Hey, everybody. Jimmy Star here, and I’m excited to be interviewing Xander Berkeley who not only is an incredible actor with over 230 film and television credits, but an incredibly cool family man, voiceover actor, producer, makeup artist, and a really amazing visual artist.
I first met Xander as a guest on The Jimmy Star Show with Ron Russell four years ago, and his career was flying high at that time with roles in some of the biggest movies and TV shows on the planet. Although there are way too many to name them all, you know him from such fabulous roles in Mommie Dearest, Volunteers, Sid and Nancy, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Internal Affairs, The Grifters, Terminator 2, Candyman, A Few Good Men, Apollo 13, Heat, Air Force One, Gattaca, Fracture, Kick-Ass, and Taken, and guest television roles in almost every hit show for the last 35 five years, including the Mentalist, Being Human, Jericho, Justified, 12 Monkeys, and Aquarius with starring roles in 24, Nikita, Salem, and the Walking Dead. Again, there’s way too many to name, but Xander Berkeley has had an incredibly iconic career in the industry.
Jimmy Star: Hello, Xander. How are you doing?
Xander Berkeley: So good. So good.
Jimmy Star: I love it.
Xander Berkeley: Good to be here.
Jimmy Star: I’ve had many of the cast members on the Walking Dead on the Jimmy Star Show with Ron Russell. Many from the first couple seasons. And I know it’s not the first time that you were part of a television show that’s one of the most watched shows in history, but how is it for you being part of such an incredibly iconic show?
Xander Berkeley: It’s fantastic. Great bunch of people. The cast and the crew, I can’t say enough good things about them. And I sing Andrew Lincoln’s praises over and over and I think he deserves so much credit because, as we call it in the business, number one on the call sheet sets the tone for the entire cast that follows and the crew in terms of vibe on set, in terms of the work ethic, in terms of just how people are going to function on a day-to-day basis. He was so committed to the work and sets such a high bar for being thoughtful and considerate of everyone around them, and giving everyone a sense of pulling on the same end of the rope towards a common goal of making the show great, and I give him a lot of credit for why the show was so great.
Jimmy Star: I love that. You know that my favorite Christmas movie is Love Actually, and that’s like the first time I had actually seen Andrew Lincoln. And maybe he wasn’t a household name like he is now, but that’s like my favorite Christmas movie ever, such a wonderful set of interacting stories. Have you ever seen Love Actually?
Xander Berkeley: You know, I haven’t, but now I’m going to have to. And now that we’re coming on the holiday season, we’re going to watch it as a family. Is it that kind of Christmas movie?
Jimmy Star: Yes. It is. It really is. Your family will love it. It’s got an incredible cast including Colin Firth who like you is an amazing actor.
Xander Berkeley: Thank You….Awesome. I’ve been meaning to see it ever since I met him.
Jimmy Star: Before you were on The Walking Dead, did you watch it?
Xander Berkeley: Well, no. I hadn’t been watching it. I don’t stay in touch with a lot of stuff because I’m a painter and a sculptor and I’m involved with a lot of different things with the arts. I always have a salon going on with musicians, and writers, and actors, and stuff wherever I am, and between raising the kids and then working as an actor, it just seems like I never have time to keep up with stuff. But I binge-watched it after they offered it to me, and I’d heard nothing but great things about it, and I was put up in Senoia for about two weeks before I started filming so they could get the costume, the look of the character down, and they gave me all of the comic books.
I requested all the comic books that had Gregory in them and blowups of the images that were the iconic images of him in the comic book so that I could lay them out on the second bed in my suite and just study them and sort of work out the body language like dot to dot. And then I would binge watch all night long until 3:00 in the morning, and I’d fall asleep at midnight and wake up at 3:00 and then go back and have zombie dreams [laughter]. And I made it through the whole six seasons before my entrance, before I started episode 11 in season 6 and then felt like I knew what I was fitting into and what color I was bringing to the canvas at that point.
I’d had a lot of conversations with Scott Gimple, who was show running at the time, and the balance of what was not only needed for the character but needed for the show at that point, and it was really fun figuring all that out. And he had a lot of background in comedy, and I’d been itching to do comedy. And so, subtlely, in a nuanced way, without in any way sort of taking away from the dramatic tension that the show is predicated on, I tried to bring a little of the humor that he wanted to bring in to the show at that point to keep it lively. And we had a ball doing that, figuring out how that would work and it was just super fun the whole way through. The crew got a kick out of the character, and the other cast members did as well. So it would be something that would keep thing light on set as much of it was a heavy set in so many ways.
Jimmy Star: Absolutely.
Xander Berkeley: That character did a lot, I think, to keep things entertaining for everybody. I was, I think, the only one that made Andrew Lincoln break up, crack up on set. Not just once but repeatedly. And there was one time when I was trying to be dead serious. So I gave them the evil eye and he’s just cracking up. We had a really good time.
Jimmy Star: Absolutely. Okay, so your character, Gregory, was such a weasel, and I would watch you and just cringe, knowing how you interact in real life, and it showed the incredible range you actually have as an actor, because I think I’ve seen probably like 80% of everything you’ve ever done. But I totally believed that you were that character and you played it magnificently. How was that different for you? Because it really was kind of different than a lot of other stuff that you’ve done.
Xander Berkeley: Yeah, well, it’s like many of the things I’ve done. It’s involved willingly embracing the violation of your own vanity, the sacrificing of your vanity, because you have to accept that people are not going to like you. And that’s not for everybody. A lot of times people become actors because they want everybody to like them. And they want to be the hero.
For me it is just so much more fun to disguise myself and take on a character, do a different voice, do a different walk and transform and take the audience on a journey into a different psyche and into a different persona. And even if it meant having them hate the guy, I love the storytelling of it. I love helping a story move.
Jimmy Star: It was very good though, too. You are always very convincing. It’s kind of cool that everybody hated you, but they always wanted to know what you were going to be doing next [laughter].
Xander Berkeley: Yeah. I mean, the guy sort of reminded me of a carnival huckster, and he’d evoke for me some of these archetypal characters like the guy in Lost In Space. Have you ever seen Lost in Space?
Jimmy Star: Absolutely I have always been a big fan of that show.
Xander Berkeley: Somebody that was as full of bravado but full of cowardice as the professor in Lost In Space, the doctor or whatever and a couple of other shows. Even in a way, there was something much more lovable about obviously the Wizard of Oz but when you’d meet him at different steps along the way, he was a charlatan and he was a con artist. He was putting on an act and he was a coward at the end of the day. The guy from The Music Man. When Robert Preston comes into town he’s just so full of bull and we see that about him. In a way, I was trying to– because I knew how loathed Gregory was in the comic book and how loathed he would be just because everything that he was asked to do in the script was so toxic that I felt that I had to bring a certain kind of blustery charm to the guy or everybody would just hate watching him. I wanted them to love hating him. I tried to bring a little bit of that iconic old Western because there is something about the show that’s like an old Western, right?
Jimmy Star: Yes.
Xander Berkeley: They’re in the frontier. It’s the post-apocalyptic Western but I wanted to do a nod towards those archetypal characters. And that’s what I tried. I wanted to make it fun to hate him.
Jimmy Star: And it was [laughter]. It was. It was. I kept wondering what was going to happen to you. Yeah. Absolutely. Dr. Smith from Lost In Space is a great character.
Xander Berkeley: Dr. Smith yeah.
You want to move a story. You have to move people. You don’t always get to move them. In our business, as you know because you’ve now been dealing with it for a while, there’s something so vainglorious and egocentric in what we do. That’s why I think Andrew Lincoln’s so remarkable. He was one of the very, very few that could be the hero for so many years on a TV show that’s as popular as this and not lose himself and not start to think the world of himself and start treating others badly. It’s just such a pitfall, and in a way, it just goes to people’s heads, and there’s something really kind of safe when you’re playing the hated character, and you don’t have to worry about it going to your head.
Jimmy Star: That’s so funny because I’ve been very fortunate to interview some really– well, who I consider really popular actors and actresses and directors, and the only time I ever really have problems with egos most of the time, like 99% of the time, is with people who win some stupid reality show, or that don’t even win it, they’re on it. For some reason, those people will become well known overnight. And how it really goes to their heads. Whereas people who have a career they recognize that they have a career because, first of all, they have a fan base and they treat their fans and are greatful. That’s how come you have such a big fan base.
Xander Berkeley: Yeah, yeah. That’s true. But that can be also very different from how they are on a day-in and day-out basis. How they are when they’re presenting themselves in an interview. Or, too, their fan base is going to be different sometimes. And then how they treat coworkers, and after 16 or 17 hours at work [laughter]. Because the pressure’s on them and, understandably– and a lot of times I’ve had a lot of compassion for people that have acted out and acted poorly because there is so much pressure. And they kind of feel like, “If the show isn’t– ” They are the show especially when they’re the titular character if the show is named after them. Then in one way or another, then they tend to feel that they are the show and they take all the credit for it if it’s a success. But they also feel that it’s success rides on them. And it’s heavy and it’s a burden that people take on.
It depends on the carries a lot of pressure for people, so I get why it’s hard. But again, Andrew Lincoln achieved saint-like status in mine and–everybody else’s eyes, because he’s concluding his run, I can talk about him in these terms.
Jimmy Star: That’s super cool, it’s nice to see that the fans like him and the people he works with like him, also. That it is not a façade.
Xander Berkeley: He is phenomenal.
Jimmy Star: So do you have some kind of a cool story you can tell us, a behind the scenes cool story that maybe you haven’t told other interviewers about anything that might have happened on The Walking Dead that was fun? I don’t want any bad stuff, so something fun and cool. You got anything really fun and cool you could share with us.
Xander Berkeley: I love that you’re such a positive energy and you don’t want to dish the dirt. And I’ll just say in general, we had a great time. There was sort of a hashtag made called the #ZandOgg for Steven Ogg and myself because there was a well-publicized bromance because there was just such great chemistry between the character Simon and the character Gregory. And he was the one that came in from Negan’s camp and wanted to loot Hilltop for all of its goods and took my scotch and took my paintings and made me kneel, and just one degrading thing after the next. Gregory had started out has the top dog, getting in Rick’s grill with all the different characters had shown himself to be this kind alpha of a sort, had yet to reveal the full depth of his yellow streak. When they brought Steven’s character in (there’s no real backstory, except that he was going through a hard time personally) , So that in season eight, when he came back, he just wanted a roomie. He wanted a roommate. He didn’t want to be there alone. And we never knew which episode they were going to use us in or how many of them exactly. There was a certain estimate made on, like, he’d be in 7 or 8 of them out of the 16, but you never knew which ones. And coming and going, whether you’d stay in a hotel or whether you’d get a place on your own, there’s a lot of stuff that’s left up in the air. You got to drive yourself to work. And we didn’t want to be out there in Senoia because it’s golf cart-land, and we loved being in Atlanta. We ended up getting a place together. And after our characters were just so completely adversarial, but yet at the same time, they really got along, even while they were confronting each other. And Gregory was so eager to please him because he didn’t want to get hurt by him.
Jimmy Star: Right.
Xander Berkeley: and Simon was playing with him like a cat does with a mouse, just because he was entertained watching him squirm and be tortured. And there was a certain intellectual repartee that the two characters had that was so bizarre, that culturally they were more sophisticated than anyone else around them and Gregory sort of maximized that to try and stay alive as long as possible saying, “Come on, you’re not going to get this kind of banter out of those thugs you hang out with.” And in real life, we just ended up having a ball and hanging out a lot.
It was a wonderful experience and I think we made the kind of friendships that we will have for the rest of our lives until I kick off.
Jimmy Star: I love that and would hope you will be sticking around for a very long time.
Xander Berkeley: I’m the oldest one.
Jimmy Star: How old are you?
Xander Berkeley: 62. 62, Jimmy. How about you?
Jimmy Star: I just turned 54.
Xander Berkeley: Oh. You’re a child. You’re a child.
Jimmy Star: I’m still a child. God Bless You lol. You’ve done an incredibly wide variety of different kinds of roles in all different kinds of films and television shows. You haven’t really been typecast as any one type of character or any one type of actor. Was that a conscientious decision on your part, because you’re not just the horror guy or just the bad guy or any just any one kind of guy?
Xander Berkeley: Well, yeah, I was very conscious because I had this sort of feeling like two things. No two people in life that I’ve ever met, and I’ve met– boy have I met a lot of people.
Jimmy Star: Yeah. I bet.
Xander Berkeley: And no two people are– they may look alike, they may remind me of somebody that I’ve met before, but they’re all different, and they all have different backgrounds and different parenting behind them and different ancestry and different regions they grew up in, influences, psyches, chemical, emotional, intellectual makeup, and I just– I refuse to play the same guy twice. I want the story to dictate who I should be. I want it to determine what– I want the story to tell me who needs to be on that screen and what will help make the story work. I always knew I was going to be directing, so I wanted to have set a good example in that respect. I didn’t want to just– somehow actors that bring their own personalities and celebrate their own celebrity always take me out of the movie, even though it may help put seats in the theater.
It may help sell tickets. It may put a producer’s mind at ease that they’re going shopping, and they’re picking up a Campbell’s soup or Kellogg’s cereal, they know what they’re going to get. On a monetary level, they know this commercial product that they’re buying is reliable and will be this thing that they’ve had before, but everything in me rebelled against that from day one.
And I think it’s—my father.
Jimmy Star: Keep going, you are on a very interesting and important roll.
Xander Berkeley: I admired my dad a lot, especially in his taste, and early on when PBS would show all these great John Ford or Bogart movies or Fellini, and all the great foreign films were showing on PBS, he would talk about them, and as I got old enough to stay up late to watch them, he and I watched them together and he pointed out great character actors that would show up again and again. William Demarest, before he was on My Three Sons, was in all these Preston Sturges movies, being in one after the other but he was a different guy each time out. I thought, “That’s the kind of career I want.” Well, you can’t [peg?] them. And then when I was in the theater, in the beginning of my career, I remember at 20 or 21 years old the audience that would come to opening night of every show, coming up to me saying, “So who were you in the last– so is this your first show?” I said, “No, I was this guy in that last play and I was that guy in the one before that.” And they go, “No, you weren’t. No, you weren’t. No, come on [laughter]. Honey, come here. Are you trying to tell us that you [laughter]?” And then they would get sort of in my face and say, “Stop lying.” And it sort of reminded me of early on I had this– my mother always felt so terrible that I did a drawing when I was really young and she said, “Oh, you copied that, right?” I go, “No, I didn’t copy that. That’s not tracing paper. What are you talking about [laughter]? Why would I copy this?” I said, “I drew it.” And that’s sort of something being too good to be believable. That I was too different– I was too convincing as that last guy to be convincing as this guy. That was the highest form of praise conceivable to me and that was better than anything. Better than having my ego stroked in some way like, “Oh, you’re so handsome. You’re so sexy. You’re so–“. That always kind of embarrassed me, that stuff. Because I’ve played a couple of those roles along the way and it was nice. I like the girls. I like the girls coming up to me afterwards.
Jimmy Star: Oh, my God. I love you. Being a gay male, I know a lot of gay people and I told many people I was going to do an interview with you for the Celebrity Café, and all the guys are like, “Oh, my God. He’s the hottest guy ever. We love him. He’s so fabulous.” So it’s not just the girls. Everybody loves you [laughter].
Xander Berkeley: Oh. You know my mother, I haven’t mentioned her. She’s the guiding light in my life. She had me in her forties and we had her up until just recently. She passed at 102 and never lost a marble. And she was from Texas and she had two pieces of advice that I think go a long way to shaping my career. She said, “Well now, honey, you know money’s only a problem if you have too much or too little of it, don’t you know [laughter]?” And I said, “Say what?” I said, “Well, I only know the latter, mother. I have no idea how the former works since we never had any. But I’ll have to take your word on that.” And she said, “Yes, well you’ll see. And with regard to fame,” dot, dot, dot. And she had these piercing blue eyes and she was very tall and she leaned her head back and, “All I will tell you is you just be careful what you ask for and then she leaned in and she said, “Because you may just get it.” And then she said, “And then what,” dot, dot, dot. And then what. And it just put the fear of God into the marrow of my bones, and in a way, I think that’s why I didn’t go for– I wasn’t actively pursuing leading dude, I was pursuing how much I could fly under the radar and change the way I look and play bad guys and play offbeat left of center character roles, so that I would be able to keep observing people as long as I could and be a part of humanity.
My mother kind of thought I was going to be a diplomat or an ambassador or something sort of dignified in life, and I think that was part of her warning. In a way, that’s another thing I did, I chose a lot of jobs for where they sent me around the world, so I could go and learn about other cultures and learn about other people and grow as a person. And I think that advice was really good, and I don’t really ever feel like, “Oh, I wish I’d become a big famous leading man,” because like I said, it takes a very strong person to not succumb to the temptations and be the sort of heavier ego crystalized and take over your life, and I’m so grateful I waited to get married and have children and had so much life experience before that. And I’m so devoted to my children. They’re just so amazing. And I’m so grateful for it all right now. And I feel pretty grounded.
Jimmy Star: You’re probably the most down-to-earth famous person I actually know [laughter] because you’re very grounded. I mean, I follow your Instagram and your Twitter, and you do all kinds of cool things. And you just seem very normal-like. You’re just getting to do the things that you’ve always wanted to do. But it’s your occupation, but not necessarily who you are with the ego because you don’t really have much of an ego, hardly at all. I don’t really see an ego with you at all. I see you on Twitter, you interact with everybody, whether they’re famous or they’re not famous. I mean, you’re just an all-around cool guy.
Xander Berkeley: Well, my parents were spiritual seekers, they taught me to want to evolve. And it’s not that your ego– you need an ego in life, especially in this business. God dang, this business would’ve worn me down a long time ago if I hadn’t had some shield up as some armor because of all the rejection and all the sort of objectifying that takes place along the way. But if you let it become bigger than you, you’re in trouble. And it can really easily do that at any given moment if it all goes to your head.
Jimmy Star: Absolutely.
Xander Berkeley: So you try and keep it in its place.
Jimmy Star: Okay. So you worked in theater, you studied acting, you did a lot of work before you became who you are, and then you got all these great roles. How important do you think it is in this day and age for young actors trying to break into the industry to actually take acting classes and do all the types of things that you did back in the day?
Xander Berkeley: Absolutely quintessential. And the reason why so many roles are going to British actors and some Australian actors here and there, Canadian actors, because of the level of discipline. And there’s a kind of an entitlement and a laziness about Americans and American actors, young American actors. I think the reality show craze sort of began at like, “Hey! Who needs to work? I’m so freaking great. As soon as that camera turns on this hotness, bang, I’m a superstar [laughter].” And rarely they have their reward [laughter]. That’s it, it’s all going to be over in a heartbeat, in a blink. And then where will they be? And because this training is what you have to fallback on. To me, it’s the most competitive business in the world pretty much. So I always felt like the hubris of thinking that you have to be so prepared on so many levels. You’ve got to be able to do every accent that you’re physically right whether it’s every region of Great Britain, every German, every Scandinavian, every American regional accent. I had them down, baby, and I got hired to play all of them. They gave me jobs. They paid my way. I got residual checks because of the discipline that I put in there. And about being able to do comedy or being able to do drama, being able to do classical, period work, being able to– see the tongue twisters– just the day in and day out work of doing really difficult speeches, you see the actors, and they show up. And they’re going, “Why do these writers want to write this stuff that’s so difficult to say [laughter]?” And, well, if you had some technique, it wouldn’t be so hard to say. It’s because it’s really well-written, and it’s interesting to listen to it and read lines. Well, now, you’ve got your valley girl thing down too, though [laughter].
Jimmy Star: Okay. So then, I read that you met your wife, who is Sarah Clark, on the set of 24. That’s real news or fake news?
Xander Berkeley: That’s real news.
Jimmy Star: I mean, I know she’s your wife, and I know you were both on the show.
Xander Berkeley: In the makeup trailer on day one of the pilot.
Jimmy Star: Yeah I love it. So your wife, she’s gorgeous and like you, she’s got a great career. She was Kristen Stewart’s mother in the “Twilight” series. She’s on “Bosch” which is a great show, “The Tomorrow People”, “Covert Affairs”, “Trust Me”, lots and lots of others and you guys have done a ton of films together most recently “The Maestro” which I saw you doing press for I think recently. Did you know right away when you met her that like, “My God, this lady’s going to be my wife,” or did she think that of you? Or did you guys like each other when you first saw each other or how did that go down?
Xander Berkeley: Well, it took about a day.
Jimmy Star: That’s fast. Okay [laughter]. I love it. I think that’s fabulous.
Xander Berkeley: In the first weekend, we were pretty clear I think. It was Academy Awards weekend, the first weekend of shooting the pilot. And Sarah had wanted to go for a walk. Her brother used to live in Los Angeles and wanted to go for a walk and described this neighborhood. And I said, “Well, that’s actually– that’s three doors down from me, the place you’re describing. I can either direct you there or I can join you.” And she was living in New York at the time and sort of realized that she was going to be back in New York. So neither of us had time to be coy which both of us probably would have probably been playing the aloof card. That would have been our tendency. If we were in the same place it would have been a slower process. But because we had no time to waste. She said, “Well, I’d like you to join me,” and so we went for a walk. And then there was a party at a friend of mine out all the way on the other side of town in Venice. He was a sculpture in the business and made this Giacometti sculpture of the Oscar and was going to be awarding it to the one that got the most right number of answers, and it was just kind of perfect [laughter]. All my friends were going to be there, so she met everybody, all my closest friends the first night, and it was just kind of– I remember I had a job up in Vancouver right after that, right after 24 finished, and I just remember calling after– I won’t go into any details, but I just remember calling a few of my closest friends and going, “Remember that girl you met at the party? Yeah. It’s done. It’s over. I’m done.” And I was 45 before I got married, so it was like–
Jimmy Star: That’s smart, though. That’s a good time to get married.
Xander Berkeley: I’d been in the open dating scene for a while, so I was kind of like almost, some might have thought, a confirmed bachelor, but nope. I’ve been plagued by uncertainty–
Jimmy Star: I love that.
Xander Berkeley: –for an entire lifetime, and suddenly I was certain. I wasn’t uncertain anymore.
Jimmy Star: So what’s the most memorable role you’ve played thus far in your career? Do you have a favorite, or the one that was the hardest, or the one that just stands out the most.
Xander Berkeley: Jimmy, this one that’s coming out that’s called “The Maestro,” I’ve won a couple of best actor awards internationally and domestically at the film festivals for it, and I’m very grateful for that, and for the role, because it’s such a good guy role, and I have played a few really bad guys along the way, let’s face it. I’ve tried never to play the same kind of guy, but you play one– you sacrifice your vanity convincingly enough early on, and people sort of– it’s easy. Hollywood, the business will absorb you at whatever level you allow it to because, especially if you’re willing to convincingly portray unappealing characters, they’ll keep asking you to do it because not everybody can or wants to. So you become a go-to actor. I got these two little girls, and when I’m gone, I want them to see something besides that when they flip around the stations.
I was thrilled when this film was offered to me. It’s a small movie, and I mean, we didn’t have much to make it with. These days independent film– I didn’t realize I was growing up in the golden era of independent film. And some roles like “Sid and Nancy,” the drug dealer in “Sid and Nancy,” is kind of a grisly character, but I have a great affection for him because he was a bit of a jester, and he was a charming scumbag and he got me in the door with a whole lot of foreign filmmakers and art filmmakers along the way. And I got “Safe” with Todd Haynes because of that. And “Gattaca” I got because of “Safe.” And Mike Figgis hired me for four movies because of “Sid and Nancy.” Alex Cox used me for three more after that. And I’m sure Bernard Rose, Mike, and Alex are both British filmmakers and Bernard is as well when he did “Candyman.” I know he’d seen Sid and Nancy. I’m very grateful for that great role and that film. It was Gary Oldman’s first film. It was Roger Deakins who just won for Blade Runner’s first film to be the–
Jimmy Star: Great film.
Xander Berkeley: –cinematography. Yeah, it’s just a great film and it lasts and so that one is an early one along the way. These little emotional roles you get along the way that built to this one, “The Maestro” that’s coming out. For me, “The Cherry Orchard” is a movie that nobody really saw. The director was really old when he did it and Michael Cacoyannis who did “Zorba the Greek,” and “Iphigenia,” and “Attila 74”, and “Electra,” all these great films in the ’60s and ’70s. And then he was in his 80s, and he wrote this– he rewrote the Chekhov play, “The Cherry Orchard,” as a screenplay for six years. And then he spent a year going around the world trying to find the actors for it. He was just one of the faces and the voices of the people that he wanted in the film. And I was the only American in it. And Charlotte Rampling and Alan Bates and–
Jimmy Star: Gerard Butler’s in that film.
Xander Berkeley: Gerard Butler’s second film, and Melanie Lynskey, who you must know is one of my favorite actors. And she was in it, one of her early films. Just so many great actors in it, and we all fell in love. It was three months in Bulgaria, not long after the wall had come down. But it was on the ex-king of Bulgaria’s estate because he had the biggest cherry orchard anywhere in the world. And it was an incredible estate. That was our set. So those films that nobody saw, but that everybody that was involved in it will never forget for the rest of their lives. Just like “North Country” was a film that not a lot of people saw because it was–
Jimmy Star: And it took you someplace.
Xander Berkeley: Yeah, it took you someplace.
Jimmy Star: The Cherry Orchard took you someplace.
Xander Berkeley: Yeah, it really did. It really did. And it’s a beautiful movie. When you see it now, Katrin Cartlidge, who was one of the leads and that died of a rare blood disease strangely just like a year later. And she was so beautiful and fabulous and extraordinary in the film, and she died so young, and it’s like a little dream that happened. And I think we all have kind of a heartache for that film. And I was just working with Jillian Armenante, who was in “North Country,” and we were remembering how intensely we all bonded, Charlize Theron, and Jeremy Renner, and Rusty Schwimmer, and Jillian. But Richard Jenkins [inaudible] who I’ve worked with. I’ve played her boss. I’ve played her husband. We all came together to make that film about the first class-action lawsuit for sexual harassment in the mines in Minnesota. And we were all together in Minnesota in the Winter, and that bonds you in a way. And it was such an extraordinary bunch of actors, and that bonds you.
Jimmy Star: I love it.
Xander Berkeley: And again, it’s group love, and you all kind of– this is where I’ve always felt like we’re a gypsy family, and we come from 100 broken families because we all fall in love like a family, and then we move on. And–
Jimmy Star: We had Jillian Armenante on the show – I don’t know – back in June, probably, and she was fabulous.
Xander Berkeley: Isn’t she–
Jimmy Star: She’s really terrific and amazing.
Xander Berkeley: She just got me into this movie that I’m dong right now on an island off the coast of Maine. She told the people that are doing it that are friends of her’s from Seattle that, “Hey, Xander’s in Maine. Oh my God. Let’s get him.”
Jimmy Star: How cool is that?
Xander Berkeley: It is very cool.
Jimmy Star: You have worked with many of the most respected and best directors in the world including Clint Eastwood/Ron Howard/ Rob Reiner/ Michael Mann/Wolfgang Petersen/ Steven Frears/ Steven Spielberg and many more. Did any of them give you any piece of advice that has stuck out to you throughout your career that you remember, think of, use or anything like that?
Xander Berkeley: God, yeah. All of them, I love quoting–
Jimmy Star: Well, do tell a little.
Xander Berkeley: Yeah, all of them [laughter]. Sometimes the advice was to another actor in the same scene, sometimes it was– I can remember Steven Frears saying to John Cusack, “He doesn’t trust me. He thinks he needs another take. He doesn’t need another take. We’ve got it, we should be moving on but all right.” And I remember just, don’t demand another take. If the director thinks you’ve got it, you probably have it. With Spielberg, there was a guy that was having a meltdown because he was Steven Spielberg and he just couldn’t remember his lines. And he just, Speilberg was awesome with him and he just– he started telling a five-part story because it was Amistad and we had to take the train back to the first position over and over and over again and he was under the sheet like a big black sort of blanket on the floor of the train car. And he’d pop his head back out and start to tell the story again each time but just to try to put the guy’s mind at ease so that everybody wanted to hear more– another segment of the story instead of feeling like, “Oh, my God. The guy fucked up again.” But he just said, “Oh, come on. It’s all right. Actors are allowed to fuck up.” And then he’d embark on the story again and a lovely way to put somebody’s mind at ease. And a lot of directing hints though. Like Ron Howard, if you had an idea and it was a little different than his, his way of shooting it down was so beautiful. He’d smile and do that little Opie stare off into the sky and then he’d go, “That’s a great idea. I really like that. I still really love the idea of you doing this. Can we do this first and then we’ll do your idea and, yeah. I’ll do anything for you. You’re the nicest man on Earth. And all endorphins flowing and yes. And so then you don’t even want to do your version after that.
Jimmy Star: That’s hilarious.
Xander Berkeley: You just want to make the nicest man on Earth happy. And with Wolfgang Peterson on “Air Force One” , I’ll just never forget because so few– so often directors don’t bother to let you know this information and his way of conveying was so hilarious. Gary Oldman and Paul Guilfoyle and William H. Macy, I think Wendy Crewson was in the shot too. I can’t remember everybody but there was a group of us that were in a cluster and then there was Harrison Ford over on the other side with somebody else. And they had a bunch of cameras going so we didn’t know if we were– how much we were all acting up a storm and he came over to us, “Gentlemen. As you are all very well respected actors. I feel I must tell you, you are not very big in this frame.” And he held his fingers less than an inch apart. And he said, “So it will not require such very good acting.” And and then he tiptoed back over to the camera, which was obviously looming large on Harrison. And we didn’t have to spend our wad on all this intense emotional stuff as Harrison’s close up and we were little flies in the background. We just had to keep a semblance of order in case we got in the shot, in case we were tiny bits in the shot. And then a certain party came up with, “Gentlemen, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the camera has moved in. And we have even changed the lens so now you’re pretty big in the shot.” And he was showing us what the frame was. “So I think this will require some pretty good acting.” And he said–
Jimmy Star: I love it.
Xander Berkeley: And then he’s turning around to walk away so he said over his shoulder, “And then let’s get this done before lunch or there will be no lunch [laughter].” And so we nailed it in one. We all just went zoom. Like a laser beam. And that’s such an incredible directorial wisdom because you economize actors by respecting them. You economize their energy and you get their respect and then you get their focus and full bang for the buck when it comes time to utilize their powers.
Jimmy Star: Now that you’re a celebrity, celebrated as a treasured character actor, how often do you have to audition now versus how often they just ask you if you’re interested in participating in a project.
Xander Berkeley: Well, that’s one of the reasons I’ve felt I was ready to leave Hollywood. There’s a treadmill aspect to it. And in the past year, I– they’re not paying actors properly anymore unless they’re huge names and instead of being respected for all the work I’ve done, you get treated like somebody who never made it because you didn’t become a name that’s the quantifiable name, and you don’t get respected. By the same token, for any project worth its salt in terms of the big film in whatever the size role, they want to see their words, and so everybody wants to put yourself on tape then you had to go in the– a lot of times, you just go into the casting director’s office they’re having the audition in. A lot of these directors are half my age and don’t have any real, substantial credits. But they imagine and they’ve got somebody else imagining that they’re the next big thing. And it would take them two seconds to look at a reel and see in four minutes what I’ve done, this incredible spectrum of work that’s pretty– will let them know whether or not I’m right–
Jimmy Star: Right.
Xander Berkeley: Whether or not they want me. But they’ll take 12 hours of my time. I says, “Well if I’m going to do it, I have to spend 12 hours reading the script, breaking it down, memorizing the role, driving over, doing it, and coming back.” And a lot of times, they’re not even in the room because they just want to look at the tapes. And it’s really disrespectful at this stage. And I just turn things down because it’s like, “You either know if you want me or you don’t.” It’s a lot of diminishing returns for me to sort of to take that time away from being with my family or from painting or working on whatever else to think that I have to keep jumping through the flaming hoops because their egos are such that they don’t want to really think through it. But a lot of times, it’s because they want you as their insurance backup because the big name might fall through and I’m not into that. So if someone…
Jimmy Star So it’s very different then? So it’s very different now compared to how it was for you, say 10, 20 years ago?
Xander Berkeley: Yes, absolutley. I mean, there’s a lot of things that I get offered. I got offered “The Walking Dead” without having to audition for it and the same with “24” and with “Salem” and with “Nikita.’ I didn’t audition for those, and those are series and they’re big deals, and I feel very fortunate that I didn’t have to put myself through the hoop. But there’s other ones where I got talked into doing that, and I was right, that they would’ve offered it to me if they knew that they wanted me. I mean–
Jimmy Star: That makes sense. I was going to say with your credits, it totally makes sense. I can see where they would want to see somebody else who’s been in two or three shitty things or something, but I mean, you have an incredibly large body of work. And they’re all really big things, you don’t have a whole resume of a bunch of little shitty $100,000 Indie films [laughter].
Xander Berkeley: Yeah. It’s like, come on, just take a look at this, it’s good stuff to look at anyway. It’s kind of fun, and you get an idea, and then you can say whether or not you want me, but don’t take up all that time of mine and then use me in case your name guy who’s trendy falls out.
Jimmy Star: Yeah, I like that. I think that’s terrific. So since your film debut though, looking on IMDB, you’ve worked in almost every– you’ve got something almost every year for the last 30-something years. It doesn’t look like you’ve ever taken any time off. How did you motivate yourself to continue auditioning and working all the time without ever really taking a break?
Xander Berkeley: Well, I think because I did get a lot of offers. Starting with “Sid and Nancy”, I mean, I think the weekend right after that came out I got offered a double episode of “Miami Vice” when that was the hot show. And I thought, “Hey, this I like.” And they had money back then, it was decent money, and Miami was happening. And I love this director and he and I became friends for life. British guy, he just won the Emmy for Fargo recently, Colin Bucksey. And it was just a load of fun, and I like traveling and I got offered all those movies that sent me around to obscure countries around the world. And I often times, back then, took movies that sent me to foreign countries so that I wouldn’t be in LA during pilot season because I just found that so degrading. A torturous period of time during pilot season because you start out reading some questionable script that you thought could very easily turn into crap TV that could destroy your career. If it did get picked up no one would ever be able to shake the association of you with this garbage out of their mind. And yet by the time it came down to the fifth callback and for the studio and for the network, you’re looking at these large sums of money that they’re offering and you’re going like, “Oh, God. I’ve got to get this now.” It changes you in not a great way. And TV wasn’t great in the 80s and 90s for the most part. So I felt it was better to just get offered guest star roles and stay about the fray and keep doing movies, even if I wasn’t– I played smaller parts in big movies and big parts in obscure, independent art films. And I was always working, and I loved working, and I loved traveling. And then, it’s only after having kids that I want to work less and be around them more. And really be much more particular about what I do, and not want to be away and really start to think about developing my own content instead of just doing any old thing.
Jimmy Star: You’re very well rounded in a lot of different areas. So let’s go to your artwork a little bit. I check your Instagram often looking at your artwork which I think is amazing. You create paintings, drawings, sculptures, masks, and puppets. Have you always been an artist?
I’ve had a couple of exhibitions with the series of paintings I did of Russians that were killed during Stalins’ purges. And it was right after my father passed, and I went back to visit my mom after he had passed. And I just was going through all of his stuff. And I just wanted to take something with me. And it was when we were doing “North Country” and I was in Minnesota and I was going to be indoors a lot. And I just found one thing from his files– the f files, their faces
Xander Berkeley: Yeah. I mean, pretty much. Maybe I started acting– my mom made me some costumes when I was like three and four so maybe that came first. But by the time I was four or five I started sculpting obsessively and making things, and my sister was a couple of years older. She was a painter. She staked out that turf, and I kind of left that to her. But I came back to it, I did a series of paintings in high school that got chosen to be in some exhibition, and they were all stolen, and that traumatized me, and I didn’t go back to painting for a while, but I always drew and I have never gone without drawing for any period of time. And it was always my companion on sets and on location, to have a drawing pad and always going to cafes, and it was a way of studying people and taking notes. And I draw really fast, I paint really slow, but I paint really quickly, but I do many layers because I’ve had the luxury of not having to show my work. I can do these experiments that deal with multiple layers, and then excavating back to show the history and time in a person the way they are, and real people layers.
Jimmy Star: You put a lot of your paintings on Instagram, and you do a lot of mostly– I mean, it seems like most of the paintings that you do are portraits and it’s your interpretation of real-life people. I love all the self-portraits that you do of you, and then you did a whole bunch of the actors you worked with on the Walking Dead, other cast mates, and the one that you did with Scott Wilson was out of this world. He recently passed in 2018, and it was incredibly sad. But I think that all your portraits are amazing, and I don’t know if a lot of people know you are such an accomplished artist, but I think you should let them know as it brings a whole new dimension to you and your body of work.
Xander Berkeley: Oh thanks man. I really appreciate it. There’s one series that I showed and I never tried to sell them, but I’ve had a couple of exhibitions with the series of paintings I did of Russians that were killed during Stalins’ purges. And it was right after my father passed, and I went back to visit my mom after he had passed. And I just was going through all of his stuff. And I just wanted to take something with me. And it was when we were doing “North Country” and I was in Minnesota and I was going to be indoors a lot. And I just found one thing from his files– the f files, their faces. There was just a picture from the New York Times Magazine section that he’d done a crossword puzzle perfectly. On the other side of the front side were a composite of 16 faces that they had shown this sort of cross section of counter revolutionaries that have been targeted by Stalin’s secret police. And then they executed them right before– they took photographs of them right before executing them. So they all know they’re going to die, and in a moment they’re going to be taken out and shot in the head. And you see this confluence of emotions in all their faces. Some of them have been through a lot before that moment. But they’re all different types. There’s school teachers, doctors. You can see that some are religious fanatics. You could see an elegant, older, gay gentleman. You could see just crazy– a military, a young poet, and all these different types. And it just ripped my heart out looking at all these faces. And they all seemed like they had been ripped out of life so abruptly. And it said such a story about governments run amok. And “A Cautionary Tale” sort of became the title of the show. And I think I’ll send you that because I don’t know that what I’ve got on Instagram is so random. I just sort of do it so impulsively and it’s not necessarily what I’ve photographed well. It’s what I’ve just taken with my [laughter] iPhone and the piece, a good photographer took pictures of and they’ve been displayed.
And I want to give them to the Museum of Tolerance down the line, but I never really came out of the closet about being a painter. And I never exploited any of my contacts like Ron Howard and Tom Hanks and Cameron and Spielberg. And I have good relationships with– I had good relationships with all of them. And I think they’re all such good people that they would want to support that, the Museum of Tolerance. It’s an amazing organization, and I think it’d be a really fun thing to go back to LA or New York or whatever to sort of find out where people are going to be. And I know they don’t like to be in a room with each other, see each other, and do something to bring attention to this phenomena of government that can, and will at any given moment, unexpectedly run amok with power. And you never know where it’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen next. And–
Jimmy Star: Love it. I mean, your art’s really good. If you ever decided to– because you said you’d never done it, but you had to sell them. And that was going to be my next question, do you sell them? I saw you did an art show called “Head Trips.” I saw it on your website with a bunch of pictures. Do you sell the artwork?
Xander Berkeley: Well, I’ve done a little bit. Yeah. Well, I’ve started selling. Just fans like it a lot, some of them, and so I started—and at conventions I’m going to actually do two things. I’m going to sell some prints, and I’m going to do a couple live sketches for people because it’s just kind of fun because I do draw at the speed of light, and it’s sort of fun for people to watch and just to draw with charcoal really quickly and give a sort of expressionistic portrait of people in front of their eyes. And then, yeah, I’m going to have some prints of different paintings and a few sketches that I’ve collected from my drawing books, and matted, and presented. So I’ll sell some of that stuff because I’ve got a lot of stuff to liberate into the world. And I’ve donated the proceeds of that to different things, and so that’ll be a fun thing to start doing more of now at this stage of the game.
Jimmy Star: You have prints of any of your self-portrait ones?
Xander Berkeley: Yeah, I think that I do. I think do. Yeah, I do. I definitely do. There’s a really good photograph that a great photographer took and that we’ve got really prints of so I’m going to be doing that at conventions in the future. And we’re going to make a little online store because there’s a guy that’s really the highest quality way to reproduce and set that up for me. I’m looking into that. Portland is a real art town as well, and so I’m going to start showing in New York and in Portland. There’s a gallery in New York that been wanting to show my stuff for a while so I’m going to start taking it seriously now. Yeah. It’s time.
Jimmy Star: I totally want to get one of your self-portraits, I think that your art will be a whole new and very successful career for you because I think that you are extremely talented, and your portraits look like the Xander Berkeley interpretation of all these really cool people.
Xander Berkeley: Yeah. Well–
Jimmy Star: And I think they’re magnificent. I think you’ll have another career there when everyone knows that you actually are a really great artist and your little sculptures of the faces, they’re a little creepy but they’re very cool [laughter].
Xander Berkeley: Well, thank you, man. I really appreciate the attention being drawn to it, I really do, and it’s perfect timing.
Jimmy Star: So last question, what upcoming projects should we be looking forward to? And I know we have “The Maestro,” is going to be, I guess, coming out soon because I know you’ve been going to a lot of film festivals.
Xander Berkeley: Yeah, it’s a beautiful character. He’s a guy that– a real-life character, who was exiled from Italy, and he made it to America, and then made it to Hollywood as a composer. He was a ghost composer, which was really related to the story because for him it wasn’t about how much credit he got or being recognized. He didn’t get his name on a lot of the movies that he composed, but he was just so happy to get be doing what he loved to. And he became a teacher of composition and ended up teaching the most influential composers of the 20th Century, Henry Mancini, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, the “Star Trek” theme. And John Williams is the “Star Wars” theme [laughter]. And so there’s a theme here. And Henry Mancini, everybody knows that’s of a certain age that he’s just indelible. And so many others, and Andre Previn and I think Randy Newman was with him for a little while. He’s just this beloved character and teacher, and he was so gifted because he– all those different composers are unique because they all had such different sounds. And that’s his gift as a teacher was to help someone find their voice and bring it out and not project his ideas or ego or sound onto them like some teachers are maybe inclined to do. And it’s really about the painful but beautiful journey of the artist in life. Sarah plays my wife. She speaks all Italian in it. Adam Cushman directs and David Phillips produces and they are really dear friends. “The Maestro” was a beautiful experience, and I hope people get to see it. It’s going to be coming out soon and I think on multiple platforms as well as a theatrical release. And it will be out there for people to watch. And if ever there was anything I’m in, this is the one to see. I also did “Supergirl” and a couple of other movies coming out too, but I am going to start directing.
Jimmy Star: So what other movies do you have coming out?
Xander Berkeley: Well, “Dark Harbor” is what we’re shooting up there in Isleboro right now off the coast. That’s the one that Jillian Armenante is doing and a bunch of other people. Really fun cast, fun little movie. And “City of Lies” with Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker if it ever comes out, and I don’t know what’s happening with that. I was really looking forward to seeing it. It was supposed to come out in September or October, now I don’t know what’s happening with that. And what’s the other one? Another damn movie, I forget. And “Supergirl’s” going to be really fun. They’ve taken the show in a really interesting, smart direction now and I got to be a part of the origin story for the new villain they’re bringing out. I play his father and I think everybody should check out this new season. It’s going to be kick-ass. I am really excited about people seeing “The Maestro”, if we can bring a little love to it that would be wonderful.
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