The Enigmatic Jerry Doyle: An Interesting Perspective

 

LIEE IS NEVER QUITE LIKE WE PICTURE IT.

In my mind I pictured Jerry Doyle as a gregarious, easy to approach, everyman's man. Instead, I found a quiet, thoughtful, and enigmatic human being. Now don't get me wrong, both times I spoke to Jerry he was very tired, but he took the time to talk to me anyway. He was gracious, intelligent, sharp-as-a-tack, in fact, funny and kind, though he still seemed distant, protected, and subdued. I can only guess how much of that was the effect of a 12-hour day or some other situation. Let's just say I thought of him as more of a babbling brook (Babylon Brook?) or rushing stream, but he seemed more like a deep, blue, still lake - its surface a mirror: reflective, and yet not completely calm and untouched. I apologize if I sound a little too literary, I mean, this is an interview, not a novel. It's just a feeling I can't quite put my finger on. He is kind, but not easy to get next to. He is articulate, but not effusive. I guess I already said it: he is enigmatic (with a sharp sense of humor). And so it begins. -

The fourth season "'as quite a change for his character, Mr. Garibaldi, so I inquired if he enjoyed the switch to bad guy. "Yeah, it was a nice twist for the character. They always throw so many curve balls at you in this show, you never know who's going to be doing what or where it's all going to end up. But when Joe Straczynski had originally approached me with the idea of making me a bad guy, said, "you know, I don't have a problem with that if it's from a believable point"' You take it all out and hopefully, there's a reasonable rationale for having it happen that way. I commented, "you don't want to piss the audience off," and he laid it all out for me and it made great sense… from where it was going, because the dynamics were good between my character and Bruce's (Boxleitner’s) character, and then to use his father [Sheridan's] in the betrayal of that trust that he and I had developed. So there was a lot of good stuff in there to play with."

"A lot of good stuff to play with is very much an actor's take on a story", and I find myself more and more interested in this vocation called acting, so I asked Jerry what he felt was his greatest strength as an actor. He replied, "Stealing." "Stealing scenes?" I asked laughing. "No, stealing things from other actors," he said. "I work with so many wonderfully talented people, and I watch what they do, and I say, That was good, I'm going to take that. That was nice, I'm going to take that." When you have good people to work with it makes it easier to do your job. We have wonderful actors on the show and we have good camaraderie and good friendships. I think the strength that may be perceived in my role from the audience is the way the character is written ... the situations that he gets put in - and then it's just my little spin on it. It's not brain surgery; they make my job very easy. Wardrobe makes it look real. The set designers make it look real. The prop people make it look real. The hair and makeup people make us look good ...well, not the hair people. (laughing) And the writing's there, the directing's there, the editing's there. We've got a very cohesive and talented team that makes what we do seem that much hour. You've walked around; you've seen the sets. We've got a plywood space station on a cul-de-sac in Sun Valley. They put it together and they did a lot for what they have to work with budget-wise. I'll stack this show up against anything out there that has twice the budget."

He'll get no argument from me. That passionate dedication is a thread felt throughout the BS universe. I never thought about the art of acting before my involvement with BABYLON 5, hut now I find it is a continuing question in my mind. I asked Jerry about the process he goes through, his approach to acting, and the thought behind it. "It's pretty much ... I don't want to say' instinctual but I guess to a certain degree it is. I read the script and I try to see how it feels first, and then read it again a little bit more, breaking the scenes down and then try and say 'OK, what's going on with the character at this point?' and get into actually working the scene itself how I see it laid out, played out. I try and do all the work at home, especially the night before, so that when I come to the set I don't have to work, I can have fun, and for whatever reason, I've been very fortunate as far as line retention goes. I pretty much have a photographic memory, so if I'm starting to go up on a scene on the set I can kind of click the brain and I see the page again and I can find "'here I am and then I go back to what we're doing. And so, not having to really worry about the lines allows you to take in your environment and see "'hat the other actors are doing and catch their subtleties. their nuances, their curve balls, arid play with it."

Encouraging Jerry to talk more about the interplay between actors, he continues, "Well, my character is a little cynical, a little jaded, a little off beat, and looks at the world in a little bit of a different way than a lot of the other characters do because of what he's been through, his relationships. -. and so my character has gotten to a point where Joe now writes the way I talk. It's the same with Bruce, Peter Jurasik], Andreas [Katsulas], and Mira [Furlan]. You know, we have certain patterns and dynamics in the way we talk . . . mannerisms, gestures, likes, dislikes, hobbies, interests, and he tries to incorporate that stuff into what we do to make it easier for us to do our lobs."

That leads me to ask, "So, does Jerry Doyle cook pasta?" "Yeah, I love to cook. Like tonight, I've been here since 6:00 in the morning arid I'll get home probably about 7:30 p.m. and I'll just get if' the kitchen. Tonight's not going to be anything big, but I like to get in the kitchen. It's like a little mental break for half an hour or forty-five minutes. If I'm not working, like on a weekend, I can have some people over to the house, and spend three or four hours in the kitchen putting stuff together, arid I love it! To me it's a form of entertain merit."

"Wow! You're a man every woman would like to know," I can't help but enthuse. He replies laughing, "I don't know about that. I've had a few hiccups in that area. I've got some people that might disagree." He continues, "It's fun cocking. I lust dig it. Traveling this summer in Europe I ended up in a lot of the kitchens of the restaurants I dined in with the owner or with the chef. There's a restaurant I remember in Amsterdam, The Usterbaum, had the best Lobster bisque soup, and I just had to know how he made it, The hostess was probably 65 years old, sexier than all get out, and she sat with me while I was having dinner. We lust started talking and I said, 'This is the best,' and she said, 'Oh darling, you have to meet the chef.' So we're ill the kitchen, and just had a ball! It "'as great, so you know, I love to go to good restaurants, and try to pick up little hints here and there,"

Thinking of other interests Joe has put into his character, Jerry says, "I love going to Las Vegas, and make my donation to the Casino de Jour. All that good stuff. Again, they try to incorporate what we're close to, and what's familiar to us. It makes it a little bit easier to fiddle with something that you're comfortable with, then that takes you a little bit away from the conscious thought of doing tile scene. . - - It's good fun stuff!"

Jerry's enthusiasm is contagious and has me wondering about his other interests arid occupations. I knew he had other careers, but I wondered if he always wanted to act. "No. It's just that I got to a point in my life where I was looking for a change, looking for something fun. I left Wall Street in I 990. I decided to be an actor. In 1991 1 really started pursuing it. I love coming to work …still…in this business, on this show, after, no"', six years. It's a great group of people to work with, a wonderful experience so far. I expect it to continue on in some other form, whether it's a new show, or a spin-off, or movies, or whatever, for BABYLON is, and should, continue to grow the way it's been." Thinking about BABYLON 5 and Mr. Garibaldi continuing, I recall several times I have thought to myself when watching the series how graceful and natural Jerry looks doing the fight scenes, so I queried if he had any experience fighting. He took the opening and said, "Yes, but not successfully." We both laughed at that, and he went on, "That's the nice thing about being an actor ...when you’re one of the leads on the show, typically you get to win, and we have stunt guys that, once again, make us look good. They can see certain things happening, not happening, and they adjust. Our stunt guys make us look great. It's a lot of fun to do that stuff. This is all the crap you did when you were a kid. You'd shoot the gun and you'd say bang, and you'd say, 'I hit you,' and they'd say, 'nah, you missed me.' Well, now when you say 'bang,' they go down because it says they have too. So yeah, the stunt stuff is fun and we have a realty good stunt coordinator, Kerry Rossall. You know we've all kind of gotten to know cacti other over the years, what each other's pluses and minuses are, what you can't and can't do, what you need to work on. And in the tone meetings and the production meetings, they work all that stuff out. 'You know, we have this stunt, can he do a back layout?' and stuff like - - - 'if it's the last day of shooting on that episode before a break, well, if he snaps something, he's got time to heal' ... but the fighting stuff is fun. It's tedious ...you see the amount of coverage it takes and how many times you have to do it to get just those few' seconds on screen. I'll never understand stunt guys, but I'm sure glad they're out there."

I can't help but ask, "What's the most dangerous thing you did just for fun?" and for once he had to think a bit before answering. "Go to college, I went to college at Daytona Beach. I had to suffer through four years of spring breaks, that was pretty dangerous. I crammed four years of college into five." Laughing again, I asked, "Were you a business major?" thinking of his years on Wall Street. "No, I "'as in aviation. I was 'I 1,l lot. I got out of flight school, I went to Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, and I went to work for Falcon Jet. Basically, we supported and sold corporate jets in North America ... I did that for three years or so, and then ran across somebody who "'as working on Wall Street that I was doing a trip with... I did that [Wall Street for nine years, and it was fun for a while, and then it got tedious. II was a lot of nonsense toward the end, and I just wasn't having fun anymore. No"- I can honestly say I look forward to coming to work. I love the people I work with. Everyday there's great energy, every show's a new episode, a new story line, a new guest star, I've had great opportunities 1(1 t ravel the world to promote the show and meet the fans, and that's a big plus. I got introduced down at NASA and I've become a big launch junkie no"', and I went down for a whole bunch of shuttle launches. I've been suited up in the shuttle on the launch pad, you know, all that stuff, and it's really been, the whole BABYLON thing, it's been a wonderful experience. I just got a shot back from the second to the last launch, I think it was where they flew a B5 hat with them, and then ~ they took a picture wearing it in space and they all signed the hat and picture. I had that box-framed and it's hanging at the house. Yeah, and I've been in the suit room and gone with the close-out crew, and sat with the astronauts at the beach house and listened to them talk about flying in space. They've dubbed me their official, what they call, a 'nascot' - because every one I've been to has gone on time and mission successful and all that . . . I had to stop going because I was afraid my [good luck] streak was in jeopardy. Today, we were on set and I said 'oh shit, they're launching', so Bruce and I ran up to [Producer] John Copeland's office and watched the launch on CNN. So, it's just opened tip a lot of wonderful doors. I've met a lot of wonderful people. I've had great experiences, and I look forward to this continuing in some other form.

"Lunchtime for me is great. Everybody just sits around, jawing, bantering, and trading jokes arid barbs. In the makeup trailer they ever want to do a series about the business, what I they should do is just hang a couple of cameras in the makeup trailer. It runs the gamut - religion, politics, sex, and violence - and we just start bantering and yelling, Democrat, Republican, and it's super. It's a great way to start your day…and it's funny because Billy Mumy came over the other day and he came in the trailer in the middle of something that we were discussing, whatever it was, you know…I thought they should like just annihilate Iraq, carpet bomb the place, take Saddam out, just strip him, roll him in salt, and turn him into jerky kind of stuff. So everybody's going at it and a lot of times we say things to get reactions from people, although I do believe that about Saddam. ." He laughs and continues, 'Just kill him, not the innocent people.' Billy comes over and he's like, 'God, this trailer's nuts!' He goes, ‘VVe're like kind of politically correct in the alien trailer.' It kind of reflects the dynamics of the show, too. You know, the aliens have a much greater understanding of the universe. Maybe we're a little bit more centered on what we're doing on Babylon 5, on Earth. Maybe we don't see as big a picture as they do from their perspective. So it's kind of an interesting balance between the two trailers [human and alien], but we cover it all! And it's a lot of fun."

Speaking of politics, I mentioned to Jerry that Tracy Scoggins said that she's very interested in politics and so is Bruce. I then asked if he is cynical, as he had mentioned Mr. Garibaldi is. "Of politics or politicians?" he asked, and then continued, "My cynicism stems from the fact that the people who are in the positions of power, the empowered, are probably the least qualified to be leading. I could probably take 50 people off this set and put them in a state senator's [job], and do a better job than 50 of them we’ve got running right now. I just think that politically we've boiled everybody down to the least common denominator and we haven't empowered people - we've taken the power away. People don't need to be governed. They lust need to have people do whatever those leaders are supposed to do to give us the tools that we need to prove how good we are, and politically, yeah, I'm cynical. I think there's a whole lot of back room, bullshit politics going on . . . You know, people want to wake up in the morning, have a nice breakfast, buy a home, raise their families, take a vacation once in a while, buy a car once in a while, and leave something for the next generation. That's pretty much what everybody wants to do - it's not brain surgery. Politics to me ...it's the one thing in my life I've always been interested in and always been intrigued by and probably will pursue at some point. The people we have doing it now lust tells me you don't have to be any good to do it, much like me in acting.

"Think about an actor's job requirements. People say, 'Oh, your job is so hard.' It's not. To me, the crew's job is hard. They're here every day, every shot, and every scene. I come in the morning, someone says to me, 'What do you want for breakfast?' It's a nice way to start your day. And then somebody gives me the clothes that I wear, these are the lines that I say, makeup people make us look good, we stand on someone else's sets, and if we screw up, we get to do it again! I mean, you know, it's not a bad gig. There are much harder jobs out there. I think actors are generously overpaid relative to their net worth in society not that I'm not giving any back, don't get me wrong. Hopefully, I'll give it back in some ways, but you've got to keep it in perspective, what we do and who we are are two different entities. Put a little of who you are into what you do, but keep what you do out of who you are. And put the credit out where it's really deserved, and put the attention on things that matter most. It's just a job. It's not an identity, but it's a fun job and I identify with that, and that's why I enjoy it so much. It's a gas. I've been very fortunate to come into this business with no background in it, and to land a series. I auditioned for one pilot and that was this one which went to series and I've been doing this since 1992. I think of all the talented, trained actors that are out there that don't get a chance to work or to showcase what they're really good at doing. In the beginning this business isn't a talent contest, it's a business. It's called show business. It's not called show art, so I approached it like a business, which is the only thing I am most comfortable with, and thankfully, I've been getting paid to learn as I go, and I learn everyday. As I've said, I work with wonderful actors, and it's a great learning ground to be on a series and to have all these opportunities available to you without the hard-core training or paying your dues, so to speak. I know how fortunate I am to be in a position like that."

As our conversation comes to an end I can't help but think how fortunate I am too. It has turned out to be a very interesting interview, and I respect Mr. Doyle's humble article and generous regard for his fellow cast and crew. A complex man he is, but warm, with a down-to-earth eloquence in what he has to say. I think he should consider a life ill politics. After all, he is obviously intelligent, down to earth, has a photographic memory, is an excellent orator, and besides all that, he is very quotable. So I leave you with his words, "Put a little of who you are into what you do, but keep what you do out of who you are." WeIl said, Mr. Doyle.