Interview with Rick Worthy
Rick Worthy – actor, coffee lover and all round nice guy. He’s been a steady fixture on our TV screens for over a decade with a multitude of memorable performances in a wide variety of shows, ranging from Battlestar Galactica and Supernatural to CSI and Glee. Rick was kind enough to let me subject him to questions about break dancing, McDonald’s commercials, James Cameron, character acting, the convention circuit and Alpha Vamp karaoke. Press play or scroll down for the results and be sure to follow Rick on Twitter here 🙂
You first came to Hollywood as part of a TV dance contest with your brother. Was dancing something that you wanted to seriously pursue or had you always wanted to be an actor?
Yes, my brother and I competed on a TV show back in 1985 called Dance Fever starring Adrian Zmed. Adrian Zmed was the host and my brother and I got swept up in the break dancing craze back in the mid 80s like 1983, 82 and 84. We taught ourselves how to moonwalk and dance and spin on our heads and our backs and we just got caught up in it. I tell people I used to be a break dancer and they don’t believe me but it is true, back in the 80s. Dancing with my brother was definitely some of the happiest days of my life. Anyway, we heard that Dance Fever was coming to town and my brother called me and said “Hey let’s try out for it” and we got accepted to be on the show. They flew us to Hollywood and we had the time of our lives for about 3 or 4 days hanging out in Hollywood and coincidentally I live, actually, right down the street from where we filmed Dance Fever and every time I drive by the studio it brings back those memories, a lot of fun. When we finished Dance Fever we came back home and both my brother and I, we were so young, I was 18 and he was 19, we got the performance bug. My mum had been, to go back before that actually, my mum taught us to dance when we were kids, when were like 5 years old back in the early 70s, and put us in different dance shows or different dance contests and talent shows and we won. We started winning and I guess that stayed in us all those years and culminated with my brother and I going on Dance Fever and when we came back home, I went into the theatre and my brother became a DJ. That’s sort of how it all started, really. I have to credit my mum with teaching us how to perform and being in front of an audience and just our own passion for staying in show business so to speak. I went on to university theatre and film and that’s how I became an actor.
Do you still get recognised from your McDonald’s commercial?
My McDonald’s commercial? Not so much. Every now and then someone may say “Hey weren’t you in a McDonald’s commercial like 20 years ago?”. I think when I first came to LA I got recognised a couple of times from it. It was a national spot and I was the only guy in the commercial so I really lucked out. It was a lot of fun. I didn’t make the extraordinary amounts of money that everyone told me I was going to but it definitely paid rent for a long time so it was nice. I used that as my demo tape for film and TV because that was really all I had. When I came to LA that was my reel, that was my tape, my demo tape. My agents loved the commercial and it sort of got me in the door.
You did a lot of theatre work before breaking into TV and film. Is theatre something that you still like to do now or that you’d like to get back into?
Yes, absolutely. I definitely would like to get back on the boards, as we say. It’s been a long time since I’ve been back on stage in front of a live audience. I really started my theatre career, I would say in Detroit, Michigan, which is where I’m from but I later relocated to Chicago and really became an actor there. In my heart I consider myself a Chicago stage actor even though I have been living in LA much, much longer than I have in Chicago. Whenever I go back to Chicago I always take the time to go see a play and sort of reconnect with the theatre there and see something, go see something or go see, hopefully, someone that I know in something because those are my roots.
What are two things that you always take onto a set with you?
I always take my script. I always have my script with me. Before we film I put down it somewhere so the camera won’t see it but I always have it with me. It’s my bible on set so I always take it with me. The other thing I take with me is my reading glasses. As I’ve gotten older my vision has gotten worse and I’ve had to swallow my pride and bring my reading glasses to set. I’ve actually been able to use them a couple of times for the character I was playing. For example, in The Vampire Diaries I was able to use them. I played Bonnie’s father so it’s sort of age appropriate that I would have some reading glasses. I love character-y things like glasses and certain things that the character may have, you know, maybe a coffee cup or a certain way that they walk or carry something. It worked really well.
Do you prefer working on TV or film?
I think I prefer TV, only because I think it’s what I started with and I think, for some reason, it just works for me much better than film has. TV has given me a lot of great characters to play and I think I’ve done my best work on TV, outside of theatre, and I’ve had my best experiences in terms of places I’ve travelled to and people I’ve met and worked with. It’s been great. TV can be, there’s a lot of bad stuff on TV as well but I think I agree with you, there’s a lot of good things on TV right now and I think TV can be a great place for an actor to work.
A lot of your work has been in sci-fi/fantasy shows such as Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica or Supernatural. Do you prepare differently for these roles than you would for roles in shows like Murder One, NCIS or Glee?
Oh, you know what, I prepare for each role the same way, whether it’s science fiction or a cop show or something like Glee. I look at the character and develop a biography for that character, a background, and do a lot of script analysis and ask a lot of questions about what the character wants and set up my objectives for the character and go from there. The process is the same regardless, whether or not it’s science fiction or drama or a period piece or what have you. The process is exactly the same.
One of my favourite roles of yours was as Lieutenant Clemente in the final ever episode of Dark Angel, which was directed by the show’s creator James Cameron. What was it like working with him?
Lieutenant Clemente, yeah. You know, I heard all the horror stories about working with James Cameron but when I got up to set to work with Jim I found him to be the most charming guy in the world. He greeted me with like 5, 6 people surrounding him. He walked right up to me on my first day, big, tall handsome guy, James Cameron, comes up to me and he says “Rick Worthy, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m very happy to have you here.”. When James Cameron, someone of that calibre comes up to you and says that, it just really makes you feel great and welcome right away. I love Jim and I’d love to work with him again. He invited me to a screening of the episode, because he directed that episode, he invited me to a screening at his production offices and it’s as awesome as you would expect. It’s an amazing place. He’s got like his own screening room, he’s got a life size replica of the Terminator, he’s got all these really cool things in there, and probably now a lot of stuff from Avatar as well. I found him to be just a great guy and he sort of took the time to single me out and made sure that he said hello. I loved working with him and would certainly welcome it again.
Speaking of directors, is directing or producing something you’d like to get into?
I directed and wrote and produced a project, a short film about 10 years ago with one of my closest friends because we were tired of being unemployed. We pooled our money together and came up with about nine or ten thousand dollars and wrote a short film and bought equipment and bought a new computer and editing software and hired a small crew and did our short film. It was a crash course in film making and it was great because it forced me to do, not only act in the project as well as him, he acted in it too as well as our other friend, the three of us gave ourselves the three main roles, I had to direct and produce and exec produce and act in it at the same time. It was an amazing experience and very, very hands on and I learned a lot every day, up until we were done editing. We hired a young, brilliant USC graduate to edit for us and it just came out fantastic. We got into 3 festivals and I think it made me a better actor. It expanded my awareness of everyone’s role on set. I highly recommend actors to sit down and write something and direct and produce it themselves so they can get a very good, clear understanding of what the entire process is like. It’s not just about us, it’s about everyone on set. I loved it, wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. Probably will do it again but I’d have to see what kind of ideas I have and what kind of money I have to do it.
You were recently in a fantastic documentary called That Guy… Who Was in That Thing?. How did you get involved in that?
Yes, thank you for asking that question. By the way, there will be a female version called That Gal… Who Was In That Thing?, probably later this year on Showtime. I got involved because the producers knew my work and they called me and asked me if I would be interested in answering some questions about what it’s like to be an actor in Los Angeles and I said sure, so they came over to my place and we sat down for probably 3 or 4 hours and they asked me a lot of questions and I didn’t realise how candid I was going to be. It wasn’t a prepared list of questions, they just sort of fired off the questions. What was fascinating was that when they did a screening of it, I think 14 of us made it to the screening here in LA, and we’re all fans of each other’s work, some of us had worked together or we knew each other’s work, but none of us realised how candid we were being and a lot of us said sort of similar things, similar responses to the questions and it was really cool. So, thank you for bringing that up.
You’ve been a guest at a lot of conventions. What do you enjoy most about them and are they something you’d like to continue to do in the future?
Definitely, definitely the thing that I think I enjoy the most about them is that I get a chance to just have fun and cut loose and party with people and I very much enjoy sitting down for drinks with fans who come to the conventions and chatting with people and dancing and karaoke is always fun. If you’ve been to Supernatural conventions you know there’s karaoke night which, by the way, I was actually terrified of because everyone thinks I can sing. I can sort of sing. The first Supernatural convention I was invited to was in New Jersey and I kept hearing, everyone kept asking me on Twitter “Are you gonna be at karaoke?” and I just avoided going, I didn’t go. Then the next time I went was in Chicago and I went and I had the time of my life. I thought it was awesome. I love the karaoke night, I love the fun that fans have and I love when people are having fun and having a good time. I did 12 conventions last year, not only Supernatural themed conventions but I did a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, I did a Vampire Diaries convention in England, I did a Star Trek convention in Prague, I did Armageddon in Australia and New Zealand and probably 4 or 5 Supernatural conventions as well as a Vampire Diaries convention, I think, also in Vegas. They’re all different. I would say the most fun I’ve had was probably the Supernatural conventions, the Vampire Diaries convention, I think it was called Insurgence, I had a lot of fun there, surprisingly, I didn’t think people would really sort of dig me because it’s a much younger crowd but I actually had a lot of fun with a lot of young people there and a lot of them brought their parents. I remember sitting down with this young lady, Leah, and her mum, Marie, as well as probably 8 or 9 of their friends and we all sat and drank together. It was a lot of fun, it was great. I had a lot of fun in New Zealand and Australia, not only because I had never been there before but you guys were just so amazing. Even though it was a big sort of comic con style convention, I had loads and loads of fun and I hope to get invited back again. It was great and I wish I could have stayed longer. So yeah, definitely expect to do some more. We shall see. Last year, by the time I finished all the conventions, I was sort of mentally kind of tired, probably physically as well, from the travelling and, you know, when you party for 3 days at the age of 47 it takes its toll on you. I’ve had to sort of get in shape for the conventions and then by the time Monday morning comes I’m pretty wiped out, which is how I want it to be, but it takes me longer to recover. This year I’m focusing more on work, on being on set more, voiceover work as well and I’ll probably do 2 or 3 conventions this year. And I’ll probably show up at a couple for karaoke, probably Vancouver, but we shall see.
You tweet a lot of lost pet signs on your Twitter which is awesome. Was this something that you just started doing one day when you saw a sign or was there something else that prompted you?
Yep, a lot of lost dogs that I see, a lot of lost dog signs that I see. Some cats too. It breaks my heart. I have a dog. His name’s Buddy, my Labrador Retriever, he’s sitting right next to me right now and he’s my everything. If he was lost or stolen or something I wouldn’t be able to function. With the advent of these smart phones and the social media technology you sort of have instant access to information anywhere in the world and it’s really easy to take a photograph of anything and put it on Twitter or Facebook so I started doing that a while ago and asking people to retweet and I think it’s helped rescue some dogs or helped find some dogs and, hopefully, some cats too. There’s too many lost animals that I see and it’s sad. I think some parts of LA aren’t as dog and pet friendly as other parts of LA. I lived in Seattle and Vancouver for just a very little, short period and I brought my dog with me and it’s just a completely different world up there. People are so animal conscious and dog friendly and I don’t recall seeing very many lost pet signs up there. I remember driving down the streets several times in LA and I’d see a dog run across the street in heavy traffic and it’s shocking, it’s disturbing. It’s sort of how the collective consciousness of how people feel about dogs and I don’t know how to fight it. I just try to do the best that I can do and I do know that a few dogs have been found because of people posting on Twitter those lost dog signs. And, hopefully, cats too.
Has there been a role where you’ve sat back and thought ‘wow, this is it. This is exactly why I became an actor’, or do you find a little something like that in all of your roles?
You know, some roles just completely knock you out, like you’re like ‘This is why I became an actor’ and one of those roles, recently, was Supernatural when I played the Alpha Vampire. That role, it’s an epic, sort of iconic role. It’s been done so many times and brilliantly by several people. I always think of Bela Lugosi first, brilliantly played Dracula in the Universal Studios production of Dracula. I recently watched it and he was just amazing. You believe that he is Dracula. It scared me because I wanted to make my own mark and to just do the best I could as being the world’s first vampire. Someone recently told me that if it scared you then that’s a good thing because that means that you needed that challenge. It turned out just to be one of my favourite roles that I’ve ever done. There’s been, of course, a few others as well, but in recent memory I would say that one. Also, I recently did something on Grey’s Anatomy which just made me feel like an actor again. That’ll be airing Thursday, May 15th, it’s the season finale of Grey’s Anatomy, so tune in if you can. (unfortunately, this was published after the episode aired, but you can catch it here. You should go there once you finish here :D)
What the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I would say three things that I always think of. First one my acting teacher, my mentor for acting, my acting mentor when I was in university told me to cover my own ass. Basically, that means be self reliant, don’t rely on anyone but yourself. I’m responsible for learning my lines, my blocking. I’m responsible for what my character looks like. He’s in my custody and that is my job, get to work on time, be respectful and bring honour to the craft and to the profession of acting. I try to do that with every job. Just try to be as professional and self reliant as you possibly can. Second thing is, a brilliant director and actor in Chicago that I worked with took me aside one day and he said “The key to all art is observation.” and he’s absolutely right. It is our job to watch and observe and interpret and report. I see myself as sort of a community servant, a servant of the people, and I want to hold the mirror up to people and show them the reflection of themselves. That’s what I try to do. It’s how I approach the work. I feel like that’s my duty, my job, my function. The third thing is something that Denzel Washington said in an interview. I think he was being interviewed after he did Malcolm X, the movie Malcolm X, and the interviewer asked him “How did you create the character because you did such a brilliant job?” and he said “I just tried not to get in the way.”. I really, really took note of that because I try not to get in the way as well. I try to serve the character and what the character wants, not what Rick wants but what the character wants and if I’m really doing my job well I’m sort of watching the character move sort of through me, if that makes sense and I’m just kinda there for the ride. I’m like surfing, I’m just kinda surfing, riding that wave until it’s over. That’s how I approach the work. Good acting is character acting and that’s something that Stanislavski said, Constantin Stanislavski, arguably one of the greatest acting teachers ever. My work is directly from him. His instruction, his style, his method of acting is what I use, the method of physical action. Not to be interpreted with method acting, as in Lee Strasberg, that’s a whole other interpretation of Stanislavski. That’s a whole other discussion, actually. You can ask me this question later and I’ll be happy to answer it but I use the method of physical action and I set up objectives and logical, playable, physical actions for the character to achieve and through the process of wilfully executing these actions you find yourself moving spontaneously through the scene, speaking as the character would speak and moving as the character would move. That’s how I approach every script and every character and every performance.
There’s so much good TV on right now. Is there a show that you haven’t worked on that you’d like to?
I would really love to work on the TV show Scandal. I think it’s awesome. I’ve been watching it, it’s amazing, I’m hooked on it and I think Kerry Washington does a brilliant job as Olivia Pope, as well as all the other actors in the show. They are just rocking the show. Tony Goldwyn plays the president and he’s amazing. I just finished season 2 and I need to now catch up to the next season. That’s my new addiction and I need to watch it. It’s not at all science fiction or fantasy but it’s a brilliant one hour drama about damage control and scandalous things that happen in Washington, D.C. It’s just an amazing show. Also produced by Shonda Rhimes who produces and created Grey’s Anatomy so she’s created two amazing shows and I’m gonna be on Grey’s this Thursday night and hopefully, at some point, I’ll be on Scandal. That’s my hope, that’s my expectation so we shall see.
And finally, our signature question, what would the Alpha Vamp’s go to karaoke song be?
That’s a great question. I’m gonna have to go with Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s my all time favourite karaoke song of all time. That, and probably anything with some good booty shaking like Baby Got Back because I love to dance. Please join me on stage and we’ll do some booty shaking and then follow that up with some Freddie Mercury, Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody. That sounds good to me. Plus a lot of beer, we have to drink a lot of beer too J.
If you haven’t seen That Guy… Who Was in That Thing? you really should and you can now catch it on iTunes. It’s a fascinating look into the world of character actors and stars a whole bunch of familiar faces. And if you’d like to see Rick answer the question of the different styles of method acting, let us know in the comments below 😀
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