Grant Gould (gdg) wrote in battlestar_blog,
Grant Gould

Crashdown Unleashed

I'm proud to bring you another Battlestar Blog Exclusive Interview! You, of course, know Sam Witwer from his role as Crashdown on Battlestar Galactica seasons 1 and 2. He's also been in a variety of other popular TV shows, and is now starring in the lead role (Vader's apprentice!) in the upcoming Star Wars videogame event: The Force Unleashed. He's also got a band called the Crashtones, and he's about to hit the big screen in Stephen King's The Mist.

Our community members submitted questions for Sam, and he was kind enough to answer them for us. So here they are -- I hope you'll all check out this GREAT interview! :)

What was your first acting experience, and second question, how did you land the role on Battlestar Galactica?

Ok, ready for this? My first paid acting gig; I was a ninja in a Chicago Bulls commercial in Chicago. ...And six months later, I was paid $500 dollars. Chicago is not exactly a union town.

More BSG below...

What was your favorite episode and/or scene that you did in BSG and why?

My favorite scene is absolutely Crashdown's death. I appreciated that the producers gave me a chance to do something that really could have fallen flat if I wasn't prepared to give it my best.

Do you think Crashdown would have shot Cally had he not been shot by Baltar first? Also, love your music, I hadn't known until recently you had a band!

My personal take? No. As a matter of fact, when we shot it, I juuust started dropping the gun at one, two, THREE... I think the producers were right to keep it ambiguous, but as an actor, we have to have our opinions about these kinds of things. My opinion? Absolutely not.

Band. Thanks!!!!!! I appreciate that!

The scene where you’re shot was pretty intense. How did you and the other actors prepare for that? What do you do as an actor to get in those modes where you have to be very intense and emotional?

Oh man. I basically work myself into a very unpleasant emotional state. Matter of fact, I gotta do that in a few hours for something I'm shooting today. It's challenging and exhausting, but as far as I'm concerned there are people on the set that are working much harder. For example, I'm not carrying a 90 pound camera on my shoulder all day.

Were you made aware ahead of time of the fate of your character Crashdown?

HAHAHA. Yes. Here's the story. Get ready, it's a little bit of a loooong story.

I loooove Battlestar Galactica. Matter of fact, I saw the miniseries when it aired and had my agent contact the casting director (Robert Ulrich) to inform him that I wanted to guest on it. I had no idea that would actually work. Seeeeriously lucky.

Anyway, they came back with a series regular offer. Now this was something I didn't exactly expect. I thought I'd maybe just do an episode or two, but here they are offering to make me a part of the cast. My agent and I thought long and hard about it, and the studio said it was this great big part.

When I finally got on the set, I was blown away with many things. I mean, VIPERS! The Set!!!! The CAST!!!! Everyone was so cool. The producers! David Eick encouraged me to adlib on the set! This looked like a dream job! But as I spent more time there, one thing I was not thrilled with was how much my character was involved.

To the producer's credit, they tried like hell to write Crashdown in more, but as the scripts always came in heavy and Crashdown was a new character competing for attention against a dozen pre-established regulars, he was always the first to get cut out of the scripts. It was pretty frustrating because while I was in Vancouver, I was not exactly allowed to go back to LA and work on anything else... So I felt like my career had stalled out.

By the end of the first season, David Eick (who was sympathetic to my situation) and I had a talk. I basically said to him, "Listen, man... you're paying me series regular money and you're not getting your money's worth. You could hire some kid to do my job for 1/12th of what you're paying me and then buy an extra explosion or two with the money you save . Why not start using this crashdown guy, or kill him off and save your money... or both!"

He heard me out and I think he liked the idea of getting mileage out of the character by giving him what he called "a glorious death." ...and I think he was right. I loved what they came up with.

What it comes down to is I was a huge fan of the miniseries and I wanted to be on the show because I wanted to contribute creatively. By the end, they gave me exactly that chance so I left extremely happy. ...since then, I haven't missed an episode. I'm an even bigger fan.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt that Battlestar Galactica paved the way for something amazing that happened to me. More on that later.

I really liked Crashdown and wish they would’ve kept you around longer. Do you still keep up with Battlestar Galactica, or are there other shows you watch regularly? Thank you.

I never miss an episode. I think it's one of the best tv shows ever made. It certain kicks the crap out of most offerings from the major networks.

What else do I watch? Dexter. Ok, so that's lame right? Sam Witwer's favorite shows are Battlestar and Dexter, both shows that he was on. ...But come on! I dare you to tell me that these aren't superior shows. Bring it.

And yes, I'm lame.

Favorite and least favorite part of the BSG experience?

Favorite - Adlibbing. Joking with the cast.
Least Favorite - See above.

What’s probably the one single question you get asked the most by fans?

"Are those your real eyebrows or are they animatronic?"

Do you still talk to or hang out with any of the Galactica actors? Did you make lasting friendships with any of them?

I keep up with Aaron Douglas on email. Nikki Clyne and I have hung out a bunch. Sackhoff and I chat every now and again. Tricia and I get coffee on occasion (she's a f**kin sweetheart.) ...Grace, I feel awful that I haven't emailed her in a while.

One thing you should know... the entire cast? Sweethearts. ...and so damned funny. Great group of people.

Can you tell us what it was like working alongside some of your fellow actors on the show, such as Aaron Douglas and James Callis? Is it pretty easy-going on BSG, or did everyone take it very seriously?

We took the work seriously, but that doesn't mean we weren't busting each other up laughing all the time. I mean, these are serious actors with serious talent. They are also incredibly nice people. James Callis actually went after David Eick when he heard I was being killed off. "David, you're making a mistake." ... David was like, "James, Sam asked for this." ...James asked me if this was true to make sure he didn't have to punch anyone out or anything. That guy's amazing.

Did you get to spend any time with Mary McDonnell, and if so, what is she like on set? I'm a huge fan of hers. I would also like to know who on the set you wished you could have worked with more.

Very little time with Mary. ...But I like to think that off screen, Laura and Crashdown were BFF. I would have loved to have worked with Eddie (Olmos) more, but I certainly saw him enough on the set. Really friendly, open guy.

Who do you think the last cylon is?

DUDE! I DON'T KNOW!!!! I'm as mind blown as you are by the last season's cliffhanger!!!!!!!!! SON OF A BITCH!

Of all the projects that you've worked on so far, what has been the most fun and rewarding?

I'm happy to say that my favorite is also my latest. The Mist. Go see it! It's out November 21st. Frank Eff'n Darabont directed it! Again, more on that later.

I'm really looking forward to Force Unleashed. I love everything Star Wars related. How did you get that gig? And are you going to be at any shows in the next year? I would really love to get a signed poster or photo from you. May the FORCE be with you man!!!

How did I become Darth Vader's Secret Apprentice? Well, this is pretty cool.

Over a year back there was a big meeting at Lucasfilm where they were unveiling the approved concept art defining what Darth Vader's Apprentice would look like. The concept they settled on had been created a year or two prior to this meeting by a very talented artist named Amy Beth Christenson.

So they "unleash" this painting. My buddy David Collins (a rising star at Lucasfilm) was present. What's the painting look like? Me. They start to talk about casting. David calls me up and says, "dude, send me your headshot and your reel."

"uhh... why dude?"

"Just DO IT, Sam! Damn it!"

So I send my materials in, and David slips my headshot in the pile. It wasn't long before my headshot made it to the top of the pile...If you could see the concept art for the character, you'd understand why. Amy really did paint ME. My headshot looked identical to the concept art.

Many months later, a delegation from Lucasfilm comes to LA with David in tow. They call me in and audition me for like 45 minutes. I'm told later that they put me through my paces because they wanted to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they weren't just handing me the part because I had a friend at Lucasfilm.

Many months later I get the call, "you're Darth Vader's Secret Apprentice."


"...and you'll have an action figure."

WHAT?!!!!! Ok... Look. I'm a Juilliard trained actor. Shakespeare is awesome. Art is awesome. ...but what I really got into the business for was to have an action figure with a FRIGGIN LIGHTSABER!!!! OK?!

Oh, and as an interesting post script to this story... David Collins. The guy is kinda a jack of all trades. For Force Unleashed, his official title is Lead Sound Designer. Unofficially, he's done all kinds of crazy stuff on this game, including sitting in on story meetings, presentations to George (Lucas), helping with the motion capture process...

So here's what happened. As we shot Force Unleashed on the motion capture stage, David was reading some of the smaller parts with the actors. David is a really good actor, so it was absolutely key to have him there to fill out the parts that hadn't been cast yet. Well, one of the parts that hadn't been cast was my droid sidekick, PROXY.

As we continued to rehearse and shoot, it became apparent to me and everyone else that David was just kicking ass with PROXY... and as Proxy is my character's best friend, it didn't hurt that David and I already had a certain chemistry together.

So what happened? I got to put the good word in for him. So did many others.

They tried like hell to cast someone else. They even had some celebrities in mind, but it became clear that whomever they hired, they would just be trying to reproduce the chemistry and charm that David brought to the role naturally.

So...David Collins got the part! Yes, it's true. The Apprentice and Proxy are friends in real life.

He helped me, I helped him.

Thanks for doing this interview Sam. My question is, did you come up with any of the lightsaber fighting moves in TFU on your own, or were they choreographed ahead of time?

We did a lot of reference videos and some motion capture so I know some of the movements are mine. However, I didn't do any flips.

Maybe I shouldn't admit that. Okay. Scratch that! I did it all! All flips are mine!

I loved your work in Battlestar and am looking forward to seeing the new StarWars game. What exactly will you be doing in the game? I know I've read that you are Vader’s apprentice. Does that mean we'll see you in cinematic cut scenes, or does the player actually control you, or what can you tell us about it?

You control me. You will also see me in the cinematics. What's great about this project is that the cinematics are being animated with the assistance of Industrial Light and Magic's motion capture people. Mike Sanders ran the tech (the same guy that invented I-Mocap for Pirates of the Caribbean).

Basically, they created a digital copy of me. Then they put all these dots all over me and threw me (and the other actors) onto a motion capture stage. Then, as we shot, those dots allow a computer to track all of my facial movements which drives the CG character. In effect, my performance gets mapped onto a photo realistic CGI Sam Witwer. It copies everything I do. Pretty neat, eh?

Oh, and guys? Skywalker Ranch? The new Lucasfilm Presidio Complex? These places are AMAZING! And yes. They sent me and Nathalie Cox (Juno Eclipse) home with our very own lightsabers.

Oh, and while I'm on the subject... the script and the story for Force Unleashed? Shockingly good. Haden Blackman is a very talented writer. He and George also crafted the story.

If you wanna see what we were up to, go to ...there's some pretty cool documentaries on there.

Does this video game thing mean that we might see you in the upcoming 2009 Star Wars live action TV series??? I suppose if that is the case then Lucasfilm probably won’t let you spill the beans. Still, I have to ask.

Always in motion is the future.

I really dig the Crashtones. Your songs sound heavily influenced by Faith No More, which is one of my all-time favorites. Were you inspired by them? When can we expect to hear more? :)

You got me. Faith No More was my favorite band growing up. We're working on new stuff and uh... I guess it'll be ready when it's ready. Thanks for listening!

Hey dude. I like the music. Wish they hadn’t frakkin killed you on BSG. Quick question – which is more rewarding for you - acting or being a musician? Keep up the killer work.

They're both rewarding for different reasons. As an actor, you can't really do your work unless someone gives you permission (i.e. gives you a part). As a musician, nothing can stop you from putting out a cd. It's a pretty great outlet for me and it certainly gives me something to do while I'm waiting for the phone to ring.

Recently, the phone has been ringing pretty often so music has been put a bit on the back burner, but it's still cookin. There's another disc in the works.

This one I'll have my live band playing with me... (the first disc was basically a solo project with me playing most instruments)... That live band includes Brian Taylor (writer/director of Crank) and Glenn Howerton (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia) doing some CRAZY stuff.

What kind of things are you into – what bands do you like, movies, books? Not that I have a chance, but do you have a girlfriend? LOL

Love pretty much all kinds of music. Books. I dunno why I feel the need to mention this, but the Amber series by Roger Zelazny is amazing. Movies? I like good movies, and unfortunately they're becoming all too rare.

Girlfriend... !? Hahaha! As of recently, I do have a girlfriend and she's fairly amazing. I've actually known her since highschool.

Have you attended any fan conventions, and if so, have you had any quirky or fun experiences at them? Also, are you attending any conventions in 2008? I hope to meet you at one if you’re going! You should do Dragon Con.

I have done a few conventions here and there. The latest was Star Wars Celebration Europe. I gotta tell ya, I love em! I really do! It's just great to be around people who love this stuff like I do. ...And come on! It's AWESOME to be surrounded by stormtroopers and the like.

Conventions in 2008. Don't know yet. I'd like to though...

Two questions: What one person in your life has influenced and encouraged you the most in your career? And… what is your drink of choice? (I’m a gin and tonic girl myself.)

Drink of choice. Mountain Dew.

I have so many people that have influenced me. It's hard to narrow it down to one. If I could narrow it down to two, I'd like to say that my parents instilled me with a bullet proof core belief in myself and I don't know if I could ever thank them enough.

Hey, man, I like everything you do. My wife’s a fan too. I’m going to buy the SW game no doubt. Here’s my question and it’s random I know. Who’s the most smokin’ hot actress you’ve ever worked with. That’s what I want to know.

HAHAHAHAHA... I'm gonna have to give that to my good friend Tricia Helfer. She is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet.

What's next for you, Sam, more movies, tv - another CD?

Well, on November 25th on CBS, I play a disturbed young man on a show called SHARK.

But what's next? as in.. what's NEXT???!!!!!

Well, on November 21st there's a movie coming out called THE MIST. It's based on the Stephen King short story, and it's written and directed by the man who brought you Shawshank Redemption and the Green Mile, Frank Darabont.

Frank Darabont who hired me, in part, because he recognized me from Battlestar Galactica. Thanks David Eick and Ron Moore!

See? Superior show!

I've got a pretty great part in The Mist...

And guys, it's a good movie...

GO SEE IT!!!!!!!

Thank you to all of the community members who submitted questions for this interview, and a big thanks to Sam Witwer for taking the time to answer them!

To check out Battlestar Blog's other Exclusive Interviews, click here.

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