Whoosh! Issue 16 - January 1997

Exclusive to Whoosh!
By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Copyright © 1997 held by author
3147 words

Author's Note: Tim Thomerson is one of the hardest-working men in show business. His list of credits is extensive and impressive, as is the man himself. Outside the Xenaverse, he is best known for his portrayal of Jack Deth, a futuristic detective in the Trancers series of films [Trancers (Charles Brand, 1985), Trancers II (Charles Brand, 1991), Trancers III: Deth Lives (C. Courtney Joyner, 1992), Trancers IV: Jack Of Swords (David Nutter, 1994), Trancers V: Sudden Deth (David Nutter, 1995)]. But this is only a tiny slice of the Tim Thomerson pie. A more comprehensive description of him and his work can be found online at his fan club website. Tim Thomerson is also well-looked after by some of the nicest people in fandom, and thanks to an introduction by his number one fan, I was able to sit down and chat with him for a bit at WarriorCon in Washington D.C. on September 12-14, 1997. We shared a chat at the opening reception, and a more in-depth interview during the convention.

In high school voted 'Most Likely to turn into Chuck

Tim Thomerson, as himself.

Many Gigs and Travel (01-12)
The Beginning (13-22)
Training and Technique (23-33)
Meleager the Mighty (34-42)
Renee O'Connor and Gabrielle (43-49)
More on Meleager (50-63)

An Interview With Tim Thomerson

That M'Lila chick isn't the only one who can travel in

Promotional Poster for DETH 2000.

Many Gigs And Travel

[01] I was not aware of all the things I had seen you in until I sat down and made a list. At first I thought I had only seen you as Meleager on Xena, but then I realized I had actually seen you in a number of things. I did not find out until recently, for example, that you were "The Blur" in a television commercial campaign.

[02] Yes, for Baby Ruth candy bars.

[03] They had you all covered up but then I knew that voice was familiar.

[04] [smiles] I was the "over the hill" action hero who eats Baby Ruths to save the world. I just found out we are going to do more of those. I think Baby Ruth or Nestles has a website, and "The Blur" has a website. At least, that's what I've been told. [Author's note: He does indeed!]. Somebody said they patched it up on a website. People were enquiring "Is that Tim Thomerson?" It's pretty interesting. It's the first commercial I've ever done. I've only seen it once because I don't watch television all that much. [laughs] I usually just watch the news. But apparently it's pretty funny.

Come over HERE and say that about my hat!

Better than cavalry, Meleager comes over the hill with those "good" javelins to save the day
in THE PRODIGAL (18/118).

[05] You have this great way of understatement. So much comes through with just a nod or tilt of the head.

[06] [laughs] I've been an actor for 25 years, so there's certainly a bag of tricks that each of us have. It's just what I do for a living. It depends on the character I'm playing at the time. I try to live up to the way I was trained as an actor. I figure I owe the audience a good performance. That's why I find these conventions interesting. I realize there are many fans out there of the characters I play, Jack Deth in the Trancer series [Trancers (Charles Brand, 1985), Trancers II (Charles Brand, 1991), Trancers III: Deth Lives (C. Courtney Joyner, 1992), Trancers IV: Jack Of Swords (David Nutter, 1994), Trancers V: Sudden Deth (David Nutter, 1995)], Meleager the Mighty in Xena [THE PRODIGAL (18/118), THE EXECUTION (41/217)], Brick Bardo in Dollman [Dollman (Albert Pyun, 1991), Bad Channels (Ted Nicolaou, 1992), Dollman vs. Demonic Toys (Charles Brand, 1993)], and even the Vietnam stuff [Vietnam, Texas (Robert Ginty, 1990)].

[07] In the 1970s I did a lot of half hour comedies. In the 1980s I started playing bad guys and many military guys. In the mid-1980s I was cast as the character Jack Deth in Trancers. I drifted into the sci-fi world. Then with Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987), which was a vampire movie, I entered the horror world. Then I did Cherry 2000 (Steve De Jarnatt, 1987) which became a cult hit.

[08] Going through all these different genres is great for an actor because you get to play all these different characters. Be it a tennis pro in the comedy Who's Harry Crumb (Paul Flaherty, 1989) or a helicopter pilot in Uncommon Valour (Ted Kotcheff, 1983) or Dolly Parton's boyfriend in Rhinestone (Bob Clark, 1984), with Sylvester Stallone.

[09] I have to say Stallone is a great guy. He gave me a break. He hired me for Rhinestone, for which I am grateful. Prior to Trancers, I was just an actor working. Still am. I'm a journeyman actor.

[10] You certainly have traveled.

[11] I've been to many strange places in the world. I've worked in remote places: in Mexican jungles, in the slums of Manila, and in Bangkok. In Air America (Roger Spottiswoode, 1990) we lived up by the Burmese border for about three months. It was fun working with Mel Gibson. He's a great guy, and a funny guy. Robert Downey Jr. is talented and funny. We had a lot of fun.

[12] I worked in Montreal for awhile doing a series. I also worked in Italy, Rumania, and Africa. I've worked quite a few places -- even Burbank. [both laugh] I've been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit in this business, and to many places in the States as well.

The Beginning

[13] How did you get started? What was your first role?

[14] Robert Altman saw me do stand-up on a music revue television show called The Midnight Special. Wolfman Jack used to host it.

[15] I remember it.

[16] I got a call from Altman's secretary to come see him. He said he had a role for me in a movie called A Wedding (Robert Altman, 1978). Carol Burnett, Vittorio Gassman, Geraldine Chaplin, and Dina Merrill was in that movie. Dennis Franz was an extra in it. That and Car Wash (Michale Schultz, 1976) were my first two movies. Then I started playing bad guys on shows like Hawaii Five-O (CBS, 1968-1980) and Starsky and Hutch (Spelling-Goldberg 1975-1979). Then I got cast in a comedy called The Associate (1979-1980), which I think runs on TV-Land. It was by the guys who created TAXI (John-Charles-Walters, 1978-1983). That was a lot of fun. Then I was in a show called Angie (1979-1080). I had this bad guy/comedy thing going in the 1970's.

[17] Your stand-up days preceded your acting days?

[18] They preceded them, but they were also intertwined. Stand-up was something I originally did for myself, just to see if I could pull it off. If I could get five minutes together maybe I could do Carson [Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show]. Everybody's dream at the time was to do Carson or Griffin [Merv Griffin] back then. And I did that. I did Carson twice. He was really nice to me. He's a really nice guy. He kept mispronouncing my name. [laughs] It was a real treat for me to do. I was able to do it for myself and I pulled it off.

A rare ancient Greek photograph of Meleager the Mighty at

This unusual picture was very popular at WarriorCon.

[19] You have done both television and motion pictures. Motion picture work tends to be very repetitive, but you have time to do things over and get it right. Television tends to be very quick but you can work more often. Do you have a preference for either environment?

[20] I don't have a preference. It's basically the same to me: working in front of a camera. It doesn't bother me. One doesn't stack up against the other. In a day's work, I really enjoy solving the problems with the camera, the actors, how we're going to stage a fight scene, and how is the rhythm of a scene going to play. It's very exacting work at times, and can be very arduous. But it's what I do and I really enjoy my work. Television and movies, it's all fun for me.

[21] In many of the roles that you've played there's often quite a physical component to it, often having to do fight scenes and such.

[22] [smiles] I'm always getting my *ss kicked. [both laugh]

Training and Technique

[23] But even with that physical component, I remember seeing you for the first time in THE PRODIGAL (18/118) and saying "This guy is really good." You have a way of conveying feeling with very little action. I definitely get the feeling you're pushing out a lot of vibes. It's not something you notice in many people.

[24] [looks down modestly] Thank you! I'm fortunate to have trained with a very famous acting teacher, Stella Adler, who is just brilliant.

[25] She taught you directly?

[26] Yes, I studied with her for a good four years before I got my certificate from her conservatory in New York. She was virtually in on the beginning of American theatre. Her father was in Yiddish theatre in the early 1900s in America. She was born in 1900 so she grew up in every phase of American theatre. She studied directly with Stanislavsky. She was in a group theatre and in the 1940s, many of them went their separate ways. Strausberg, to the actor's studios; Stella had her conservatory; and others came out of the same group theatre. But Stella opened up to me what it is to be an actor, and to have a technique and a craft. When I put that Meleager costume on and get that dialogue, which is very well written, it's hard to screw it up unless you're a really bad actor! [laughs]

I have had many thrills.  I mean skills! 

Had they met when he was younger, Meleager might well have defeated Xena in combat.
Well, he might have stood his ground.

[27] But even so, there you are, sitting in that Meleager costume, and Xena walks up and you shrug your shoulders and say "Hello, Xena." The amount of power that you convey in that short time is really something. The Stella Adler experience is very interesting. How much, I wonder, is what she could teach and how much is the innate ability of the student a factor. What do you think?

[28] I think it's a combination of both. She gave us a technique and a specific way of working, where you take it from the outside rather than the inside. There's nothing greater than your imagination. So as a kid growing up most people identify with that, whether you play solider, or kings and queens, or doctor, or anything like that. You put on a cowboy hat it's going to give you a certain feeling. So I try to use my imagination and work out a background for the characters I play.

[29] Where does the guy come from, who is he, what's his family like. I'll write all this down. Renee O'Connor does something like this. She is always studying. She reminds me of Helen Hunt in that way. Stella drew out of me a way of working like that and coming to a character.

[30] I heard Lillian Gish say once "I don't have to die to do a death scene" in response to a question on method acting.

[31] It's all in what works for the individual actor. Different methods or styles work well for different people. Look at Bruce Campbell, that guy is amazing! He can play completely wild, insane characters and he can play the handsome straight guy. And he can direct too. So whatever school you come from or however you've trained, the end result is what it's going to be.

[32] Take an actor like Sean Penn. This kid is so good. I've never seen him do a bad performance. He won an academy award for Dean Man Walking (Tim Robbins, 1995) but his performance in Carlito's Way (Brian DePalma, 1993) is incredible. He and Downey are both good.

[33] We have some excellent young actors these days. I recently worked with Johnny Depp and he is so in tune with what he's doing. He becomes these characters, and for a young guy, that's a rare thing. That's why Brando was so great. He either becomes the character or you believe he does.

Meleager the Mighty

And your little dog too!

Tim in Meleager costume.

[34] How did you get the part of Meleager? Did your agent put you on to the part?

[35] The director [John T. Kretchmer] specifically asked for me. I was cleared by the producers. When I got the script, the breakdown of the script was as you saw it -- Meleager the Mighty was an ex-warrior, famous, who had gone to seed and took to the grog. [both laugh]

[36] He's retired.

[37] Yes, he's a retired, drunken warrior guy who gets hired out once in awhile. I read it and I said "OK, this is my first shot at playing a period piece." I watched the show and there wasn't any quirky language or anything -- they seemed to play it pretty straight. So I asked them what they wanted, did they want comedy or what. They said "Bring as much comedy to it as you can, and also pathos." Each episode they try to teach a lesson.

[38] I had a conversation with R.J. Stewart and he said with each episode they strive for a moral.

[39] Yes! The morality plays every week in this thing. People like Rob Tapert, R.J. Stewart, and Steve Sears are bright guys. These are guys that know literature and Greek and world history. To me, to put all this in a show that takes ten days to shoot, and have it be such a hit, is quite a phenomenon.

[40] When I first read some of the lines I had to say it was hard. You look at the page and you say "Now how am I going to do this? How can I take this word and make it sound like that?" But you do it.

[41] Memorization is sometimes a painful process for me. I went to Catholic school, so I have to do it by rote. I write out all my dialogue. That's how I memorize. I physically get it in there. It's harder for me with a short speech. With a long speech you can get a rhythm going.

[42] The way the show is written is very good. Many people take it for granted, but there's some pretty heavy intellectual stuff in Xena. Also couple that with great action, incredible production values, and Kevin [Sorbo] and Lucy [Lawless] -- I've never worked with Kevin but I've talked to him -- you couldn't work with better people, or more professional.

Renee O'Connor and Gabrielle

[43] The first time you played Meleager in THE PRODIGAL (18/118), you must have taken some time to work things out with your character. How closely did the director [John T. Kretchmer] supervise you?

[44] John T. Kretchmer was Steven Spielberg's assistant for years. He and I got together and I said "Look, how far do you want me to take this guy as far as comedy goes?" He said "Well, let's take it as far as I think it should go."

[45] I can hit the dramatic moments, but comedy is hard to do. It's a rhythmic thing. Renee [O'Connor] is very astute when she works. There's something that flows between actors that only we know when it's there, but you can see it on screen.

[46] That really comes through. In addition to your portrayal of Meleager on your own, there's definitely a father/daughter thing between you and Renee O'Connor, Meleager and Gabrielle. People have really responded to that.

[47] I guess so! That's what I've been told. I'm always working so I'm a bit out of the loop most of the time as far as what's taking place on Xena. I know that she and I have a way of working together that we feed each other as actors. She's very professional and very talented, and I respect that.

[48] THE PRODIGAL (18/118) was a heavy show, and Lucy wasn't in it all that much. Basically Renee carried that show. She had a lot of responsibility. She's very conscientious about her work, and I can't say enough about her professionalism. It makes me work that much harder. When you have an actor who's really putting it out there, then you better step up to the plate.

[49] To answer your original question, the director and I could tell as we went along if it was working or not.

More on Meleager

[50] You fell into that rhythm pretty quickly?

[51] Yes. Your first day of work is always tough. You're new on the set, you don't know anyone, you just got off the plane, and you've got a bunch of dialogue. You just have to get in there and do your job. The second episode was a little lighter, so that wasn't quite as hard. Most of these actors have a sense of comedy and drama, which is a rare thing. Lucy is a very good dramatic actress, and she's also extremely funny. As is Meryl Streep and Helen Hunt. That's rare. Most people can only do one or the other.

[52] You mentioned in your talk at the convention that the costume can be tricky to get in and out of, not to mention being hot.

[53] When I've worked there, it's always been during their summer, under a hole in the ozone layer. The sun is searing. Even the costumers say my costume is a pain to put on. It's spandex on the inside, leather on the outside. The metal parts are made locally. So I had a rubber, leather, metal costume on, and it's really hot, and I'm doing swordfights. Fighting Xena and running around in the woods in all that is a little uncomfortable. But that's a radical costume, and it does help me get into the character. The costumers were saying if I come back again they'd make it easier for me.

Uh, you've got the key, where?

Tim and Renee, having a moment
in THE EXECUTIONER (41/217).

[54] In the two episodes you've done so far, do you have any moments that stand out for you?

[55] There was a moment between Renee and I, actor stuff, that I know she knows that we really hit in the father/daughter relationship. I have a son. I don't have a daughter, but I have a child, so I know how that works. We really nailed the emotion of it. That came throughout in THE EXECUTION (41/217) and especially in a scene where we were in the jail. We did a little slapstick routine and we were both right there [snaps fingers] in the moment. Those stood out for me.

[56] I also had a moment with Lucy. We were in a cave where I say to Xena, "Look, talk to Gabrielle 'cause I really screwed up and I lied to her." She can do something with a look, feeding me. So those two moments were enriching for me as an actor.

[57] In acting, there's sometimes an unspoken thing that takes place between actors that only they know when it's going on. The audience will see you've done your job. It's a kind of euphoric feeling where I'm not Tim, she's not Renee, I'm Meleager and she's Gabrielle.

[58] You meet each other half way and you can feel it.

[59] Yes, it's a very strange, odd, euphoric thing that takes place.

[60] The convention audience seems to bond with you during some of those special moments as well. Do you get that sense sometimes when you're up there talking on stage?

[61] This is my fourth convention. This is my first hands-on contact with Xena fans. I'm surprised at how many people out there want to know me as an actor, because I never think about that. I know I owe the public a good performance because as an actor that's what my job is. It's quite surprising that I have all these fans. They ask me all kinds of questions, many I don't know the answer to. But I have fun, I really do. The Xena fans have been really nice. All the work that I've done over the years is paying off, seeing that people appreciate what I do.

[62] Thank you very, very much for your time. It's been a pleasure to meet you and get to know you over the weekend.

[63] Thank you, man. My pleasure.


Bret Rudnick Bret Rudnick
Whoosh! Token Guy Who Lifts the Heavy Stuff
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armour, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (#10), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (#30), and THE QUEST (#37)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's going on here?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." (HOOVES AN D HARLOTS, #10); Xena after being goosed by Joxer : "Are you suici dal?" (WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP, #30); Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (#46); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at sc antily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (#37)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (#04)
Least favorite episode: GIANT KILLER (#27)

Return to Top Return to Index