Although USA’s big ratings-grabber ‘In Plain Sight‘ doesn’t return for its second season until summer 2009, star Paul Ben-Victor – one of Hollywood’s most recognizable character actors from ‘The Wire,’ ‘Entourage,’ and ‘Everybody Hates Chris‘ – is dealing Fancast some big dish on the upcoming season. “In Plain Sight’s” premiere last summer drew 5.3 million viewers, in the top 10 of cable shows.
Several ‘In Plain Sight’ production and crew members have been “set aside,” Ben-Victor says. “Certain people have been set aside, I can tell you that,” he tells Fancast. “I won’t mention names. But, the first year was definitely a learning year – little things, like we had to get the set direction right, and protect Mary’s [McCormack] character, early on in the first season.”
“In Plain Sight’s” second season still has star Mary McCormack in the crazy world of the Witness Protection Program as a U.S. Marshal. Her bar-loving mother, played by Lesley Ann Warren, will make an attempt at curbing her alcohol consumption, Ben-Victor says. He adds, however, that McCormack’s volatile relationships with her mother and sister, played by Nichole Hiltz will continue.
After shooting eight episodes on this season’s ‘Everybody Hates Chris,’ Ben-Victor, who plays a crazy gym coach, says the show has an uncertain future. In its fourth season, now on The CW and previously on UPN, ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ is executive-produced and narrated by Chris Rock. It may be Rock’s busy schedule that prevents the show from going on, Ben-Victor says: “I think it’s on the fence, 50-50 with that show. I think if it does come back, it would have a lot to do with Chris Rock and his schedule, and what he’s been able to do. His schedule may have been a hindrance for him to continue doing it. I’m not sure, that’s sort of a rumor I heard.”
As a star of the ill-fated (but well-received) ‘John from Cincinnati,’ Ben-Victor says, in hindsight, premiering the show after “The Sopranos” provocative finale hurt it out of the gate. “It wasn’t positioned well,” he says. “After we realized it, people needed a few weeks just to breathe and talk about ‘Sopranos.’ There are people that invested their lives in that show for a number of years. You’ve got to let them go have their catharsis, their mourning. Then, they could take a look at fresh eyes with a new show.”
Q: How did your In Plain Sight shooting go today?
PBV: It was a good day. It’s been really nice since we got back from the holidays. We’re really settled in here. So, it’s nice when the machine runs smoothly. We’re doing 16 this season. We did six before the holiday, and seven or eight left, and we’ve done two. We go until May 4, the last day we’re shooting.
Q: How long does each episode take to shoot?
PBV: Seven days. It’s a point of contention. To do an hour-long drama in seven days is not easy. It’s almost not done. There are a few others, but most of them are 8, 9, 10 days. We’ve got to cram it in. Doing it is tough especially on the star. It’s really tough on Mary. There’s no extra time at all. You’ve got to run and run all day. It’s a lot of pressure. But, I enjoy it.
Q: What’s it like shooting in New Mexico?
PBV: We get a chance to hang out every few weeks, there’s a group that will go out to dinner, out to the tavern. It’s sort of an impromptu thing. It’s not a super young cast. I’m probably one of the oldest. Lesley Ann [Warren] is probably older. After her, it’s me. It’s funny, I feel like a senior. I’m getting up there. Albuquerque is a great place to work, for years there has been a lot of work there. The tax situation is good for production companies. There is not a lot of rain or snow. This series I think was written for Albuquerque. It’s one of the places the Witness Protection program was set. I’m not sure why it was chosen here, but it was written for Albuquerque. It’s a good reason to do a show. You save some dough. It’s definitely less expensive to shoot here than elsewhere. It’s a terrific gig. I think every year, I’m going to have one [show] dedicated to my character. This one was called, “One Night Stan.” Last year, there was one called “Stan by Me.” I have a chance to go to L.A. quite a bit, so it’s a very comfortable schedule for me.
Q: What’s happening story-wise this year?
PBV: One episode at a time, as it was last year. Each episode is a different case. Last year, there was one where we followed a Russian couple for a couple episodes. But this year, each episode is its own case. We start and end with one case. There are no ongoing guest characters. [Creator David Maples' wife] Holly Maples is a new character. Ali [Marsh], Fred [Weller]‘s wife is a new character. We’ve got a couple of the wives on the show this year. That’s the executive producer’s wife Eleanor, who’s playing the office assistant. She and I have a little fling. I’ve turned the corner in that regard. Holly Maples has done a lot of stuff in the past. I think she’s taken off a few years to be a mom. But, she’s done a lot of theater, and some film and television as well. Same with Fred’s wife. So, it just worked out. David likes to write to the reality of the people involved. So, they’re tailored to the actors and their lives.
Q: What did you guys learn from the first season? Anything you eliminated?
PBV: Yeah, like certain people! Certain people have been set aside, I can tell you that. I won’t mention names. But, the first year was definitely a learning year. The machine is well-oiled, finely tuned. It’s a chemistry thing on the set, not just with the actors. None of the actors have been replaced, but certain people below the line.
Q: Who was eliminated?
PBV: Crew, some of the production people. None of the executives, they’re in tact, those guys hold down the fort. Other folks have been juggled around, let’s say. Personalities have to work on a set. You’re working there everyday. After 16 hours, nerves get a little tense. You’ve got to be able to get along with everybody for months at a time. If the wheel is not spinning, you’ve got to replace it.
Q: Did it hold the show back creatively?
PBV: I don’t think anyone will see the results of that, creatively. Like I said this year, we’re off and running. Little things, like we had to get the set direction right, and protect Mary’s character, early on in the first season. What I’m talking about is behind the scenes, quiet, nobody really talks about it. The only thing that’s changed is getting people on board that are available and work well together. That sometimes takes a few seasons.
Q: Is Cristian de la Fuente back this year – and what kind of actor is he?
PBV: Well, I don’t think I’ve had a scene with him yet, because he plays Mary’s boyfriend. It’s another wing of the show, as it were. When she goes home, it’s that whole crazy home life. She’s got Nichole Hiltz her crazy sister. Lesley Ann Warren the alcohol-addicted mom. But, I now think she’s doing a turn in that regard. Cristian, I’ve hung out with him. We’ve flown back and forth together a couple times to L.A. I don’t think we’ll see much of each other on the set. But, he’s a great guy, interesting, he’s like a decorated Navy pilot from Chile. He’s got this whole background not many people know about.
Q: Did Cristian fly the plane?
PBV: It was a commercial airline. But, he’s got a whole other life I wasn’t aware of. He’s a military man back in Texas.
Q: Is he still injured from ‘Dancing with the Stars?’
PBV: Yeah, what happened with that? A lot of people get hurt on that show.
Q: You’re also doing ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ — what’s coming up for the rest of the season? Are you done on that show?
PBV: I’m done with it. They’re done with the season. But they haven’t shown all the episodes. I did 11. I think they only showed three or four new ones. There are another eight to go. I’m not sure when they’re going to air those. I’m not sure what’s happening with the CW Network. I got to tell you, I never had so much fun. That was a blast to work on. My character was such a lunatic. I pulled out all the stops. Sometimes you can go way over the top. And I feel like the tone of that show, there is no limit, you can just go nuts. I had a ball playing this maniacal psycho gym coach.
Q: What is Chris Rock’s input?
PBV: He’s behind the scenes. He tweaks and produces the show. He puts in final touches and does his voice. He’s a completion man. He helps put the thing together at the end. I don’t think he’s on the set very often, if he ever was. But, the show went four, five seasons. He may have been down earlier, but I never saw him.
Q: Is ‘Everybody Hates Chris’ continuing past this season?
PBV: I don’t think so. For some reason, [they] felt – but I don’t want to speak out of turn because that may not be the case. I think it’s on the fence, 50-50 with that show. I think if it does come back, it would have a lot to do with Chris Rock and his schedule, and what he’s been able to do. His schedule may have been a hindrance for him to continue doing it, I’m not sure, that’s sort of a rumor I heard. But you never know.
Q: The show needs him to go on?
PBV: Good point. I guess he has to put in the time to do voiceovers. So he’s got to be involved in that sense. Ali [LeRoi], who is his partner, he runs the show and writes most of them. Chris isn’t needed to write them. Who knows? I’m not in the world, so I don’t have access to that information.
Q: Your four HBO series – ‘John from Cincinnati,’ ‘The Wire,’ ‘Entourage’ and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ — which do you enjoy doing the most?
PBV: Well, each on had its own special thing for me. ‘The Wire’ in particular was an interesting getaway for me. I’d hop on a plane and go to Baltimore of all places. I was really left alone, I’d go into that coffee shop, drink some coffee and smoke those cigarettes, which I don’t do anymore, and am happy about. Just dive into this Greek mob guy. That was a fun place to disappear to. I like the flight and going to Baltimore. It’s a place I wouldn’t want to live. But it was an interesting dark, somewhat dreary city, beautiful in that way. Every time I went there, it was something very cave-like. I got to disappear into that character. It was special and unique. “John from Cincinnati” was a whole other crazy world, working with David Milch, because you don’t get a full script. You get your words the day of or night before, at most a couple days before. Some people, that process drives them crazy, but I really enjoyed it. The cast of characters, we were working in San Diego and staying in a hotel. It was Ed O’Neill, Luke Perry, a lot of ‘Deadwood’ guys. I made a bunch of new friends. It was a bunch of crazy nutty guys let loose in some adult acting camp. That was very special, I miss that show.
Q: Were you surprised ‘John from Cincinnati’ was canceled?
PBV: There were so many factors. We literally premiered the night ‘The Sopranos’ ended, which I think was a major blunder. You end one of the most popular series of all time, definitely HBO’s. Then, you immediately seconds later start this new show, right after ‘Deadwood’ was canceled. It wasn’t positioned well. After we realized it, people needed a few weeks just to breathe and talk about ‘Sopranos,’ at least a couple weeks. There are people that invested their lives in that show for a number of years. You’ve got to let them go have their catharsis, their mourning. Then, they could take a look at fresh eyes with a new show.
Nevertheless, we still did well with the ratings. A good friend and I talked about it. If that show were on now, it would probably stay on. We did very well. These days if a cable show does half as well as we did, it usually has a life. It was a very unique show that had its audience. Usually every other day, somebody comes up to me, saying, “I love that show. It was so different.” Overall, I wouldn’t call it a commercial hit, by any stretch. I think there were some inner turmoil and relationship issues with the higher-ups at HBO. They had some other issues going on. You always hope for the best. When I got the call from David Milch that it was not going to happen, it was a heartbreaker. Then, immediately the next day I started ‘In Plain Sight.’ Knock wood, I’m a lucky happy camper. I just get on the next playing field, trying to stay loose.
Q: Did you know about the controversial ‘Sopanos’ ending before it aired?
PBV: No, I’ve watched ‘The Sopranos’ in fits and spurts. I’ll grab a bunch of episodes. I didn’t tune in regularly to ‘The Sopranos.’ So, I’m not equipped to answer that question. I live a little bit under a rock. I’m not that aware of all the TV shows. I wasn’t into the whole ‘Sopranos’ craze.
Q: And ‘Entourage’ was fun?
PBV: I don’t know if you saw my heart attack on ‘Entourage.’ I wasn’t thrilled to be killed off. It’s never fun when you see the script and go, “Woah, they killed you.” But that heart attack, I got more condolence calls and emails. My doctor called me, left a message and said, “I know it’s television, but it looked like you got sick there. Are you OK?” He was concerned. If you’re going to die, that was a good way to go. Phil Mickelson was my golf pro on the day. That was definitely a nice send-off.
Q: And ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm‘ was more freeform?
PBV: With that show there is a lot of improvisation, but [creator Larry David] knows what he’s doing. There’s a structure to that show. It’s not like they discover what they’re doing every episode. It’s not as completely improvisational as people think. I think it’s developed over time. It was a blast to work with Larry David and those guys. It was a fun few days.
Q: Which HBO show would work best for a movie?
PBV: Well, imagine an ‘Entourage’ feature. It’s so popular. It’s unbelievable how many people watch that. I could see it being turned into a two-hour crazy night with all their characters. They’ve got to play out their, like ‘X-Files’ and ‘Sex and the City’ did, you need your five, six, seven years. Then, they start thinking about a movie. Maybe. With ‘In Plain Sight,’ I’d like to do six, seven years. I just did a 12-hour day. I’m a little fried here. [The show] did well over the summer. Hopefully we’ll continue for the duration.
Q: What would be your fantasy part?
PBV: Good question. I was thinking about that. Basically a role that I could sink my teeth into. You look at the guys getting Oscars. Like
they say, it’s the role that wins the award. Of course, everybody loves getting awards. It’s fun to get some rich, juicy role. I don’t know what it would be. It’s fun to play biographical characters. There are some older military guys I’m doing. I’ve always wanted to do Picasso. That’s a role I would do well. I did Moe from ‘The Three Stooges‘ in a TV movie years ago. You have to recreate and play believably. That was a real challenge. Maybe somebody in history, I don’t know, Picasso is somebody I’ve wanted to do.
Q: Will Mary McCormack’s relationships on ‘In Plain Sight’ get stronger this season?
PBV: I think if she starts getting along with people, the show would be over! If anything, it’s going the other way. She’s a little more hotheaded this year. She’s fired up. Her character is full of angst, all the wonderful colors she plays. This season will be even more exciting for her character. She’s terrific to work with, terrific to watch. We have a blast. Today we couldn’t get through a couple scenes without cracking up.
Q: You said Lesley’s character stops drinking?
PBV: Let’s just say it’s a roller-coaster. Well, we know she did last year, every other scene, she was in some bar. But this year she does tackle that issue. At least she attempts to tackle it.
Q: What’s next?
PBV: We film this through May. I wrote a film called Should Have Been Romeo that it looks like we’ll be getting off the ground in ’09 as well, with my best friend Mark Bennett directing. It’s my first screenplay. I co-wrote it with my mom, who’s a playwright for 30 years. I’m writing with my wonderfully brilliant, crazy, bizarre 75-year-old mom. She’s one of my best friends. We do write well together. We wrote this a few years back. Michael Goldberg is also a co-writer on it. He wrote Cool Runnings and Snow Dogs. It’s a feel of Big Fat Greek with Moonstruck and a little bit of Tootise. We’ll see where that goes!