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Mark A. Sheppard

Mark A. Sheppard - About recent roles - Ifmagazine.com Interview

Thursday 24 August 2006, by Webmaster

Exclusive Interview: MARK SHEPPARD TALKS MEDIUM, 24, FIREFLY, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA The talented actor loves playing characters with motivations other than the ’norm’ and might be returning to MEDIUM for its third season

By: SEAN ELLIOTT Senior Editor Published: 8/24/2006 Send this feature to a friend.

Mark Sheppard is known for playing rather shifty characters. From Badger on FIREFLY to the yellow tie man on 24, to Dr. Charles Walker the serial killer ghost on MEDIUM, Sheppard is able to create some of the creepiest and somehow charming characters on TV.

Sitting down with Sheppard is not just any old interview; you find that the actor is one of the most introspective and articulate people in Hollywood. iF had just such an opportunity, and now we’re inviting you to go along for the ride.

iF MAGAZINE: How did you get involved with MEDIUM after your stint on 24?

MARK SHEPPARD: The quick back-story is that I had auditioned for Glen Caron for an episode of MEDIUM, and then I got called back for an audition with one line. That’s not something I would usually go in for, but I walked in and picked up my script and said, “I’m ready for my line.” I asked him if my performance was so bad in the first audition that he only had a line for me. He started laughing and said, “No, I have something that I’m not sure what I want to do with it, but this is the beginning of something that will pay off later.”

This one line was for the dream sequence in the season one episode “Penny for Your Thoughts”, and it is the set up for a killer that exists in her [Alison Dubois’] mind. He only comes to her in her dreams and he is not seen by anybody else, nor does he have any physical manifestation at all. Dr. Charles “the butcher” Walker is a dead serial killer that was lynched in 1902 for butchering women in the old west.

So basically, in the first episode you begin to realize that I am a dead serial killer that makes new serial killers. I live in a sort of twilight area neither one place or another, and it takes me a long time to talk people into becoming my disciples. I’m the voice in the head that these people hear. It’s about a fifteen-year span [to create a serial killer] for the first five years I’m just an annoying voice in their head. For the next five years it consumes them, and for the last five years I am the only thing they hear. There are people that are more susceptible to this than others, and Alison’s gift on MEDIUM is that she has the ability to sense it and to feel these things. That’s the type of person I’m looking for to make into a serial killer.

It becomes a very complex situation. In the first episode I’m one line in a dream sequence, and she can’t put together how a dead doctor and a girl are all in the same place and aren’t connected. She discovers, ultimately, that the connection is me but in manner that she doesn’t know.

As complicated and convoluted as that gets, he [Glen Caron] had promised me there was another episode. I was happy because I was shooting 24 at the time and I had just gotten the news that I was being killed. I had just done my last episode of 24, and I got the call from Glen and he asked, “Are you dead yet?” I asked why and he said, “Because you can’t die on my show.” [Laughs] Which I thought was brilliant.

I told him that I was going to be dead and he said he was writing a script that I would get in the next couple of weeks.

iF: What happened next?

SHEPPARD: I got the script and I discovered it was all about me pursuing Ariel [Alison’s daughter] the 12 year old; which is an extraordinary direction for the story to take. Of course, this reveals that Alison’s children are also sensitive to all of these things. So, Ariel Dubois encounters me not knowing that I am not the librarian of her school, which is a truly horrifying thing. As a matter of fact, I have been accosted more times by parents as a result of that episode. I was basically talking to a twelve year old in the episode saying, “It’s ok to lie to your family, and you don’t have to tell them everything. It’s ok if you go to this boy’s house. Your parents don’t need to know everything, you’re a big girl you can do what you want to do.” That’s all kind of nasty, and I have kids myself, so it’s kind of terrifying.

So, the second episode had my intentions being for her [Alison] to flip out and be put in jail, because she promised at the end of the first episode to hunt me down and stop anyone I tried to turn. But, putting her in jail for a crime would give me enough time to work on this new “butcher” guy that I had set up to be a killer. Of course she, works her way out. At the end of the episode I sort of evaporate with the line, “ you people are pathetic.” I go into the ether, but since I’m dead its sort of the context of the song never ending.

iF: So now with the third season they’re planning on having some kind of return for you?

SHEPPARD: At the beginning of sitting down and working out the third season Glen, René Echevarria, Moira Dekker, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, and others sat down and tried to plot the return of Dr. Walker. It has been a very complicated task. There is a suggestion that has come to mind that maybe a descendant of Dr. Walker’s walks the Earth. In this episode that goes into production shortly, there is the possibility that Allison has 2 entities to deal with, but only time will tell in what manner. And of course, this time it’s personal.

iF: So you’re kind of like William B. Davis on the X-FILES where he had no lines in his first episode and then became the main villain?

SHEPPARD: That’s kind of the story of my life. The lovely part of that is that a lot of producers have taken gambles on me. On 24, for example, I played a character that wasn’t written, and I had auditioned for something else. The producers told me they had me in mind for something else and we would see how it goes. They wrote the “yellow tie man” when they had me. I got the script and it said “yellow tie man” and I thought, “What are they doing to me?” [Laughs] It ended up being lovely though, and bless them for writing a story that started at the Toronto airport and wove all the way through until Julian Sands took over around episodes nine and ten, the convoy episodes.

iF: So it was ok to die on 24, since you knew you were going to be a ghost on MEDIUM right?

SHEPPARD: I think so. [Laughs] They [the producers on 24] had something in mind and they were moving in a certain direction and they needed a conveyance. A dyspeptic chemical engineer was the perfect way to go; all he wanted to do was get his chemicals to Moscow and wipe out 2/3 of Moscow and people just wouldn’t let him do it. That became an annoyance, and taking out bits of Northridge and running around the [San Fernando] Valley being very uncomfortable for six hours, which was about his lifespan at that time. It was a really interesting way to go.

iF: Do you like playing villains?

SHEPPARD: I don’t think they’re bad guys. They’re people with very different agendas than the “norm.” If you find, as an actor, who the guy is you’ll find out why he’s doing what he’s doing. It’s not really a bad guy thing. I mean there are some great bad guys, who say, “Because I want to...I’d like the world please.” Villains like Lex Luthor, Mussolini with wit, you know? There’s always a Superman to stop them. The guys I play don’t have the megalomaniac thing; they tend to be guys who are trying to get from A to B without being stopped. If my agenda is different than yours, whose to say I’m bad?

On FIREFLY, Badger isn’t bad, he just has an agenda and he’s a businessman. He actually likes Malcolm Reynolds, but he doesn’t like patronized by him. He’s a man of status and wealth, and he has apples! I like to play interesting. But, heroes are the last people to know anything. The lead villain, or guest villain, is written as the only guy who knows what is going on. It’s his agenda that we have to cow tow to. It comes with a lot of lines, guns, machinery, and weapons. The Death Star all the way down to a popgun.

(c) 20th Century Fox


iF: You have been a lot of shows with large fan bases, is it safe to walk down the street and not be recognized?

SHEPPARD: Absolutely. I do get recognized, but I get recognized in the most wonderful ways. I was sitting in a shopping mall in the [San Fernando] Valley and I was sitting with my six year old and one year old. At lunchtime this older Armenian woman sat across from me and kept looking at me, and she almost broke out in a sweat. I smiled at her and she asked if I was an actor, and when I said yes, she replied, “You creepy, creepy man.” [Laughs] You have to take it as a compliment. I’m lucky enough to be recognized for the plethora of people that I’ve played.

iF: Have you given any thought to being on the new DOCTOR WHO?

SHEPPARD: There are a lot of people trying to get onto DOCTOR WHO. I’m making a trip to England, and while I’m there I’m going to knock on their door, and ask them very nicely for a role. I would love to be on that show. I have visions, from when I was a kid, of the Cybermen in an empty London and that gave me nightmares for months (but I adored the nightmares). The idea of Cybermen existing in an empty London was the most terrifying thing I could imagine. They were soulless, and that’s what made them terrifying, the Daleks were cool but the Cybermen scared me.

iF: Any other SCI FI TV show you’d like to be on?

SHEPPARD: I’m waiting for Ron Moore and David Eick [producers and creators of the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA] to throw me a Cylon. I said to Ron, “When I grow up I want to be a Cylon” and he said, “We all would love you to be a Cylon.” I’ve been a fan of the concept of humans 2.0. I love the show anyways, having met Ron and David. David actually hired my dad for AMERICAN GOTHIC, which was with Jake Webber from MEDIUM. It’s a very small world.