FOX's Alcatraz has been giving audiences a lot to talk about. I recently caught up with Jeffrey Pierce, the actor behind returned prisoner Jack Sylvane, to get the dish on playing the show's first antagonist - and to shed a little light on his own backstory.
There's a saying that the people who play the best villains are usually some of the nicest people in real life, and in Pierce's case, that's true. His alter-ego might have done some bad things, but the actor is a warm, sociable person who was happy to talk to me about his character, his career, and what he enjoys as a TV viewer.
What attracted you to Alcatraz?
The role is a really rare one. I think that the business that we're in, a lot of times the sort of different, edgy leading man role immediately goes to the star actors. When the character description came out for Alcatraz, they wanted a Russell Crowe type, and I said, "I'm guessing he's not available, so I might have a shot at getting this part."
I know [executive producer] Liz Sarnoff from a long time ago. They approached me about the part and she talked to me about it. I thought, "This is like a 1950's film noir. Robert Mitchum would have played this part 50 years ago." I was hooked. I was head over heels.
The show was really heavily promoted and certainly highly anticipated. As an actor, how much of that buzz do you really hear, and does it affect you?
When I was younger, it might have affected me differently. We shot it precisely a year ago, so there was certainly a sort of cooling-off period where you sort of move on to whatever comes next. That sort of takes the edge off the idea of this big bow.
I really didn't get submerged. I was distracted by family life. It was a nice surprise when it came on the air and reviewers responded positively.
Some actors can't watch themselves on TV. How is it for you?
I find it valuable to watch what I do. I like to know when I'm making a choice if it actually works or not. I think a lot of people get neurotic.
Jack is, if not necessarily the villain of the pilot, certainly an antagonist. You've played quite a few villains in your career. Is it really more fun to play the bad guy?
I've kind of had to make a career of playing villains. In order to stay employed, I had to figure out how to play bad guys. Most of the time when they cast the good guy, they want someone with name recognition. That's just sort of how the business works.
I've played my share of good guys but my specialty is being able to walk the line between the two. That's not necessarily in everybody's wheelhouse. For me, Jack is much more in that middle ground. He's a man whose circumstances dictated who he has become. The actions that he takes are not all necessarily of his own volition. It's certainly more fun to play someone with those rough edges.
All actors are looking for that role that's going to define who they are. When it happens, it's a good thing.
You're a recurring character. Are you one of those actors who likes to know what's coming or do you prefer to be surprised?
I think that it's fun to get the script and open it like a Christmas present. That's Alcatraz or anything that I'm working on. If the groundwork has been laid too much, the surprises aren't there.
I am as much an audience member as anybody, and I want to be able to guess where we're going. That's the joy of any drama, [when] it turns you the exact opposite direction. We want to be surprised.