Peter J Lucas
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(Part 1 of 3)

In Killer 2, you had the idea for your character, The Jackal, to sing at the end of the movie. Do you get many opportunities to give input to a character's dialogue?

Directors in films are more flexible. They give us more freedom and listen to our ideas. On TV, it's more complicated because they really want it to be done the way it is written. For example, in The Beast, the writer was also an executive producer and he played a Trevinian president (my boss), so basically I could ask him and changes were done immediately. But from my experience, sometimes to approve one sentence on a TV show takes a while because the director doesn't feel he has authority to do it. In films, it's different. In both Polish movies, I had a lot of freedom and they allowed me to input my ideas. That song actually was my idea because at the first meeting with Juliusz Machulski, he asked me if I had something to offer in the movie, maybe like certain fighting or whatever, and when I was going back to the train station I thought about that scene in the church and I came up with an idea. I used to sing in a church a long time ago and I thought it could be kind of funny if I sing "Ave Maria." So I called him immediately and I said, "What about if when they enter the church, I will be singing 'Ave Maria?'" And there was a long pause on the other side and finally he said, "Well, we'll see," and in the next script version it was written down. That was a nice surprise.

How did you like performing on stage in plays?

I did in America only one play, I Remember You at Glendale Centre Theater. It was a lead part, and it also ended with a song specially written for the show. We had shows five days a week, and it was a full theater nearly every time (400 seats from four sides). It was a community theater and a lot of busses were coming from outside of town to see it. I loved it. It was a very different experience to be surrounded by the audience. The American audience is so spontaneous and so generous and if they like you, they show it to you. We had a few standing ovations, I have to say.

The rest of my experience in America is based on working in TV shows and in the movies. I used to work on the stage as a singer in Poland, and that was the only live contact with the audience I had, which I miss. It’s like right now, we are talking over the phone but I don’t see you, I don’t see your responses. I prefer to have an interview personally. I think that’s in all of us. We use emails, but I think we would prefer to chat with somebody at least on the phone. Like, you offered to interview me through email, but that would be so cold. Just even talking to you over the phone makes it more personal.

Do you prefer films or television and why?

Well, my goal is film, but in this business there are certain steps. Usually, people start with the soaps and if they stay there too long, then they have a problem with switching to next level, TV. After TV, the next step is the movies, and basically these changes are not easy because there are different casting people, different media, and definitely different acting. They are slight changes, but they are there. I have worked on TV shows for a while now and my next step is the movies. But with who I am, with my accent, the way I look and my height, it’s not easy to play "second fiddle." And at the same time, to get a lead in a movie in nowadays' market is impossible unless you write down your own, very good script, find somebody interested, and you can say to him, "OK, I sell it to you only if I am in it." So, I decided finally to write down a story I have in my mind for a long time and we will see.

What do you like most about acting?

Well, I have to say I complain sometimes that I’ve played so many bad guys, why can’t I be a good guy sometimes? But in the last show I worked, the really bad guy was played by somebody else and I was kind of jealous, because I feel the bad guys are the most interesting parts. There is a saying in Hollywood that the movie is as good as the bad guy in it. I feel for us actors to be that cool, sometimes nasty or dangerous [villain] is an opportunity which you cannot get in real life. I think The Beast Within was very special for me because it allowed me to build so many layers in the way it was written. And you know, the most rewarding for me is still to get emails saying, "I didn’t want to kill you at the end." And I have to admit whenever I play bad guys, I try to make them human and create something likable about them. Nobody is totally bad or good. There are always some circumstances of which the audience might not be aware which made somebody look bad in the eyes of law or society. Nothing is black and white.

So, I have to say that I enjoy to play them if they vary, but if they are all stereotypical and the same, I get tired of them.

You have played a lot of villains on TV. How do you come up with a fresh approach to each of them to make them different?

It’s a problem on TV because they expect certain things from you. I think in films, it’s totally different, it’s more creative. So it’s not easy, and sometimes I catch myself repeating myself. Of course, just changing your look is not enough. Besides, how much you can change it, right? You saw a few of my projects and, as you noticed, mostly I play Russians. So, how different can I make them? TV doesn’t allow me for too much creativity. I cannot go too far because they are so strict with the way they see it. And if I would try to go in a different way (I would say a movie way), they would not accept it because it would not be clear enough for the audience, who is flipping the channels, that I am a bad guy. So, sometimes you have to really show it: "OK, here, look -- I am a bad guy." A friend of mine who is responsible for making choices of what’s on the air and what’s not said, "When we decide, we really watch for a clear picture, who is who. People have a remote in their hands and if they don’t get it, they just switch the channel."

Tell me something about acting as a career that would really discourage a person from getting into that line of work.

It’s a lot of rejection. It’s good to have a second job which provides a steady income. I consider myself a working actor. I make a living doing this, but I think what helped me to get to that status was that I have a second, flexible job and I’m not stressed out at the auditions thinking, "If I don’t get this job, I won’t be able to pay rent." That extra pressure in your head will not help and it will take you in a different direction. You have to realize that there are 45,000 registered actors in the union and there’s not enough work for all of us. So, it’s not an easy business.

It’s a rewarding business though, like having contact with your fans or getting email from people from different parts of the world with words of encouragement, words of appreciation for what I do. But it’s a long, long struggle. I remember at the beginning when I came to Los Angeles, somebody told me, "Do not expect anything to happen before ten years of fighting, learning, and working on your craft," and I thought it was crazy. But I have to say I really started to be busy five or six years ago, it took me a while. But I don’t want to discourage anybody from following their dream. If that’s what they would like to do, that’s what they should do. Nothing is easy in nowadays' world.

What has been your favorite role so far?

If I look back at everything what I did, I really liked the character in The Beast Within. I really loved that part. I liked Boukreev in Into Thin Air. From TV, I think I really liked The Beast, because there were some unexpected turns in the character, and of course I had a chance to work with the world-known director, Mimi Leder. Probably these were my favorite characters.

Go to Part Two of our Exclusive Interview!

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