Interview with Christopher Bolton (who plays Peter Hunter in Street Time) during the summer between the two seasons.
METTA: I have to sit close to you because of the noise in this restaurant.
METTA: I had an interview with Michelle the other day.
CHRIS: How was that?
METTA: Oh, she is wonderful. But I may have to type that up myself, I can't give it to anyone else. They wouldn't be able to understand what she is saying. Being there, I could transcribe most of it.
CHRIS: You could probably remember it.
METTA: Yeah, I could.
CHRIS: Well, there was an issue with her at the end of the year, involving her birth scene. There was an issue there. You didn't like that, did you? You didn't like the way that that went down did you?
METTA: No, I didn't like that. It just wasn't realistic -
CHRIS: That's what bothered me about it as well.
METTA: - in terms of how people respond to a woman in labor. In such a situation, nnothing else has any priority. Nothing else counts. They take care of that woman. And no matter what kind of thug the guy may be in normal life, at least when women are in labor, they get treated right, you know?
CHRIS: That would have been a beautiful way to go too.
CHRIS: If that had been a hushed down scene.
METTA: Yes, but as they interpreted it, the police were yelling and getting rough with Kevin. I wasn't worried about whether they did anything to Kevin. I was worried about how they were abusing the woman and child. The baby needs a decent birth, you know, you don't do that to a baby.
CHRIS: Yeah, well, I had a really interesting conversation with a friend of mine who studied birth trauma and the results later in life. It came out of the fact that I said I was claustrophobic and she wondered how long my mother had been in labor.
METTA: That's interesting. Was it a long labor?
CHRIS: Twenty-four hours.
METTA: My mother too. And I tell you, I get the willies. I ended up with anxiety attacks.
CHRIS: Yes, and if I'm in a room that's too dark, if I can't see light, or some sort of definition of light, I feel that I am being buried alive.
METTA: Very interesting. I've known that about myself for years. I did primal therapy at one time. I don't believe that primal therapy relieves things. In fact, what it did is exacerbate it because a guy held me down and put a pillow over my head, to get me into this traumatic memory, and I tell you, I felt worse off afterward. I had anxiety attacks.
METTA: Yeah. You know at night I went through the dreams about being trapped and everything,
METTA: Well, I never had those before. I would never have said that I was claustrophobic until after I had that primal therapy thing. I had had experiences that I now know were claustrophobia, but at the time I didn't identify them. Once, somebody came to my house and left a "mummy" sleeping bag there. I'd never been in one, so I got in it for fun. Well, I couldn't get out of that thing fast enough. Just the idea of being tied down and unable to move my limbs!
CHRIS: Yes, I know. I sleep on my back, but it took me a long, long time. And if it is warm enough I always stick one leg out.
METTA: That's fascinating that you have claustrophobia. I felt it was not the way a man should actually treat a woman. I wasn't worried about what they did to Kevin. I mean I like Kevin. I don't care - yes, I do care, but I wasn't worried about him. I was worried about what they were doing to her and the baby. That didn't seem to count.
CHRIS: I understand.
METTA: There is only one recommendation that I have, only one thing that I would say a storyteller should never, never do. I sent out questions to about forty of my friends who had emails. I said, can you tell me the name of a novel or a play or any kind of fiction in which you start off loving a character and then he turns into a villain and never rehabilitates. No redemption at the end. And out of my forty friends, people identified only eight such plots. So it's a very rare thing for writers to do - to love a character and then turn against him.
And then I asked them how they felt about this and every one of them said they hated that show. One show got mentioned twice. Two people thought of it. That was The Talented Mr. Ripley.
METTA: I haven't seen it. They said you start off loving him and then turn to hating him. In your case, if Peter turns into a murderer, that's not so bad because we never loved you from the start. I thought that James Liberti was not as lovable as Kevin, even from the beginning. And by the time he finished what he did, I'd never give him the time of day again. No more. I would never empathise with this guy again. Now that, to me, is something you don't ever want to do - make a lovable person irredeemable.
CHRIS: That's a strong reaction, and not at all an invalid one. I think it was a........and I'm on your side on that one, I don't agree with it at all.
METTA: You didn't like the script?
CHRIS: I did and I didn't. I like that sort of thing. I was quite put off by the actions of the characters , in a way. I mean, when I consider James's situation at the time, I could understand a reaction such as that, whether I agree with it or not. It's like hitting a child or - Here's a classic; I don't like snapping at my girlfriend. We were out on the ice the other day. There was some water, and my dog's ball went through, and I told her to get off the ice. She started questioning me and I told her "Shut up and get off the ice." That's like, that's survival.
METTA: Yes. Sure.
CHRIS: I'm not sure how well I can explain this. James went so far down and in a way, his love for Kevin, all those things mixed together, who knows how he would have gone off, to what extent his temper would have flared.
My girlfriend and her ex are in custody battles over their children and he is trying very hard to be the father he never was to his kids, but at the same time, he is trying to win. His wife and kids are separated, so that is the worst possible thing he could be doing, but he is blind to it. So, I don't know.
METTA: By all means, such things do happen. It's not hard for me to see, given the relationship between Kevin and James. In fact, I went over to ask my next-door neighbor, who's a doctor. In labor, a woman really needs to be taken care of. She said that everything else stops while they take care of her, no matter how bad they ordinarily are.
CHRIS: Do they always take care of her?
METTA: Yeah, why? She said they do. Would you think they wouldn't?
CHRIS: I would imagine that a good many men would be scared shitless of that experience.
METTA: Yeah, she said they're scared. But however callous or indifferent they may be normally, at least they are decent. Really, that was my objection. And I obviously really ticked off Scott.
CHRIS: Oh really? What happened?
METTA: Really. I was standing by the monitor ater the scene and Rob came through. I said, "That scene is despicable." He stopped and listened to me. He is pretty open minded.
CHRIS: He can be.
METTA: So he listened to me and then he said, "Richard, she might be right." But Richard wasn't really listening to me. They just pretend they do. Then Scott came through and I said, "Every woman will hate you Scott." And he said, "Fuck you" and walked off.
CHRIS: If we were to call Scott right now, I would venture to say that it haunts him to this day, that that was his reaction. If I had to bet.
METTA: I didn't know what to say, I mean I didn't have a chance to say anything, he was gone by the time I could have replied. [INTERRUPTION HERE AS SOMEONE STOPS TO CHAT.]
CHRIS: The guy who designed and built the Olympic Stadium in Montreal may have known right near the offset that he had designed a faulty building, but did he want to hear it then?
METTA: Uh huh. I thought that was it was still possible to change the scene at that point.
CHRIS: Maybe you're right.
METTA: Later I went to watch them edit and it happened to be that episode. They had already cut a lot before I arrived. Marc was there. He said to cut as much of the scene as possible - take out all that screaming and yelling. But they couldn't take it all out, because there were certain lines that really needed to be there in order to make the story work. Have you seen that episode yet?
CHRIS: I saw that footage .
METTA: You say that with .........
CHRIS: You see, they do that a lot, they push things, push things. That became how we worked. If you put one more personality into this mixture that didn't jibe with the way we work, it would give us trouble. Everybody is responsible for the show, and a lot of it comes from being allowed to go too far. You can always cut back. Often what will happen though, is that they will push, push, push - and then they will cut it away, whittle it down in the editing. But in a situation like that, if I am hearing you correctly, it sounds like one of those thems when you give yourself no room to get anything other than what you shot.
METTA: I don't know what happened to me. At the time I was thinking, "this is all wrong, this is not going to work." Every woman seeing this is going to decide never to watch this show again. I couldn't watch it again.. That was just enough to push me over the edge. I can watch a lot, but I was really mad.
METTA: Often we take creative license to write and perform hype and over-the-top emotion and that sort of thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Now what they do with the show next - I am concerned about Peter, what they do with him next year.
METTA: Yeah. I want to talk about that now, because it was on my agenda to ask you.
CHRIS: I would like to spend a lot of next year feeling a tremendous amount of remorse and guilt for what has happened. As driven as I was to explore the mind of the murderer, now -
METTA: You know, I think Peter's redeemable.
CHRIS: Without a doubt. That is so important.
CHRIS: Rob Smith? Yes, I think so. The actor's name is Rob Smith.
METTA: Is he going to be still around? I mean ..
CHRIS: Yes I ran into him the other day and he had just sent Mark and Richard an email saying, "I think I should be stalking Dee." Which I think is pretty interesting. As a device for Erika's or Dee's exploration oF her vulnerability, it's a good thing, If it is a big high faluting lot of screen time story, it is not interesting to me. But as a device for the exploration of vulnerability, it would be nice.
METTA: But Erika .........
CHRIS: She has no story line, nothing.
METTA: Yeah, but she has made that character into a very interesting person.
CHRIS: Yeah, she fought really hard, because the show just went in our direction. It went in James's, Kevin's, my, and Rachel's direction.
METTA: Speaking of being an interesting person, I don't think Rachel was interesting at first, except that insofar as she was an idiot. You know, smoking a joint where it would affect Kevin. You had to dislike her for that. But the rest of the time she was sort of a nice woman. I was sure she would get down to a more feminine side. But later on, she became more interesting.
CHRIS: Yeah. She came around. Yeah, I agree.
METTA: I thought James was very interesting.
CHRIS: I think we need one or two very strong females and a woman writer. There is one woman, a friend of a lot of us, whose name is Annie. Did you meet her while she was down here? She's the kind of woman who would be perfect. She writes for DC Comics. She writes super hero stuff. When she needs a break from it all, she goes to Haiti. You gotta see her. This woman is wild. But she is a fantastically sharp writer and a strong woman, making many of the mistakes they would be all over her for, but I appreciate that.
METTA: Who would be all over her?
CHRIS: Feminists, but I appreciate that.
METTA: Rob says that he hears people saying that the show is bleak and that bothers him. He thinks they need to have more of something.
CHRIS: More hope?
METTA: More of something lighter.
[There is a line or two in here which is inaudible. It was a discussion about David Assael. I mentioned knowing him in connection to this problem of bleakness.]
METTA: So, with David Assael. Did you meet him?
CHRIS: No, but his name sounds familiar. I have a feeling that Rob mentioned him.
METTA: Rob didn't remember him, and that surprised me. I think David wrote seven of the best episodes of Northern Exposure. He lives in LA. What he did, is, he is a friend of Josh Brand, so he set me up for lunch with Josh Brand, just so we could have a conversation.
METTA: Anyway, he and I talk on the phone sometimes and he says he's been lobbying this year to get a job writing Street Time.
CHRIS: This is the guy. That's why I know his name.
METTA: How do you know that?
CHRIS: Because Richard told me about this guy and it was actually that exact story that reminded me of him - the fact that Rob didn't remember him. I was sitting there when Richard showed him his stuff and he said something like "I know this guy," but then ...
METTA: David said he knew Richard. He hoped to join the writing group. He said that they knew for sure he was a writer.
CHRIS: I'll mention it to Richard when I talk to him in the next day or so.
METTA: I wrote a note to Rob. I don't know whether or not he got it.
CHRIS: I'll mention it to Richard.
METTA: Do you know any of his Northern Exposure episodes? I mean I can identify some of them. One of them was Spring Break. Do you remember that?
CHRIS: I came to the show very late, much to my chagrin.
METTA: And the reason I thought this was a good idea when David talked to me about it, he said "I think I have the voice for this kind of thing." [Inaudible] What I said in my note to Rob is that David is the perfect man to cure it of bleakness.
[INTERRUPTION HERE AS WE ARE SERVED.]
METTA: You've got a lot of friends around here. Because you live south of Queen Street, I guess.
CHRIS: Well, yes. Here and Little Italy. It's a pretty tight community around here.
METTA: So what happens when you run into people who recognise you as an actor?
CHRIS: It doesn't happen on Street Time at all. But in the States, when I was in Washington and New York, I got recognised quite a bit. And up here I get recognised for stuff I have done in the past.
METTA: Like what?
CHRIS: I did a series when I was nineteen or twenty called with Jerry O'Connell and I get recognised for that quite a bit. And I say, "Thank you very much. That was twelve years ago."
METTA: Oh really. Like Matthew Broderick being recognised for ahhhh-
CHRIS: Ferris Beuller?
CHRIS: He hasn't changed a bit; he hasn't changed a bit.
METTA: Yeah, that's true.
CHRIS: I hesitate to say what I think affects the show a little bit, only because things may get worse, I have to say that, in terms of the bleakness.
CHRIS: Well, Richard and Mark have taken their shot. They only answer to one person now at Sony. They have removed a lot of the middle managers. A lot of Showtime people have been removed. That's what they wanted. They are very happy about it. But I think Richard's experience on parole was bleak. You know? It's a shitty life having to check in every day.
[ANOTHER INTERRUPTION HERE.]
CHRIS: So, the editing?
METTA: The fact that Marc turned around and wanted the screaming and yelling cut out, I don't know whether that was something he and Richard had talked about.
CHRIS: For sure.
METTA: So, how could they have changed their minds?
CHRIS: You see, as a performer, you get caught up and you sometimes mistake "charge" - you know that "charge" - for good acting. ... Sometimes you're given licence to scream your head off. That, I think, is undisciplined. Say you've got a set of 60 or 80 people and a creative team that are at the centre of that, and all this buzz is going around. You get caught up in it. But with more time and space, you simmer down.
METTA: Okay. Well, regarding the rehabilitation of Peter. How are they going to do that?
CHRIS: I have no idea.
METTA: How come they never let you know?
CHRIS: They do.
METTA: They do?
CHRIS: And I'll be a big part of that process. We just haven't started talking about it and I haven't been interested in it because I don't like to work for free. Until we knew we were coming back, there was no point in talking about it. So now that we are getting another season, what do we do? I guess I would have to speak to what becoming a killer meant before I can talk about Peter's rehab. The question that I asked in my journals was, "How does a thinking, conscious person commit murder?" The way that I rationalise that is that it was to save his family. It was also to save his ass, but it was more to save his family.
METTA: Including Kevin.
CHRIS: Especially Kevin.
CHRIS: I mean we played Peter's need for Kevin's validation from the get go. So why, when there was a chance to save him, wouldn't he take it? ... He is prepared to kill. And also, he was becoming consumed by the power. Have you ever held a gun?
CHRIS: It is a wild -
METTA: Interesting thought. I've never touched a gun.
CHRIS: Why don't we go to the shooting range sometime?
METTA: Oh no.
CHRIS: Really? Not even just to feel it?
METTA: A very interesting theory.
CHRIS: You jumped on "Oh no" so quickly.
METTA: I'm a peace activist.
CHRIS: I understand, but there's no way-
METTA: I taught peace studies for 13 years, I organized an undergraduate peace studies program and I ran it.
CHRIS: So, why are you fighting against it?
[INAUDIBLE CONVERSATION. HE IS TELLING ME ABOUT A TIME IN CALIRFORNIA WHEN HE TRAVELED WITH A GUY WHO WAS CARRYING A GUN.]
CHRIS: So, Brisko was playing that night in Santa Cruz and I bought us a few tickets... I was 21 or 22 and very excited and young and he was 48 or 49 and it was tougher to get him off his ass. He wasn't that interested, he would sit back with his beer and he was fine. Anyway, we went and got a bit drunk and ended up doing wheelies down the drag in Santa Cruz. It was very embarrassing. We went back to our hotel room and he opened up his bag and he had a Glock, which is a pretty famous gun and there it was on top. So I'm drunk, and I'm a young drunk, coming to call my mother in this hotel room. I'm laughing away. I remember that the power associated with that was phenomenal. When I was filming Brisko, all this peripheral stuff before the murder, I insisted on having the gun with me at all times. Because of how it makes you walk when it's stuffed into your pants. It's different. But even when we were driving around in the car, and the buildup to the murder and stuff, I always had the gun with me. Because when it's stuffed into your pants, it's a powerful thing to know you could kill someone. Now that's make believe.
METTA: It wasn't a real gun?
CHRIS: Yeah, they gave me a rubber gun. It's just that my job is to pretend, so I could pretend that it was a real gun. Knowing that you could kill somebody, it's frightening. I can't remember what this is called, or even if it does have a name, but having that desire to jump in front of the train when it's coming into the station. The desire to use a gun when it's on you is not the desire, but the impulse. Have you ever had that impulse to jump in front of a train? Have you heard it talked about?
METTA: I don't think so but I once had a fear of an impulse about balconies. I remember when I was eight years old and I had a purse. I had an impulse to drop the purse off the edge of the balcony.
CHRIS: Yeah, it's probably a lot of the same thing. But when I was younger, I used to come downtown and take the subway. I would stand up against the wall when it was coming in, because if I was touching the wall, I knew I couldn't be in front of the train. It wasn't a fear, it was something else.
METTA: That's interesting. And other people have it too? You speak as if it is something common.
CHRIS: Uh huh.
METTA: Cause I'm not sure I was aware of it.
CHRIS: Yes, I've heard of it talked about often.
METTA: So you didn't want to kill Goldie?
CHRIS: I did want to kill Goldie. I did want to kill Goldie for the story, for the art. He'd give us something for this year. I have to disappear this coming year. This has to be my last year.
CHRIS: Because I don't think anything else would be believable. I mean, I either have to leave-if Kevin gets out, if I were Rachel, I would say to Peter, "Leave, please leave."
METTA: Yeah, but you're going to be around.
CHRIS: I'm going to have the full season. Peter would have to be killed or leave, or be asked to leave voluntarily by the other characters.
METTA: How are they going to get Kevin out jail? They've got a good case against him. It's hard to say how they are going to get him out. Do you have a theory?
CHRIS: I can't remember exactly how it goes, but this was something that happened to Richard, a technicality probably. But they cover their asses that way. So, did I want to kill Goldie? Yes, I just didn't want to do it with a tire iron. As Peter, I had such disdain for that guy near the end. You knew I'd do it.
CHRIS: I'd been wanting to.
METTA: Yeah, I can see that. Goldie really was a scuzzy character. But you weren't so great yourself.
CHRIS: Definitely not. But then, there's not a lot of compassion in that world. Kill or be killed. I mean it shouldn't be, cause it's pot. Part of what we were trying to say was that this is what we turn this pot business into by making it illegal.
METTA: Uh huh. How did you become an actor?
CHRIS: I accidentally auditioned for a school play "Arsenic and Old Lace." I got the lead. Mortimer Brewster. And it was definitely the thrill that got me. I told my parents I wanted to do it and they were not impressed, so I did it all on my own. I was fifteen and I auditioned for a bunch of agents in Toronto. One of them took me on and that was it. I landed my first three gigs, I did a commercial, a movie and a series all back to back. I got lucky.
METTA: [INAUDIBLE, BUT I THINK I ASKED WHETHER HE HAD GONE TO ACTING SCHOOL.]
CHRIS: I did not.
METTA: Do you think this would have made any difference?
CHRIS: Not for me.
CHRIS: My schooling is my life. What I learned as a farmer teaches me how to be an actor.
METTA: As a farmer?
CHRIS: Yes. I worked all last summer on an organic farm, last winter with a cheesemaker.
METTA: And how does that inform your acting?
CHRIS: I couldn't tell you. What I learned is that life is what I employ. I started this way of auditioning a couple of years ago, and what I would do is, I would read, I would commit as best I could my script pages to memory, And then I would, before going in, I don't know if you've been in an audition, but everybody is looking at the pages, trying to keep going over their lines so they would not forget. But I would sit and meditate and try to get it out. And the main thing, the frightening feeling would be, to get up, walk to the door and not being able to remember the lines. But as soon as it started (and I fell flat on my face once or twice trying it) it quickly bacame the best year that I had. And last summer when I was on the farm, I wrote countless entries in my journal about instinct.
METTA: You're keeping a journal?
CHRIS: Since I was 19.
METTA: And that's important to your work.
CHRIS: My work is, I'm an actor last. I could leave this business with no hard feelings. But in the business, I think what makes me an okay actor is that I like life and I have lots going on outside. I don't take acting classes, and I don't have any friends who are actors.
METTA: How much difference does it make with the other actors, the writers and so on? I'm not even sure what my question is.
CHRIS: Let me try to guess what your question is.
CHRIS: Rob and I work very differently. Extremely differently. Rob is so detail-oriented. He goes through his scripts word by word by word. We did a scene at a kitchen table when we go back to visit Mom and Dad. He says, "What do you think I have been doing for the last five years? I was selling pot. You never came and visited me in prison." I don't know if you remember that?
METTA: Sure, I remember something about it.
CHRIS: Rob did the entire scene, backwards and forwards, every single person's lines. I didn't even know my own lines. So we work very, very differently. I shoot from the head, Rob has it all planned out. We have gained respect for one another's process and now have to compromise, we have to give and take if we're going to use one another's stuff.
METTA: You said something that surprised me when I said Rob was open minded.
CHRIS: Rob's being open minded? That's what I'm talking about.
METTA: So he is not open minded? What kind of interaction reveals to you that he is not open minded?
CHRIS: That's what I was just saying. It took us time to realize how one another worked and in the beginning when I would give Rob something he didn't expect, he does, he does - Rob ad libs within the context of the written scene, I think. He takes pieces out of nowhere. I mean nothing, totally nonsensical. I like the shooting off on some other thing, as a writer. I got to train a few years ago and I trained hard to write the "off point."
METTA: To write what?
CHRIS: To write the "off point"- to let the subtext tell you -
METTA: I don't understand what you are getting at there, about writing and the subtext.
CHRIS: In writing, if people are talking about their relationship to cake, say, clearly they are talking about their relationship to one another. That always interested me. Writers always wanted to write that way. There are several instances where I would bring up the "cake," and those were the sources of contention with Rob in the beginning. I ran into one instance where Rob just laughed me off. That was when he started to approach it as if I was just being the odd little brother who would say weird things...
METTA: I don't know what's going to happen next season. I figured I was very lucky to be on the set for the whole first season. Jennifer once told me that if the Hollywood people knew I was there, they would have a fit.
CHRIS: Yeah, but that's not Richard.
METTA: I felt I was pushing my luck. I got my foot in the door and I just kept coming back. But I don't know how far to push that.
CHRIS: I think you should push it until you get everything you need.
METTA: Yes, you're right.
CHRIS: Absolutely. I talked to Richard about the first season and my experience with Richard, as far as you're concerned, is that he was excited to have you there. In the beginning, anyway. I don't know about near the end.