Interview With Peter Facinelli of Damages on FX

by Jason the TVaholic on September 18, 2007

in Cable TV, Interviews, TV Talk

Peter Facinellin as Gregory Malina in Damages - CR: Craig Blankenhorn / FXOn Monday, September 10th, the TVaholic and other online media outlets were invited to take part in a conference call with Peter Facinelli (Fastlane), who plays Gregory Malina on FX’s superb drama Damages. He spent about 35 minutes answering questions. His character has become an integral part of the Frobisher case that the show revolves around. We last saw his character going on the run with a hitman on his tail. What will become of him?

April MacIntyre of Monsters and Critics was first up and asked, “How long of a run are you going to have on Damages? I know you’ve done five or six episodes, I believe. How long do you believe your character will be taking part in this season?”

Facinelli said, “You know, I don’t know. Gregory is kind of torn between two sides right now and every time I flip the page, I wonder if I’m going to be in the next episode myself. So it’s all up in the air right now, but because my character pertains to this one particular case, I believe when the season is over, then my part would be over.”

Kenn Gold of MediaBlvd Magazine followed with, “so it looks like Gregory is going to be deeper and more involved in the conspiracy than we maybe originally thought. Can you give us any insight into where it’s going with the rest of the episodes this season or what you have filmed so far?”

Facinelli, “Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Like I said, he was in Florida. He knows what’s going on and he is being torn between two sides. And that’s pretty much all I can tell you. I can’t tell you any future episodes because I don’t want to ruin it for you. But he is, after Katie has been knocked out, pretty much the missing link in the whole case.”

Gold, “Can you tell us, does he have any redeeming qualities? You’ve got to kind of wonder, he’s…”

Facinelli, “It’s hard because I know in the episodes you’ve seen, he’s kind of a dirt bag, but I think he’s just a guy that was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in something and is just in survival mode. So I don’t necessarily see him as a bad guy.”

Next up was Troy Rogers, who wanted to get info on the future of Facinelli’s character, which is the question I had prepared. The TVaholic wanted to know, going into this interview, how much ahead in the story do the actors on Damages know about their character’s overall story arc, as they film each episode? Rogers’ inquiry, along with Dan McCallum of Ducky Does TV’s question that followed a few minutes later, “I was wondering how you came about the role of Greg and how much of the back-story they told you in advance,” pretty much answered it.

Facinelli, “Yes, I apologize about that, I wish I could. It’s hard for me because I have to be careful how much information I give out. I don’t want the powers that be coming after me. I’m really paranoid right now myself. I feel like people are listening in.”

And in response to McCallum, “Well, I knew the writers beforehand because I did a pilot with them called The Inside that actually got picked up by FOX and subsequently, we all left the project for different reasons. So we weren’t attached to the final project that aired, but I knew the writers and I wasn’t even aware that they had done this pilot.

They called me on a Friday and they said, ‘Hey, do you want to come and do an arch on our show?’ And they sent me the pilot and I thought it was phenomenal. I said, ‘Of course.’ And I was shooting on a Tuesday, so I had like four days to basically prep for the role. But at the beginning stage, I don’t think they even knew where the character was going. They had a small idea, and then it basically unfolded itself.

And that’s why I love this show. It kind of gives you pieces, and just unfolds itself like a good novel. A lot of times I don’t even know where the characters are going. I flip the page and where I think it’s going is completely the opposite.”

Troy Rogers then asked his real question, “I notice last week’s episode was directed by Mario Van Peebles. What was he like to work with?”

Facinelli, “Oh, Mario is great. He’s an actor, so he’s a real actor’s director. It’s interesting doing episodic. I’ve done episodic before and every episode is a different director. So you never know if you are going to get a director that is more technical or a director that is more camera savvy and lets the actors just do their thing, or somebody who just comes in and kind of plays and works with the actors. Mario is one of those guys that did that. He gives me ideas and suggestions that I hadn’t thought of. So it was kind of nice and I enjoyed him very much.”

April MacIntyre was back with, “Hello again, my next question is, so much of the cast is based in New York City and I know you are married to Jennie Garth. I wanted to know if you preferred living on the East Coast raising your family there versus the West Coast?”

Facinelli, “You know I grew up in New York, so New York is always going to be home for me. But I have been living out in California for ten years, so I really prefer living in California because raising a family, I really like the suburbs to live in, as much of a suburb as you can get in Los Angeles. But for me, if I lived in New York, it would have to be in Manhattan, because I love Manhattan. It’s just a melting pot of different people and places and art and theater. And so, if I was single, I would totally live in New York.

So it’s kind of nice that I’ve actually been going back and forth. I’ve been flying in, doing three days and flying back home. So it’s been a nice treat for me because I’ve gotten to see my family. I’ve gotten to spend quite a bit of time in New York, but then I get to fly home and be with my family here.”

In the timeline of the call, this is where the question about how he got the role and how much back-story he was given, mentioned above, was asked.

Next, Facinelli was asked, “What appealed to you most about the character of Greg?”

You know, it’s hard to say what appealed to me because he’s such in a hard place, but it’s fun to play that character because he is in that place of being sandwiched between two sides and not knowing exactly which side to turn to. He’s kind of a very lonely character and all he had was Katie and she’s gone now to, you know. So for him, he’s just kind of swimming in this huge ocean and just looking for somebody to help him because he wants out on one side, but he’s not sure if he should go to the other side and tell them the story.”

That question was followed up with, “Do you think he’s inherently a good guy caught up in a bad situation or do you think he’s more of a bad guy like Arthur Frobisher?”

Facinelli, “No, I think he’s a good guy caught up in a bad situation.”

Then, “What do you think is the best part about being on Damages for you personally?”

Facinelli, “You know it’s such a phenomenal cast and the writing is so good. Like I said before, reading it is as fun as watching it and every time I turn the page, I don’t know what’s going to happen next. And then I get to work with these phenomenal actors. It’s been a blast; I’ve been blessed to be a part of it.

Kenn Gold came back on to ask about Facinelli’s previous work on Fastlane, “I don’t know if this is just kind of one of those things you notice, but it seems like that show is getting a lot of mentions again. And I know it is pretty popular in reruns. I just was wondering if you are still getting fan mail from that. Are people kind of rediscovering the show from the reruns?”

Facinelli, “You know that show had such a phenomenal life, I’ve gotten fan mail from all over the world. From Brazil to Europe to China, it’s been crazy where it has been shown. Yes, it has been in a lot of reruns on a lot of different stations. I know it was on G4 Network; it was on Court TV. But yes, definitely for a series that only had one year, it has definitely in the last four or five years been on a lot. I’m glad. I thought it was a phenomenal series. I had a fun time doing it. I’m glad that people are discovering it and rediscovering it and I hope that it continues this way.”

Then he asked about Touch the Top of the World.

Facinelli, “Well, I played Erik Weihenmayer and he was a blind man who climbed Mt. Everest. If someone were to come in and say to me, ‘If you were to play a perfect role, what would you want to play?’ And I’d probably say, ‘A blind man that climbs Mt. Everest just sounds so outrageous.’ And it was a great part to play. I got to play him from like 17 to 30, so it was an epic piece. And I got to play him when he was a wrestler in high school. He was a blind wrestler in high school, and so I had to learn how to wrestle and I had to learn how to mountain climb and I had to learn how to rock climb. It was a great experience.

Then for the blind part, I wore contact lenses that didn’t allow me to see. I didn’t want to just play the blindness and lose Erik, because that’s not who he was. He’s not the blind guy; it’s more of an external thing. And, so once I had the contact lenses, that took care of that external part and then I could just play him, and it was a great experience. And a phenomenal experiment as an actor, because all I had was my listening tools, so I really had to listen. Yes, it is one of my favorite projects I have done, and it is just a good story.”

Tom Lewis asked, “So you’re from Queens, New York. Are you able to call forth that accent if you need to for certain parts because you sound very accent neutral right now?”

Facinelli, “I try not to because I’m afraid it would get stuck. I had a really thick accent, a My Cousin Vinny kind of accent and I went to NYU. It was fantastic because they taught you speech and they taught you movement and all the tools that an actor needs. And my speech teacher I hated because she was so hard on me, but she beat my accent out of me. I could play it if I needed to, but I try not to go there because when I go back to New York, it starts to come out of me.”

After some back and forth, Facinelli went on to say, “I like doing different projects and playing different people. What I’m proud of in my career is being able to play all of the characters that I’ve played like the businessman in The Big Kahuna, and the slick cop in Fastlane and the blind mountain climber in Touch the Top of the World. And if I only had one accent, that New York accent, I wouldn’t be able to play all those people. And the great thing about that speech class was once you learn neutral speech, you can play any accent. I’ve gotten to play a Texas accents and experiment with different ones.”

Then he asked, Damages is one among several that I think has been very lauded, about what FX has been doing over the last couple years. How does it feel on your side as a talent about projects coming from FX as compared to other sources for other projects you might be presented with?”

Facinelli, “Well, I think it just broadens everything. It used to be three big networks, and that’s what you go up for and everything else is ‘cable,’ or HBO and Showtime, which were a step above everything else. But I think everything is changing now. There’s some really good shows on the three networks and then you have HBO and Showtime, which are still phenomenal and now other cable channels like FX. And there’s some shows on USA that are starting to become really popular and really high quality. I talked to somebody once who said, ‘Nowadays there’s almost better quality on television than in some film,’ which is kind of interesting.”

Next, Dan McCallum was back to ask him about what other characters on the show he likes watching?

Facinelli, “You know, it’s different every episode. It’s really interesting in reading the script, because when you get to the set, you’re focused on your character, so you almost forget some of the other story lines. So when I watch it, I get to watch it with fresh eyes again. And you know, last week’s episode with Ted Danson, I thought he was just so engaging and funny and charming. I loved his performance. I had forgotten it in the script, when he hit the guy with the thing, I was laughing out loud. It’s fun to watch, so yes, every week they focus on different people a little bit more than others and it changes every week. So every week is different. Of course, Ted Danson last week was just phenomenal for me.”

He was then asked, “If you could have a conversation with Greg, what would you want to say to him? Would you give some advice or would you just shoot the breeze?”

Facinelli, “Oh, that’s a good question. So if I could have a conversation with Greg, I’d want to tell him to, I don’t know that’s a hard one. I’d want to tell him to pick a side already and dig yourself out of that hole. You’ve got to get Katie back because she didn’t deserve that.”

Then Facinelli was asked about what he has learned working on Damages and after some pondering, “What have I learned on Damages? I’ve learned how good the writers are to really trust the writing. On some shows, there’s a tendency to ad-lib or go off the books, but on this show, I really try to stick to the writing. Because sometimes they give out re-writes and they just change a period to an exclamation point, so that’s how detail oriented they are. And you know if they are spending so much time on each word, then each word is very important to them. So I try to really stick on book. So that’s been interesting for me because I like to ad-lib.

Well, they let you ad-lib at times, but because they’re working so hard on the dialog, they really prefer that you stick to it. If you want to add something to the end and if it works, it works; if not, they can cut it out. But in the middle of a scene, it’s better on this series to really stick to the dialog.

Also I think why they put so much emphasis on it is because if an actor comes in and changes a line, it might affect a piece of story that might be coming out three episodes from now. So you really have to as an actor just stick to the words. Because if I try to change something, all of a sudden that piece of information might not get across and two episodes from now, people won’t understand it. So it’s a very interesting piece. This whole series for me has been different because it’s not close-ended; it’s like one long puzzle.”

Next, “Was there anything that happens to Greg, like a twist or a turn that you really didn’t see coming?”

Facinelli, “Yes, in future episodes, you will see what I’m talking about. No hints, I can’t talk to you about it, but I can tell you that there are a couple more surprises with my character.”

Troy Rogers came back on to ask, “I’m just wondering if you were in Gregory’s shoes, as Peter, which side would you choose and why? Would you go with Patty or would you go with Frobisher?”

Facinelli, “Well, I think he’s been screwed around so much by Frobisher, that if I were Greg, I would tend to want to jump on the other side just out of frustration. But I also know that he’s kind of very tied to that side. He’s got a lot of skeletons in that closet. Well, I think he’s been screwed around so much by Frobisher, that if I were Greg, I would tend to want to jump on the other side just out of frustration. But I also know that he’s kind of very tied to that side. He’s got a lot of skeletons in that closet.”

Then it was wondered if Patty is any better the Frobisher?

Facinelli, “Well, that’s the beauty of the show. You don’t know who to root for yet and I think in a weird way, the audience is Greg. They are stuck between two people going, ‘Who do you root for and which side is the good guys?’”

April MacIntyre asked him, “Peter you’re working with a network, FX that is very receptive to having actors pitch their projects for series like Rob McElhenney’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Dennis Leary’s Rescue Me. You and your wife are both very experienced in film and television. I wonder if you have a project you might be cooking up or a concept for a show for FX, to pitch, to pitch to them?”

Facinelli, “You know, I do have a concept for a show that I’m working on right now, but I hadn’t thought of FX, so thank you. Maybe I’ll take it to them.”

Tom Lewis was back with, “So my feeling in watching what’s happened over the last few episodes is that we know the Noah Bean’s character is dead. We see that a couple times per episode, all bloody in the bathtub. But your character is the one that has the most ongoing violence and pressure for weeks now. You’ve gotten beaten up. There was almost an assassination last week and Peter Riegert comes in once per episode with some kind of veiled threat or overt threat to you. There are these moments when you do relax and your character does have that hook-up at the pub, but what are you doing to kind of prepare for the paranoia? Engender it, I mean you go in the street and there’s a threat in every shadow…”

Facinelli, “Yes, I know what you’re saying. The stakes are very high for my character at all times and I try to make sure that I remember that when I’m working. As far as the paranoia, I just get into a mindset, and sometimes it’s hard to shut off. There have been a couple of times I’ve gone to New York and spent the day in my hotel room, as me not even as Greg, just kind of not going outside.

And I think that kind of helps prepare you, too. It helps me get prepared, too, because then when I go to work the next day. I’m completely paranoid because I haven’t left my hotel room in a day. I actually had the security guard knock on my door twice while I was there because I hadn’t left my room all day, and they were worried about me. And the room I’m staying in is a tiny little room. So when you spend 24 hours locked up in a room and then you go to the set, it kind of plays on your nerves a little bit. So that’s a little secret that I use to help with the paranoia. But it kind of blurs the lines a little bit because then I go home and I’m a little paranoid.

I remember text-ing one of the writers going, ‘I’m having a really good time on this show. I hope you’re not killing me off anytime soon.’ Because I’m totally like Greg, I’m worried that I’m going to die at any second.”

Kenn Gold came back on to ask him about being compared to Tom Cruise in real life, like took place in a scene on the show.

Facinelli, “Oh, you know I’ve gotten it a lot in my career. So when I read that, I thought it was pretty funny. I’ve had a lot of reviews that compared me to him in some way, either in my speech or the way I look or in some mannerism. I think the writers knew that about me. I think I talked to them about that once and they actually just called it out there and I thought that was funny.

I don’t think I look that much like him where people get confused and think I’m him. But I do get, ‘Hey you resemble Tom Cruise,’ at times.”

Then he asked him, “I was just wondering if you could tell us about some of the upcoming projects. I know you have two movies, Lily and Finding Amanda upcoming. If you could, just talk about those a little bit.”

Facinelli, “Well, Lily was a short that I had done. My assistant was a filmmaker about two years ago, and I thought he was talented, so I said, ‘Why don’t you write something and we’ll do it together?’ And he wrote it and it came out really well, it just won some awards at the film festivals. Oliver Stone saw it and gave it a great quote, so he’s ecstatic. And I’m happy to be able to help launch his career because I think he’s talented as well.

And Finding Amanda is a project that I’m excited about, that Peter Tolan directed. A lot of people know him from FX’s Rescue Me, one of the writers and creators on the show. He wrote and directed a movie called Finding Amanda with Brittany Snow, myself and Mathew Broderick and that’s a really funny movie. I’m excited about that, I think that will come out the beginning of next year.”

He then followed with, “How do you keep it all together with the family, three young kids, flying back and forth for work?”

Facinelli, “I don’t know, didn’t you hear my dogs yapping before? It’s not always a piece of cake. You know, I have a great wife and she’s very supportive. I’m very supportive of her and we just make it work. My wife’s schedule right now is crazy because she’s rehearsing so much. So I’m here with the kids and she’s off rehearsing and then I’ll go to work. And we also have a nanny that helps, so we have a lot of help.

But at the same time, we don’t just leave the kids to the help because that’s not how we raise our family. We want to be involved parents, so we really do as much as we can. But it’s a balancing act, especially since I have three children. My daughter has soccer. Another daughter has something else and I have a baby who is crawling around trying to eat toys. It’s pretty hectic at my house.”

The final question of the interview was asked, “Has there been a practical joke? Or is there an experience on the set in general that’s really made an impression on you, or that you remember specifically?”

Facinelli, “You know, it gets to be pretty serious when we’re shooting because we have very short time to shoot and a lot to shoot. So there are times when we’re going 18 hours straight, so every minute counts.

I’ve been on sets that were more relaxed and you could do those practical jokes. But I remember at one point saying, ‘I’ve got to go do a comedy after this show.’ It’s just, when we’re shooting, I don’t want to say it’s stressful, but we’re aware of the amount of time we have and the amount of work we have and the quality of work we want to put in. I think everybody comes really focused and tries to bring as much to the table in that short amount of time.

There’s a scene that I shot in last week’s episode. After that girl gets shot, there’s a great take where I ran around the corner and I was actually dialing Fisk’s number and I go to call him, but it didn’t make it into the show. On one of the takes, I ran around the corner so fast, and when I went to stop, I literally slid like four feet. And then I got up and made the phone call and my jeans were all torn, but I kept going and I thought it was a cool moment. But it didn’t make it because I don’t think they needed it. Because once I go to Fisk, you know where I’m going, so you don’t need me to call them, but there really hasn’t been any downtime to play practical jokes.”

The TVaholic found the talk about his learning a neutral accent, now leaving him open to play just about anyone, very interesting. Cause, I couldn’t really see him playing Gregory Malina on Damages with a thick My Cousin Vinny-esque brogue. Also, found it interesting that he feels a lot like his character when reading each new script, as he doesn’t know when or if he will be knocked off, much like what his character has to deal with in each episode.

Damages airs on FX each Tuesday night through October 23rd.

What did you find interesting about the interview with Peter Facinelli?

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