It’s appropriate, I think, that our Man of the Month for the first half of our “Magic” issue is someone who actually is a magician. Well, actually he’s a self-described mentalist, as well as a musician and a director, but he’s probably most recognizable as one of modern sci-fi television’s most prolific character actors.
Who is he? Why, he’s Colin Cunningham, who graced our televisions last summer in the new series Perception, as well as in his more familiar role as John Pope in Falling Skies. We think he’s a great guy, and we hope you will, too.
Colin, give our readers a Brief History of You – where are you from, and what inspired you to become an actor?
Born and raised Agoura, CA. My parents are both Irish immigrants so all I ever heard growing up was two things: that the U.S. is the greatest country in the world, and that Americans are nuts. :-)
As [to becoming] an ‘actor,’ that was started on a dare. I was talking smack one day about actors and acting, and my good friend, Mark Rickerby, dared me to audition for a play. The rest is history I suppose.
Many of our readers will recognize you from your role as John Pope in Falling Skies. Tell us a bit about the role and the series?
The role is perhaps one of the greatest I’ve ever had. And to put Steven Spielberg on one’s resume is a dream beyond words.
I get to open up my make up kit and disappear. I have never been a big fan of ‘me’ as me—all my favorite actors are character actors [Peter Sellers, Alec Guinness, Lon Chaney]. And the more unrecognizable in my work, the happier I am.
If I can go from one character to the next, from one job to the next, and never repeat myself, then I’m a happy camper. The greatest compliments I ever get are, “I had no idea that was you.”
Falling Skies was picked up for a third season. Will John Pope remain a key character? Any chance of a small spoiler for next year?
Absolutely, Pope will be stepping it up a bit in Season 3. He becomes ‘the’ player in the new and emerging black market.
How much – if any – of Colin is in John, or is he purely from the page and your skill as an actor?
There’s actually very little of me in Pope. Naturally, there are things to discover the deeper you get into it, but we’re pretty different.
As a person, I tend to laugh a lot, and I have a great passion for simply living. Pope is far more of a ‘glass half empty’ kind of guy. Though he does have a code of ethics, he’s fearless and has little qualms regarding violence. He doesn’t suffer fools and has little problem with being both judge and jury.
Looking at your resume, you’ve been involved in almost every sci-fi/fantasy show in the last ten years (Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, Sanctuary, Eureka, Smallville, Andromeda, The 4400, Dark Angel, etc.) – are you typecast as a go-to guy for these types of shows, or is the real common denominator that they film in Canada?
I have to say that that is primarily due to geography. I’m based out of Vancouver, and Vancouver produces a LOT of sci-fi. If I were in LA, it’d be ‘crime of the week’ type of stuff.
On [Attack of the Show], you also worked some magic, referring to yourself as a mentalist. Is this a skill you advertise, or just a nifty hobby?
It is a passion, but a quiet one.
I’m a student of Gerard the Hypnotist. Gerard’s been a lead consultant for David Blaine and Chris Angel for years. He’s one of the greatest mind benders I’ve ever known.
In addition to your work on Falling Skies, you also filmed a pilot for Perception this year. Can you tell us anything about that project? Do you know yet if it will go?
I am very happy to say that it’s been picked up. Eric McCormick is a great guy and it was a real pleasure to work with him.
Several years ago, your short film, Centigrade was incredibly well received, with awards and nominations for both the film itself and for you. Do you have plans for follow-up shorts? How about a feature?
Thank you very much. It’s funny, because with Centigrade I’d basically made the jump from Acting to Directing. I’d decided to retire from acting and focus entirely on efforts behind the camera.
That said, it was actually Falling Skies that ended that short-lived retirement. And yes, a feature is most definitely in the works.
You mentioned directing, but you’ve already directed several music videos. How is making a music video different than making a regular film? Do you approach directing the same way for both types of projects?
There’s a lot more creative latitude in directing a music video, and there’s a gigantic safety net. But essentially, it’s all in the prep. Any type of film project must made in your head before you point the camera.
It’s also one of the reasons directors drop dead at an early age. Whether it be 3 minutes, or 300, making films is hard. You want easy, make a sandwich.
Any chance you’ll get to direct episodes of Falling Skies next season?
Ha! Who’ve you been talking to? Let’s just say, I’ve got an eye on that ball. :-)
In addition to acting, directing, and showing off as a mentalist, I’ve read that you’re also an accomplished musician, especially on the saxophone. Tell us about your music? (Also the music geek in me would love to know if it’s alto or tenor sax?)
I’ve got one of each [alto and tenor]. Love the sax. Really love the sax. Though I will say my first love was the piano, but you can’t take one to the beach. In short, I saw the Tower of Power when I was 17 years old, and three days later, I had a sax.
You act, you direct, you write, you do magic, and you play music – you’re a real Renaissance man. Is there anything you don’t do?
Telephone sales. Well, not anymore. :-)
Let’s talk fandom. I know that you’ve been part of the Falling Skies contingent at Comic Con these past couple of years; did you enjoy that experience? Do you generally enjoy your interactions with fans?
Absolutely. If anything, there were a number of years when folks knew me primarily as Major Davis (from Stargate SG-1). And so, it’s nice to retire the Major and have something new to talk about.
As an actor, you live much of your life in the public eye. Are you often recognized on the street, or are you able to retain a measure of privacy?
No. Not recognized all that much, and that’s fine with me. Never been a big fan of the limelight. No entourage. No bevy of babes under each arm. But, when it does happen it’s nice to be recognized for what I do, as opposed to what I am.
Aside from your work, what are you passionate about?
There’s something else? :-) Kidding. I guess I’d have to say family and friends.
Life is short and God knows, it won’t be all that long before I’m starring in my very own segment of ‘Whatever Happened To…?’ But sitting around that television will be those that I love.
I know that you play music, but what about when you’re listening to it? If we looked at your iPod, what would we see?
Been listening to a lot of Ray La Montagne lately.
Do you have any projects planned for the FALLING SKIES hiatus? Where should we look for you next?
Just finished up 3 episodes of Less Than Kind with Mark McKinney (from Kids In The Hall) — Brilliant and hilarious man.
But my best friend and Producing partner, Madison Graie, and I have a number of projects on the go. ‘Centigrade the Feature’ being one of them.
These days, having a social media presence is almost essential. Are you an avid social media user? Where can fans connect with you on Twitter, Facebook, the web, etc.?
All of ‘em!! I don’t tweet every day, but when I do… it’s for hours on end!!
YOUR TURN: We know you probably do a lot of interviews. Is there any question that you’ve never been asked that you wish someone would ask? If so, what is it (and what’s the answer)?
Best question of the bunch! :-)
But I suppose I’d have to say anything ‘not’ specific to the show. I know that’s kind of ridiculous. But I enjoy answering questions about acting, directing and producing your own projects. In short, about creating your own life. Working towards your dreams. About how to ‘make it’ in a very tough business. Something that younger/aspiring actor may be interested in.
I’ve been doing this for a very long time and in all humility, it’s not entirely luck. (Though I’ve been very lucky.) I’ve learned a few things and it’s always nice to share/pass down a bit of wisdom along the way.
Between the time we did this interview and the time we went to press, Falling Skies completed its second season – it’s been picked up for a third, and Perception aired its first season, and was renewed for a second, so look for Colin all over TNT next summer.