Lexicon Exclusive

Finding the Stillness

The X-Files Lexicon's Exclusive Interview with Doug Hutchison.
Interview questionnaire conducted by Matt Allair between 11/24 - 11/28/06.

Many actors regard the work as a journey; there's no single clear-cut method for achieving the final result. Actor Doug Hutchison seems to have an understanding that a narrow approach does not often breed that desired final result in certain cases. The opportunity to interview Doug Hutchison had been a long time desire. Upon researching prior to this interview, I found Doug to be good-natured, with an eccentric quality, altruistic, refreshingly candid, as well as having an intuitive spiritual philosophy. Doug's career arc was helped along by appearing in the third episode of the X-Files first season episode, Squeeze. The experience even compelled him to write his own sequel, "Dark He Was and Golden-eyed". A creative effort that must of triggered enough good karma to compel writers Glen Morgan and James Wong to write the sequel, Tooms. Special thanks must go to Doug's personal assistant, MC, and as well the webmaster of Doug Hutchison's official site, Kelly Kruschel, who was enthusiastically supportive of my efforts to secure the interview. Thanks must also go to the tireless efforts of the Lexicon's own editor, XScribe.

We began with a discussion of his upcoming feature film debuts as a director, Dreambirds and The Damned. We also discussed the process over his ongoing acting seminars, The Art of Stillness. From there, we discussed his history with two iconic television shows...

Matt Allair: Hello, Mr. Hutchison, thank you for taking the time to do this.

Doug Hutchison: My pleasure, Matt.

Matt: What's the status with your feature Dreambirds? Can you describe what kind of story it is going to be? Has it been attached with a major or independent studio?

Doug: Dreambirds is an unconventional love story about Billy Mcleod -- a heroin addicted ex-con -- and Mary Louise Kling -- a tattoo artist and stripper. They meet in rural Alabama and become unwittingly involved with a little 8-year-old orphan girl by the name of Gracie. It's a colorful, bitter-sweet drama and a script close to my heart. I'm waiting for the right pieces to come together, the stars to align, if you will, to manifest Dreambirds. In the meantime, my script, The Damned, about a group of street punks in Hollywood, will most likely be my directorial debut. It's a cross between Trainspotting and The Lost Boys. Very gritty, urbanic, and violent ... with a vampiric twist.

Matt: How has the experience been working on Kidnapped?

Doug: Kidnapped was a blast. We shot in NYC. I was involved in the pilot through episode six. NBC pulled the plug after ep five, I think. Too bad the show was cancelled. I think it was quite good. Hopefully, the series will be out on DVD sometime in 2007, so people will be able to enjoy it.

Matt: If you don't mind, I'd like to talk about your acting seminars, The Art of Stillness. The emphasis seems to be on understatement -- on restraint in a performance. The adage of 'less is more'. It also seems there's a kind of Buddhist philosophy in that thinking. When you were developing the concepts for the seminars, did Zen philosophy come into play as an influence?

Doug: Yes, you could definitely say The Art of Stillness is based in a Zen-like philosophy. It's an approach that begins with the foundation of Stillness -- becoming absolutely Still -- and then applying that 'well of Stillness' to impeccable acting or any artistic endeavor. In fact, The Art of Stillness is not necessarily exclusive to the creative arts. Applied to everyday life, it's a remarkable tool for impeccable living as well. Your readers are welcome to visit my site, www.darkwaterinc.com, to learn more about Stillness. Go to The Art of Stillness menu and hit the 'What is Stillness?' button. I teach Stillness classes and workshops in LA. Anyone desiring can e-mail their interest via the website.

Matt: Generally, the one thing I notice with some fledgling actors on a set or stage, is that they become so preoccupied during the process with the mechanics of memorizing their lines, or single-minded in their own role that they don't really listen to what the other actor(s) is (are) saying. Is part of the intention of your seminars is to help develop a person's ability to listen? I don't just mean on a practical level but on an intuitive level as well?

Doug: Listening is vital to art and life. Listening to our hearts. Listening to the ocean. Listening to Stillness. Listening to the Silent Spaces in between. Once we start listening within, we can start listening without.

Matt: You briefly studied at Julliard and eventually you studied with Sanford Meisner; what was the greatest thing you learned from Meisner?

Doug: After leaving Juilliard, I was looking for a more intimate approach to acting. The Meisner Technique helped me to focus on simplicity. Meisner's "Repetition Exercise' can be exhausting and quite tedious, to tell the truth, but it helps release you from your head in order to respond to your partner(s) and circumstances through pure reaction. *

Matt: Let's talk about your creative process as an actor. When you first read through a script, do you take notes on the script? Do you indicate certain beats to build the emotional arc? Do you create a personal biography to help with a character?

Doug: My acting process transforms from project to project and character to character. When I first read a script, I don't do anything. I just read it. Absorb it. Read it again. After awhile, I may find myself jotting down notes. I don't believe in indicating beats or thinking too much about character arcs, etc. Acting is instinctual to me and I avoid over-analyzing. It's not brain surgery. Each project and character demands its own levels of various prep (or non-prep). For example, during The Green Mile, I religiously kept a 'Percy Journal' filled with fictional passages that helped me create a backstory for Percy. I also read Stephen King's novel and studied diligently with a dialect coach. Bait was more outside-in. I began with the physical aspects of my character -- shaved my head, found the glasses, lost weight, etc. -- in order to discover Bristol. With The Salton Sea, I hired a physical fitness trainer and hung out with the Riverside Narcotics Unit to absorb as much about the underworld of methamphetamine as possible. Conversely, I only had two days (count 'em: two days!) to prepare for my role on I Am Sam. So I rolled up my sleeves and dove in with my instincts in hyper-drive. Truthfully, I have no idea where Ifty came from (but God bless his little ADHD-obsessive compulsive heart for showing up without prep)!

Matt: What are your feelings about Rehearsal? Do you believe in extensive rehearsals before going on a set? What do you like to do to keep things fresh and spontaneous?

Doug: I don't enjoy over-rehearsing. My first takes are often my best. I maintain that impeccable acting comes from instinct, intuition, and Stillness. Show me my marks and let me dive into the Ocean of the Unknown. I'd rather roll the camera and see what happens. Film the rehearsals, so to speak. Sometimes running something into the ground can kill the refreshing surprises of moment-to-moment-ness. Spencer Tracy's recipe for acting was: "Memorize your lines and don't bump into the furniture." I doubt Spencer was too keen on extensive rehearsals. Neither am I.

Matt: In the past you've cited Kevin Spacey, Anthony Hopkins and John Lithgow as influences in your approach to acting. Are there any other contemporary actors you've been influenced by? Were there any other classic Hollywood actor's who had an influence on your acting?

Doug: Ray Winstone, Daniel Day Lewis, Johnny Depp, and Sean Penn, to name a handful of contemporary acting heroes. Gregory Peck is my favorite classic Hollywood actor (talk about Stillness!). Other than Natalie Portman, I'm generally unimpressed with contemporary American actresses. Conversely, I adore timeless European actresses like Isabelle Adjani, Nastassja Kinski, Isabelle Huppert, Beatrice Dalle, and Juliette Binoche.

Matt: You are mostly remembered for playing heavies and villains, is type-casting still a concern for you?

Doug: Type-casting has never been a concern of mine. I take comfort in actors like Gary Oldman, Billy Bob Thornton, James Gandolfini, James Woods, Vincent D'Onofrio, and James Spader, etc. -- all who forged careers playing villains at first before becoming their own unconventional leading men.

Matt: Now that you are transitioning into the role of Director, what directors have been the most influential for you?

Doug: Alex Proyas, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillermo Del Toro, Terrence Malick, and Tim Burton are all directors to whom I aspire.

Matt: What do you want from a director?

Doug: Direction! But seriously ... it really depends, once again, on the respective projects and roles. Sometimes I want a hands-on director to give me the necessary adjustments in order to get it right. Other times, the best thing a director can do is simply leave me alone. Great directors know how to cast and then allow their actors to act. Darabont was like that. He cast The Green Mile impeccably. Frank said casting was 80% of the battle. Directors are all different in their approaches. I attempt to adjust myself to accommodate a director's vision without compromising my own.

Matt: Let's discuss your experiences making the X-Files episodes, Squeeze and Tooms. As an actor, what was your impression of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as the series' leads? Did they help to create a good atmosphere on the set?

Doug: Squeeze was the third ep in the first season of The X-Files. David and Gillian were both friendly, personable, humble, energetic, and approachable. By the end of the first season, when we were shooting Tooms, both actors were exhausted from work and seemingly overwhelmed by the popularity of the show. I saw Gillian at a convention about a year later. She barely spoke two words to me. Ah, the bitter-sweet transformations of success ...

Matt: You worked with different directors on the episodes. What was your impression of Harry Longstreet and David Nutter? Did their priorities differ in approaching the actors?

Doug: Harry Longstreet didn't like me. I intimidated him in the audition and he didn't want to work with me. Morgan and Wong cast me despite Harry's reservations, so I think he might have resented that. Consequently, Harry pretty much left me alone on set which was fine with me. David Nutter, on the other hand, was very much hands-on and came to the set with energy and fresh ideas. I enjoyed his direction very much. We had fun together.

Matt: You mostly worked with Paul Ben Victor on the sequel episode. How was the experience with working with him?

Doug: Paul and I had a blast on and off the set. We hung out a lot in Vancouver carousing various strip joints and getting into trouble (back in those bad boy days of my past)!

Matt: It's become fairly well known that you pushed for the Tooms character to be nude in the infamous Cocoon scene, which was a somewhat implicit and disturbing sequence. In hindsight, one could say it seemed like a real act of naïve confidence. Was that due to David Nutter's open attitude to such suggestions or was that the confidence of the producers based on your previous performance in Squeeze? Were there ever any second thoughts about going too far in fighting for your creative instincts?

Doug: Initially, I was scripted to shoot The Cocoon Scene clothed in my Baltimore Municipal Animal Control uniform. The thought of bursting out of a cocoon in my uniform seemed cheesy and G-rated to me. There's something primal, animalistic, and vile in hibernating within a nest of slime and I hated the idea of spoiling that image with layers of bulky clothing to accommodate primetime TV. So, I went to Nutter and told him that I wanted to shoot the scene in the buff. Nutter (who probably thought I was off MY 'nutter'!) took it up with Chris Carter who surprisingly consented. On the day, wardrobe arrived with a pair of briefs and I asked, "What's that for?" She replied: "To wear." I said, "Didn't they tell you? I'm doing this naked." She went away and came back with a jockstrap. Again I asked: "What's that for?"; again she replied: "For you to wear", and I again I said: "I don't think you understand. I'm doing this COMPLETELY naked." Bless them, I think the crew was dumbfounded, not to mention Duchovny who seemed a tad uncomfortable chasing a buck-naked, bile-slimed mutant in the bowels of an escalator shaft. The worst of it for me was being painted head-to-toe with sticky, refrigerated, freezing-cold, yellow-colored, cake-icing slop! I was sick as a dog with a bad head cold. Nobody's fault but my own. Right? **

Matt: Glen and Jim had you appear in the season two opener of Millennium. Was the experience on that set similar to your X-Files experience?

Doug: Millennium was very different from The X-Files. I had lines!

Matt: You mostly worked with Megan Gallagher on that episode. What was it like to act with her?

Doug: Megan was AWEsome. I had her tied up in that basement for hours. I love my job. Heh-heh

Matt: Although, your scenes with Lance Henriksen were brief, what was the acting experience like? As the series lead, did he create a comfortable environment?

Doug: Are you kidding? Lance is a legend. I was thrilled to be part of his show and only wished that we had had more meat together in my ep.

Matt: Glen and Jim used you in Space: Above and Beyond; if there was another window to work with them again in the future, would you?

Doug: I'd work again with Morgan and Wong in a skinny minute.

Matt: Was Chris Carter present on the set while shooting? Did you have much interaction with Mr. Carter?

Doug: I don't recall that Chris was on the set all that much. I sent him a gift-wrapped frozen calf's liver as a Thank-You gift for Squeeze. I thought it would freak him out, but Chris ended up rehiring me for Tooms, so I guess either A) He enjoyed the liver, or B) The ratings for Squeeze were high enough to justify the liver.

Matt: Are there any series television shows currently that remind you of The X-Files and Millennium? Any current favorite shows you follow?

Doug: Hate to disappoint, but I don't own a television. I like life better without it.

Matt: As an artist, what do you do -- what situations do you try to place yourself in -- to creatively inspire you? Do you find that creative inspiration occurs often in the most unlikely of places or times? How much of your personal experiences influence what the public sees on the screen?

Doug: I'm inspired by simplicity. Nothing necessarily outside of the box. Those gorgeous flashes of ... simplicity. Making eye-contact with a stranger in the street. Looking up into a cloudless, blue November sky. Catching a waft of jasmine. Listening to a mockingbird in the middle of night. A swallow of cool water. Holding my lover's hand. All of these accumulated pockets of simplicity tend to follow me into my artistic endeavors.

Matt: In retrospect, do you have any insight as to why The X-Files and Millennium resonated with people?

Doug: Both The X-Files and Millennium flirted with the unknown. I think we're fascinated with that: the unknown. It's like God or religion; an act of faith and intrigue. On a less metaphysical level, both The X-Files and Millennium were forerunners in filmic TV. They broke ground in style: gritty, dark, and feature-esque.

Matt: Thank you once again for this opportunity.

Doug: Anytime, Matt. Great questions (o:

It's often common, yet always fascinating, to find actors who are able to tap into their dark nature, playing cold, vile, psychotic characters, yet in reality are the warmest, kindest, most good-natured of people. This goes back as far as Boris Karloff's portrayal of the Frankenstein monster, an actor who was in complete contrast to the creature he made famous. Perhaps, for an actor it is their form of therapy, their healthy purging of their demons. Whatever the case, that is my initial impression of Mr. Hutchison, that obvious contrast to the roles he's remembered for.

Doug Hutchison seemed to have arrived at a good place with his career. It is always difficult to find the right amount of balance between art and commerce, to find that needed emotional center or grounding in a business that usually places no value in having such spiritual grounding, and shows little concern for the well-being of individuals. He seems to march to the beat of his own drum, which is important in an industry where many are desperately following the leads of others. On a side-note, when chatting with Doug's assistant, MC, I did make a rather bold suggestion in the way of some career advice. If Doug was ever given the opportunity to appear in Ron Moore's series, Battlestar: Galactica, he should jump on the opportunity. It is a show that reminds me in many respects in its quality with the writing and production values of The X-Files and Millennium. To my pleasant surprise, Doug had apparently watched the first season on DVD and loved it, which certainly added to my impression of his good sense and good taste.

His next career journey as director is bound to lead to some interesting results, I'll be curious to see what worlds he will take us to.

Editor's notes:
* Meisner's 'Repetition Exercise' is described from the Answers.com web site with the following: Two actors face each other and "repeat" their observations about one another back and forth. An example of such an exchange - "You're smiling." "I'm smiling." "You're smiling!" "Yes, I'm smiling." - illustrates this exercise. Actors are asked to observe and respond to others' behavior and the subtext therein. If they can "pick up the impulse" - or work spontaneously from how their partner's behavior affects them - their own behavior will arise directly from the stimulus of the other.
** The wardrobe person(s) he referred to was probably either Larry Wells or Jenni Gullett.

Please visit Doug Hutchison's official site.

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