Sunday, June 12, 2005

Breakfast with Skeet Ulrich

Actor Skeet Ulrich plays a man with good intentions but a weak will who sets out for a new life in California, leaving the family's wheel-making business behind on the East Coast. Telling the story of the American West through the eyes of American Indians as well as the pioneers is executive producer Steven Spielberg, in a dramatic mini-series for TNT, "Into the West." As Jethro Wheeler, the younger brother of the story's hero, Jacob, Ulrich gives a nuanced performance as he confronts his own jealousy and perceived inadequacies. "Into the West" begins Friday at 8 p.m.


Your character leaves the East for the West. Didn't you kind of do that with your acting career?

Yeah. I think it's a parallel that I saw instantly. Yeah, you're dead on. So it didn't escape my attention.

Well, at least when you went West, you stayed away from whatever your character was drinking right?

(Laughing) That's debatable, but yeah that was gut rot [that the character drank]. What they were drinking was much different, but that's a sort of an interesting demise -- the whole arc of that character.

Are you content with your acting career?

Ah no, no. I never have been, but not necessarily to do with box office. It's more craft-oriented kind of stuff, that sort of keeps me wanting to be better and do better. So no.

Are tormented characters easier to play?

It depends on the writing, honestly. In "Into the West," it was all there. It was on the page, and you just sort of try to bring as much to it as you can and fill it up. I sort of saw him as Raskolnikov meets Willy Lohman, and that kept me really fascinated with him and filling in blanks. But really, the scripts kind of dictate for you, and this one was full. The challenge is hard, but you don't have to make up as much with scripts that are full.

When fame first hit, did you find it necessary to develop a cover personality?

I don't know. It's interesting to look back at it. I didn't sort of feel that way at the time, but I think I must have put on an extra skin, you know, a little bit. But I don't think I was any different than any mid-20s person trying to find their own way. It's just that everybody's watching. Well, not everybody, but you know a lot of people.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your career choice?

The down time, honestly. It's not unlike coming off the stage in New York and literally you have such an adrenaline rush and then you have to wait 12 hours. So it's like a larger, extended version of that. You know it's tough to stop your head once you get involved in this stuff and step away from it. Especially a story like this, which is so beautiful and intricate and really sort of retells history to some extent. I certainly wasn't taught this history, and I really do believe it's an American holocaust that has kind of been glanced over. Hopefully we can sort of give the Native Americans their due.

After you became an actor did your social life change? Were women chasing you?

(Laughing) I wish. No, not really. I think "Scream" came out at the beginning of '97, and I met somebody in March and was married in October, so I didn't really have ... I didn't really allow it, I guess. I didn't get any of that!

That was quick, and are you still married?

Yes. Until six months ago.

Did fame and riches fuel your desire to act?

I don't know. I sort of revisited it again a couple of years ago when I took time off and my kids were born. I was away from the business for close to two years, and I sort of felt it all again. You know, why I originally got interested in it -- basically I am not a great communicator in life in terms of what's going on in my head and how I feel about things. So it's kind of a way, through metaphor, to say those things. It's what drew me to it -- other people's voices saying what I wish I could say.