RT Interview: Colm Meaney on Three and Out, Life on Mars and life after Trek
The Irish actor on swapping space suit for itchy beard in his indie latest.
CM: No, and you know, science fiction would not have been my favourite genre; I never really developed an interest in it. But doing the series was interesting because I realised that science fiction can be used to really comment on today in a very direct way. We were doing shows about genetic engineering, you know, and there was even a great two-part episode about homelessness, I remember, which was set in about 2040. It was really a social commentary where in the not-too-distant future we could develop a permanent under-class who are segregated from society. In contemporary television you couldn't do that, so I realised the value of science fiction as a genre by doing the show.
What else is coming up for you?
CM: I just did an eight-part miniseries called ZOS which is set in Bosnia during the war. It stands for Zone of Seperation and it's about a UN peacekeeping mission; mostly Canadian soldiers who go in to try and keep the two sides apart. It's more about the characters and the lives that exist in these towns and it was very enjoyable. I actually played a Muslim in that, which was a first! Showtime Canada were the producers, but US Showtime were involved as well so they're looking at it for that.
I was busy doing a play at the Old Vic with Kevin Spacey called A Moon for the Misbegotten. We moved that to Broadway in March of this year.
Just before I came on to do this I did a pilot for ABC for Life on Mars, the BBC series. We did the pilot for a US version with David Kelley's company. We have to wait and see if they want to go to series with it.
Did you see the original?
CM: I didn't see the original show and actually while I was at the airport yesterday I bought it on DVD. I do want to see it but I didn't want to watch it before we did it. I hear it was a great hit but from what I've heard over there from people who had seen it and had read the David Kelley script, they said it was pretty close. Obviously he's transposed it to Los Angeles so it's Los Angeles 1972.
So it's the ideas and attitudes of LA 1972?
CM: Absolutely. Actually, interestingly enough, it was another Irish actor I was with, so we had two Irish actors playing American cops. Jason O'Mara played the young guy and I played Gene Hunt, the captain of the precinct in 1972. I'm his boss. It was great writing and it's really funny to walk onto a set that's supposed to be 1972 because I remember 1972! And it really feels like you're going back to the thirties or something, with the technology they had and everything. You don't think about it, because I guess it happens so gradually, but there's a line where he says something about DNA and I think he's talking about washing up liquid.
Are you ready to get stuck into episodic television again?
CM: I'll tell you, we finished DS9 in '99 and I didn't want to do another series, but I've got two kids; an almost three year-old and a 23 year-old. The reason I did Deep Space Nine was because the older one was starting to go to school and I was spending a lot of time away on location. When you're doing features you're away from home a lot. So that was one of the contributing reasons for doing Deep Space Nine and now I've got a young daughter who'll be three in January, she's getting ready to start school and the way we live we have a place in LA and a place in Spain and we spend a bit of time in Dublin. We hop all over the place and the way it's been working out we spend half the year in Europe and half the year in America. We're going to have to curtail that a bit when she starts going to school.
CM: And this was such a good script and seemed like such a good idea that I thought I'd give it a go. While I was doing Deep Space Nine I managed to do two or three features a year as well, so it's not going to completely stop me from that.
That's something most TV actors can't do...
CM: Well I was very lucky to have a great exec producer in Rick Berman. In fact one of my worries when they offered me Deep Space Nine was that I'd be going to a fulltime role after having just recurred in The Next Generation. I could just fuck off and do what I wanted, but I was a series regular on DS9. Rick sat me down one day and said, "I promise you, I'll always let you out to do a feature you really want to do." And over the course of the seven years he did. There were a couple of things he said no to, but they were things I wasn't particularly desperate to do anyway. The important ones I did get to do. They'd write me out of two or three episodes, or have me shoot the last day of one episode and the first day of the next episode. I could do a couple of days in LA and get back to wherever I was shooting movies.
I don't know if it'll be the same on Life on Mars, but if it does go I've also got four months hiatus every year, so if you can squeeze a movie in there, then great. Also, I feel I'm at a point where I want to do other stuff, I like to mix it up, but I'm just as happy doing good TV. Importantly it's changed a lot in the last twenty years, where features were the place you wanted to be. The better writing now is very often found on television. Cable, obviously, has had a big influence on that with shows like The Sopranos and Six Feet Under and stuff like that, but it's affected the networks now. The networks are looking for the same kind of shows now and the change in the last ten years in extraordinary. There's no reason not to be in television now. You get to live at home and you're not on the road all the time, they pay you decent money, and the writing's good. You're not compromising for it, you know.