Friday, July 30, 2010

Interview with a Vampire: A chat with Denis O'Hare

To round out the Comic-Con experience (blogged about endlessly by everyone, I know), and drive a final stake through its proverbial heart, I thought I’d get the perspective from someone who was actually working the convention. Denis O’Hare, who plays the Vampire King of Mississippi Russell Edgington (Evil! EEEE-VIL!!) on this season of True Blood, was invited by HBO to sign autographs and appear on a panel. The entire 2nd floor of the convention center had huge banners of True Blood everywhere; almost 6,000 people attended the panel. It was quite the scene. Where I was aimless at the Convention, Denis had almost every minute accounted for during his weekend.

You should know that I’ve known Denis for more years than we’d probably admit to; I met him on almost my first day of college. I was living in a dorm quad with four frat-bound roommates, and Denis lived next door. The strains of Madame Butterfly  and Man of La Mancha coming through the walls was impossible to resist. I basically squatted in his quad my entire freshman year. When Denis was shooting True Blood he got a place two blocks away from my house so he’d often show up for dinner, eyes and fingernails blood-rimmed. It made for an appetizing meal.

He’s back in New York, visiting Fire Island, but we Skype-chatted about his experiences at Comic-Con. He also sent me some photos he took while there. It’s less an interview than two old friends nattering on, but if you’re interested in Mississippi vampires or Star Trek: The Next Generation altercations, by all means, read on:

James Sie (JS): Comic-Con. What were your impressions?
Denis P. O’Hare (DPO): Gosh. Well. It's definitely overwhelming but good-natured. Sort of like Mardi -Gras meets a science fair.
DPO: I also thought it was busier and bigger and more diverse than I would have thought. I loved how the crowd was multi-ethnic and spanned a huge age range… The people are not at all menacing -The opposite of  a Monster Truck Rally weekend or a Tea-Bagger convention and how that sort of crowd would feel…this was so gentle in its madness...folks were less mob-like and more herd-like (I mean that in the nicest way) They sort of followed from place to place, pleasantly, no one getting hostility, no menace— just good-natured wandering—
JS: Yeah, well, I heard someone stabbed a pencil into someone's eye at a symposium...
DPO: Yes, I heard about that. What I heard was that it was an injury below the eye and wasn't as bad as first reported…  Still— don't mess with someone in line to see the Fringe Panel.
JS: No over-the top crazies for you? Did anyone ask you to bite their neck?
Kristin Bauer (Vampire Pam) with husband Aubrey.
DPO: Yes. There was a rooftop party at the Hard Rock Hotel and we were stopped by a woman and asked for badges or bracelets and just as things were threatening to get officious, she suddenly screamed, I mean screamed and was like, "Oh My GOD!!!! It's Pam and the KING! She let us in the party and then we took a series of pictures with her and her friends and she directed us to bite her friend's neck. Which we promptly did.
JS: I recall you being besieged as soon as you stepped into the convention floor. Did that happen the whole weekend, and did it wear on you, the attention?
DPO: Ummmm, it was novel so it wasn't really that bad. I did begin to feel odd though when I was on the street or walking around in the convention—like I was unprotected and just sitting out there for all to see. After the Fringe panel, Hugo [Denis' husband] and I walked home— sending away the car and driver (WE CAN WALK AMONGST THEM MY GOOD MAN) and Hugo and I went to the loo but I lost him when I came out and I was standing against the wall waiting for him and the longer I waited the more nervous I got and I turned to the wall and acted like I was texting. I could feel people walking by and I could almost hear them thinking, "Hey...isn't that...?"Finally I saw Hugo and I ran over to join him and we left.
JS: Harrowing.
DPO: I was stopped quite a bit. People were always very respectful and easy about it, though. It was like that scene in the Birds. You know..."Now children, don't run...just walk..."

JS: Let's talk swag. Get any?
DPO: Not as much as I would have thought. I did get some stuff from TB, a bottle of True Blood, Season 2 DVDs, Hugo got a T-shirt that said VILF—
JS: Uh…"Vampires In Love Finally"?
DPO: Ooooooh, you are so pure of heart. Think MILF.
JS: I forgot what MILF stands for, too.
DPO: “Vampires I'd Like To...”
JS: Got it. Got it. Moving on. No hospitality suites? Designer shows?
Denis' man Hugo makes some new friends.
DPO: Alas no… Lots of free food, though, and parties. The EW/Sci-Fi party was very fun.
JS (who has trouble thinking of any party as, how you say, fun): Why so?
DPO: Talked to Seth Green, whom I love, Ron Perlman, who was smoking a cigar, saw CC Pounder and talked for a bit…They had a candy room, this huge room with a white Lucite pyramid and every step had different candy in big glass jars and you'd pick up a little blue bag and then scoop the candy you want in your bag. Very decadent.
JS: What candy did you get?
DPO: Ummmm, malted milk balls, peanut M&Ms and some Raisinets. I'm very basic.
JS: Would be my choices, exactly.
DPO: You know, classics.

JS: Do you feel like you’re on a team with your fellow TB-ers, or was it every man for himself? Did you get support from the rest of the cast during your official duties?
DPO: Yes and no. I didn't have my publicist with me so I was being handled by HBO and they were great. Other cast members had their own publicists so they had different interviews and agendas. But Kristin (Bauer, Vampire Pam) and Joe (Manganiello, Werewolf Alcide) and I stuck together a lot and were sort of buddies.
JS: Ah, Joe… Did you ever want to tell him to just pick you up and carry you off into the woods? Sigh...
DPO: Yeah, he's nice to look at... the thing is, I've gotten to know him, and if feels wrong to have those thoughts. You know, like incest or something.
Ah, Joe...

JS: SORRY! Just playing a little fantasy in my head...
DPO: That was funny.
JS: Could you imagine going to Comic-con as a civilian?
DPO: I think if I had a reason—like there was a panel that I really wanted to see or if I wanted to buy something or find something special. I could see going there with a kid.
JS: Ah, that's where you'd be wrong.
DPO: You speak from experience?
JS: Absolutely. You wouldn't be able to indulge your inner Geek and go see some abstruse panel on Sci-fi, or wait in line for 2 hours to get an Aliens T-shirt. You wouldn't be able to go in deep.
DPO: Yes, I think you're right. They should have speed passes like at Disney World.
JS: If they had them, I bet those genial crowds wouldn't be quite so genial.
DPO: Never have liked crowds— comes from being 5'8" and going to a jock high school. Hallways were a nightmare.
JS: Would there be insults hurled? Hugger-muggery? Books thrown?
DPO: No, it was just that everyone was so tall and I was lost in the forest.
JS: Ah.
DPO: No hugger-muggery, alas.
JS: I know your past. Boys-only Catholic school. There was at least a little huggery.
DPO: Ummmmm... Let's save that for a different blog.
JS: Fair game! Fair game!
DPO: Sail on good steward.

JS: You're a bit of a geek yourself, aren't you? What do you like, fantasy/sci fi-wise, right now?
DPO: I like Sci-fi in general, Books mostly. Bradbury, Heinlein, China Mieville, The Golden Compass…  I was a huge Star Trek Next Generation fan.
JS: Did you get to meet any of the Star Trek NG cast? I heard they were there...
DPO: Oh, you didn't hear? That's right, it happened after you left. So, I venture out with Kristin and Hugo and Aubrey (Kristin's husband) and suddenly this woman, dark hair, flowing gown, comes running up to me and says, "Oh I just wanted to say hello—I've really enjoyed you over the years.” It was Mirina Sirtis.
JS: The Empath!
DPO: Yes, Deanna Troi, and I was like— "Oh, I've loved you over these years," and then she tells me to wait and she grabs somebody and she brings back Michael Dorn (Worf), and then he says some nice things and I say nice things back and then they both say, hold on, let's get Brent (Data)… So Brent comes over - I know him from NYC where he did a play with Linda Emond, meanwhile a crowd is forming around us, photos are being taken… then Levar Burton (Geordie) comes up, and before I can really say hello, Hugo steps up and says, "Hey man, where's your visor?"
JS: Uh oh...
DPO: Levar decides that this is rude and he says "That's a really fucked-up thing to say." Hugo, being Hugo, won't back down — he's like—"Hey, I'm a fan...just making a little joke," but Levar is not having it and meanwhile the people are swarming and snapping pictures and I’m trying to talk to Brent and Mirina and I decide to tune out the throw down that is happening to my left between my boyfriend and Geordie…Finally, I turn to Levar and introduce myself and Brent chimes in and it all gets calmer and he back-pedals but you know Hugo, he won't let it go, he's like "Ooooh, I'm scared of you now... Whoa…” It was priceless.
JS: And the reading rainbow gets a little dimmer...
DPO: Haaaaaaaa!

Geordie, don't mess with the King's man, he'll cut you...

JS: Best memory?
DPO: I had a really good time with the cast. The panel was a trip. 
Coming out into that room where 5,000 people are screaming and applauding and laughing... that was sort of a once in a lifetime moment.

JS: Your relationship with the cast, is it like theatre, where you spend this intense period of time with a group of people, or is it different?
DPO: That's a very good analogy... you all go through something that binds you and no one outside of the experience can really relate so you feel this kinship…
JS: How is it different?
DPO: It's more fragmented… the experience is very much unique. It’s fairly intense, you're shooting at night, in various conditions, but you are usually shooting with 2 or 3 or 4 people at most so you share THAT experience with only those people. And the directors, they were sort of a form of continuity and become a big part of the experience. I still play [online] Scrabble with one of my directors all the time.
JS: (By the way, in online Scrabble they should tell you that you won when you win. It would be much more satisfying that way.)
DPO: (I just sort of goes away... are we playing?)
JS: (No, I beat you.)
DPO: (Oh.)
JS: OK, I have to go watch Top Chef, so we'll wind this up.
JS: Last question. Describe Comic-Con in 3 words. Go:
DPO: Freaky. Fantasy. Frolic.
JS: Lovely. And alliterative! Thank you, my dear Mr. O'Hare.
DPO: No, thank you, Mr. Sie. A pleasure.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Freaks and Geeks

I’m surrounded by superheroes, pirates, Navi natives, Yu Gi Oh! characters and sexy nurses. A busy day on Hollywood Boulevard? Nah, I’m at Comic-Con!

We were lucky to have scored some last minute tickets to the sold-out event, due to the largesse of the our favorite undead friend, Denis O’Hare. He’d been flown to the event to sign autographs and participate in a True Blood panel in the grand ballroom by HBO, from whence all good things flow. Being the Vampire King of Mississippi has its privileges, and one of them is that he could get us a few passes, plus (miraculously) an opportunity to valet park right in the heart of bedlam.

We went on the spur of the moment. Unfortunately, spur of the moment is not the best way to approach the madness that is Comic Con. It’s not a place for the casual tourist. It’s like Disneyland plus Halloween in West Hollywood plus the Rose Bowl Flea Market. It’s like Mardi Gras for Geeks.

(Ironically, the term “geek” seems to have reached near-cool status, what with iPhones, “The Big Bang Theory” and Michael Cera. Has the moniker “nerd” been similarly elevated, or is it still in wedgie-land? What’s the difference between a geek and a nerd? Discuss.)
Does this bag make me look fat?
I thought Comic-Con would be this one big room full of people in costumes handing out free stuff and a panoply of stars on high, flashing their smiles in benediction. Hmmm… not quite. For one thing, it’s not just in the Convention Center. Comic-Con spreads and infiltrates ALL of downtown San Diego. Every hotel nearby has themed elevators and giant screens pulsating with some high action fantasy flick or television show. Panels and symposiums are held at multiple venues. The local hotdog-and-popcorn store has a giant Predator on display. The whole town’s been taken over. You can’t escape it.
Get out! The Star Wars impersonators are here already! You’re next!

There were people in costumes a’plenty, but since we live near Hollywood and Highland, where superheroes and movie characters are parading every day, it’s not such a big deal. (Though, I have to admit the full-sized Iron Man outfit worn by the Robert Downey look-alike who strolled into the Hard Rock Hotel was pretty impressive.) As for free stuff, up and down the streets you’re assaulted with people wanting to give you things (giant bags, coupons, playing cards, bracelets, enough postcards to fell a Tree of Souls) but unless you’d be sharing this booty with your fellow D&D players at your next wizarding campaign, you’ll have little use for most of it.

Inside, there was swag to be had, but it comes at a price. You could get a free Alien “Want a Hug?” T-shirt (promoting the upcoming BluRay trilogy release) but you’d have to stand in line a couple of hours to get it. You might be able to get your “Next Generation” poster signed by most of the major Star Trek actors, but that would mean signing up ahead of time and waiting a generation to do so. Like I said, the convention’s not for popping in and “taking a look.”

There are treasure to be had, but you had to know where to find them, and when to find them. Looking to have Thelma from “Good Times” sign an autographed photo? She’s over there in row 399, next to the Disney vintage memorabilia! (and looking damned good, too). Want to meet an comics illustrator you’ve always admired? He’s over in Artist Alley! Chewbacca’s going to be giving autographs at noon right by that concession stand!

See my movie... or perish!
While Hollywood did have a huge presence— giant displays of the next superhero movie plus clips blaring from giant screens—the geek quotient remained, happily, quite high. Lots of gaming opportunities abounded (the new PS3 motion-sensor wand is pretty cool), and for those in the market for vintage comic books or alien bobble-heads or collectible Dr. Who paraphernalia, this was the place to be. And where else are you going to attend panels on how the upcoming Batman comic series will be drawn or how to break into the manga market? People dressed up, not because they’re trying to land an acting job or to look beautiful, but because it made them happy. There’s something kind of fun and pure about that. Also, it's a little creepy. But mostly fun.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got an inner geek the size of an Ent. Hey, I’m a guy who read all of the Lord of the Rings to my sisters and created a mini Middle Earth in our basement, complete with Toaster cornbread for lembas and hidden rings. And I bid and won tickets on ebay to see the entire trilogy of LOTR back to back on the big screen. I don’t own a cape, but I was pretty stoked to be at Comic-Con.

We didn’t actually see that much of Denis because he had a full publicity schedule the entire time he was down there, and anytime he set foot in public fans swarmed and converged on him like high-speed zombies, asking for photos, which he graciously acceded to, being the courtly King of Mississippi and all (perhaps we'll get him to write a word or two about his experiences at Comic-Con later). Doug, who has little interest in animation or comic books and a dislike of crowds, went to the True Blood panel and schmoozed it up with Alan Ball and Vampire Bill. That left me and Benjamin to get our geek on. I bought him a Clone Trooper Cody uniform, and we hit the floor.

It was an action-figure paradise for Ben. He also got a Ben 10 comic book which was subsequently signed by all four creators. Benj was a little less than enthused by the signatures (as in, couldn’t care less) but the seller assured me he’d appreciate it when he’s older. Taking no chances, and knowing the fate of most of Benj’s books, I also got a plastic sleeve to store the comic in.  As for myself, I partook of an Alien face hugger fan, plus an adorable vibrating/chirping Tribble to give to a two-year-old we know (really, we’re giving it away, I swear…).

And then it was time to go. We inch our car out into the street like we’re Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren in The Birds. We drive slowly through downtown. Outside, there’s a sort of benign chaos. Paper’s blowing everywhere, hordes of people in various outfits mill around on the streets. It looks a little like 28 Days Later set at a street fair. Time to get back to reality. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Back in the Saddle

All right, jet leg lag can't be an excuse forever. Yes, for about a week the repercussions of traveling 14 hours from Athens to Los Angeles, forever in daylight, did kick my ass. I would wander through the day in a kind of zombie haze, falling asleep in my salad at restaurants at 6 pm. Then I'd get up at 4 pm, rarin' to go. I guess I was on farmer time. I was so tired at a restaurant that when Benj colored in the 13 states on his placemat that he had visited, I told him that he had visited "over half the states." And I cried during "Toy Story 3" like it was "Sophie's Choice." (Though I'm not alone in this case).

Still, it's been two weeks now. I've got to pull myself together. Some sectors of my life are back: voiced another episode of "Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness" (a Nick Toon coming out in the fall; it is, indeed, pretty awesome);

I did an "Atom"-centric episode of "Batman: The Brave and the Bold;"

A tiny bit of Atom from last season

I auditioned for a talking frog at Disney. Put away my Greek language CD's and downloaded Spanish ones instead, though I'm still mourning my impending loss of that esoteric language... Got Benj ensconced in camp; Doug's back to work. Caught up on "Top Chef."

Now, I've got to get back to work on my book. For some reason, my daily holy triumvirate of Meditating/Writing/Working Out has been hard to achieve since I've been back. Must finalize my synopsis and continue the agent search. I'm working with an illustrator to do some sample pages of the graphic novel section, and they're gonna look really great. The time is nigh. Onward! Upward! Here we go! Really! Now! Go!

Update: Just made a chocolate-buttermilk cake with a malted chocolate icing for a friend's birthday. Hmmm... for a writer, I do an awful lot of baking...