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Enrico Colantoni, Actor - Profile Interview Series Vol. #4

Enrico Colantoni, Actor
by Jason Whyte

Enrico Colantoni may not be one of the names or faces that you instantly recognize, but as soon as you realize what he has done in this industry in the past ten years, he may sneak up on you. And that's probably all the better in this case. Enrico Colantoni, 41, a Toronto-native and now based in L.A., is the kind of actor that disappears into his roles with his different kinds of performances in film and television. He was first noticed in a small role in "NYPD Blue" on television, which led to his role as photographer Elliot De Maurio on "Just Shoot Me." On film, his performance as the wide-eyed, clear-speaking Mathesar In "Galaxy Quest" helped make the film a cult favorite.

I had the chance to speak to Enrico from San Diego, where he is currently working.

Jason Whyte: What is your favorite movie of all time?
Enrico Colantoni: Wow, favorite movie. "The Conversation." I was going to say "The Godfather" but I figure that everybody else does too.

JW: Have you seen any good films lately?
EC: "Shrek 2" and "Spiderman 2", which were both very cool. The only chance I get to go to the movies now are when I can go to PG and PG-13 movies so I can bring my kids. But I haven't seen anything I would want to go see myself, although I do want to go see "The Bourne Supremacy" at some point.

JW: Are you interested in any independent movies or any of the indie scene?
EC: Yeah, you see what happens, you see how audiences change their tastes? From "The Conversation" to "The Bourne Supremacy." (Laughs) You know what, I haven't seen much lately. I saw "Japanese Story" a while back but that's about it.

JW: How about television? Are you into any of the booming reality series or are you into the fiction?
EC: I won't sit through a reality show. More out of protest than anything. I watch "60 Minutes", I watch "Monk" (which features Tony Shalhoub, whom Enrico has worked with in "Galaxy Quest"). Time is very precious. I don't like to sit very long infront of it. And I don't mind saying it, but reality TV: it will be the death of us.

JW: I agree. I don't care for all of these cheaply produced shows that will just make a lot of money for the big people but all of the creative artists are just being sucked up.
EC: Exactly. Yes. What's going to happen is reality people are going to unionize so anybody that's approached by a television show will say "Well, these are my quotes" and "I want $100,000 an episode" and so on.

JW: It's all really frustrating. I hope it becomes unpopular and these dramatic shows and good sitcoms come back in full force.
EC: Yeah, the dramas and the comedies, but you know, there's still stuff to explore with dramas. HBO does it all the time.

JW: What kind of music do you listen to?
EC: I love U2. I could listen to Sting all day. I could listen to early Bowie. I get surprised by a classic rock station that will bring me back to a better time, you know? BUT, but my guilty pleasure is old 80's music. Flock of Seagulls, Human League, that's a guilty pleasure. That'll bring me back.

(At this point there is some loud beeping in the background that turns out to be a dump truck moving in reverse.)

JW: I hear a lot of noise in the background.
EC: There's construction. I'm renting this place by the ocean in La Holla and there's so much construction going on right now, everybody wants to live here it seems. (laughs)

JW: So about your acting and your craft, who would you say are your biggest influences or the people that made you want to act?
EC: I always remember those films from the 70's, with amazing work by the likes of Al Pacino and Gene Hackman, but it wasn't until I saw "Tootsie" that I fell in love with an actor's life, and how romantic it was, and how I wanted to do plays and things like that. And then I started becoming fascinated with it all, the "New York Story", and how all of these actors went to New York and how they struggled; the story that Jack Lemmon about the ketchup and tomato soup, for example.

JW: You just named my favorite actor of all time, Mr. Jack Lemmon. (Laughs)
EC: Oh, absolutely. He was so awesome. It was those guys, and falling in love with that time and when they were there in New York in the 60's. Reading about all the plays that Pacino did before he did "The Godfather". That fascination that got me into acting.

JW: How did you get your start in the industry? What was your first job?
EC: I feel like I haven't started! I went to the University of Toronto and took an elective in drama, and from there I left U.O.T and went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts because I bought their propaganda that they were the oldest acting school in the speaking world. Their alumni ranged from Spencer Tracy to Robert Redford to Anne Bancroft, and I thought, "Okay, that's where I want to go!", and that's how I fell in love with the whole "I'm Struggling, I'm-An-Actor-In-New-York" thing, but I didn't actually start working until I went back to the Yale School of Drama, and I built some confidence by doing the classics. And then, coming out, I was 30 and finally had an agent -- after ten years -- then it was the law of probability. The next thing I knew, I was in LA doing television!

JW: You've had such an array of chameleonic performances, I remember first noticing you in "Galaxy Quest", where I think a lot of people also noticed you for the first time, film-wise.
EC: Yeah. It's funny how a different bunch of people will watch TV and not go to the movies, and vice versa. To an actor, it's a job. But to an audience, they're specialized. And I think justifiably so because they're different mediums. And the time we spent on "Galaxy Quest", you had time to be creative and take a chance. I thought that was a special gift to be a part of. They don't come around too often. Other movies do, but nothing as special as "Galaxy Quest" so far.

JW: Absolutely. And the character of Mathesar was a complete original. How much of that was you and how much of that was the writers and filmmakers shape the character?
EC: I give credit to the director (Dean Parisot) for not editing my choices. I came into that character right in the audition and I was hired based on him, and he went with it. He let me create the whole thermian world. If it wasn't for him, I would have never been allowed to have fun like that. And hey, actors create! If you allow them to do their work, they're going to be creative, they're going to come up with stuff that you've never thought of. But because there are so many micro-managers out there, they forget about collaboration. They just want to get to the chase, and that's sad. That's why "Galaxy Quest" holds such a dear place in my heart, because it WAS collaborative, and all the actors had the opportunity to do what they needed and wanted to do.

JW: And "Just Shoot Me" was such a huge success. It lasted about six years and the first volume DVD set just came out. Did you have any idea that the show would be as successful as it was?
EC: Oh, no! We had no idea. You never know what people are going to like. Having David Spade with us helped a lot, but I never ever know. You never know if you were going to come back next year. And we managed to do it, even after they moved us to another night, and so on. So I looked back and thought "Oh wow, we survived seven years!", which in Hollywood standards is a miracle for a sitcom to last that long. A loyal fanbase just kept coming back to the show. They just kept finding us.

JW: The first volume DVD set (with the first two seasons) was just released earlier in the summer, and I know you weren't involved much with the set. Would you be interested in the future on providing behind-the-scenes interviews or do an audio commentary track?
EC: Of course! (joking) Don't actors love talking about themselves? That sounds like a lot of fun; get the whole cast together and talk over a track. You think people would have time to watch or listen to something like that?

JW: Fans of "Just Shoot Me" will take the time, for sure.
EC: I guess they do! Damn! I don't know what I'm doing with my life. (laughs)

JW: If they ever did another DVD for "Galaxy Quest" would you like to do something for that as well?
EC: Oh, sure. Isn't that funny that they go through the formula of releasing it to theaters, then putting it onto video and DVD, but they never anticipate how well something is going to do, so then they come back with a second edition. But I think it would work with "Galaxy Quest" because Dean Parisot I'm sure would have a lot to say about the movie for sure. Now, tell me Jason, has the movie become a cult movie with the sci-fi guys?

JW: It has! In fact, not only has the DVD release done well, it still gets into revival theaters. I remember "Galaxy Quest" had a midnight show in Vancouver a few months ago and every now and then our University in Victoria has had a late show. I think even one time it had an afternoon matinee as well as a late night show, so it works for both crowds. "The Princess Bride" also had the same thing at UVIC. The same thing must be going on in many cities across North America.
EC: (laughs) That's awesome. That's awesome. It's good to know the reaction. I'm so out of the loop. I rely on your voice at this point!

JW: How do you prepare for all of these roles that you perform? Where do you go?
EC: I don't go anywhere. I stay in my room and I use my imagination. I just make things up and give myself permission to be playful to make choices. Some are good and some are bad, but you trial and error. I know some actors like to research heavily, but I figure the best information is the script itself. Once I try to understand what the scene is about, and what it is saying, I accommodate that. Unfortunately, actors are given so much credit when it comes to how they contribute to a role, but the big secret is it's a lot easier than people want to think it is. You either do it or you don't. My favorite teacher was at Yale, who kept saying it over and over again: "Stop thinking about it, and just do it." It's like cowboys and indians. We've all done it. And some of us are crazy enough to just keep doing it.

JW: So you just improvise the character. Maybe it would be interesting to have you guest on something like "Whose Line is it Anyway?"
EC: Oh no. Improvisation scares the hell out of me. It's different, I have to look at the script and know the lines; I improvise sometimes but that's a different bird, for sure.

JW: Now how do you see yourself continuing down this path?
EC: I don't know how to control that. Miracles happen all the time in an actor's career and in anybody's career. Things just kind of happen. I was watching "Pumping Iron" recently, and what an inspiring film! Watching Arnold Schwarzenegger at the time where he was just wanted to be the best at what he was doing. All they knew was how to be passionate at something, and for them it was bodybuilding. They were just doing it. I kind of look at acting in the same way, and I just love doing it. If it's a play, if it's a TV role, if it's a movie and it becomes huge, your life changes and it becomes something else. You go along for the ride.

But what I find more often than not, as I get older, is how things change. You want to think about doing something else. Writing, painting, maybe start reading more, traveling more, living your life more. I have two children now and they're going up. So clearly other things become more important. My own personal creativity, what I can do in my own room, what I can put on tape, and so on. I'm greatful that I can put my kids through school and that I'm still doing what I love to do.

JW: Do you see yourself doing anything else In this industry, like writing or directing anything?
EC: I think I can direct something, or even write something in a collaborative effort. If I was a gun for hire, I don't think so. I don't think I could direct a show without my heart in it. Not for the notireity or for the attention, just to have the feeling of having it made. You need to do things, you need to keep creating.

JW: Let's say that someone came up to you and gave you an unlimited budget and you could make whatever story you wanted. Do you have any particular ideas?
EC: All I know is that whatever came out, it would just be a little bit off-of-center. (Laughs) You know who fascinates me is August Strindberg, and I suspect that anything I put on paper will lend itself to that world. Dark, mystical, good-meets-evil environment.

JW: And add a little bit of your humour into it!
EC: You're right! It would be some kind of dark comedy. Exactly.

JW: If you weren't acting, what do you think would be doing?
EC: I'd be teaching, I think. I'd stay in Toronto and I'd be teaching somewhere, because I love how enlightened school is. It's about learning and expanding your consciousness. And to do that in a higher level of college would be ideal. Maybe when I'm retired I would go for it, hide in some small college town, maybe teaching in the arts or something like that.

JW: You've worked with so many talented filmmakers and actors. Are there any filmmakers or actors that you would love to work with that you haven't yet?
EC: Quentin Tarantino. I'd love to be in a film with him. I just saw a thing on "60 Minutes" about Clint Eastwood, and I'd love to be in a film with him. He seems so good and generous to actors. Whenever you work with directors who were once actors, you know you're going to be embraced, be allowed to work and make mistakes and come through on the other end.

JW: Would you be in a Woody Allen movie?
EC: In a second! I think there are few directors I would say no to.

JW: Do you ever get recognized on the street? Any crazy fan stories?
EC: Yeah. There is a hierarchy to compliments. "Hey, are you an actor?" goes to "Hey, you were on "Just Shoot Me"!" which leads to "We loved "Just Shoot Me"!" and then it goes up and up. My favorite of all time is when people remember me from "NYPD Blue". That's when I tell them that we have to talk more, get a cup of coffee, and so on. That was the first thing I had ever done and I was very proud of it. When it gets that specific, I get a kick out of it. Clearly, they're not just run-of-the-mill TV watcher that have seen me before, but can't place me.

JW: So what are you working on right now?
EC: We're doing a TV show down here right now called "Veronica Mars" and Warner Bros. is producing it for UPN. It's a teenage detective story and it's really great. It's dark and it has more than a little bit. What's more exciting about it is UPN wants to introduce all of these other dramas, and we are at the forefront to make UPN the #1 network on television. (Laughs)

JW: You have a small part in a movie called "Criminal" with John C. Reilly and Diego Luna coming out in September as well.
EC: I didn't know what happened with that. We did that last year, and I think it was delayed. Soderbergh and Clooney produced it. It was one of those things. We did "Full Frontal" a few years ago and I was invited to come in and do this small part for the film. "You wanna come play?" they asked, and I said "Yeah, let's play! Let the agents worry about the rest, I wanna play!" I like that. You want to work with people you've worked with before.

JW: What do you love the most about acting?
EC: (Pauses for a second) It's an opportunity to keep playing. The way we would play as children. When I'm working and I'm doing a particular kind of job I'm still a kid. I haven't really grown up. I get to make believe, I get to pretend. I get to play cowboys and indians. And make money at it! What happens is when you give yourself permission to go out and play, you expand your consciousness. You feel alive! You feel connected to everything. You're connected to the bigger picture. It's impossible to feel alive in every moment in your life. You have to take it easy, you have to rest. But when you're acting, it's a lot of adrenaline. It's a lot of stuff pouring out of you. That's what I love about it.

Thanks to the very amusing Enrico Colantoni for a wonderful interview. Also thanks to Liza Anderson from Warren Cowan and Associates for setting up this interview.

This is the fourth in a series of interviews for efilmcritic/HBS where an actor, be it upcoming, little-seen or under-looked, is interviewed for our website. Comments about this article can be sent to (click to send an email)

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originally posted: 08/29/04 06:13:12
last updated: 08/29/04 06:14:01
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