Tony Amendola Interview ~ Continues

Chase Interviews Tony on
This interview transcribed by Jamie (thanks!)

Date: 12/20/04 
Time: 5:00pm PT

CM: I'm going to do a little bit of a segue; besides people on SG-1, this is from Vulcan Priestess again, "Besides the people on SG-1, what other actors have you really enjoyed working with?" Of course we're all wondering about Mask of Zorro and for those of you that aren't aware yet Tony will be in The Legend of Zorro which is coming out in September of '06, playing Don Luis' brother. Tell me about that whole experience. How did that come up? How did you enjoy working with that cast?

TA: The first one or the second one?

CM: Let's go with the first one, because we've all loved that. 

TA: Okay. The first question was which actors I enjoy. So let me give a tribute to the actors I enjoy. I really, really like the character guys. 

CM: Whose work do you enjoy watching?

TA: Well, obviously Hopkins... the usual suspects... Hopkins, Hackman, Duvall, Hoffman, DeNiro, Pacino. But there are people maybe fans don't even know who are actors. A good friend of mine, a guy named David Matthews is a terrific actor I think. So it's generally the character guys. Carmen Argenziano, although we work together on Stargate, is an actor whom I remember from 20 years ago, and we see each other at auditions sometimes. Hector Elizondo is just a terrific actor. Gabriel Byrne, someone I really love and admire as an actor. And another of the young actors I had an opportunity to work with, Johnny Depp in Blow. And there was a unique opportunity because what happened was, we went in, we were shooting in Mexico near Acapulco, and the scene as written, there was some problems with it. And I knew and I'm in this film and it's clearly up to the writer and director. I can do my covert work to make my character make sense, so I have to go on and see what's going on. So I didn't get any new pages and I went on set that day and Ted Demme, director, of course he passed away. A terrific director, terrific in the sense of how inclusive he was. He said, "Tony, Tony come here." He says, "You know we had some problems with the scene today." I said, "Ya, ya I know the scene." He says "Well, here's what we're going to do, we're going to get Johnny, we're going to talk about it. We'll make it work, don't worry about it. And here's a couple of lines we want to add." I thought, isn't this great? Because generally as the supporting actor you could be in the corner and they come and say "Hey, learn this in 15 minutes," and that's it. But Johnny Depp showed up and we sat down and talked it out. And it was so great, and the great thing is, Johnny Depp is an actor. He's there to make the scene work better. Just terrific. And I admired him for his choices. I admire Patrick Stewart for what he's done, the kind of projects he's chosen, wonderful, wonderful Texas Lear (note: he’s referencing, King of Texas), Lion in the Winter, which was great fun. I actually played that role at one time.

CM: Did you? My mom played Eleanor. Yes, I know the play very well. It's beautiful. 

TA: I did with Mariette Hartley. A good friend of mine, Richard Side, directed. It was a wonderful experience. Okay...character men, we sort of compare tool boxes with each other. I love Carmen but Carmen's always saying "Oh, you do this or you do that" and I say "Carmen, you're not fooling me a bit. You do this and you do that." We're all different. We joke, and Carmen's a good friend now. The show did that, because we knew each other and we would nod. We were actually in class together; we were in the same acting class, Carmen and I, at one point. And we would nod at auditions, and then by being up in Vancouver we spent time, went out and ate together, and it was just terrific. Okay, Zorro. Zorro was a terrific experience. I got Zorro because of another movie. I did a movie called Lonestar which is a John Sayles movie. Martin Campbell, the director of Legend of Zorro and Mask of Zorro, and one of the Bond films, I believe it was Golden Eye. It's a very interesting thing. I went in for the audition and he says, "I know you." And I said, "Oh God, I wish you did but I don't think so." He said, "No, no, I do." So I did the audition and by the end of the session, he remembered it was from Lonestar. He used to be more of an independent director, he cut his chops in independent film. So he has a fondness for John Sayles and John Sayles is a terrific filmmaker. That validated me in a kind of way. If I'm good enough for John Sayles, I'm certainly good enough for Martin Campbell, he thought. This is a real question. You're being put on a film, an $80,000,000 film. They want to be certain you know how to behave, that you're not going to slow them down, all of those things, so it's hard for directors. That's why they work with the same people often. So I got that, I hit it off very well with Martin. I was down for about 4 months on that movie.

CM: Where did you shoot?

TA: It was all in Mexico. We shot at Mexico City at Churubusco…[…] Churubusco is where all the great Mexican filmmakers work. And I got to work with great Mexican actors. One of which was Pedro Armendariz Jr., whose father was the great Mexican star, director and actor. That was fun. We worked in Mexico City, we went to Tlaxiaco, a tiny little town, which I really enjoyed because you get an idea how people live day to day. The great thing about filming on location is the travel and to absorb the culture, etc. And then we filmed in Guaymas as well, all the beach stuff, and it was terrific. And this last time when the film came up again, I've been in touch with Martin and he said "Why don't you come down and do this?" And I thought, okay, and I was down for about 6 weeks. And I get to, and I'm not going to spoil it, I have a very odd sword fight in it, and I get to play this... sort of a priest. He's a teacher, he's a bunch of different things. Antonio and Catherine were great. I had done a film with Antonio after Zorro which he directed, which was very sweet of him, it was Crazy in Alabama. But don't go renting it for me, rent it if you enjoy his work. Because I was in two scenes, small role, and I had actually a wonderful scene with Melanie. And what happened is they had to lose that scene. And so in my first scene I was being very, very coy with the camera. I was sort of playing beyond it, turning my back because I knew I had this other scene. So I didn't need to put my face in front of the camera, I knew I had this other scene. And I thought oh this'll be fun... well, they cut the other scene <laughs> so now I'm a phantom. You wonder, "Why is that guy looking so important?" But when I came on set Antonio gave me a wonderful hug which was very nice of him, and Catherine, her life has changed so much...

CM: So truly, but she has such a rich theatre background as well. She was a kid in England in West End musicals, etc. Is she nice, down to earth?

TA: She's very down to earth. It's wonderful because I knew her previous to her great success, and post. She's always been exceptionally nice to me. You’re not shy, you're business like. You're the rock solid pro. None of this, "None of this is important, we're all here just to do business, and these aren't stars..." Some of that comes from shyness from a lot of people and it comes from professional decorum. You don't go bug people. You feel your way out, but as soon as I saw her, hugs, warmth, had lunch. The great thing about being on location is that you do have time for that, to spend. It's a wonderful thing, it's very much like theatre, being out of the country filming a movie. If you're filming out of LA everybody's got commitments, they're going home to their family, going home to their cats, their spouses, their problems, whatever. When you are out of town... it is really, really wonderful. I do enjoy location. It's lonely sometimes, but I do enjoy it.

CM: No, I understand. Something you did on a location, that I've also been on, is Dragon Storm. And your friend Steven Furst has been here a couple of weeks ago talking about that. That was the number 1 rated movie on the Sci-Fi channel.

TA: I know, go figure. Wonderful.

CM: That was so fabulous; I know a lot of people really enjoyed that. What was that like for you?

TA: That was one of those experiences where, and you've worked in Bulgaria as you know, Bulgaria is a very crazy place to work. It's very inexpensive so your money goes a long way. And the Bulgarian crew and actors are very, very helpful. Showing you all the wonderful restaurants and all the places to spend your money on food and drink. And you end up going to work at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning and you get home about 8:00 at night. And unlike in LA you find yourself in the lobby at 9:00 going out to dinner to these odd, odd places.

CM: Okay, there's I couple more questions I really want to make sure we get to. One is from Selmak, "How did you get involved in doing audio books? I see that you've done some with Judith Marx, including An Unfinished Life." That's something we were going to point out to you guys, make sure you do Google An Unfinished Life, and take a look at that audio book. Tell us about that?

TM: Audio books for actors are things we do on the side. They're enjoyable, they can be literate, and you earn a little bit of extra money. I haven't done that much of it really; I've done one other book a long time ago. I belong to a company in Los Angeles and I got this offer to do this book, An Unfinished Life, or to do an audition and I did. And I ended up getting the job. Now here's the thing, most of these books can be sort of casual things, not great literature, not anything important, not even necessarily a good book. You just do them, you just nod, it's great to be working. I read this book, An Unfinished Life, and I think it's a terrific book. A guy named Mark Spragg and it's in the terse vain All the Pretty Horses. It's guys out west. And it was wonderful fun, I did all the male voices and my wife Judith did all of the female voices. It's just won an AudioFile award. I find the work very difficult to be honest with you. Some actors can go in and just breeze right through this stuff. If you spend 4 to 5 hours in a sound booth, being absolutely still and reading this stuff with no pops and no rustling of the paper. I swear it is tense, all of a sudden after 5 hours you could swear that the words are moving. Have you ever seen some of those effects where the words?... and you say "ooops." So it's a real gift for some actors. I do enjoy it as a challenge; it's not something I would want to make a steady diet of. Unless I got much, much better at it. Because I am a Virgo and a perfectionist, and it's humiliating to go...

CM: Very difficult, and you have to go back and make...

TA: Have you done one?

CM: I've done similar things. I've done quite a bit of voice over and I know how tense that can be.

TA: Because this book is probably 250 pages...

CM: How long does that take you?

TA: It took about 15 hours to do half of it. Actually I had a little bit more, the male has a little bit more and Judith probably had the same amount of time for a little bit less. And then you have a day of pick-ups.

CM: So say 3, 5 hour days. Wow. That's great.

TA: It's long though. I would come home with a pounding headache sometimes.

CM: But as we know you are no stranger to discipline and the spoken word with your love of Shakespeare. An incredible history of both on the stage and directing Shakespeare. Tell us about that, actually Jamie has asked, "When did you first discover you love of Shakespeare?"

TA: In college. I didn't have any experience of being stage struck when I was very young. I was a blue collar kid, worked, I was going to go into a trade...

CM: That was another question, what did you want to be?

TA: None of it was wanted to be. It was a very utilitarian approach to life. I worked from the time I was seven years old as a paper boy. You always carried your way. And I brought a check home to my family as did my brothers.

CM: And that was family money?

TA: That was family money that keeps the family going. Like I say it was very blue collar. And so consequently as I got into high school I realized I had to plan for myself. Because I was taught, you want a car; you're in high school, great, go get a car. Go earn the money to get a car. Don't expect... my parents couldn't do that. And it's a blessing on one hand because it taught me a kind of independence. But I probably won't raise a kid that way. It's a different world now. But, I had a teacher that woke me up in high school and convinced me I had a mind; we all have that teacher, don't we? So I ended up applying very, very late to a state school in Connecticut. And it was at that school that I ran into a teacher by the name of Constance Welch. You probably know this; Constance Welch was the acting teacher at the Yale Drama School for about 40 years. And she had just retired and couldn't stand it. So she came and talked at Southern Connecticut State. And I wandered in as a freshman and I literally stumbled into an audition. And the great thing about Southern Connecticut State, the college at the time, I think the ratio was 6 to 1.

CM: Men to women?

TA: ... No, women to men. <laughs>

CM: That's what I meant.

TA: So it was a great social school and they needed actors. Because again I had never stepped on to stage, and my audition was a sort of basketball game in mimes, I recall that was part of it. And she cast me in a tiny little role and...

CM: And what was your first play?

TA: The Tempest. In the early 70's where a lot of political activism work was going on, we were demonstrating you know. I had a tiny role, my role was with Mariner. "All is lost, to prayers, to prayers, all is lost." That's all. It was done in the dark mind you so when we bounded out for our curtain call the audience is like who are these guys? But we bounded out. <laughs> But, Dan Lauria, who is a terrific actor on The Wonder Years, he was a senior at the time, he was doing Caliban. But he was a football player, so she was very worried about him. So she said, "Would you understudy Caliban?"

CM: She was worried he was going to get hurt.

TA: Ya, so I said absolutely. Then we had another guy, George, who was Stephano, and he was a political activist like many of us were at the time but he was really, really out there. So when Dr. Spock showed up to do a lecture, he was gone. Tac rehearsal, forget tac rehearsal, he was gone. She knew about him, that he's liable to disappear out of political activism. So she said, "Would you mind understudying Stephano?" So during lunch I would go there, she would eat her sandwich, I can still see her, and she would coach me. And I had no background. And from there I did two other plays, then I did all of the Shakespeare festivals...

  Tony Amendola Interview ~ Continues

CM: And I have to ask, did you perform as Caliban or Stephano?

TA: No, I never went on. I've done that play 3 times: that production, I did a production in Colorado where I played Antonio. I did a production at Ashland where I played Gonzalo and I've directed it. And the next time I do that play it's going to have to be as Prospero, which is in the cards. I mean its actually a very good role for me, I think. Shakespeare in a kind of way came... it was great parts for the way I look. I was young, I somehow went from playing a 17 year old, an 18 year old once, and the very next day I was cast as nothing but 35 and older.

CM: When you were 18?

TA: Absolutely. And boy am I happy about that. So I had a wonderful chance, and that's where all the Shakespeare happened. And I never thought of it as anything different, I just thought of it as acting. I'm not a Shakespeare scholar. I mean I've been around a lot of scholarship and I have friends that keep me on the straight and narrow when those issues come up. 

CM: How do you mean keep you on the straight and narrow?

TA: There is a form to Shakespeare's language, it's called iambic pentameter, meaning a series of 5 stresses in each line, etc. And there is a sort of method approach to that language. What I love to do is to sit between the teachings of David Matthews and Patrick Tucker who have really systematic approaches to the language and my acting impulses. And I love to sit between the two; it's almost like having a hand between two worlds until there's enough tension that is sort of tingles a little. Then I think, oh this is great, because I'm a modern actor dealing with what is 16th century language.

CM: Right. There's a fine line between employing your skill and your talent at the same time. And going back and forth and where you employ the technique. That's so great.

TA: I had a chance to do Hamlet recently, Claudius in Hamlet in LA, it was wonderful. I had a chance to work with Armin Shimerman, we shared Claudius.

CM: You shared? I didn't know that. Okay, we've got about 4 more questions. This is my question I've just going to ask it for me, do you have a favorite Shakespeare quote? Because I know so many are fans of your beautiful voice, we just love the way you speak. Just a few minutes. I think we have time for that. Just give us a few words, a quote, a couple of lines even...

TA: Okay let’s see if I can do it...

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare. 

CM: That is beautiful. Is it a sonnet? Where is that from?

TA: It's a sonnet. (Note: it’s Shakespearean Sonnet # 130)

CM: That is so lovely.

TA: I butchered it a little.

CM: No it was perfect. That's how love is, that a perfect example of how love is. Okay, here's some questions I know they want answered. This is from Selmak, "Tony, I believe on the 19th", of what I'm not sure, "The Antaeus Company did a production of The Plot to Overthrow Christmas. We have a friendly wager over it, what part did you play?"

TA: That was last night. I played...

CM: Oh last night? You did this show last night? You know I wish I had more time to do homework on you. Tell me about this and where was it?

TA: It's a radio drama that served as a benefit and it's by Golden Age radio writer named Norman Corwin. He's 92, and he was there. It was just terrific. I played the Mephisto or Satan character. And it's great. It's a send up of Devils trying to create this plot to stop Christmas. And Santa's overcoming of that. Santa's convincing them that actually Christmas is a good thing. And you've got the <Tony starts clomping in the background> all the sound effects, and it was terrific. And Phil Proctor directed it.

CM: Is there anywhere the fans will be able to see that again?

TA: No. We did it actually 3 times yesterday. It was an hour long. Great fun.

CM: My gosh, sounds like a lot of fun. Okay, let's see, just a couple more minutes. I'm going to stick with just the most urgent questions. Jamie wants to know, "Can you give us an inside look into your new movie, The Perfect Sleep, and the character you play in that?"

TA: Ahhh... boy you guys are right on top of it. The Perfect Sleep is something I only did a couple of weeks ago. A very odd film, I don't know what they'll do with it. You do various things and all of a sudden you read a script and it has a lot of mystery to it and so you decide to do it, and that was The Perfect Sleep. It's film noir, but it's got this edge to it where the characters are living in this sort of imaginary world.

CM: You play Dr. Sebastian.

TA. I play Dr. Sebastian who is the reptilian brain. He's this amoral sort of... I created this notion that he's a doctor that does autopsies. Because that's his approach. He's also an assassin. He’s British. It was great fun. A wonderful character, I can't complain, but who knows... It was shooting nights, really creepy.

CM: You said it is film noir. Is it shot in black and white?

TA: No, it's shot in color, but the style's film noir. 

CM: When will that be out?

TA: I have no idea because they have to finish it and complete it and sell it. This was my gift. This was one of those really, really low budget sort of things you do just simply...

CM: For fun, and because you love the character.

TA: You love the character and you want to just help. I mean really low. No budget, pretty much.

CM: We all do those. If you can't do those because you love the work than you might as well get out of the business. That's what it's about. It so got to be about passion. Not about money or how many people see it... just about doing what you love.

TA: Absolutely. Though I will admit I'm human. At 4:00 in the morning in Camarillo where you’re freezing you're thinking, "Oh my God, was this such a good choice?" But is was. I have a mercifully short memory. And I think it is a great gift to an actor to have a short memory. Because you need to forgive. No matter how difficult the experience was you need to put away... And I say, "Oh god wasn't it great to do...?" I'm trying to think of an awful one that was difficult. I was in a very troubled production of Antony and Cleopatra. And I say, "Wasn't it great doing Antony and Cleopatra?" And someone will say to me, "You were really driving yourself crazy, had a tough time, it was very difficult..." And I'll say, "Really?"

CM: Right. Kind of like childbirth. You forget all the bad things and focus on the good and what you brought away with it. Okay, so this is season 9 coming up with Stargate correct? And you're going to be in 3 episodes in April.

TA: They're on a slightly different schedule. Really I think of the segment that's beginning in January as the 2nd part of season 8, but I am in 3 episodes.

CM: Do you think you'll be in season 9?

TA: I hope so, I would love to be but you know... I would really love to do more of them, I really enjoy that, I really enjoy the fans. Meeting actors in different ways, I've met you through this work.

CM: We've had a lovely time. I mean all of us see each other at conventions. It is just kind of like a little reunion in whatever part of the world we happen to be in. It's a lot of fun. I have one other thing I really want to mention, Crimson Force, which used to be called Graveland. Which will be on the Sci-Fi channel in April I believe. Tell us a little bit about that and your role in that? I'm really looking forward to that one.

TA: It's really sort of literate script. Written by one of the executives at Sci-Fi, a really wonderful guy named Tom Vitale.

CM: Tom is fabulous in every single way. He's just a great guy, a very strong executive. He's brought the channel a long, long way and now it's a pleasure to see him writing. 

TA: I was terrific. When the script came across I thought, "Whoa, Tom." So this is something that's near and dear to him. I play this sort of high priest, on this mars like planet. It's really sort of wonderful, the look that was created for this world. In particular, they use some Mauri type tattoos, and it was really wonderful. The last time I was there they used extensions. Isn't dress up part of the fun? Last time I was there my hair wasn't long enough so I got some extensions put in. This time my hair was very short so we went even shorter and found this really interesting look. It was a very interesting experience. Bulgaria, doing films there I find... I go, because as actors we can choose the kind of people we want to work with. We can do that, yet we need to work, there's that reality. Yet, I love the adventure of filmmaking. I've told people in Dragon Storm, the dragon in case you were wondering, was a Bulgarian guy on a ladder with a flame thrower. And this one, getting to go to really wonderful old cities. I went to a city called Plovdiv, which is an old Roman city. In Thrace, you know we all study Thrace, and Macedonia is right there, with Alexander coming out, that part of the world...

CM: The cradle of civilization.

TA: I love that. That's why I go. I can never tell, I still don't have a sense. I've often thought, "This is going to be terrific," and it wasn't good, and thought, "This isn't going to be great," and it turned out well. I can never judge that.

CM: So you just give your all.

TA: I can just give my all, have a good time and carry on and hope that we're both working next year.

CM: Okay we need to wrap this up. I have one other question; do have time for just one more? Selmak asks, "Tony, you probably get asked a lot of the same questions, what questions do you wish someone would ask?" I'm just going to kind of convert that to, is there anything you would really like to tell us that's close to your heart? It's Christmas time and there are charities, causes... or just some thoughts you would like to leave with us in closing?

TA: It is Christmas so charities, I have some favorite ones that I feel do amazing work. One of them is Doctor's Without Borders, which is something I've really supported for awhile and I just love them and their courage. I just got a pamphlet from them and there is a doctor there speaking to a young African boy, probably all of 11 with an automatic weapon on his shoulder, trying to convince him that maybe he should have this wound looked at, because he's being the warrior. And the fact that they put themselves, it is an impossible situation, where they go. Their courage is amazing. So that's one, another one is...

CM: Is it Check it out guys, Google it. It's a really, really fabulous organization.

TA: It's a French organization and I do it through the mail. The second one is Habitat for Humanity. Although I voted for Jimmy Carter, he was a great success; I thought he was a great guy. And I've thought the second act of his life and been just so amazing. I love Habitat for Humanity because it's concrete. What you donate to exists, there is a structure, they build houses. The third one, and I know we're short for time, is a very simple one. It's the American Red Cross. And I think we often talk about this with friends who do a lot of charity work, we realize that in a catastrophe here, that is who is going to help us the most. I remember them during the earthquakes, I think they're a terrific charity. Give as much as you can. That's all I can say, and thank you so much.

CM: Thank you so much for being here and thank you guys in the audience, we really appreciate all your questions and go see Tony at whatever convention he's going to be at and check out Thank you.

TA: I hope we can work together.

CM: I would love that, thank you.

TA: Thanks.