Red Stewart chats with Lee Perkins….
Lee Perkins is an American actor who has been working in the film and television industries since the mid-70s. He is best known for his numerous television appearances, as well as his roles in the movies Foxcatcher and Woodlawn. His latest work was for the post-apocalyptic thriller The Domestics, written and directed by Mike P. Nelson.
Flickering Myth had the privilege to interview him, and I in turn had the honor to conduct it:
Mr. Perkins, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to speak with me. How are you doing?
I’m good, how about you?
I’m doing fine, thank you. When I read over you filmography, I can’t help but be reminded of one of my favorite actors Michael Ensign. Because, like you, he is someone who has done so much television that people instantly recognize him, even if they’re not necessarily able to pin down his name. I’m curious, do you feel you’ve developed a similar reputation among audiences where viewers will recognize you because of how much work you’ve done?
Kind of yes and no just because, for whatever reason, all the characters that I’ve played, if you look at my reel, are so different that it confuses people sometimes. But that’s a very nice compliment. I think actors go through stages – first you get known through the industry, and then, if you’re lucky, you start to get known to individuals. And sometimes that happens, but honestly it’s a great compliment when they don’t recognize you and then all of a sudden they realize “oh my goodness, that was you in that film?” That is probably the best thing for an actor.
It’s interesting to hear that it works both ways. Going off that, I’m interested in asking you a question about the television industry as a whole. You’ve been doing this since the 70s, but I feel like in the last 5-8 years we’ve seen a huge paradigm shift in the way this medium is presented. For example, networks are creating different standards for what defines a season, there is less backlash towards on-screen adult content, and there is of course the rise in streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, which have new advertising models. For you as an actor, what’s the biggest change you’ve seen and how has it affected you when it comes to pursuing future projects?
I guess the biggest thing that’s happened is the Internet. It allows you to be cast off of a tape and not have to be present. I’m in that situation where with smaller projects I’ll get offers, but with bigger projects I’ll have to tape. And The Domestics is a good example of this happening. I had to tape an audition, Mike the director, looked at it, and then they wanted me back for a callback. But I couldn’t come because my mom had a bad fall: broke her ankle in 17 places and was in surgery. And so, through the Internet, and looking at my reel and credits, Mike felt comfortable enough to hire me for this role.
So I think for actors, in general, we can be in different places and not necessarily have to be in New York or L.A. or London to get cast. And the other thing that’s been really interesting is you mentioned TV: we’re really getting some nice storylines. Women, in particular, are getting great opportunities. Kate Bosworth for example, who is obviously in The Domestics, has had a really great role in a TV series that she shot in Britain. And it’s just a revolution. There are so many shows that there’re a lot of opportunities for actors right now.
For sure, and as a viewer you can definitely acquire a huge backlog. I hope your mother is doing well for the record.
Oh yeah, she’s fine, everything’s fine. It always happens that way. If you’re slow as an actor and want to get an audition, plan a trip to somewhere where you can’t audition, because you’ll be on a plane and you’ll conveniently get tons of auditions [laughs]. It always works that way. So no, my mom’s fine, thank you very much. Everything’s good. You know, some days it all works out.
Right, that’s completely true. So I noticed, beginning around 2009-2010, according to IMDB, you really started to transition away from television and more into feature movies fully. I’m curious, if you don’t mind me asking, what was your reasoning for moving more into film?
Just where the opportunities came up, it’s as simple as that. It seems like I’ve always had more opportunities in films, like The Domestics, which is a studio collaboration between MGM and Orion, or independent movies. It seems like that’s always been the door that’s opened for me. So as an actor you kind of walk through.
I’d love to do more T.V. In fact, I’m going to start working on that in the next year, cause I do like what I’m seeing on television. But as an actor, I kind of think of myself as a working-class actor; I go from project to project. And I like that. To be the number one on a film is a big obligation, and I’ve had that before, but I like being the secondhand on a project as well. I really admired Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s career. He was in a variety of things, playing all these different characters, and then now and then he’d get to be the lead in a very special thing. And as an actor, that fulfills you because you get to play so many different characters. So right now, films seem like the thing where the biggest doors are open.
He was a phenomenal actor for sure. To add onto your point, I remember speaking with Michael Gross, and he actually said something similar, that nowadays he likes to do one-time roles in multiple different projects. Well on that note, let’s talk about The Domestics. As I said, you’ve been in this industry a while and, as such, have worked with many different filmmakers. So what was your experience like working with a first time feature film director like Mike P. Nelson? Was it any different or was it the same?
The thing about filmmaking, whether it’s a small independent or even a student film, or, in the case of The Domestics, a studio film, is that it is so important to that director. It’s their number one thing. And with Mike, he had so much passion, and that kept us all going. He was so enthusiastic. You could literally hear him cheering at the monitor on takes he liked, and he brought such great people to it. Nick Gillard, who was our stunt coordinator, came from England and he had done the [Star Wars prequel trilogy]. Katy Fray, who was the makeup artist, she came from England and had done [The Hobbit Trilogy]. Quentin Tarantino’s first AD, [William Paul Clark], was there. Everybody was just having such a good time, because the script was so unique, and the world that was being created was something that most of us never get to play in.
No, that definitely shows. I admittedly walked into it thinking that it was going to be a cliche road movie, but as I watched the rest of the film it surprised me to see how it was more of a family-themed film in the sense that it focuses on familial themes. So I see your point about how Mr. Nelson brought his passion into the project.
Yeah, you can see it and you can feel it, and Mike really knew. It was a tight schedule with so much action, so he had to be on point. And he already had the movie in his head and he knew exactly what to do. Cause sometimes we had to move fast, and there’s nothing better than a director who knows what they want, because when they get it we can move on and that gives you confidence as an actor. Because my job is to service his vision and when he got what he wanted, then I knew it was locked and we could move on and that is a great feeling. So Mike is a guy who I think is going to have a long career.
Oh for sure, this was a strong feature film debut that definitely set a standard for the rest of his career. But one thing I noted to Mr. Nelson when I interviewed him was that he seems to be jack of all trades because he’s done work in all these other departments, make-up, sound, special effects, and so forth. Was that something you noticed when you were working on set? That he had this intimate knowledge of other departments? Did it make the shoot more streamlined?
Sure, definitely, absolutely. You’re onto something right there. But most of it was in the pre-preparations, so when we went in to hair, the girls had ideas to help develop the characters and he knew exactly what he wanted. The same goes for any kind of thing or small detail, like maybe a little blood splatter on the car because something else had happened in the history of the character. You could definitely feel that Mike knew this world that he wanted to create, and he hired people who got his vision, and then that just made it easier.
Now, The Domestics is a thriller, but it has horror elements. And I know, going over your filmography, that you’ve done a lot of horror films yourself. Was shooting a thriller like The Domestics different from shooting conventional horror flicks?
To me, every film is kind of its own unique thing, but the horror ones that I have done have always been character-based, and The Domestics was definitely character-based from all the different gangs and what Kate and Tyler and Lance brought to their characters. But the truth is I didn’t know anything about the horror genre until I got slided into it about 17 years ago, I did a film that I thought was just a psychological thriller, and it turned out to be kind of a horror film, a little cult thing. And I love the audience, because they’re so honest.
At the premiere we had that kind of audience, and they’re the kind of people that get verbal, where they almost like start to talk with the screen, and you could hear four girls sitting behind me, and it was so funny, you could hear them almost in chorus get what was coming and go “oh…” It was pretty amusing.
So I enjoy that horror stuff. But all the films are a little bit different, yet they’re the same if that makes sense.
I understand what you’re saying, especially about audience reactions. Horror audiences are extremely enthusiastic about good work. So I just have one last question for you. I noticed that you’ve dabbled a bit in other departments over your career. You directed a short, you produced a couple of shorts, and you were the stunt driver on some films. Yet you haven’t done that consistently. Is that something you would ever consider going back to, or are you focused primarily on acting for now?
To be honest with you about that stuff…I think every actor should try to write, produce, and direct their own thing, and they’ll find out what they’re not good at, and that was what came to me. I’m not good as a director, the producing maybe, the writing not so much. So chances are I’m not going to go down that road anymore. I do like the stunt driving, and it wasn’t really stunt driving, it was more precision-driving because I do like mechanical things. I would like to do more of that or have roles that incorporate that in there.
But the other stuff, people like Mike and Shannon who produced, they get it. That’s where their passion is. For me, acting is pretty much the real gig, with maybe a little dabbling in precision driving, if it every came up again.
Well, I can just say that you are a great actor and it’s been an honor to speak with you Mr. Perkins. I wish you the best of luck in your future career!
Hey man, I really appreciate it, I appreciate you supporting The Domestics, and I really appreciate your time!
Flickering Myth would like to thank Mr. Perkins for sitting down with us. The Domestics is out now in select theaters