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Stargate SG-1 Cast Interviews: Corin Nemec

Corin Nemic Q&A
Solutions Exclusive, Collectormania III, Milton Keynes, UK, 03 May 2003

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Corin Nemec began acting in TV commercials at age 13. In 1986, he made his TV debut on an episode of "Sidekicks," and then played the recurring role of Alex Karras' nephew from the farm on episodes of "Webster" (ABC) during the 1987-88 season. Nemec gained celebrity as the ultra-cool and resourceful star on the cartoonish teen sitcom "Parker Lewis Can't Lose" (Fox, 1990-93). He had previously garnered attention and an Emmy nomination with an impressive portrayal of a teen kidnapped in his youth and molested by his "father" in the 1989 NBC miniseries "I Know My First Name is Stephen".

After the success of "I Know My First Name Is Stephen", Nemec signed with Eddie Murphy Productions to star in a CBS pilot "What's Alan Watching?" about a suburban youth who speaks into a video camera as we watch his barely functioning family. This oddball format also allowed Murphy to appear on the small screen in numerous incarnations. This was followed by "Parker Lewis Can't Lose", an inspired TV version of John Hughes' popular 1986 feature "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", in which he was the top dog at his high school except when Principal Musso got in the way. Shot in a quick-paced, highly visual style with unusual camera angles, the show was a success with teen audiences.

It also led to Nemec doing more longform TV starting with "For the Very First Time" on NBC in 1991, in which he played a Jewish teen in love with a Catholic girl. He was the good son to Rick Schroeder's bad boy (and he kills Schroeder!) in "My Son Johnny" (CBS, 1991), and starred in "The Lifeforce Experiment," one of the first originals made for the Sci-Fi Channel (1994). Nemec was superb as a horny nerd who gives in to the dark side (and the considerable erotic charms of Laura San Giacomo) in a major supporting role in the hit ABC miniseries of "Stephen King's The Stand" (1994). Nemec has also been in numerous feature films and made-for-tv-movies.

First introduced to Stargate SG-1 in Season Five's "Meridian", Nemec portrayed "Jonas Quinn," a native of Kelowna who witnessed the accident which killed Dr. Daniel Jackson. Quinn was granted asylum on Earth and went on to become SG-1's fourth member for the sixth season of Stargate SG-1.

Thanks to being in the right place at the right time - and having the most wonderful boss in the world - I was fortunate enough to get to do a question and answer session with Corin Nemec during the Collectormania III weekend. Huge thanks to Corin for being so generous with his time after a long day of signing autographs.

Thanks also to the Solutions team who helped put the interview together. Corin was absolutely thrilled with the questions. In fact he mentioned how great they were at least three times. Here's what he had to say about Stargate SG-1, Beer for my Horses and his career to date.

Sharon Clark

Has working on Stargate changed you as an actor? Have you learned anything new from working on the show?
It hasn't changed me as an actor, but it has given me an insight into what it's like as an actor to come into a show in the middle of a production and fit into a group that's already established. That's an experience I hadn't had as an actor in twenty years. I'd always gone in at the beginning of something.

I know now what to expect if it ever happened again, and I'd be able to go in with that much more confidence and that much more authority and be able to do that much better a job. I was pretty nervous for a number of episodes. That kind of depended on what was happening on set — it came and went — but I very rarely get nervous as an actor. Very rarely.

But under those circumstances I did from time to time feel, well, perhaps a bit self-conscious, rather than nervous.

It has been reported that you are writing a script for Stargate. Can you give any hints as to what it might be about?

It's not a script. I pitched a storyline and as far as I know it's been picked up. It's for the third and final episode I'm contracted to do. But no, I can't give any spoilers — the show guys, for obvious reasons, don't like us to give away stuff like that.

Can you give us any hints as to what happens in Homecoming? There's speculation that Jonas returns to Kelowna? Any thoughts as to how his future might develop?

You can guess from the name of the episode what happens, but I can't comment. Spoilers and all that. Everyone pretty much knows that Daniel is coming back and Jonas is going away somewhere. As for Jonas' development in the future — no idea.

The Stargate set is infamous for the practical jokes the actors play on each other. Did anyone pull any on you when you first got there? And if so, did you "retaliate?"

[laughs] Chris Judge is a ballbuster. It's not so much practical jokes as the camaraderie — the locker room humour that goes on. I haven't had any practical jokes played on me, but the one thing I've been wanting to do to Chris Judge for all of last year, and this year too, is to find one of those cigarette loads that you put in the end of a cigarette and when you light it, the thing explodes. But I guess they don't make them anymore. I've been trying to find one all over the place because I've been dying to slip one in one of his cigarettes when he's not looking and then be in the room next to him so I can laugh my butt off. So if anyone out there knows where to get them — let me know!

Which Stargate character/actor did you most enjoy acting opposite?

Michael Shanks. I really enjoyed working with him. I always enjoy working with Chris. And Amanda is great. The two of us really work well together. We had some great moments. Rick is obviously good to work with. But I really enjoyed working with Michael and would love to work with him some more. I feel really comfortable with him.
Jonas Quinn

What was it like working with Dean Stockwell?
Great — I actually worked with Dean in the movie Tucker directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Dean played Howard Hughes and Jeff Bridges was in the title role. There was a scene between him, me and Jeff Bridges. Working with him back then had been pretty cool. And he remembered me, which was really nice too. So it was cool to be able to work with him again so many years later because I was really young the first time round. It was great to get that kind of 'full circle' sense of working with him as an adult. [Tucker was released in 1988.]

Everyone loved the "Beer For My Horses" video you did, but we're curious as to how you came to be involved?

The casting director used to do promotional stuff for Parker Lewis Can't Lose. Now, either Luke or Owen Wilson, not sure which, was supposed to play the part, but from what I was told it fell through at the last minute, so they were desperate to find someone and he thought of me because they wanted someone who had some kind of 'recognisability'. So, basically I'd just gotten into Los Angeles from Texas, where I live, and I walked into my manager's office just as the phone rang and it was the guy calling about the Willie Nelson video. I was already familiar with the song and being from Texas where Willie Nelson is so huge, I was totally excited about it.

Now it's one of the number one songs on CMTV and it's doing great. I'm hoping I might get to the CMTV awards and wear a ten-gallon hat and show off my cool boots [Corin laughs as he shows off the beautiful leather boots he's wearing.]

Did you sing in the video, along with Toby Keith and Willie Nelson? And do you have any ambitions to be a country-western singer?

Oh no. I can't sing, so no, definitely no ambition in that area.

Everyone at conventions gets asked boxers or briefs, but we want to know what your bra size is?!

[laughs] Small. It was small!

Any humorous stories about filming in that costume?

Just the looks from the guys on set. Willie and Toby were really funny about it. I wish I had a photographic memory because I'm sure there were moments really, really worth talking about, but I guess it was the mock leers and whistles that I had to cope with. What was really weird was that they had a shoe to fit. Size ten with a high heel! I was like - are these made for cross-dressers or for a woman? Because if it's for a woman she sure has big feet.

Do you have any roles coming up in the future that you can tell us about, other than the third episode with Stargate?

Nothing right at the moment.

"The Stand" was a huge undertaking with a lot of complex characters. How did you approach the character of Harold Lauder?

Like any actor, I try to find what is closest to me in the character. There's many sides to personality, but it's a matter of do you entertain those specific areas of your personality or are you afraid to entertain them.
Corin Nemec
So, for me, it's the freedom of knowing I am who I am. I have my ethics and I have my morals. I have my anchor point of what I know is right and wrong to do in real life, but I'm not afraid to entertain any and every aspect of personality in relationship to creating a character. And in the book Harold Lauder is much more twisted than in the movie. For those who have read it — just think the scene in the grocery store.

So it was a case of finding that place that is scared of life, uncertain, unaccepted, unwanted, yet at the same time feels superiority. As Lauder's character develops in the story his main flaw is a superiority complex, even though at the start it was his insecurity. His flaw actually altered as his character developed, which is very rare in a story, and fascinating from a technical viewpoint as an actor.

Was Harold Lauder the only role you auditioned for?

Yes. [laughs] I remember the day I auditioned I had the flu. I was as sick as a dog, sitting in my car sweating bullets. I auditioned for Mick Garris, who had directed Sleepwalkers, another Stephen King film, and he really wanted me for the role, but I didn't have the physical build that he was looking for because Harold Lauder in the book is written as a heavyset individual. So they auditioned in Chicago, New York, Atlanta, LA, San Francisco, Toronto, and they could not find the right guy. All the time Mick Garris was saying to Stephen King that he believed I could do the role, but obviously there was no way I fit the physical description.

Fortunately they didn't find anyone else and so I got called in at the eleventh hour. I auditioned again and Stephen King went for it. Then they did a fat suit for me that had a big butt and a tummy. I really wish I'd kept it — would've been great for Halloween!

It turned out to be one of my most favourite roles thus far. Plus, it opened up a door for me to do other similar roles. I got to do a whole slew of TV movies playing the bad guy, including an episode of Smallville. That came out of the blue. They just called and asked for me, and that would never have happened if I hadn't done the Stand.

"I Know My First Name Is Stephen" was a powerful movie with a strong emotional bent. How does an actor portray a character who's gone through such a horrendous ordeal in such a way that the story is told but also respects the person and doesn't sensationalize the crime?

That was a weird experience. I'd been in theatre companies since I was twelve years old, but never studied a particular method up to that point. The director, Larry Elikann, kept coming up to me and would talk about the humour. He'd say things like 'this is a comedy, Corin. This is a really, really funny moment here. You've just been molested and this is funny.' So that was his approach!

However, I did study with a guy called John Len, who is an amazing guy. A very successful actor. I did private study with him for about a month, five days a week, six hours a day, before production. He helped me to really break down the character and understand every aspect of it. That was my first introduction into what is known as 'the method' although I'm not a method actor. It helped a lot because I came to understand the character in ways that I never would've have previous to that. I was so innocent in respect to ways of creating characters. My style was 'fly by the seat of my pants', even though I was theatrically trained. So learning to develop a character in this way was an awesome experience.

The filming was then really easy. There was just two moments when I struggled. There was one scene where my character was with his mom in a trailer park and I could not develop the emotion necessary to finish the scene. We eventually got it, but it was one of those moments where I was thinking 'I shouldn't be an actor'! But the rest — it was surprisingly easy. More easy than some other roles I've played since.

Did you find it easy to switch the character off when you go off set?

Oh yeah. There were time when I was into method acting that I did have moments of residual character emotions, because the method bases your emotional responses as a character on emotional experiences from your real life. But that's something you don't want to touch. That stuff belongs in the past. So yes, for a short period I studied with Larry Moss, who is a well-known method actor in LA, and he was great. I learnt a lot from him. But now I don't believe that method acting is safe. It can serve a purpose. In fact fact, Stanislavski himself, renounced his own method.
You've worked with some pretty amazing people over the years. Is there any one person that stands out to you?
Jack Palance. I did a movie called Solar Crisis in 1987/88. It had a $48 million budget, which is like a $90 - $100 million budget these days. It was myself, Jack Palance, Charlton Heston, Peter Boyle, Tim Mathieson — just a fantastic cast. Jack Palance was just fascinating. He was so, just absolutely interesting. When he wasn't working he was doing oil paintings. We shot the whole thing in the desert, so he'd be out there painting, and I thought that was fantastic.

Then there was his whole 'mystique' — something you just couldn't put your finger on.

I remember one day going into the make-up trailer and he's sitting there with this little paper cup. So I ask 'what the hell's that'? He replies 'It's Jack'. [Corin does this deep voice, drawing out the name]. I'm like — what? You're Jack. And he goes No, it's Jack. Then the make-up lady points to the bottle of Jack Daniels on the shelf behind me. Jack used to drink it to loosen him up before a scene.

Of course, I'm not recommending drinking Jack Daniels or anything for that. It's not something I do! But for old school guys like that — they had it down to a science. And at the time, I was 16, maybe 17, and I just thought wow, that's some cool shit.

Do you have a preference between making movies or working in television?
No. I like good stories. Quality products and good character opportunities are what's important. I think even if the script isn't that strong, if I have the opportunity to challenge myself with a great character I'll take a chance and go for it.
You've done three TV series now: "Webster", in 1983, "Parker Lewis" in 1990, and "Stargate SG-1" in 2002. Aside from your age at the time, how were the experiences different from each other?
Parker Lewis and Stargate were similar in some ways. They were both one camera shows and both were the highest quality for the genre. Parker Lewis was running at $1million for each half hour episode — sometimes more. At that time, it was costing $500,000 per episode for multi-camera. So we were costing double, but the quality of the show and the ground-breaking style was at the pinnacle of what TV could offer at that time. Now there's countless shows that utilise the style and essence that Parker Lewis created.

With Stargate, by far it's the top of the pile when it comes to Sci-Fi. The quality is great. They have really good writers, incredible production design, the lighting, the wardrobe — right across the board, it's the highest quality.

Webster, though, was miserable! Emmanuel Lewis was amazing to work with. I'll love that guy to the end of time. But some of the others! Two of the cast were married and got divorced during the show. They hated each other and so we had to stop filming in front of a studio audience because they'd fight with each other right in front of everyone. The energy on set was so bad, that after that I decided I'd never do a series again.

But, then I was offered a pilot for a series called "What's Alan Watching", which was through Eddy Murphy Productions and had some great writers and directors on-board. So that was amazing, and that was actually the gig that got me Parker Lewis. My character on "What's Alan Watching" loved television and I could interact with the characters on TV and I had this crazy family life. Basically the character was a really cool nerd, and that was what Parker Lewis was. He was your stereotypical nerd with a cool faade. So that was weird to go from saying no more series to a pilot to Parker Lewis.

Being a child actor, do you feel you missed anything by not growing up like your average kid-next-door?
No. I had the benefit of experiencing a hundred times more than the average kid. I don't look back on it with regret at all. It was the best life ever.
If you had the knowledge of the job back then that you have now, would you still choose to be an actor?
You bet!
You've worked for some years for LA's American Repertory Company, which is under the direction of a distinguished member of the Actors' Studio. Was it working with Manu Tupou what first excited your interest in method acting?
Manu Tupou is a great actor who understood the method from a strictly method point of view and lived it. But when I started to study with him, he'd already come to the conclusion that it was the wrong approach. The method he's developed now is about creating the life of the character and living and experiencing that life as best you can in present time. It's all about creating a back story for the character and developing emotional responses that are true to life in relation to the character. So studying with him actually got me away from the method, which I'm glad about. It isn't necessary to live a tragic life in order to create from that place.

Manu is highly underrated. The average student that comes into the theatre company lasts about five months because he requires them to get to know themselves. Not what you think you are, but who you are really. That's more difficult than method acting. With method acting you dramatise all your bullshit from the past, but really getting to know yourself you have to actually deal with that stuff then put it behind you before you perform. If he was teaching in New York I think there would be standing room only in his classes, but in LA — too many people want to go the quickest route from A to B. Method acting offers them that. Manu gets you to create from a clean space — without utilising stuff that reminds you what it's like — it's far more creative. And people who stay the course really grow.

Not only that, he doesn't just provoke us to act. He wants us to try everything — writing, producing, directing. I've written lots of stuff as a result — screenplays — that I'm not sure I would've had the confidence to pursue that as seriously as I have over the past seven years without the support of a teacher like Manu.

Have you ever given any readings of your poetry?

Yes, I've done a number of readings at poetry lounges in Vancouver and Los Angeles. I also have a poem in the book Best Poets of the Year 2000. I've compiled a book of poetry that's completed, and two others I'm working on.

It's difficult to figure out where to go with that without someone to represent me, but I really do hope to publish at some time. Particularly the first book, which is very early poetry — basically me from eighteen to twenty-five. I think it's very radical stuff, kind of apocalyptic in nature and, particularly given today's times, I'd be very excited about getting it out there.

What I'm writing now is very different. It's more free-flowing. It doesn't have to rhyme or be structured. A lot of my influence is from Charles Bukowski — one of America's most famous beat poets. He writes very radical poetry — about his daily life. Very dark stuff. He doesn't write 'beautiful' poetry. His poems are raw, but that's what makes them beautiful. So reading his poetry gave me the courage to break the mould of what poetry is often thought to be, the kind of thing they teach in English class.

Poetry is whatever comes out. And that's where I like to be — in that place where I just write for the love of writing.

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