so likable for audiences?
NG: I think everyone has an inner geek to them, and Fargo’s just sort of like that guy. You’ve always been in that situation where it didn’t really quite go right or you didn’t do the right things, so I think that can speak to a lot of people. It’s also maybe the Schadenfreude thing where you watch someone screw up something and you can be like, “Thank God it wasn’t me!”
SFS: Last summer — but earlier this season because we haven’t seen the last half of Season Four yet — we got to see you on Warehouse 13. Claudia and [Fargo] were the lynchpins for that crossover event. What was it like bringing the character over to a different series and having that different style and setting and environment? Was it hard to find Fargo’s voice?
NG: No, actually it was pretty easy. I mean, Allison [Scagliotti]‘s one of my best friends and Eddie [McClintock] and Joanne [Kelly] and Jack Kenny, who’s the creator — I’ve known them for quite a while now. So it was almost like going over to my extended family’s house. And some of the crew members I had worked with on Wonderfalls.
So it was just like this weird thing where I got there and it was super comfortable. And they’ve got their way of doing stuff that really fits with me. It’s fast-paced. Jack Kenny will come on to the floor a lot of the time and be like, “OK, I’ve got a joke! Who wants to do one?” or something like that. Or “Hey, why don’t we say it like this?” or he lets you suggest things as well, which they do on Eureka, too. It’s pretty open like that. But, yeah, it felt pretty effortless. It was just kind of fun. It was like I went on a paid vacation, because I actually like my work as well. So it’s sort of like, “Alright! Great! I get to go hang out with my friends in a different place and do what I do.”
SFS: I think sometimes people associate character traits with the actor after they’ve played them long enough. I’m even guilty of it sometimes, too … because I was surprised to find you’re actually proficient in Tae Kwon Do.
NG: Yeah, yeah. I have my black belt, although I got it in 1997 and I haven’t studied since then.
SFS: What made you decide to take it up though, in the first place?
NG: I just always really liked martial arts when I was younger and it was some sort of fitness activity to do. As well as I think it’s a good thing for discipline and just for being a good person. “Might for right” is what I think was what our creed was. Good stuff like that where it’s grounding and it’s athletic and also fitting because I did wrestling as well in high school. It seemed like a natural extension, like, “I’m doing this, I might as well do that one as well.”
SFS: You’re already filming Season Five as we speak and you’ve lived with the character for years now. What aspects of Fargo would you still like to see explored going forward that haven’t been touched on yet?
NG: It kind of has been touched on, but I’d like to see his family again. They had the grandparent but that was like Season One, I think. So it’d be nice to see that side of him now rather than just have him be alone.
You’re going to see a lot more, especially in the second half of Season Four. There’s a lot more interpersonal relationship kind of stuff where he really does actually connect with people on a more mature level. I liked seeing that going on. I mean, I would never want it to get into super soap opera territory or anything like that, because there’s still got to be the funny and the interesting and the pushing buttons, making things blow up.
SFS: We’ve witnessed the demise of several sci-fi series lately, like Caprica and Stargate Universe, yet shows like Eureka are flourishing. And they’re bringing in great — sometimes record — numbers for the network. What qualities do you think Eureka has that makes it stand out from the rest and why do you think that some of the genre franchises that were previously successful like Battlestar Galactica and Stargate are having more trouble now? What’s changed?
NG: Well, there’s obviously the downloading issue. It’s sort of the necessary evil when you make a TV show that it has to be able to generate money. I’m not just saying it’s the download issue, at all. There’s so many different factors. A lot of them I don’t quite know because I’m not in the office.
SFS: Do you think it’s an issue of tone?
NG: I don’t know if it’s so much tone, because there’s still such an avid fanbase for it. I think if we look at something like a Caprica and a Eureka, our connection is tenuous. We’re such different shows. We’re lighter, there’s a lot more comedy and sort of mystery and whatever. Caprica, you have to be willing to be in there for the long haul. If you miss an episode, you have to see that episode to know what happened in the other one, which I think is challenging for a lot of people.
It’s also the time that they go on, sometimes … the time of year, who they’re up against. I mean, we’re a summer show and from what I’ve seen, summer’s pretty nice to cable shows. I think that’s been a big part of our success. There’s that and the fact that you can watch our show without having seen previous ones for most episodes and still be like, “Oh, OK. I can jump into this a bit.” I mean, you still have arcs, especially the second half of Season Four is one big, long arc.
I don’t really know. I liked Caprica and I liked Stargate Universe, as well, and to me it was like, “Why aren’t people watching you?” I was talking with some friends on Stargate who were saying it was awesome because on Tuesday people would be like, “Yeah, totally DVRing you!” and they’re like, “But, please, watch it live!” so that they know and they’re like, “Yeah, I’ll totally watch it on Friday!” And it’s like, “Just watch it now! Save the show!”
But they did get 40 episodes. That’s the one thing that I like about the current times now, where if a show gets canceled you still have the opportunity to see the unaired episodes through iTunes or DVDs or something. I remember when Brisco County Jr. was canceled, it was just like it was gone and it was sort of like, “Well, can I see the rest of it or something?” and they’re like, “No. VHS is too big or expensive,” you know?
SFS: Where would you like to see yourself in the industry 10 years from now? Still in it, still enjoying it, maybe directing or something?
NG: Yeah, I would definitely like to direct and I’d like to produce as well. It’s just coming up with the ideas is my problem, but I just like every little bit of it. I even like the sound engineering side of it, the post-production, all that. I kind of want to know everything there is to know. I don’t think I’d be happy if I was just an actor the entire time. I think I would just end up getting annoyed and be like, “I’m always employed by someone and always at someone else’s command.” It would be nice to be the top dog at some point, but that can wait.
SFS: Do you have any other upcoming projects that are in the can, that are completed, that aren’t out yet?
NG: Yeah! Well, I produced a movie last year that is still currently being edited. Actually, a lot of the people who work on Eureka helped with that, which is also why we’re having such a long time to edit it because a lot of people have jobs. I think some of the people on The Killing and stuff like that were doing it.
SFS: “OK, Neil … we’ll get to your thing on the weekend!” [Laughs]
NG: Yeah. I mean, it’s their thing as well, but they’re doing 10-hour days here and then they get home and it’s like, “All right, edit for four hours!” So, that’s in the can. It’s called Millionaire’s Club. And I’m going to be doing some short films on our break with some of my friends for fun, so that’ll be cool.
And then I did a super secret thing that I can’t say until they actually say what it is, but it’s a pretty exciting one.
SFS: Keep us posted?
SFS: Any message to your fans, not necessarily just the Eureka ones but of your body of work in general?
NG: Yeah, just thanks for watching and it’s cool to have such a passionate community of people who really like and enjoy what you’re doing. Have you seen all of our sets? We’ve got a lot of stuff and there’s a lot of people who do this so it really means a lot to me and everyone who’s making the show when people actually are enjoying it.
Interview by Chad Colvin
Transcription by Lahela
TOMORROW: SciFi Stream’s Eureka interview series continues with actress Erica Cerra!
Season 4.5 premieres on Syfy on July 11 at 8/7 p.m. (E/P). Season 4.0 is available on DVD today.