ED- The Eerie Digest has recently been introduced to an amazing actor, Charles Baker. He has originally planned on a music career, and studied stage acting to improve on his music career. Then he was bitten by the acting bug. Charles, please tell us about these early years and the educational background that you undertook to get there.
CB- First, let me say thank you so much taking the time to talk to me, it’s an honor to be able to do this kind of thing, really. Now, moving on. As you stated, I was originally going to focus on music. When I got to college, I was absolute in my resolve to be a musician, but due to a severe lack of self-confidence, and self-esteem, I thought that teaching was going to be my only realistic career option. I was dwelling on this misconception that “those who can’t do, teach”. I’ve always had a nagging feeling that I was going to be an entertainer of some sort, but was unable to believe that I had the ability to do so. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but the utmost respect for teachers and what they do, I didn’t want to teach solely because of my insecurities, in fact, what made the idea of teaching so alluring was the incredible influence teachers have been in my life throughout my entire academic “career”. As a military brat I moved around quite a bit, and, for some reason, every new school I attended, I automatically clicked with the arts teachers; band directors, choir directors, drama teachers, etc. Each one, in his own way, encouraged me to express myself creatively; something that wasn’t necessarily encouraged by my father, a Colonel in the US Army. So when it came time to seriously think about how I was going to support myself, and, eventually a family, I was convinced that being an “entertainer” was a pipe dream and that teaching was the only bearable
CB- That came in college while I was still considering a teaching career. I had done a few musicals in college and was really enjoying the variety of it all- getting to sing, dance, and act on stage. I always enjoyed musical theatre, but never really thought of it as a career. It was something people did when they weren’t working. When one of my voice teachers asked me to audition for his play, I remember thinking, “a show without singing and dancing? How boring is that gonna be?” But, he was pretty adamant that I gave it a try so I did. The show was WHOSE LIFE IT IS ANYWAY? and I was cast as the lawyer of the main character. I remember at one point early in the run of the show I was on stage and it suddenly occurred to me that I wasn’t aware of the audience, or the set, or the lights. All of those elements sort of faded from my sight and I was really there! I wasn’t pretending to be a lawyer, I was a lawyer. It felt incredible! After that I started taking acting classes and eventually changed my major to a double, Music and Theatre. I ended up booking my first professional acting job at STAGE WEST in Fort Worth, TX. I was Clitandre in The MISANTHROPE. Things sort of snowballed from there. I still sing and play guitar when I can, mostly at home, and I was lucky enough to play “Judas” in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR a few summers ago with Forth Worth Theatre, so music hasn’t been pushed out completely. I hope to someday do a musical movie. That’d be fun.
ED- Your first film was ‘Playing Dead’, followed by ‘Grapler Baki kyokudai taikai’. Tell us about these two projects and how they gave you confidence towards your career.
CB- PLAYING DEAD was a big step for me. I was working as a stagehand in the local stagehand’s union to help pay the bills and supplement my newfound acting habit, when one of the other stagehands asked me if I would help as a grip on the set of this independent film. There was no pay and it was going to be about 2 weeks of 12-hour days, but “you get to work on a movie!” So I agreed and showed up everyday and worked my butt off. Then, one day, the director came to me and asked if I wanted to be an actor. His bartender character didn’t show up and he needed someone now. I happily accepted, thinking this was my big break, and began to learn my lines, “What’ll you have?” and “that’ll be $5.50.” I went through my entire actor training and recalled the time I worked as a bartender at Red Lobster as a way of “preparing” for my big scene, and we shot it. When it premiered I brought a group of friends to see my big screen debut. My scene came up, I made sure my friends were all focused and paying attention, and…they cut my face out completely. My friends hear my voice recite my overly prepared dialogue- both lines, and my hand appears with a drink and leaves with some cash…it was a bit of a humbling experience. But, one that left me determined to do more, and better. PLAYING DEAD was also how I met my agent, Linda McAlister. It took me about 6 years of hounding her to sign me onto her roster of talent, but she finally took a chance on me and things have been great ever since. GRAPLER BAKI was my first animation voiceover job. I remember it being almost surreal to be a part of something like that. I was a pretty big anime and cartoon fan growing up, so to be able to voice a character was pretty special to me.
ED- You also spread your wings with voice acting with the original appearance in ‘Galaxy Railways’, then performed in twenty-six episodes of ‘One Piece’. How did this appeal to you and how can you compare this to stage and acting before the camera?
CB- I periodically get to work with Funimation Entertainment doing voice work. Galaxy Railways was one of my first real heavy speaking roles in an animation. Baki was a show about fighting and so a lot of the work was grunts, angry yells, and onomatopoeia’s, but in Galaxy I was voicing a rather unstable hijacker, so there was much more emotional range, which is surprisingly hard to convey with just a voice. ONE PIECE was a blast! I played a few recurring characters in that one. Recurring roles were surprisingly challenging to me because of the way we work at Funimation; Typically, I get a call to work a certain time frame, and when I get there I find out what show we’re doing and what character or characters I’m voicing, so I have to create a voice for that character on the spot. Sometimes, because of the nature of the business, we aren’t completely sure who’s going to be recurring or not. So when I come up with a voice for a role on the spot one day and then have to come back a week or two later, I have to find that voice again. It’s harder than it sounds sometimes. If I know it’s going to be a recurring role, I’ll usually pick one of my “go-to” voices that I work on regularly just to make it easier to recreate in future episodes. What I love about voice acting is the spontaneous creativity of it. When I work a show- whether I’m playing a main character, a bit part, or even a background voice, we usually have just a split second to make acting decisions, like what kind of voice to use, which words to emphasize, or even what inflection to use, and then we have to be willing to just jump in and do it. If it works, we move on, if it doesn’t then you do it again until you and the director figure it out. It’s like an improvisation of sorts, but more focused on character than content; the content is there, we just have to put a character to it, fast. In film or on stage, we take a lot of time to make those decisions, there’s a lot of nuance in each word or action and those only come with really knowing the character that you’re playing. So voice work is a sort of quick study version of film work. It helps me open up and trust my instincts and not over-think the work, which is frequently what hinders my performances.
ED- Following this you appeared in the TV series, ‘Sunabozu’, then the short, Equilateral’. Please give us the themes behind these productions.
CB- SUNBOZU, also known as DESERT PUNK was another Anime show, in which I played several small characters. I don’t often get the chance to see every Anime I’m in, aside from the scenes in which I perform, so it’s hard to talk much about the show other than the parts I’ve seen, which were hilarious. EQUILATERAL was an extremely funny short film directed by Jon Keeyes, and written by Oliver Tull. It was a spoof of the 2002 Kurt Wimmer film, EQUILIBRIUM starring Christian Bale and Sean Bean. Jon asked me to help out while I was in between jobs and so I basically worked as an extra on that shoot. I was surprised to find that they gave my character a name, but that’s how Jon is.
CB- That was huge! The subtitle “TRIAL BY FIRE” was so apropos for the situation. I had done a few small roles in independent films and in voice work, but here I was on a CBS MOW! This was my first “big” gig, and it was with one of my childhood heroes, Chuck Norris, and one of my adolescent crushes, Janine Turner. I was ecstatic, and horrified, all at the same time. I should also mention that all my training up to this point has been solely theatre. I had yet to have taken an “on camera” acting class. So, as far as I was concerned, I was “faking it to make it”. I was seriously hoping like mad that I was going to be shooting my scenes in the same order as the script, because my role started out small, with no dialogue, and then as the show progressed I had more to do and say. That would have been perfect; I would have had a chance to work my way up to my big dialogue scenes, get a feeling for what I was doing, and learn a little from watching the pros at work…that didn’t happen. I got there my first day and they took me to the set of my first scene, told me we were going to rehearse (whew!), walked me into a small room, and shut the door. Leaving me standing there alone with none other than Chuck Norris and Janine Turner-who were interrogating me in this particular scene, the scene in which I talked the most. I was horrified, yes, but I also thrive under pressure, at least this particular brand of pressure, so I took a deep breath and just jumped in head first, all the while trying to ignore that voice in my head that was screaming “they’re gonna know! They’ll know you don’t know what you’re doing!” Turns out, I did alright. I held my own, I think, so I was proud. I started getting some “On camera” training shortly after that though.
ED- Television started to become your stomping grounds and you were next seen in three television series, ‘Fat Girls’, ‘Prison Break’, and ‘Inspector Mom’. Please tell us about these venues and the roles that you played in each.
CB- FAT GIRLS is actually an independent feature written and directed by Ash Christian. I was the Roller Rink Attendant in a short scene that occurred in a, well, roller rink. The film stars Ashley Fink, who is currently working on GLEE (and yeah, I’m a fan). In PRISON BREAK, I had the distinct honor of being the first local actor hired to work on the show when it moved its production to Dallas for season 2. I was a “day player” in the episode titled “MANHUNT”. At the time, PRISON BREAK was huge, so I was thrilled to have a chance to be in it, and when I found out that I was going to be working with Robert Knepper (T-Bag), well, that was also a big thing for me; he’s a great actor.
ED- In 2007 you appeared in a spate of film exercising your vocal talents once again. Voice acting was far from over for you and you portrayed characters in ‘One Piece’, Bakureetsu tenshi’, ‘Eru Kazado, and ‘Evangelion’. How satisfying was this for you in this point in your career?
CB- Animation will always be fun for me. That, and it’s a refresher in that “spontaneous creativity” I mentioned earlier, and that’s what helps me (I hope) improve in what I do on camera. Every new job is a learning experience for me. I live to learn new techniques and to learn new ways of learning. I’m in awe of the scenes in the KARATE KID movies where the wise old teacher makes the kid wash the car, paint the fence, pick up the jacket, or whatever. The whole time the kid is thinking that he’s being punished or being used, but in the end, he finds out that he’s been learning, he’s been developing muscles, developing muscle memory, he’s been improving his skills without even knowing it. That’s what I try to do. I try to use that example in everything I do- how can this particular job, role, chore, or menial task be a tool for me to improve my skills. Voice work is great for that.
ED- Television and film drew you back and soon you were seen in roles in ‘Splinter’, ‘Shroud’, ‘Temple Grandin’, and ‘In Plain Sight’. Please describe these productions and the various roles that you played.
CB- SPLINTER is a great horror flick, directed by Toby Wilkins, which is periodically on the SYFY channel. I had a great time with that film. My character, “Blake Sherman, Jr.” dies while the opening credits are running, but I come back as one the three performers who played the “CREATURE”. That was way cool! First they had to make a plaster cast of my entire head to make the latex pieces that made my face look messed up, then, I sat through about 4 hours of makeup everyday while they covered me from head to foot with latex and gore, it was awesome! I was originally just supposed to be the gas station attendant who dies at the beginning and then appears shortly in a transitional form of the creature, of sorts, before the actual final incarnation of the creature made its way onto screen, but, fortunately for me, I had trained as a mime with the legendary Johnny Simons at the HIP POCKET THEATRE in Fort Worth, and the director, Toby, recognized my ability to give the creature an extra special quirkiness that the gymnast and stunt man, who were sharing the responsibility of being the creature, couldn’t replicate. So, Toby hired me to work a few more days to fill in for some of the shots, which he cut together with the other two guy’s performances in the same costume to create the final effect of the creature. SHROUD is an independent western feature that hasn’t been released yet. In fact, I haven’t even seen it yet, but that’s just because my copy got lost in the mail and I haven’t requested another yet. Anyway, I loved the script. Set in the old west, but centered around the Van Helsing/Dracula story with a very interesting twist. It had elements of Victorian England, The Knights of the Crusades, Vampires, and Cowboys, all tied together neatly in a very well written script. We shot it in Austin, TX at a small Old West Town set on a ranch owned by Willie Nelson. I played “Billy Sidehammer”, a standard western outlaw who wielded a whip. I worked hard at looking like I really knew what I was doing with that thing. I think I pulled it off, but like I said, I’ve yet to see it. I did get to see one scene that needed to have some voice over recorded, and it was excellent, and I’ve heard that it’s a great film, so I’m looking forward to its release. TEMPLE GRANDIN on HBO was special to me. You might notice a theme of sorts in my work prior to TEMPLE, and that is that I tend to get typecast as a bad guy, or to be more precise, scum. TEMPLE GRANDIN was the first real departure from that stereotype, at least on a major studio production, so it really meant a lot to me. I know better than to take the typecasting personally, but tell that to my ego. You’d be surprised how many times I get confused with the guy I played on stage or on camera, and honestly, it can get a little depressing. So, in TEMPLE, I play another cowboy character named “Billy” but this time he’s a good guy, hell, he’s a saint compared to most of the roles I’ve played prior to this. TEMPLE, played amazingly well by Claire Danes, even sees my character as the quintessential cowboy- a Roy Rogers type. Wow, me? It was so flattering to me, and somewhat cathartic. So the smile you see in the scene with me and Claire while she’s walking among the cows is genuine. I’m always grateful to have a chance to be in this profession, so I cherish every role I play, good guy or bad. In fact I get a great deal of satisfaction and some free therapy playing bad guys sometimes, being given the opportunity to let my dark side loose, but, like the force, the dark side comes with a price. I’m coming across really nerdy now aren’t I? IN PLAIN SIGHT, on USA was a great show to work. Not only is the lead, Mary McCormack, oh-so-cool to just talk to, let alone work with, but my particular episode was also featuring Donnie Wahlberg. Now, my wife, Rachel, is 8 years younger than me, so, while I’m a fan of Donnie’s acting career, Rachel, grew up on his music, so we were both pretty psyched that I got that job. I, again, played a bad guy, but with a different dynamic than I usually experience- I wasn’t as bad as I thought. Also, Charlie Haid, who I fondly remember as Officer Renko on HILL STREET BLUES, directed that episode, which was really cool for me. HILL STREET was a family favorite.
ED- This was followed up by your role in ‘Heaven’s Rain’. But you re-appeared in such television series as ‘Chase’, ‘Detroit 1-8-7’, and ‘The Good Guys’ before playing a steady role in twelve episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’. Tell us about your varying roles and how you were able to play so many characters.
CB-HEAVEN’S RAIN was an almost traumatic role to play. Simply because it was a true story, centered on a brutal multiple murder, with one of the actual survivors playing one of the murder victims, who happened to be his own father. It was heavy. Luckily I don’t say much in it, but, what I did say was prompted, on the spot, by the guy who survived the incident. I think it’s available on DVD now and it is a very good movie, but it seriously broke my heart to be there with the man who lived through it while he described the horrific scene in detail. In CHASE, I played the “Wiry inmate”, a small role with some stunt work. I think I probably booked that role for two reasons, 1) I fit the specs for the character, and 2) I had a better resume than others that fit those specs. I could be completely wrong about that, but there really wasn’t much to the role. I let the script and the director guide me on those roles. The words on the page dictate who my character is, and in those words I can visualize how he walks, how he talks, how he holds himself and how he relates to the people he interacts with, so I just sort of let that guide me. I wish I could say I put a lot of study and careful consideration into every role I play, but that would be dishonest. I do take every role very seriously, but I found that somehow, in a lot of cases-not all, I feel like I already know the people I’m playing and so all I have to do is let it flow. In DETROIT 1-8-7 I played “Marcus Mosier” a junky that was busted for possession and gets interrogated. Again, it was a small role, but rather pivotal to the story and somewhat challenging this time because they wanted him to seem really drugged out during the scene. I love a challenge. THE GOOD GUYS was such a fun show! They were shooting it close to home, which is rare for me, so I was trying to get on it since it started. I would have loved to be a recurring character on that, not just because of the proximity, but also because of Bradley Whitford. I was a huge fan of his on THE WEST WING, so when I saw what he was doing on GOOD GUYS, I was immediately on board. He was so over-the-top, but he pulled it off so well. Anyway, I had been trying to get on that show but they just didn’t have a part for me. Then I finally booked a role, but I had just agreed to do DETROIT 1-8-7, so I had to back out. Luckily, they found a role for me in the Series Finale. It turned out to be a good thing I couldn’t do the first one, because the role I ended up getting was opposite Bradley and Gary Cole, THE Gary Cole. He’s another one of my many acting heroes. It was seriously hard to resist the urge to chase him around backstage and just harass him about how much I like his work. That’s one of the things that I absolutely love about this job, the ability to meet and work with people whom I have been watching on TV/Film for years before I even considered being on TV myself. It’s incredible for someone like me. If a TV show could be a man’s best friend, then BREAKING BAD would be mine. I love that show and am so absolutely grateful to be a part of it! I was aware of the show for a short time before AMC picked it up and just had a feeling that I should be on it. One of my acting coaches was able to get their hands on a script, thinking it wasn’t going to be picked up, and used it as class material. When I was given the opportunity to read for the “Skinny Stoner” role, I was thrilled. I knew it was just a day player role, but I was determined to get it and make it into something bigger. Oddly enough that’s exactly what happened, as if I actually had any say in the matter. From what Bryan Cranston, who plays Walter White, told me, it was sort of a fluke that they needed me to come back, in that they needed to fill a role quickly and I was the first one that popped into their mind. I like to think it was my performance that did the trick, but to be realistic, it was probably my stereotypical thug look that really did it. Whatever the reason, they brought me back and gave me a name, “Skinny Pete”. I was so proud when I saw that in the script, it was even one of my lines in my second episode, “Yo, I’m Skinny Pete!” How cool is that? I got to announce my character’s name to the world! It’s the little things that brighten my day… Anyway, here we are 3 seasons later, working on our 4th, and I’m still there. It’s an incredible honor. BREAKING BAD has opened up a whole new world for me. People started taking me more seriously as an actor and I am finding it easier and easier to get into doors that were previously closed to me, it’s a blessing and I’ll forever be grateful to Vince Gilligan for giving me the opportunity. What I think gives me the ability to play so many different types of characters is my military brat background. I moved almost every year, and in every new place I lived I had to learn how to fit in as quickly as possible, I took on new accents, new colloquialisms, new attitudes and even new styles just so I could feel like I belonged somewhere, if only for a short time. The quicker I was able to adapt to the new surroundings, the easier it was to make friends and live a semi-normal life for the short time I was going to be there. It sort of became second nature to me to quickly learn and assimilate. That and I watched a lot of TV growing up.
ED- Looking back to 2006 you also wore many hats in creating the short film, ‘The Waterson Project’. Please describe this project for our readers and each of the ‘hats’ that you wore to bring it about.
CB- THE WATERSON PROJECT was an exercise in understanding what making movies was about. It was about a couple of lowlifes who are inspired by their recently deceased boss to re-write a stolen screenplay, which wins an Oscar. The theme being loosely based on a Bugs Bunny quote, “It’s amazing what one can do when one doesn’t know what one can’t do”. At least I think it was Bugs… I did it solely to see if I could. I based it on a full length script that one of my best friends wrote but never used. I wrote the short version of his script, directed, ran the camera, sound and lights and even edited and wrote the music. The only job I didn’t do was acting. I hired some great actors for that. I had 3 or 4 people help me out on a day with a lot of stuff going on, and my 8 year old niece was my only crew on a couple of days, so I really did everything myself. I wasn’t expecting to win any awards, and I didn’t, but it was an incredible lesson for me, as an actor. It let me see the whole world of film from the other side of the camera. I think every actor should do it. I don’t get impatient with lighting or sound guys while they’re trying to do their job, because, seriously, their job is a lot harder than mine. I don’t complain when a producer tells me we have to delay or reschedule a shoot, because I know what that producer had to go through just to get this shoot scheduled in the first place. I walked a few miles in a few other shoes and learned that I’m very lucky to do what I do and am extremely grateful to have people who do the rest.
ED- This year you appeared in the TV movie, ‘Meet Jane’ as well as the production ‘Fright Flick’. Describe these latest accomplishments, and please give us a sneak-peek behind the scenes for your newest project by Terrence Malick that is presently being filmed.
CB- MEET JANE is actually a pilot for LIFETIME that is hopefully coming out soon. I played a motel manager, another not-a-bad-guy role. It was short and sweet but I got to work with Molly Parker from Deadwood, and Ricky Shroder, or as I grew up knowing him, Little Ricky Shroder. He isn’t so little anymore, but it was great being able to meet and work with him. I’ve been a fan of his since THE CHAMP, and when I was in 4th or 5th grade, I was told I looked a lot like him. I loved it, cause it got me girls. But something happened as we aged and he stayed cute and I, well, didn’t. But that’s another thing entirely. As far as MEET JANE goes, I’m really intrigued by the story. Jane is an unhappily married woman who is asked by the FBI to spy on her husband, who is suspected of international espionage. I think. Wow, wouldn’t it be bad if I got all of that completely wrong? Anyway, that’s the general idea I got. I wasn’t given much other than a vague description myself, and my character doesn’t do much but further the story along, but I had fun doing it. FRIGHT FLICK was a completely different project for me. It had become obvious that I was getting stuck in that “scumbag” stereotype and I was beginning to believe that the casting directors and my agent weren’t aware that I was capable of more, so when I got the audition notice for FRIGHT FLICK, I saw a character that I was sure I could play that was as opposite of the “Scumbag” stereotype as I could get. I played the role of “Chase” the flamingly gay, drag queen, makeup artist. I should mention that before I booked the role, I had no idea who the director was, what the script was about or even if was any good. I honestly didn’t really care too much about any of that. When I saw the very long monologue that I was the audition piece for that character, I knew that it would be perfect for my demo reel. I knew that having that role smack dab in the middle of a bunch of scenes where I play a bunch of drug addict, thug, murdering cowboys, and general low-lives, that it would make an impression, and that was my sole reasoning for auditioning. Little did I know, Israel Luna, the writer and director of FRIGHT FLICK, is freakin’ awesome! I was extremely impressed with the final product. While it seems like just a typical low-budget, B-movie horror-flick, it has a really strong plot, wonderful actors, and a great twist. After FRIGHT FLICK, Israel went on to write and direct a controversial film called, TICKED OFF TRANNIES WITH KNIVES, which ended up being quite successful on the festival circuit for a film of it’s genre and subject matter. TERRENCE MALICK’S UNTITLED PROJECT could be that “break-out role” every aspiring actor talks about someday getting. I sure hope so, anyway. I wish like crazy I could tell you all about it, but out of respect for Terry’s request for secrecy, I can’t. I can tell you that I play Charlie, and that it’s a pivotal role in what I’m sure will be an incredible film. I’m really excited to see how it comes out. People will get a chance to see me play a role that is like nothing I’ve ever played before, on stage or camera. It was an enormous honor to get to work with Terrence. I’m a huge fan of his work as well, heck he’s one of the best in the business, so this was way more than just a job, to me, it was like being asked to pose for Michelangelo or Leonardo.
ED- Charles, you are a truly amazing actor. Your career seems far from over, and The Eerie Digest will be expecting to hear a lot more about you in the future. We want to thank you for this interview and know that our readers will be in awe of your talent and will enjoy learning all about you.
CB- Thank you again for this opportunity. I deeply appreciate it.