"Tom, as an actor and a director – he directed the second half – he’s really good as both. He talks to you like what he’s thinking as an actor. He talks to you about things that actors talk about, not just the shots and stuff like that. He takes time and talks about character and motivation in this scene and objectives and things like that."
Q: And you think that all comes from Tom also being an actor?
"Yeah, ‘cause he kind of grew up on the set, right? I think you kind of learn about cameras and angles and lighting, you can learn about that technically, but you can’t really be taught how to work with actors, you have to experience that. And that definitely, I think, comes out of his experience, because I think he’s very relaxed and chilled out on set. He doesn’t freak out or go into shock (laughs) or any of that. He’s an old seasoned pro as a director, as far as I was concerned. Very easy to work with. He lets you try things, like let your actors do their acting, which is very important I think. It was great."
The entire interview follows:
DR. FATE AND STARGIRL
By Jim Beard
February 2nd, 2010
“As Fate Would Have It”
I thought I’d tempt Fate by once again breaking into our ongoing review of the Batman titles, this time to interview…Fate.
Fans of the Justice Society of America are already cordoning off their space on the couch to view this Friday’s premiere of the SMALLVILLE movie “Absolute Justice.” In it two JSAers will be brought to live-action life for the very first time: Stargirl and Dr. Fate.
Brent Stait’s an incredibly prolific actor, so much in fact that IMDB is considering setting up an annex for his film credits. Hey – Brent himself chuckled at that joke so if it’s good enough for him its good enough for you, bucko! Anyway, Brent’s career encompasses guest-spots in such genre series as THE X-FILES, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, ANDROMEDA and STARGATE, as well as a multitude of other roles. Now, he dons the mystic helmet and amulet of Nabu to combat evil as DC’s legendary leader of legerdemain, Dr. Fate.
Brent plays the costumed Fate as we comic fans know him but it’s his portrayal of Kent Nelson, the man beneath the helmet, that I think will stand above the superheroics and be remembered once the movie ends. Tortured and twisted of mind, his Kent may come as a bit of a shock to some. Brent was wonderfully nice enough to take some time and talk to me about his SMALLVILLE experience.
WARNING: Possible Spoilers!
JIM: Brent, what was your initial reaction to this role when it was offered to you? What made you take the part?
BRENT: What a really drew me to it was the way they portray Kent Nelson, with the constant murmuring of the voices in his head and his conscience going mad. And as an actor that’s always fun. I’ve played a brain-damaged character before. During ANDROMEDA I had done some research on brain injuries and the different kind of injuries and such and I applied a bit of that to the character and thought that’d be very interesting. And it was a fun part to play. Dr. Fate’s been around forever and I love the fact that they were using these guys from the 1940s.
JIM: Sounds like that aspect of it really appealed to you…
BRENT: When I was a young guy I would still listen to radio and my dad had listened to a lot of [radio] and would talk about it and I loved that whole kind of “voice” that they had on the shows and that’s why I kind of came up with the whole Dr. Fate thing. You know The Shadow? The Shadow was in that kind of style of radio acting, the voice that they did in that time, that carried over into the characters. I thought that was really interesting.
I thought it’d be a lot of fun. The alter-ego is so radically different from the guy in the mask and I wanted to play that. The series I did before, ANDROMEDA, I was in a mask, a latex mask, and you have some movement in that, you know, but in this you have to try and make the mask work and you only have your voice really and your physical movements. So it was fun to play two completely different characters.
JIM: This is the first time for Dr Fate in live action. Did you look into his history at all?
BRENT: I had heard that and I really wanted to make a mark with him, because I said, “This is the first time?” I’ve got to find something really hook-y on this, something really interesting. So I went and looked at comics and tried to find some stuff on him as I could. I had a couple of fans from ANDROMEDA that helped me out finding comic books.
JIM: (Laughs) You know how helpful fans can get when they’re excited about something.
JIM: In “Absolute Justice” Kent has seen much better days – what’s he all about? What’s your take on him?
BRENT: You find out quite a bit about the history of the guys and the JSA [in the film] but because Kent Nelson’s been around so long they can’t cover it all. He had a wife and he was in love and he was really bonded to his wife. You don’t see that connection so much – you get a lot more of Hawkman’s connection with his wife than you do of Kent’s – but there’s a really nice scene where he talks about her a bit, he has a memory of her.
It really kind of takes you into that place where you know he was at one time. A normal guy, right? That’s his last sort of chance to convey – like he’s given a window in the madness, to actually get a chance to say what he wants to say. And he does. I played that as a choice that he makes. He knows what’s going to happen, right? He sees the future. That idea that, if you knew this was going to be your end would you still choose it if it was beneficial overall? That was the idea I had in my head. And I think that’s what he does, and he also kind of wants this to be over, in a way. ‘Cause he wants his wife and his life and all those kind of things back.
You know, in the comic book – from what I’ve read, and I hope I get this right (laughs) – I kind of got the fact that Nabu, at the beginning, promises [Kent] that if he does what he does and he goes all thru the stages with Nabu, that in the end he’ll be rewarded. He doesn’t talk about the reward but he knows at the end he’ll be set free, is kind of the idea, isn’t it? So I think he kind of looks forward to that, you know, that he’ll be reunited with his wife. Its kind of like, he’s been around so long that it’s probably everybody he knows, except for Hawkman. That’s kind of why we had that strong relationship between Michael and I, ‘cause everybody else he knows is gone.
JIM: I’m glad you mentioned your co-star, Michael Shanks, who plays Hawkman. What was it like working with him and Britt Irvin as Stargirl?
BRENT: Well, it was interesting with Michael because I played Feretti in STARGATE in the pilot episode, what? Ten years ago? And that’s where I met Michael and since then we’ve worked together on other shows – he came on ANDROMEDA and did a guest-spot. I’ve known Michael for quite a long time now and our backgrounds are very similar.
We right away wanted to really have that strong relationship because these guys have been friends forever and Michael’s character kind of looks after Kent. We really wanted to form that bond and it was easy to do that because I’ve known Michael a long time and we could talk open and easily about things as actors.
And Britt, she’s great ‘cause she’s young and she’s gung-ho (laughs) and her character’s kind of young and gung-ho. She’s very good.
JIM: Conversely, what was it like coming into the SMALLVILLE universe and working with its well-seasoned cast and crew?
BRENT: Well, they were great. Really. They’ve been together for a long time and they’re a well-oiled machine. They’re really easy to work with and very generous. Tom [Welling], as an actor and a director – he directed the second half – he’s really good as both. He talks to you like what he’s thinking as an actor. He talks to you about things that actors talk about, not just the shots and stuff like that. He takes time and talks about character and motivation in this scene and objectives and things like that.
JIM: And you think that all comes from Tom also being an actor?
BRENT: Yeah, ‘cause he kind of grew up on the set, right? I think you kind of learn about cameras and angles and lighting, you can learn about that technically, but you can’t really be taught how to work with actors, you have to experience that. And that definitely, I think, comes out of his experience, because I think he’s very relaxed and chilled out on set. He doesn’t freak out or go into shock (laughs) or any of that. He’s an old seasoned pro as a director, as far as I was concerned. Very easy to work with. He lets you try things, like let your actors do their acting, which is very important I think. It was great.
JIM: Let’s talk about the Dr. Fate costume, which is very faithful to the original comic version. What was it like wearing it?
BRENT: Yellow and blue, off the top, right? (laughs) Wow, it’s bright! Primary colors! I liked it a lot, actually, and it was all done in leather and the guys who made it were great and they tailored it really well. And it has that 1940s kind of thing, and they stayed pretty authentic to what I had seen in the comic books. Then, at first I thought, “Oh gee, how am I going to make the mask work?” But it’s really interesting with the tilt of the head and the lighting and the lights in the mask, you know? Which is kind of cool.
And I first thought, “Hmm, he doesn’t do any fighting” and in the show just uses the power in his hands – I actually went and looked at the comic books and you know how they always use the hands in a certain way? Comic book artists draw their hands in a certain way and – how do I say it? – that hands almost have expressions [themselves], like when they shoot certain things in certain ways. I tried to copy or find that – like if you look at Spider-Man, for example, when he shoots his webs his fingers are always curled in, you know. He shoots it from the wrist. And when you look at Dr Fate and he puts his hands up, they’re drawn in a certain way to give them power or sensitivity or whatever – if that’s possible. So I tried to copy and find that in the way I used my hands.
And so of course I looked at the costume very carefully and thought, “What can I do with this?” How can I move so the cape moves properly, how I can move and – I’m only five foot nine (laughs), its not like I’m six foot five – that’d give you a bit of a presence right away!
JIM: I’ve heard that said by other actors who’ve worked while wearing masks, that they’ve tried to channel something through their hands.
BRENT: When you look at the costume, the costume is restrictive. It’s tight, right? And one of the problems was that it squeaks a lot (laughs), so a lot of times instead of moving my whole arm or things I’ll turn my whole body or my head a certain way. You can kind of make a statement that way or try to express something with the movement of the body as opposed to just the voice. Like they say, the eyes are the window to the soul but a lot of times when you have a mask covering your whole face you have to use the tilt of the head or the turn of the body or the hands as the next expressive thing.
JIM: Was the helmet claustrophobic?
BRENT: Not really. It was done pretty well, it was quite light. It wasn’t a heavy one. I think Michael’s was pretty heavy [as Hawkman] but mine was pretty light. The only thing was, of course, it had a pack of wires that ran down the back. It wasn’t like an on-and-off thing, easily [taken] on and off, but it wasn’t difficult and it wasn’t uncomfortable. It was a little hot, that’s all.
JIM: Did the lights in the eye holes impair your vision at all?
BRENT: Yeah, a little bit, when I’m walking. But I get to the set and once I marked it I pretty much knew where I was going. You kind of walk it out yourself a couple of times – and hopefully someone didn’t put a chair in front of you (laughs).
JIM: So, without the rest of your face to use, did you feel you were able to do anything with your eyes in the close-ups?
BRENT: Yeah, I think so. The actor who plays the Martian, Phil Morris? He’s a wonderful guy and easy to work with and we have quite a scene between us and I tried to do it in there, tried to use my eyes and the tilt of my head and different positions to kind of – I’m trying to get something from him in that scene, and like I say you’ve got your voice and the way you walk, basically, and of course your voice inflection and things like that…
JIM: Okay, Brent, I’ve gone easy on you but I’m going to put you on the spot with a fanboy geek question (laughs) – some say that magic-using Dr. Fate has no need for body armor. How do you respond to that?
BRENT: Well, again, if you look at the 1940s when he was invented, you’ve got to look at the materials they’re working with then. You know, what do they have then? If you look at some of the things – one of the old characters has a tin pot, right? (laughs) And the Flash has what looks like an old World War I helmet with wings on it. And then most of their stuff is all cotton and leather. So the thing is, too, if you look in the comic books Dr Fate is not a hand-to-hand combat guy as much as he is shooting mystical powers at everybody. But also, that’s who most of his enemies are, so if you’re getting hit with that your going to want the best material you can get at the time, without being a sheet of plate armor, right? So if leather was the material that he would use, you try to pound it down as thick as you could, I guess. I think if he was invented now, they’d probably put him in Lycra (laughs) or one of those swimsuits, one of those tiny Speedo swimsuits they’ve got nowadays (laughs).
But it looks great; it makes a nice contrast when you see him with Green Arrow. The actor who plays him, Justin Hartley, is wonderful – a funny guy. He ought to have his own comedy show, that guy; he’s hilarious on the set.
JIM: Maybe they ought to have a spin-off – The Green Arrow Comedy Show.
BRENT: They might! Him as a guy is quick and witty and he brings some of that to his character, but just sitting off set with him he’s a very funny guy.
But when you look at someone like Hawkman, and Dr Fate, and you put them beside Green Arrow you can really see the difference in design in what’s going on in the 2000s as opposed to what’s going on in the 1940s, and I think you need that to authenticate that 40s style and feel. And I like the fact that that’s the material they used because that would be the period material, right? And that’s probably why [the costume designers] did that. It’s almost supposed to be kind of like a motorcycle jacket, almost. Its two pieces, the costume, not one.
JIM: Big question – if asked, would you want to reprise the role of Dr. Fate/Kent Nelson?
BRENT: Yeah, I think so. I’d like to do it again. It’d be fun, actually. I had some interesting ideas at the end. It’s a great part. I’d like to see a little more of Kent. It’d be interesting to do an episode of Kent, on his own. That would be a fun episode to do.
JIM: You know, Fate is celebrating 70 years as a character this year and he has thousands of fans worldwide – do thoughts like that go through your head during a performance and if so, how much weight do you give them?
BRENT: Yeah, I don’t ever think of that. The way I work is that I read the script and figure out what is the character’s overall objective in life, what does he want, what is the writer giving me to play with that way. Then I like to stay authentic. When you play something like Dr. Fate – I just did some research on him and you want to stay authentic to that, because of all those fans, yes, but there was also a writer who invented that and you also want to stay true to the writer. And you don’t want to be doing a whole bunch of things that character wouldn’t do really. But at the sane time you have to follow what you’re given as an actor. There’s a writer, there’s a director, there’s a producer and everybody has a job and then you go, okay, I want to play it this way. And it’s a team effort.
Again, I thought the costume was very authentic from, you know, what I’d seen in the comic books and you think of those kinds of things after and you hope you did the guy justice and they’re happy with it. You want the fans to like it ‘cause they’re the ones who watch it, right?
JIM: Listen, I’ve seen a rough cut of “Absolute Justice” and I really think JSA fans are going to be very happy with it.
BRENT: That’s cool! I hope so!
JIM: Are you going to be watching on Friday night?
BRENT: I don’t know yet. I’m thinking about it (laughs). I’ve got a cousin who’s a huge SMALLVILLE fan and I’ve got a lot of people Facebooking me, going, “Oh, you’re gonna be on SMALLVILLE?” My mom will watch it for sure.
JIM: Dr. Fate’s mom! Do you usually watch your own work?
BRENT: I don’t usually watch it. No, because, it’s kind of the doing it that’s the fun part, and when you watch it and you know what you wanted to do and if you didn’t do it, you kind of go “Ahh, that didn’t work,” or you go “That worked great.” Because once you’ve done it it’s really in the editor’s or the director’s hands. You’ve done your work. But yeah, I might watch it; I might watch it to see the other performances of the other actors, to see what Michael was doing because I wasn’t there for a lot of his stuff. Probably watch it for that.
JIM: Brent, thank you so much for talking with me and I wish you a lot of luck and good fortune with “Absolute Justice” and the future! May Fate once again be your fate!
BRENT: Thank you!
All content © Jim Beard 2010