GREY’S ANATOMY returns tonight with all new episodes. Among the big storylines for tonight’s episode (including Sloan coming to terms with his tryst with Lexie and Izzie admitting Denny’s presence in her life) the big news is the arrival of a death row inmate at Seattle Grace who drives a wedge in Meredith’s relationships with Derek and Cristina.
Eric Stoltz (who is wonderfully sarcastic and funny) plays serial killer William Dunn, and he was kind enough to spend some time with me to discuss what his character is all about and the major difference between directing an episode of GREY’S versus NIP/TUCK [both descriptions involve a crazy dinner table]. He also gives us a little tease about the latest SciFi show on everyone’s mind, CAPRICA.
Am: You are going to have a couple episodes on GREY’S ANATOMY. Tell me about the character, how it came to be, all the good stuff.
Eric Stoltz: Well, I play William Dunn, who is a deathrow inmate. It came to be, Shonda Rhimes called me while I was editing an episode that I directed of GREY’S ANATOMY called “Brave New World.” And she called, and said she wanted to come up and talk to me about a role that she wanted me to play. In the 45 minutes between that phone call and the time she came into the editing room, I did not get much work done. I was thrilled, wondering what kind of role she envisioned me bringing to life. I was certain it was some kind of Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart romantic hero, a charming and honorable man who waltzes in and a romance erupts. You can imagine my surprise when she told me it was the role of William Dunn, the serial killer [laughs]. My ego heads in one direction and reality is more likely than not, somewhere else entirely.
How is it versus being behind the camera, now being in front of the camera on the show?
It was a great relief. A lot less pressure, and a lot more fun.
Why do you think people should tune in to catch your episodes?
[laughs out loud at me]
That sounded a lot less ego-driven on paper ha!
[laughs] That’s a very funny question. I haven’t the foggiest idea. If they like the show, they should absolutely tune in, and if they don’t, they should watch something else!
Who do you interact with most in your arc?
I wedge myself between Derek and Meredith and I also sort of get between Meredith and Cristina. I’m sort of mixing it up a little bit, although the entire three episodes, I’m handcuffed to a bed; there’s not really a lot I can do physically.
You’ve played a wide variety of roles in your career. How do you make the decision to play certain characters, or what characters you want to pursue?
Well, that criteria changes and shifts on a weekly basis. Sometimes it’s if I respond to a script or if I like the character itself, or what the overall message might be of the piece. Or I like the director, or I respect the actress. Or I might need money. There are a million reasons that are constantly changing.
Do you have a favorite medium – film, theatre, TV?
I don’t, really. They’re all entirely different and have their pros and cons, and I’m able to appreciate them all. I think at this point, I’m romanticizing the stage, because I haven’t done a play in a year or so. Whatever I haven’t done in a while, I tend to miss.
Do you get a chance to watch much TV?
No, not really.
Well, my next question was what do you watch, haha! Scratch that off the list!
[laughs] You know what happens? I’m in the midst of directing an episode of NIP/TUCK.
I did read that.
It’s true! [laughs] I go to work at 6 in the morning and you work for 12 to 15 hours and then you come home and you watch the dailies, which is the material that you shot the day before. There’s really very little time to catch your breath.
Now what’s the difference between shooting a show like GREY’S ANATOMY and shooting a show like NIP/TUCK?
Where do I begin? GREY’S ANATOMY is like having a giant Christmas dinner with all your relatives in one room, at one table, and they’re all a little drunk, they’re not sure if you can cook and someone doesn’t like the potatoes, and someone would rather be at a restaurant, but after the dinner, one of them tells a story, and the rest chime in, and everyone starts laughing and toasting, and suddenly inspite of all the pressure and the tension, you really feel connected to them and you love them all beyond words and you feel like you’re a part of a huge family of freaks. But NIP/TUCK is more like an intimate dinner with 2 or 3 friends and someone drinks too much, and you get in an argument about ethics or biology and meaning and nature of beauty; you end up punching someone, and then kissing someone else, and going home, the next morning, wondering what you’ve done.
[we’re both laughing over each other] That’s the most long winded answer possible. I hope you edit that down to two sentences [Editor’s note: I thought it was hilarious, so I didn’t edit it down. Even the most long winded answer possible was rather eloquent and charming]. So GREY’S, it was like a dinner…
…and NIP/TUCK is like a night you can’t remember! So I know we’re about a year off, but CAPRICA is coming up and we’re all really excited about that. What can you tease in a few sentences about what we should expect?
Well, I would say, wonderfully rich and interesting writing and scenes, and smart and complicated characters, exploring issues that are related to BATTLESTAR but not quite connected to it. I’m always asked by the BATTLESTAR fans, the big BSG fans, if there’s links, connections, or how are they going to do it. Really, as much as I love BATTLESTAR, I want it to be clear that CAPRICA is its own beast. There’s really not much that we share with BATTLESTAR other than, you know, Adama, who appears as a child in our show. There aren’t really the spaceships and the battles and the pursuits. It’s a completely different world. I hope that the BSG fans will enjoy it and give it a chance, and really, not think of it so much as a prequel to BSG, but as a distant relative.
What else do you have coming up that you want to chat about?
I just finished an independent film, shot in Wisconsin, called FORT MCCOY, with Seymour Cassel, and Kate Connor, and Brendan Fehr. It’s a World War II story, true story, about one of the few internment camps in the United States, with both Nazis and Japanese prisoners.
So a real lighthearted film…
[without missing a beat] It’s a musical [laughs]!
Do you know when that’ll be out and we can look for that?
I don’t. We just finished shooting it before I did the GREY’S ANATOMY. They’re starting to edit it now. The GREY’S ANATOMY, you shoot it, they edit it, and it seems to be on television in the next week, or two. Independent films have a completely different post production schedule.
Seriously, thank you for spending time with me today – I have to say it, SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL is one of my favorite films!
[laughs out loud at me again] Well thank you!
All new GREY’S ANATOMY premieres after an all new UGLY BETTY and right before an all new PRIVATE PRACTICE, all tonight, starting at 8. Tune in for another exclusive interview with PRIVATE PRACTICE’s Wyatt Lockhardt and BETTER OFF TED star Jay Harrington, coming up today!