‘Terriers’ Michael Raymond-James: “When I’m not working I’m at the Actor’s Studio three times a week just because I need to be doing this”

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Back in May when I was working on Terriers, I got a chance to meet Michael Raymond-James. Even though he was extremely nice and funny, you could tell he was in deep-work mode; focused and all about the scene.

I didn’t have a lot to do in the scene (my job that day was to sit there and look drug-dealerish in the shot – my main scene was with Donal Logue and Rockmond Dunbar) so I just sat back and watched him work.

Needless to say, it was a good day.

Terriers is currently one of the best shows on TV; you gotta watch it! The relationship between the Britt (Raymond-James) and Hank (Donal Logue) is one of the best part of the show.

Check out the interview where he discusses how he got his start, living with Donal during filming and how ‘Winston’ the dog humped his leg.

Terriers airs on Wednesdays at 10pm on FX.

So what was it about the role that drew you in?

Michael Raymond-James: It was the writing.  It’s always about the script and I just opened it up and started reading and was drawn to the writing and the opportunity to play a character that people may actually root for was sort of a nice little change.  I was told that it was going to be Shawn Ryan and Ted Griffin and, of course, Craig Brewer and Donal it was just sort of a no-brainer.

I’ve known Donal and Craig for a while and the opportunity to work with those guys again and then to jump into bed, so to speak, with Shawn Ryan and Ted Griffin was just something I didn’t want to miss the opportunity for.

What is it like working with the cast of Terriers, including “Winston?”

M. Raymond-James: Oh, God.  Well, first of all, the cast of Terriers is fantastic, such great, great people and really talented actors.  Donal and I’s sort of bromance has been well publicized, but other actors like Laura Allen are just brilliant and she’s so good in the show and as the season goes on she gets to go pretty deep and it’s just amazing. As somebody who really digs acting it’s really cool to be in that kind of presence.

Rockmond Dunbar is so solid and he’s another really great actor and just so smooth and so solid and always knows what’s going on and where he’s going and what he needs to be doing.  Jamie Denbo is just a firecracker who’s always cracking me up.  She’s so funny and so good at the role of “Maggie.”  Kim Quinn is just so free.  Such a sort of hippy, spirited actress where she just sort of—she’ll show up on set and it just seems effortless for her.  But everybody associated with the show like Michael Gaston and Karina Logue just, man, everybody just steps up to the plate and hits it out of the park.

“Winston?” We had this sort of weird little love affair, man.  The actor’s name is Buster; I think it’s important to point that out.  His characters name is “Winston” and Buster immediately sort of—you know they placed him in the truck for the first scene in the pilot and he immediately starting humping my leg.  No, “Hello,” or anything, just there it is, man.  This is how we’re going to do it.  He was a lot of fun to work with.

Animals are great.  I love hanging with animals and that dude is crazy.  We would in a rehearsal just set up his mark and he would come around the corner and hit the mark, hit the mark, hit the mark and then once we yelled, “action,” he would walk right past the mark and just take his spot somewhere else.

You mentioned the bromance earlier and I just am wondering about how you guys cultivated this incredible rapport that you have.  Donal said that you guys had rented a beach house. What was that like?  Were you guys going over scripts?  Can you maybe illuminate a bit more about how you guys reached this very tangible kind of relationship that we can see?

M. Raymond-James: First of all, it required zero effort.  Donal and I hit it off immediately when I did a guest star on an episode of Life and it was just one of those moments for me where it’s like no matter where my journey takes me through life or whatever, this is some dude that I’m going to be close with for the remainder of it.  And it doesn’t mean that this is somebody I’m going to necessarily see every day or hangout with every day but it’s going to be somebody I know our paths are going to cross at some point and we’ll pickup right where we left off and that’s actually what happened.

And when we got the pickup to go to series, we were going to shoot in San Diego so we were trying to figure out living situations and the network gives you like $7,500 for a relocation sort of thing and we decided to take the money and rent our own house together just because we like hanging together and we thought it would be helpful in the show with the amount of hours we were going to have to work.

And we both play guitar and like a lot of similar sort of literature and poetry and music and movies and just sort of kindred spirits, man, and it did help a lot with the work.  Every day when they would call wrap we’d get the call sheet for tomorrow’s scenes and we would go home and we would run lines together.  Sometimes he’d run a scene with me between me and Laura and he would read Laura’s lines and I would do it when he had a scene with Kim Quinn or Rockmond or whatever and it was great.

We just sort of workshopped stuff and the benefit was just that we were always prepared. We are both really lucky to be in a situation where you a) have a friend that’s sort of with you on this journey and b) this is somebody that is going to really help you make the work better.

And aside from that, just having each other there as buddies is so huge, man.  When you’re working on location for five months, people like Donal and I can both start to get a little weird.  As the time drags on, you sort of start to feel isolated in this weird fishbowl.  But being there for each other and having a brother going through it with you is just huge, man.

Michael Raymond James in TerriersCan you tell me a little bit about your background and what led you to this role?

M. Raymond-James: I’m from Michigan and acting’s not really something that’s really a possibility, but I sort of stumbled upon it at a certain point and it really was what I had been looking for all along, but it just wasn’t anything that I could’ve imagined was possible.

I went to New York and I studied at the Lee Strasberg Institute and did a lot of theatre. And then I was eventually invited to Los Angeles at the behest of a casting director, who put me in contact with numerous agents and executives and took meetings and so I kind of got a jump on the game.  And I really, at that point, didn’t really have any sort of a particular desire to go to Los Angeles.

I was doing small theatre in New York and waiting tables or building fences in Connecticut or whatever to sort of make the ends meet and I sort of figured I’d wind up in Los Angeles when I was in my 40’s or something and become some kind of character actor dude.  So, I’m betting house money now, man.  It’s been great.  I feel really fortunate.  Stephanie Elaine had a great quote one time when we talked about all this stuff and it’s just hard earned luck.  I love what I do and when I’m not working I’m at the Actor’s Studio three times a week just because I need to be doing this, otherwise, like I said before, I’ll start to get a little weird.

Because the eye sort of sees what it wants to see in a lot respects, but once a reality is sort of unveiled hindsight is always 20/20 and when you go back and see it again maybe sometimes things can stick out a little bit more and that’s the challenge and that’s a really fun aspect to playing a character like that. You don’t want to let them see you coming, but at the same time it’s all got to be natural and it’s got to be lived in and it can’t come out of nowhere even if it seems like that for the audience the first time.

You seem to be one of these actors who play average guys who get in over their heads.  What is it about those characters that draw you?

M. Raymond-James: That’s an interesting question.  I’m not sure.  Why do I like the Rolling Stones, other than they speak to me?  I listen to Bob Dylan and I feel like he’s singing just to me.  I don’t necessarily know the answer to that.  It probably has a lot to do with both nature and nurture and it’s beyond my capacity to understand.  There’s probably an element of being from the Detroit area, too, that’s sort of ingrained in me with regards to that.  But yes, that’s an interesting question.

I was wondering when you played “Rene” in True Blood, he seemed like an average guy and then he turns out to be the psychotic villain.  How do you play a role that develops from an apparently average guy into a psycho?  What is the key there?

M. Raymond-James: “Rene” was always the psycho, but was trying to keep it hidden and so it’s a fun, really fun challenge. Ultimately, what you want to do is hopefully people will go back and if they watch it again they’ll say, “Oh, I’m starting to see things I didn’t pick up on before and I’m starting to see an arc develop where it sort of came out of the blue the first time I’d watched it.”

There’s certain roles that you say, “Wow, that’s nowhere who I am and there’s a lot of work here to do that’s interesting and I’m going to mine a lot of stuff within myself and sort of start to find where this whole thing lives.”  “Rene” from True Blood is a character like that and this really didn’t require that much.  There’s certain parts that just you feel when you read them that they’ve been written for you, you know?  And this is one of those times where I really responded to the material and having worked with Craig before I knew it was going to be in safe hands. Craig kind of put me on the map in terms of people really seeing my work in Black Snake Moan.  Even though like 57 people only saw that movie.

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