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December 21, 2014

Scott Bakula on 'Men of a Certain Age,' Cable TV and Sci Fi

by Jenna Busch, posted Dec 28th 2009 4:20PM
Scott Bakula is making weekly visits to our living rooms again in the new TNT original series 'Men of a Certain Age.' Also starring Ray Romano (who is writing and producing, along with Emmy winner Mike Royce) and Andre Braugher, this surprisingly dark show explores the lives of three college buddies as they navigate their forties and the challenges of mid-life.

Bakula plays Terry, a not-quite-as-successful-as-he-planned actor working at a temp job and dealing with the dating scene. Romano's character is a compulsive gambler, while Braugher's battles diabetes and the disappointment of his father.

We got a chance to chat with Bakula, who gave us a peek at the even darker tone of the original pilot, the freedom of working on a cable network and the indie film style of the show. We also talked about his work on 'Chuck,' how disappointed his fans were to hear that he won't be back this season, and how Steven Soderbergh told him not to research his character in 'The Informant!'Scott Bakula is making weekly visits to our living rooms again in the new TNT original series 'Men of a Certain Age.' Also starring Ray Romano (who is writing and producing, along with Emmy winner Mike Royce) and Andre Braugher, this surprisingly dark show explores the lives of three college buddies as they navigate their forties and the challenges of mid-life.

Bakula plays Terry, a not-quite-as-successful-as-he-planned actor working at a temp job and dealing with the dating scene. Romano's character is a compulsive gambler, while Braugher's battles diabetes and the disappointment of his father.

We got a chance to chat with Bakula, who gave us a peek at the even darker tone of the original pilot, the freedom of working on a cable network and the indie film style of the show. We also talked about his work on 'Chuck,' how disappointed his fans were to hear that he won't be back this season, and how Steven Soderbergh told him not to research his character in 'The Informant!'

I watched the pilot and I was surprised by the somewhat dark tone of the show. Not something you'd expect from a show by Ray Romano.
Yeah, I think that's going to be the surprise. Actually, the original pilot we shot was darker in tone. And the network had kind of insisted that we lighten it up a little bit. [laughs] My character had a much darker story line in the original pilot. They said, 'Let's make Terry a little lighter so that not all three guys are going through such big challenges.' So we reshot a bunch of scenes and that's what we came up with.

Anything you can tell us about what was changed from the original?
Well, actually, in the original ... my relationship with Annie (Carla Gallo) was in mid-relationship and was leading into a kind of a rough possible breakup. There was a very funny scene where I meet her parents on her birthday, which I've of course, forgotten ... but her parents are one year older than me. So it's very funny, but it's also kind of sad. [laughs] So that was really the big thing. That they took that relationship and instead of making it mid-stream and potentially going downhill, we made it new and just getting to know each other. So that was probably the biggest change.

You have a pretty incredible cast. Was that part of your decision to return to series television?
Yeah, I mean the cast was so great, and I think Ray's writing and Michael Royce who wrote it with him, is so unique and quirky and really, right out of Ray's mind, which is a little scary. But funny. Ray is such a funny guy. And I just love this character. These kinds of roles don't come along very often, and this kind of good writing on television doesn't come along that often. TNT was a big carrot. To be able to work for them and have the ... shackles of network television kind of tossed aside.

Lots of the actors I've spoken to about moving to cable have said what a relief it is to work that way. Can you talk about the differences in working this way?
We were creating this for HBO and then there was a change in the regime and the show got cut and fell between the cracks and got moved out, but originally they were writing it for HBO. So there's just a freedom that comes into it ... stand-ups aren't used to censoring themselves. For Ray, having been on CBS for nine years and having a hugely successful show, but dealing with Standards and Practices with every script, you say, 'Where can I write what I want to write?' What it does for me, it makes the show feel more real. It's about what guys really say and how they talk and what they do ... and that was the tone of the show ... really a slice of life and kind of like an indie film. That was the way they shot it, the way they wanted it to look and I think it's successful that way. And we can only do that on cable.

I also wanted to ask you about 'Chuck.' Everyone was very disappointed to hear that you won't be back this season.
Is that what they're saying?

Yeah! Is this something you'd still want to do? Would you come back next season if they ask you?
Yeah, listen, I had a ball at 'Chuck.' It's a great group over there and it's such a creative show with great actors. A bunch of the 'Enterprise' folks are over there from the crew standpoint, directors, producers, effects guys and it was really fun to reunite with them. I had great fun with Zach (Levi). You know, if it can be worked out and there's an opportunity ... it would be great to do something. It was a great part to get to do. It was a really wonderful ... that first episode was fantastic, I thought.

When I interviewed the cast of 'Chuck' a while back, everyone talked about how you knew everything there was to know about the show. You've obviously done tons of research for roles -- certainly entering a different character every week in 'Quantum Leap.' But is this amount of research something you do for all your roles?
Well it just depends. I had an opportunity because I had a bunch of shows that I could look at and kind of bone up on, and you know, because my character was so integral to the whole history of the show, and beyond where the show started, obviously, I felt I really needed to pick the brains of everybody there and say, 'Well, this doesn't make sense,' or 'When Orion did this...' and so I was really trying to get everything I could out of Josh (Schwartz) and all of the writers, and just say, 'I need to inform myself so I can relate to each of these characters.

You've done so many non-sci-fi roles, but with sci-fi fans as passionate as they are ... You've got 'Star Trek: Enterprise,' 'Quantum Leap' and 'Chuck' ... what do you think it is about the genre that really grabs people this way?
Well, I think sci-fi is really about imagination and about dreaming and about the future, most of the time. And the possibilities. And it allows people to step outside of themselves, and put themselves in another place and time, usually. And I think great television, movies, theater, they're all a form, one way or another, of entertainment. And entertainment is, in essence, an escape from worrying about your taxes or getting the car filled with gas or whatever. So science fiction is kind of the ultimate escape. I think that, when it works and when it's good, it captures your imagination. And it just stays with you because ... it's like reading a great book where you get to create all of the characters and sci-fi is usually creating things that no one's ever seen before. Or a version of things in the future and the past that you haven't imagined before. And if it's done right it becomes haunting and it infects you in a great way. I love sci-fi. I've loved it my whole life and I still do. I've done way more than the three things you listed. I've done at least three more sci-fi projects in my television and film career. [laughs] It's been with me.

I also wanted to ask you about 'The Informant!' I'd heard that the director, Steven Soderbergh, didn't want you to research the role at all in terms of the real person.
That's correct. He didn't want any of us to do any research. He wanted to just take the story really through and around the mind of Mark Whitacre, the character that Matt (Damon) plays. And he didn't want to be saddled by a bunch of, 'Well, my guy's left-handed, and he walked with a limp and ...' He wanted to take this very real story and then kind of put this twist that really came out of this man who has this bipolar disease and saw the world in a different light. That's why he made those kinds of choices and I met my character and his family and grandkids and we talked a lot, but not about how to play the part. Just, you know, what a great thing he'd done historically and in our country's fight against this kind of white collar crime, and that was kind of the extent of it. To me, it worked. And that's what makes Steven the artist that he is. He has his own perspective on this stuff. I thought it worked out great.

You have such an extensive theater background. There are so many movie musicals in production lately. It's become so popular ... is that something you'd like to do?
I would love to do one. I'd be thrilled to be in a musical movie at any time, anywhere. [laughs] I love the genre, obviously, and I do musicals whenever I can, and I'll continue to do them, probably until I leave this planet and I'm happy that there's been some success. I'm hoping that 'Nine' is a success and I'd like to get on the wagon sometime and do one of them.

'Men of a Certain Age' airs Mondays at 10 p.m. EST on TNT.

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