I first became aware of Mark Valley when he was on the first season of Fringe. He made such an impression on that show, the second he left it, he was quickly snapped up and put into his own show, Human Target.
The show centers on ‘Christopher Chance’, who’s a unique private contractor, bodyguard and security expert. The show also stars Chi McBride and his business partner and Jackie Earle Hailey as his hired gun.
I talked with Mark in a conference call where he spoke about the show, how he got into acting and working with his fantastic co-stars.
There are less and less shows that are picked up for another season. When Human Target was up in the air, do you think to yourself, “If I get another crack at this, I’d really like to do this” or “have this happen on the show”?
Mark Valley: I just wanted to go a little farther in finding out who he was. On one hand we have a guy who was an assassin who carried out this job and was a spy and a soldier in some ways. It takes a real ability to kind of shut off yourself emotionally in order to kind of accomplish those types of tasks. But also we have a guy likes to have fun, he likes people to some extent, and he has a bit of charm about him, and there’s an element of compassion and empathy to him as well. So I was interested in kind of wearing out that path between those two a little more, to be honest with you.
Also just doing some more stunts and some martial arts. We have some great martial arts trainers that are working as stunt coordinators and my stuntman, Jeff Robinson. I was just looking forward to learning some more from these guys, maybe becoming a stuntman as like a fallback job if this whole acting thing doesn’t pan out.
I know more than anything this is a very physically and mentally demanding role. How was it for you stepping back into the character after the hiatus?
Mark Valley: I was a little more prepared for what was going to be asked of me this season than last. So I just worked out and got in shape and just tried to have some general flexibility and strength when I came into the season, and it’s been going well.
It seems to be the standard for shows to introduce a love interest, and there was a rumor that Chance may be getting one this season. What your thoughts are on that?
Mark Valley: Well there’s not a lot of time for a love interest when the bullets are flying. I think if there is a sort of love interest thing it’s going to catch them by surprise; it’s not something either character is sort of actively pursuing or avoiding. I think when you have a man or woman together on screen it does sort of beg the question at some point, but these are relationships that are much more based on need and respect and ability as well. There’s kind of more of a one-upmanship going on with Chance and Indira’s character right now that I think would be going on with a guy in that position as well.
So I would just say that no, it’s not turning into Cheers with Diane or anything. Do you know what I mean? We’re not going to lose Chance or lose the relationships that these three guys have with something like that.
What kind of a journey would you say that the characters are on this season?
Mark Valley: In terms of the overall journey that the characters are going to be going on I think some relationships are going to be enhanced, I think some are going to be challenged, and we’re going to probably see a little bit more of what everybody’s like. It really seems to me, like when I read a script this season, it feels like just simply having more characters in there it feels like it’s longer; it’s feels like there’s so much more material in terms of relationships and finding out who people are in the scripts than there was with just maybe three characters and a new guest star like from some of the episodes from last year.
How do you feel about having the ladies aboard? How does that change the tone of the series, which was pretty testosterone filled last season?
Mark Valley: Oh I love it, to be honest with you. It’s just some really fantastic actors. Janet Montgomery and Indira Varma—you can’t just bring any two women into a show like this, I think, and these two are really playing out kind of specific characters who have like a real need and a real niche in this team. So it’s been a lot of fun.
It seems like you guys are having more fun this time around and there’s a lot more humor.
Mark Valley: Yes. There’s more fun to do, there are more things to react off of. I was also promised I’d have more free time this season, but that doesn’t appear to be happening. It just feels like we’re doing even more than we were last year, and we are having an awful lot of fun. This show we’re all being encouraged to find appropriate opportunities for humor, which are kind of a bond.
How is it working with Jackie Earle Hailey?
Mark Valley: Well first of all he’s Kelly Leak; he’s the coolest kid in town for the Bad News Bears. You know what I mean? He more or less is the coolest guy around. He’s just really a great guy. He’s a nice guy; he’s such a talented actor. I’m always looking forward to see how he kind of interprets a scene or a line. He’s very much a collaborator; he pitches in, and doesn’t hesitate to make a suggestion that can help me improve things. He’s just a really solid team player and a great guy and very positive. You know he’s a black belt in karate, too. Bet you didn’t know that.
Chance he seems to have a skill in absolutely everything. Are there some of these things that you already knew from the military? Did you have some skills in karate or shooting or any of those other things?
Mark Valley: Yes, we had to shoot in the Army. We had to qualify with I think it was M-16s at the time and like a 45 caliber, like a 911. Yes, so I’ve done a little bit of that. I also studied some languages when I was in the Army, like some French and German.
But I think what’s interesting this season is I want to find opportunities; we see that Chance doesn’t really know everything as well as he might think he does. I think there’s a scene I think the first episode where he goes into the Swiss bank and he tells everyone to get down on the floor, and they don’t do it so he fires the gun off. So I asked if I could do it in French, and … was like, “Yes, go ahead, dude. Give it a try.” So I yell it in French, but my actual translation of it wasn’t get down on the floor it was “everyone in the world get in the basement, get underneath the floor.” Everyone looks at me quizzically and then I realized okay I’ll just fire the gun; that will get their attention.
Acting is turning out pretty good for you. How did you make the jump? It’s an unusual jump to go from military to acting. What first caused you to do it?
Mark Valley: Well I was stationed in Berlin after for quite a while after the Gulf War, and I realized that life could be short I might as well be doing something that I really enjoy. So I started sniffing around, and I tried a variety of things. I worked as an extra in a movie and I realized wow I want to join the circus, so here I am.
What is it about your role that really continues to challenge you?
Mark Valley: Physically it’s still continuing to challenge me. Every stunt or fight we do there’s probably something that I obviously haven’t done before, and I think you just kind of imagine how someone would do that is always interesting for me. I think what still challenges me with the show is the fact that this character has had the past that he’s had, but still he’s able to maintain a kind of a wink and a little bit of sparkle of charm and be able to cheer people up and to still sort of be positive and hopeful about humanity and the people around him with the past that he’s had. So those are two things that I’m really looking forward to continuing.
Also working with this cast that we have; it’s really a phenomenal group of people. For an actor like me to be in a situation with all these different types, different kind of varieties of talent I feel like I’m doing three different movies or something sometimes with all these people, all these really talented people. So that’s what I’m looking forward to.
What would you say are Chance’s strong points and shortcomings, and how does he compare to you in real life?
Mark Valley: Oh I would say Chance’s shortcomings is probably his lack of patience. I just feel like Chance in any episode it’s like okay where are the bad guys and why can’t we go get them right now. I don’t think he sounds bored like a teenager like that, but I think there’s an element of him that doesn’t really like to sit still just wants to go out and do it and let’s get this thing going. I think I tend to be restless sometimes, although I think if I had a day off I would just sort of sit around and drink coffee and maybe watch TV and answer some e-mails. I’ve kind of been fantasizing about that lately.
I guess Chance likes working with a team. He really likes the teamwork aspect of accomplishing these missions and working with people that he trusts, not just anybody. I feel the same way; I like to work on things with people that I like and that I trust and that I enjoy. That’s what seems to be happening right now on this show with Chi and Jackie and Janet and Indira, and it’s just such a great group of people.
What do you think the combination of you, Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Hailey bring to the show?
Mark Valley: I think it definitely brought together three independent kinds of trajectories that kind of crossed at the same time. As actors we’ve had a variety of different— Chi did an awful lot of work in features, and of course Jackie did a lot of work as a child actor and then now he’s an Academy Award nominated actor. Chi was the principal on Boston Public. I was playing a lawyer. If somebody had told us that 10 years ago we would have said, “What? Really?” Yes, it’s just really fantastic group. It’s a really fantastic group.
We all have different rhythms as well. When we’re in a scene if we’re reading it or doing it you read it on the page you don’t necessarily know how it’s going to go on the day when we’re actually doing the scene, so that’s what kind of excites me. It’s very unpredictable how a scene is going to go down.
We heard how you felt about working with Haley. How do you feel about coming to a second season with McBride?
Mark Valley: Chi he has a kind of sense of timing and rhythm like a musician, so there’s always a sort of fluidness to his scenes. No matter how emphatic he may be there’s definitely a kind of rhythm and fluid going on underneath.
He’s really a sweet man that has such a powerful presence, and for somebody to be able to kind of carry those two things at the same time it’s just kind of a privilege to be around. As far as his work goes, he’s a perfectionist. He also has one of these photographic memories. He’s one of these really kind of amazing actors to watch, because he can kind of memorize things extremely quickly. He’s facile enough to make changes, and then he’s also reacting off of other people. I did work a little bit with Denzel Washington, I did a movie and had a really small part, but yes, he sort of reminds me of Denzel.