We’re proud to welcome the incredibly talented actor Gene Silvers to Vents Magazine! Thanks for talking with us today, Gene! Before we get started, how has your 2021 been treating you so far?
Well, I’ll have to say pretty good, all things considered, still limited by the pandemic, etc., but compared to so many others, I have to be grateful things have been as well as they are for us. Able to pay our bills etc., and of course, the two shows I’m in came out in the last few weeks, so that has been amazing; also, healing from my accident has been good. (I’ll elaborate on that later.
Congratulations are in order for two very special projects that can boast your acting prowess: Them and The Mosquito Coast! How’s it feel to have two extremely popular productions that you’re involved in receiving so much attention?
Thank you. What I can say is that it feels great. I’m very proud of the work I did in the show “Them” and in “The Mosquito Coast.” They were released almost at the same time, incredible. Very rarely does an actor get to be in one hit show, much less two, and after such a difficult year, I’m thrilled.
You almost lost the chance to ply your considerable acting chops in The Mosquito Coast due to some unforeseen bad luck. What happened?
I also almost lost my chance to live; let me explain. My father was very, very sick. I was flying back and forth to New York to help handle things, and it was extremely stressful. It was an incredibly difficult year; eventually, my father passed away. Skiing is my outlet; I’m pretty passionate about it. A couple of months after my dad died, I went skiing (to feel some joy again) at Mammoth Mountain, CA. (It’s a pretty big mountain with some steep terrain). I had just booked the role and probably should have been safer, but in all the years that I’ve skied, I’ve never been in an accident (a serious one). Well, it was icy, and on a steep double black (called wipeout chutes), my ski stuck in the ice during a turn and popped off. I went down on my stomach and started flying face-first at a very high speed toward a huge rock wall; at that moment, I truly thought it was over for me; to say it was terrifying is an understatement. For whatever reason (I think because my left hand hit a rock as I was trying to slow myself down with it), I suddenly started to flip, to go into a high-speed tomahawk spin (head over feet, super-fast) until I blacked out. I came to, a few hundred feet below with a smashed hand and hurting knees, but by the grace of a higher power, I’m sure, I missed the rock walls (several). I was told by the ski patrollers that I was lucky to be alive. Once I was in my right mind and out of the hospital, I thought that’s it, I lost the role. My agent reached out to production and said I was in an accident and had a cast on my left arm/hand, but the super cool director, Rupert Wyatt, thought it might be interesting for the sheriff to have a cast. Alas, I still had the role! That being said, even though I was in much pain during the shoot, I was not going to miss this opportunity.
You play the character of the Sheriff in the Foxes and Coyotes episode of The Mosquito Coast. For those not in the know, can you give us a brief rundown on what The Mosquito Coast is about and who your character is? (
It’s about a very smart, inventive Idealist (Justin Theroux) who is anti-capitalist (much like Viggo Mortenson’s character in “Captain Fantastic”) who raises his kids off the grid, no TV, no phones, but getting a classical education. It is not known why, but he is in deep trouble with the government and tries to flee to Mexico (and Central America) to join a group of fellow idealists in a like-minded community. As he’s fleeing with his family, he gets two Mexican ex-cons to help him cross into Mexico. He comes up with a brilliant idea to get their electronic ankle cuffs off by using a tin-foiled car as a faraday cage (look it up). The FBI eventually finds it; I’m their contact/ guide etc., in this part of the show and country. I’m the Sheriff of Yuma.
You worked with such a talented cast on The Mosquito Coast – Justin Theroux, Melissa George, Logan Polish, Gabriel Bateman and James Le Gros (who we here at Vents will always think of with affection as Chad Palomino from Living in Oblivion…). What was it like getting to play with such a talented ensemble?
It was wonderful. James Legros and I had a lot of fun on set; he is a passionate snowboarder, so we enjoyed hanging out; as an actor, he’s loose and very supportive. Just being that way helped me deal with my nerves. Also, Kimberly Elise (the other FBI agent) was great to work with; incredibly talented.
Prior to hopping onboard the series, were you a fan of the Peter Weir film which starred Harrison Ford and River Phoenix?
To be honest, I did not see the film, although I’m a huge fan of Harrison Ford and River Phoenix.
Your director for The Mosquito Coast was Rupert Wyatt. What was your collaboration process like with Rupert?
At first, I was intimidated; he’s a huge director (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, etc.) The set was massive, this crazy car graveyard the size of a few football fields (in Mexico, right on the border), Huge cranes, etc. The scene starts with me approaching a landing helicopter; FYI: This was right after Kobe Bryant’s terrible helicopter tragedy, so it was a little tense. It felt like a big-budget action movie. So the stakes to get it right were high. He (Rupert Wyatt) actually diffused the tension by basically being a really low-key, cool guy; let me follow my instincts, gave plenty of takes to get it right. He talked to me in a really supportive way when he wanted something different. It took a while to loosen up and sink into the scene, but he created the atmosphere to do so. And it worked.
Any chance we might see your character return for a potential season two of The Mosquito Coast?
Well, anything is possible, my character still lives (unlike my character in “Them”), and I am a guy who patrols the border. If they (Justin Theroux and family) come back over the border the same way, it is possible. (have your fans write in …J
You’re also featured prominently in a show that is currently the number one trending show, Them. Does it feel surreal to find yourself in a water-cooler show that everyone is talking about?
To be honest, this is really the show I wanted to talk about, for several reasons; even though “The Mosquito Coast” was a great experience, since it came out a little after “Them,” the focus is on that one. But “Them” was one of the great acting experiences of my recent memory; I had one of the pivotal roles on the episode, shooting five weeks in New Mexico. A controversial show involving a topical, important issue, which then became the number 1 show on Amazon.
I became immersed in the historical reality because I was on set for five weeks, constantly talking in this strange Dutch Accent (this episode is in the 1860s in a Dutch religious farming community), spending a great deal of time in an incredible reproduction of a pioneer town, with very authentic looking extras everywhere, getting close with the other leads, including Christopher Heyerdahl, (Epps), working on our relationships, etc. It was more like doing a play, with all that time we had (we had extra time because we were Covid quarantined at first). There is so much to say about this experience; I may add another question at the end to talk about my character. I had to be very creative to get behind, seeing how brutal and racist he is (not an easy or simple task since this is the opposite of who I am).
Why do you think Them has resounded with the television watching audience?
Well, it tackles an important current issue of our times in a very audacious way, is incredibly shot, directed, acted, and brings together current hot topic issues, history, horror, and supernatural events. It has incredible costumes and cinematography; what more do you need?
You’re also known as a theater actor. What are the differences between acting for the stage and acting for the camera? And do you have a preference?
Well, on stage, you start collaborating and rehearsing with the other actors weeks ahead; the timeline of the show is a continuous journey from beginning to end while in full view of a live audience (pre-Covid, of course). So you have the living experience, journey of the character, and if it works, it is so exciting and thrilling to be experiencing this character’s journey through you if it comes to life. The shared emotions with the audience, I once heard it described as “Like a shaman, exorcising emotions in the presence of and for the sake of the community” at its best. It is also more of an actor’s and writer’s art. You can develop your understanding of the role over time; of course, you can also get bored doing it over time if you’re not in the moment with the other actors. For film, you may not meet the other actors until the day you shoot (that’s why I enjoyed “Them” so much, we had time with each other to develop our relationships) it is usually shot out of order, there is no audience (except the crew) to share the experience with. But in film, you can be much smaller, much more nuanced, as in a tight shot, a small expression can show a character’s truth; in fact, if you are not truthful, it doesn’t bode very well for you on screen. For stage, you can get away with a little more “theatricality,” although I try to be just as honest on stage. Film is a visual medium, and you can do many takes until you get it right, which is nice, especially if you’re a perfectionist; on stage, you have one shot until tomorrow, that is. I like both for different reasons. It mostly depends on the writing, story, and fellow collaborators.
You have a project which is currently filming entitled Merrily. Can you talk to us about the story of Merrily and who your character is in the production?
This is a very ambitious film that has been slowly shooting and raising money for a few years. It stars Terri Moore, an Academy Award nominee from a long time ago. I play a Philosophy spouting homeless man, or rather a homeless philosopher.
How has it been filming during pandemic times?
Certainly more difficult and more expensive for productions, “The Mosquito Coast,” at least my episode (episode 2) was shot just before the Covid shutdowns. “Them” was one of the first shows to be shot when things opened up a bit, so a lot of eyes were on us to see how we fared. Before the shooting began, we had to quarantine for a while in Santa Fe (a beautiful town, by the way), which gave us time to get to know each other (at a distance and with masks, of course). We were tested 2x a day during the shoot, had to wear masks till the moment we were on camera, and the wonderful director, Craig Macneil, was sad that we couldn’t see his expressions after each take (because of the mask). He made sure to tell us, “I’m smiling, I’m smiling!” We had a couple of Covid scares and had to briefly shut the set down; although this wasn’t ideal, I took time off to hike in the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains with Chris (Heyerdahl) and some others (while we worked on the characters with each other).
The first project that I have listed for you is the 1988 short film called The Green Flash. Any special memories from that freshman project?
Wow, a long time ago. That was upstart Director Adam Davis’s first film. It was also the first film of a very young Omar Epps and one of the first for Peter Onorati. The film was shot on and around the boardwalk in Coney Island, New York (a really cool and bizarre place *see Mr. Robot.) I played a young Jehovah’s Witness trying to convince Peter Onorati to repent. To get the vibe, I walked up and down the boardwalk for hours before my scene, trying to proselytize hot dog eating tourists; not sure if it helped, but I felt I was doing something.
What inspired you to throw your hat into the acting arena?
I started performing at a young age as a magician (along with Rick Rubin, the music producer of all people). We were childhood friends on Long Island together. I still perform to this day at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. My dad suggested I try out being in a school play (I was kind of shy and nervous; performing seemed to bring me out). I had a moment, a brief moment in one of these plays where I actually was talking in an honest and personal way to the other actor; time stood still, the audience, the play, everything receded, and it was one of the most thrilling exposed (in a good way) alive moments I ever had—still trying to find those moments. I was hooked.
Final – SILLY! – Question: You’re stranded on a deserted island. Which one film do you have with you to while away the time while awaiting rescue?
It would have to be my favorite movie of all time, “One Flew Over The Coo-Coo’s Nest,” brilliant on so many levels. The underlying message in my opinion is to have the courage to express your true spirit in the face of all the forces conscious and unconscious that are making you feel you must conform and squelch yourself. I love that Ken Kesey wrote the book while on acid.
Bonus question : How did you create and get behind your character in “Them”
Well, when I first read the script (of my episode) and particularly my character, “Elder Luther,” I wasn’t sure I could or should do the part. After you see the show, you’ll see the heinous things I have to do in it; I also thought I might not be viewed very kindly after that (even though it was just acting). I came to see this part as a tremendous challenge, to get behind the emotions and attitude of a character I disliked so much, feeling the opposite of how he feels about things (and just externally acting something isn’t why I became an actor). Charles Laughton, my favorite actor of his era, had the same challenge with the role of Captain Bligh in “Mutiny On The Bounty.” I got inspiration from reading about how he did it.
Eventually, I saw a way, and it was justified by the text. I decided “Elder Luther” had such low self-esteem, feeling he’s the guy that always gets the short end of the stick, picked on as a kid, not as tall, not as good looking, jealous as hell of the taller, more respected “Elder Epps,” tortured with his hurt and rage, this was something I could connect with (on some level). He lets it out as many do, on the easiest target, the innocent black people, who are, in reality, good, good people. Once he feels he’s been made a fool of (the well scene), that’s all it takes to trigger his emotions. He then sets off to destroy them, only in the end, destroying himself with the cancer of those feelings inside him. I don’t know how much of that idea made it, but that’s what I was going for.