Interview with Actor Gene Silvers
Today on What On What’s Good with Jovin Tardif, I am here with Gene Silvers. Gene is an actor originally from New York, now living in Los Angeles. His current roles include guest starring in the Rupert Wyatt-directed The Mosquito Coast (Episode 2) and playing Elder Luther in the limited anthology Amazon Prime series “Them” (Episode 9).
1. What was it like playing opposite Kimberly Elise and James LeGros on the drama show “The Mosquito Coast” on Apple TV Plus?
Both are real pros. James LeGros is a super down-to-earth guy. He’s into winter sports like me (him snowboarding and me skiing), so we really enjoyed hanging out. His presence and conversation calmed me down, as I was a bit nervous.
The set was huge, with helicopters and a big-time director (Rupert Wyatt, who directed “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and other huge features).
Being on that set felt like a major feature film, and therefore the stakes were high to get it right, he was very supportive and a good actor to play against; very present. Kimberly Elise is a super talented woman. Her character (throughout the show) seems to be a stern, no-bullshit person, focused on her job. So even though we got along great, I think she maintained a little distance from me before the scene to stay in character, so she was a little intimidating to me, which was great for our chemistry, and gave my character a real point of view. Hopefully, you can see that in the scene.
2. Can you tell us a bit about the conversation you had with Rupert Wyatt about letting you continue to do the role of Sheriff on Apple TV Plus drama show “The Mosquito Coast” with a cast on your arm?
Well, right after the terrible skiing accident I was in (where I came close to ending it., no kidding.) I thought I lost the role, as my left arm and hand were in a cast. My agent reached out to tell production what happened, fully expecting them to release me. They told me the director said it was alright, as a cop/law enforcement guy could easily have broken something in the line of duty.
Alas, I still had my job. Onset, Rupert (the director) had the cast (no pun intended ) sign my cast to give it more character and even told me to wave it around when possible in the scene as it would be interesting. One of those odd character quirks that’s clear to see but never mentioned. I applaud his good taste.
3. What was it like filming in New Mexico during Covid with actor Christopher Heyerdahl for the horror drama show “Them” on Amazon Prime?
It was a great experience. I was there for five weeks, the first 2 in quarantine before we started to shoot. As a result, I got to explore Santa Fe (a really beautiful art town). Christopher and I hit it right off right away.
He’s a hiker, so he and I would take frequent hikes together in the local mountains and discuss our characters, argue a lot (in the best sense), and do all this in our Dutch accents, so we were really getting to work on our relationships and get comfortable with each other before we starting shooting. It was great and hugely helpful in our scenes together. I tremendously admire Chris. He’s an amazing talent and a very tall guy.
It was great working with him on the show; we became friends, even though we are at odds in our scenes. My character does some pretty horrible things, so it was important that we all trusted each other, and I can say we all did, not just him and me, but everyone. I must also add that director Craig MacNeil was awesome, has a brilliant vision, and really encouraged subtle real performances.
4. Any fun stories from your time on Law & Order or Law & Order: Special Victims Unit?
In one of my old Law and Orders, I was a heroin addict in jail, being interrogated. I wanted to give the feeling of having the shakes (like when you are in withdrawal), so I bought a bag of ice and kept it on my stomach during the scene. Because of the cold, I did start to get a little of the shakes. I think Jerry Orbach thought I was a little crazy.
Another Law and Order where I was the guest lead was in a very intense and emotional scene. I had my friend John come to the set to say stuff to me to get me emotional and upset, a job he relished. It worked, although the director did get annoyed at him. The episode was submitted for an Emmy Award.
It’s called Dr1-102; it’s constantly played somewhere. The SVU episode was directed by Juan Campanella, who won an oscar for his film “The Secret in Their Eyes” in 2009, so that was pretty incredible. I was a crystal Meth cook who stole a baby that Ice-T was trying to locate.
We had a baby on set crying the whole time we were shooting the scene; at one point, I grab the baby basket he’s in with one hand while wielding a pot of steaming crystal meth in the other (it wasn’t actually crystal meth).
Threatening Ice-T, I had to freeze just before I grabbed the baby’s bassinet, and they switched him for a fake baby, and then we continued the scene. We did this multiple times, and in the end, I get clocked by Ice-T, and the baby is rescued.
5. Can you tell us about your background in magic?
My dad got me interested in magic as a kid. I started doing magic in Jr. High; the other students were amazed and interested. It was a new experience for me since I was shy and self-conscious. I met another kid, who also, like me, was shy, and he too did magic. We became close friends and started a magic club in Long Beach, NY.
This chubby shy kid’s name was Ricky Rubin. As magic goes, certain kids become obsessed with it. Ricky and I were those types of kids. I became more proficient at it and started performing at a young age. FYI: Ricky found other interests; he went on to become one of the biggest music producers in the world, Rick Rubin.
Eventually, I got into acting but never stopped doing magic. I realized a lifelong dream a couple of years ago and got to perform at the world-famous Magic Castle in Los Angeles. It is still a support job between acting gigs.
I’m still amazed at some of the people I get to perform for; Julia Roberts, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Deniro, Meryl Streep, Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, to name a few. I still really enjoy performing for kids. They are so spontaneous and love to laugh, and I can be totally silly with them.
6. What other hobbies do you enjoy doing outside of acting?
Well, skiing is my other passion. I started a little late in life, but I’ve worked hard to get good over the years. The feeling of being on amazing mountains, mostly off, piste, you’re really in nature. The feeling of flying down through the trees, etc.; there’s nothing like it. I must add, though, I did get into a very bad ski accident on an icy double black at Mammoth (CA) last year, where I came close to killing myself, which has slowed me down a bit. But it’s still a love of mine.
Also, I’m very interested in Eastern mysticism and meditation. I lived in India for a bit studying with Gurumayi Chidvilasananda.
7. Some of your favorite films include “One Flew Over the Coo-Coo’s Nest,” “Schindler’s List,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” and “Dead Poets Society.” Can you tell us your favorite moment or favorite quote from each film?
One Flew Over the Coo-Coos’ Nest
Chief: ah, Juicy Fruit McMurphy: You fooled em all chief.. you fooled em all !! or “She was 13 going on 35 doc…”
At the end, when Oskar Schindler breaks down at not doing enough: “I could’ve saved more, this ring.. two people.., and then Ben Kingsley replies: “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
All of James Stewart’s filibuster:” I wouldn’t give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn’t have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little looking out for the other fella, too.”
Dead Poets Society
Every moment Robin Williams is on screen. “Oh, Captain my Captain,” “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.” “Seize the day. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die.”
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.”
8. Some of your favorite actors are Daniel-Day Lewis, Charles Laughton, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, and Gene Hackman. Can you tell us a favorite movie from each actor and why?
Wow, I could write a novel on this subject. I will try to be brief.
“There Will Be Blood,” the movie was good. Lewis was unbelievable, a complete transformation first of all into this huge megalomaniac. The depth and intensity of his emotions and the authenticity of the whole strange archaic character brought an amazing achievement to life. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
The first “Method” actor I’ve ever witnessed. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” same as Daniel Day-Lewis, a complete physical, vocal, emotional transformation. A grotesque character yet with an inner longing and tenderness, Some of Laughton’s scenes were like visual poetry, supported by a real and deep emotional connection to this character. This horribly misunderstood, deformed man; living in pain. He drew much from his own feelings about himself to bring Quasimodo to life. I think it is written off by many as the overall style of the movie was clearly 1930’s non-realistic acting, but his performance had a depth of feeling beyond anything, I think I’ve ever seen.
“Dog Day Afternoon,” (or “Godfather,” tied) He was, as he likes to say, on a live wire, electric, but frightening and pitiful at the same time. Utterly real, devoid of self-consciousness, and his relationship with his real-life buddy John Cazale was beautiful.
“King of Comedy,” not what everyone thinks of when you think of Deniro, but it was a great film. He was intense and frightening as always, but also funny and dorky.
So many great films when he was in his prime: Probably “Midnight Cowboy,” another transformative performance of a wired loser hustling against odds to survive; so real, so spontaneous, and emotionally connected. Ratso Rizzo one of the most iconic characters in film history. “I’m walking here!!”
“One Flew Over the Coo-Coo’s Nest.” He was born to play that role; a free, big spirit, fearless, earthy. Just naturally doing what he can to help these poor losers get their manhood back. No other actor could’ve done it like Jack.
I knew he was considered a great actor when he was young (French Connection), but it wasn’t until he was older that I saw how great and truly badass the guy is (an ex-Marine) Unforgiven: whether he’s playing a good guy, or a bad guy (here) there is such a commanding, depth and realness to what he does. When he threatens even with, or especially with a smile, you feel the palpable power of the man; like this doesn’t seem like an actor, he’s the real thing.
Lastly, I must say I really have gotten into Mickey Rourke’s older films. He was and still is an incredible talent. Outwardly a brute, but very sensitive and good-hearted, it seems.
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