Interview with Wayne Alexander
Wayne Alexander (IMDb) is the Lon Chaney of Babylon 5; having played seven different characters in that universe. When not covering himself in latex, Wayne heads over to the X-Files and spanks the paranormal on Scully and Mulder. And then they all take turns…
Babylon Park: What kind of training/education did you require to enter your profession?
Wayne Alexander: If I take your question literally, I would have to answer that every actor decides for himself what path to follow. I chose the path that lead to a career in “classical theater.” I hope that doesn’t sound snobbish. The only way an actor can take his measure is to tackle the great roles of the theater, attempting the heights attained by the long, rich pantheon of great actors that have come before him. Once I began trying to pursue a living in Los Angeles, I began to question the validity of that path. Classical theater credits are poison in this TV/Film driven town. Attempting heights is all well and good, but one still has to put meat on the table. I would have been better off becoming a surfer, an athlete, even a felon, rather than acquire classical stage training. Any notoriety is excuse for a career in front of the cameras in Los Angeles. Shakespeare vs. Celebrity. Hamlet vs. Hairline. Titus Andronicus vs. Tight Buns. The classics lose out every time. That’s just the reality of the business. I began my quest in a very small town in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley in California. I had a very theatrical mother growing up. She can still be counted on to go into “theatrics” when life’s little dramas arise. My mother was very active in the community theater there and I was exposed at a very early age to the stage. Being up on a stage in front of a lot of people, being someone else, never seemed “strange” to me. I was fortunate that both of my parents were very supportive of my interest in theater and in pursuing it as a career. I got my schooling in the Los Angeles City College Theater Academy. What it lacked in funds, it more than made up for in quality and commitment. I went on to the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco to get my baptism by fire into what it meant to have a life in the theater. I got beat up for four years and learned things I never knew I was studying. I also learned stage fencing, which lead to work as a fight choreographer. I have made a living since then doing, ironically, mostly classical theater in Los Angeles. I am on a first name basis with Shakespeare’s HAMLET, ROMEO, BENEDICK, IAGO, and PROTEUS, to name a few. I did a few years in New York, beginning on Broadway with a production of Simon Gray’s THE COMMON PURSUIT, and lingering to do whatever else the city had to offer. One learns by doing.
What was it that first attracted you to enter show business? (explanation: show business is taken in this instance to mean tv/film, not theater, by the US cultural definition)
You seem to imply there is a difference in the attraction of stage vs. TV/Film. There really isnÕt. ItÕs all acting. On stage the experience is immediate and ever-changing. Ephemeral. You jump into the void every night. In TV or Film it’s about collaboration and experiment in the moment of the image being recorded… fixed, never changing, for all time. It’s put together like a jigsaw puzzle. They both have very different technical demands, but the work is basically the same. The experience is different. To be able to work in all media is what keeps an actor stimulated and helps them to keep growing as an artist. It’s tough to do in this country. I’m not an Anglophile by any means, but they do have the wonderful opportunity in England to work in all venues of performance. Stage and Film/TV go hand in hand. But I have really digressed… To answer your question: actually my first “want” was to be a clown. I was about nine at the time and fell in love with the idea of being in “clown face” and wearing silly outfits. I had always been, and still am- to the deep embarrassment of those closest to me, the class clown, so to speak. My behavioral edit is sadly lacking in most group gatherings and I can be counted on to say and do the most ridiculous things in order to get a reaction. These reactions aren’t usually violent, by the way. A groan and sad shake of the head usually suffice. So the desire to make people laugh was always a strong motivator is pursuing a life of being observed. The other influence was Errol Flynn. Swashbuckling… Not to be denied. Inside I am a romantic hero. Which probably lead, to a certain extent, to the training I sought and my extensive work in classical theater. They donÕt have many sword fights on NYPD BLUE. It is the ability to handle ÔheightenedÕ text which classical training imparts to itÕs students, if they work hard and pay attention, that makes them ideal candidates for Sci-Fi and the playing of Aliens and “others.” I have no doubt it was, in part, this particular ability that lead to my playing Sebastian in the BABYLON 5 episode COMES THE INQUISITOR. JMS wrote fabulous words that cried out for someone who could WIELD them and mold them to his will. I think the same could be said of LORIEN, again we’re talking about heightened text. Sadly, it won’t get me a job on NYPD BLUE. I have to switch gears for shows like that. Take off the red nose.
What did you do before that?
Before being a clown at nine? I mercilessly tortured my older brother and was generally a complete bastard. I could run fast.
While waiting for your big break, did you have to resort to the usual stereotype of waiting tables?
Your use of the word “waiting” is interesting. Wait for break, wait on tables. Hmmmm. If I may be honest, while my experience with BABYLON 5 was very satisfying and great fun, it has not provided me “my big break,” as you mention. In truth, I had a much higher profile because of the JACK-IN-THE-BOX fast food commercial I did than from all of my work on BABYLON 5. Crazy world. It’s the little steps one takes most of the time, rather than the big breaks, that sustain an acting career. I have been very fortunate in that I have always been able to make a living doing professional theater. This is because my overhead has always been very low. If one tried to earn a REAL living (meaning one that would support a house and a family) one would not be able to do so working in the theater. I have not had the pleasure of working as a waiter, although in the early days while breaking and entering… uh, I mean… breaking into the business, I did have some interesting jobs. I worked pumping gas, I was a docent in an art museum, I sold glassware door-to-door, I did phone sales for about ten minutes, and I also, from time to time, do private acting coaching. I have a love of carpentry and sometimes work with my brother in the special effects business, wreaking havoc. A little extra income is always a good thing! I haven’t had to resort to selling off an body parts yet, although I did get several interesting offers concerning LORIEN’S fingers!
The extreme range of Hollywood’s production quality is self-evident. Did you ever have to endure a stint on a show/film that you just had to wonder what were you doing there? And what show/film was it?
This is frequently the case when one is “guesting” on a Soap Opera! You find yourself standing there saying the most inane dialogue, knowing the camera is on one of the regulars while you’re talking, and counting the minutes till you’re done and you can collect your paycheck and go home. Meat and potatoes, with the steak knife in your gut, twisting! I did a stage production of TWELFTH NIGHT once, where the “high” concept was marrying the play with the characters and look of ALICE IN WONDERLAND! My character was to be interpreted as the White Rabbit. I stood there, night after night, with very puffy hair (resembling rabbit ears!), pocket-watch in hand, with my nose twitching like mad, while having many a conversation with Rod Serling in my head!
On the flipside, what has been the bee’s knees of your career thus far?
I know I keep harping on the classical theater thing – – how boring! but being able to play HAMLET twice is the highlight of my experience so far. There is no way to explain or describe the joy of doing such a part and to feel that one is doing it well. It is the epitome of why we become actors. If done well, acting Shakespeare can become almost a metaphysical experience at times. One becomes a channel for the visceral event that occurred when pen met paper at the point of creation 500 years ago. That is why (if done without undue vanity and egotism) these plays are still a vital, living thing. Do I sound like a nut case? My other favorite role is also from Shakespeare, and that is BENEDICK from MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. It is my favorite of the comedies, and a wonderfully joyous, silly, moving piece. You would not know this from seeing the Kenneth Branagh film of the same name. So, you see, I don’t really regret the training after all. One simply has to make a choice and then commit to it. Careers go where they go. Everyone’s is different. Following close on the heels of the two above mentioned roles are SEBASTIAN and LORIEN from BABYLON 5. Two fabulous roles in any venue; both, incidentally, very theatrical in concept.
Does science fiction hold any special attraction to you? If not, what genre does?
The wonderful thing about Science Fiction is the opportunity to create from whole cloth. You are not limited by current reality or preconceptions. How does Lorien, a being millions of years old, behave? How does he talk, walk, view the universe? I dove in and let my imagination work! But I have to say, I was supported and inspired by pretty extraordinary writing! In general, the genre is not important, itÕs the challenge of opening a script and seeing what happens to you when you read it. “What can I do with this role that will be truthful AND interesting” is the question I ask myself.
Aside from the paycheck, what was the most rewarding aspect of working on “Babylon 5?”
Sleeping with the Wardrobe Supervisor. 😉
The whole phenomenon of BABYLON 5, especially overseas, was very humbling and a total gas. Working with all the people who made the show happen, and getting to go out and meet the fans was, and continues to be, a wonderful experience. Torturing Bruce Boxleitner was not bad, either!
Having worked on that show’s parody, Babylon Park. What do you think about being one of the very few people in the world to work on both the real show and it’s parody?
I THINK IT’S COOL! and I’m kind of, like, flattered to have been asked.
Hollywood has been said to be a big entertainment meat grinder. If you were to classify yourself as a type of meat, what would it be? (as in rare steak, bratwurst, etc)
Well, I arrived in Hollywood as a naive, innocent rack of lamb. I soon discovered that what they really wanted was a foot-long hot dog in a very fresh bun. Over the long, long, LONG years experience has toughened me till I’m hard and SPICY like a well-smoked beef jerky, but still with an inner-child of optimistic veal.