Vincent Ventresca

He's appeared in many shows over the years, including a guest role as Fun Bobby in a couple of early episodes of Friends, but to Sci-Fi and Fantasy fans, Vincent Ventresca will always be remembered for his portrayal of Darien Fawkes, the Invisible Man in the show of the same name. He also played Dr Ed Tate in the short-lived Prey. This interview took place on 24th January 2002, a short while after The Invisible Man was cancelled. In it, Ventresca played an inept criminal who, on being caught, is about to be sent to prison until his brother steps in and gives him an alternative. All he has to do is take part in an experimental gland-implantation procedure and he can be a free man. What he doesn't know is that the gland will enable him to sweat out a substance that bends light, known as Quicksilver, making him invisible to the naked eye. Sadly, it comes with a price: without regular doses of an expensive and difficult to synthsize in large quantities counteragent, Darien's use of the gland will make him go insane.

Note: There is material missing from this transcript, ie the parts that became the interview printed in Cult Times Special #21. You'll find it jumps around a bit; I just ask questions as they come to me and edit things together later, and this is a chronological write-up so it also may not flow perfectly for that reason.

Were you surprised that the show was cancelled, especially when it had so easily won a second year?
God yes! I was really surprised! I thought it was a very important show for the network, and I was proud of the show and just on my own opinion, I looked at it and I thought it was a really interesting sort of quirky Sci-Fi show. I thought it worked perfect on the network and I thought it was gonna be an important staple to the future of the Sci-Fi network. But unfortunately they didn't care what I thought! [He laughs] No, it really surprised me. The response I get to the show, like when I go out, is people really like the show and they really enjoyed the tone of the show and they got the show. At some point I have to wonder if the network itself got the show.

What reason did Sci-Fi give for the cancellation?
The reason I got from the network was that the number of people watching the show did not justify them picking up the show; it came down to money. I had been told that they were happy with the show up to the week before we found out they weren't happy.

Was it that expensive?
No. I've heard that it was because it was such an expensive show. As far as the States are concerned, it was still a low-budget television show. I mean, it was a million dollars an episode. That's not terribly expensive for an hour of television. But I do believe that it came down to math; that they were seeing how much money they were getting from it and they were seeing how much money they were paying out to get it and I think it didn't seem cost effective to them. It's honestly very confusing to me and I think the real truth is we will never know why The Invisible Man got cancelled. I don't know how it's doing in England, but it airs three times a week here in the United States and the ratings are very solid; it's not a breakout hit, but it does have a very consistent fanbase and it's doing well in syndication as well as on the network. If you look at it in one light, the show looks hugely successful and it looks like it was a staple for the network, but somehow they looked at it and I don't know how they looked at it, but they had to conclude that it wasn't cost-effective to continue.

It's not a huge show over here in the UK either, but it's getting some fans. It's a true cult.
What's interesting is we're still airing original episodes here, so I'm sure you have a way to go before original episodes air there. So I think the fanbase will be at its largest next year or the year that follows. There's 45 hours of Invisible Man episodes and it's airing everywhere; I mean, I just did interviews in Australia, I just got a fan letter from West Africa, a letter from Switzerland, it's opening in Canada; it's going everywhere. So I think the worldwide fanbase will grow and continue to grow. Who knows?
Craig Silverstein wrote the final episode in a way that it closes the chapter but it could really potentially springboard off to the next chapter and my hope is at some point we will revisit the world, because I think it's an interesting world and I think it's perfect for now, so we'll see.

It has a core fanbase in the same way that Prey appears to.
You're right, you know what, I'd never thought of this; I guess it's sort of obvious. It's a very similar situation where the world was specific and it had such a core fanbase. Could it be revisited? Yes, absolutely.

Plus you had the in-joke to Prey
Adam Storke came back and did a cameo appearance in an episode called Exposed. It was great. The network are very aware of the fanbase and they wanted to tip their hat to Prey.

You spent a couple of episode guesting on Friends. How was it?
I think it's the way television works best; you know, TV's quick and in TV there's not a ton of money, but the actors and the writers and the directors, you have each other, and it's your commitment and your pride in how much you want to make the material as strong as it can be and how hard they work. So much of that show, they make it great because they work hard and you can tell in the product. And so, more than anything, I learned how to be an actor on a TV show and try to make that show as good as it can be.

Were you surprised to be asked back?
No, they actually told me at the end of the first one, they said, 'We'll see you later, Fun Bobby will come back'. No, they told me.

Returning to I-Man, how much of it was scripted?
Well, that was a source of contention. It made it fun, it made it fresh sometimes when it didn't work. I'd never done that before, I was always say what's on the page, but sometimes the scene, you would do them and they wouldn't feel right. And then Paul [Ben-Victor, Hobbes] would say, 'Let's try this' and then we did it a couple times and it felt better, and then we'd see it cut in and it really felt like we'd made the scene better. So it was just the way we started working and I felt like it did give the show a freshness. When you're watching something, and something surprises or feels really real, it jars the ear and it pulls you to it and it makes it interesting.

So is the season finale more of the Arnaud/Chrysalis storyline?
Arnaud's in the second to last episode.

Teaming up with Chrysalis?
That's right.

Is that all you can say? I'm pretty up to date with the episodes, so I know what's going on.
So you saw when they were sort of partnered up together, but you haven't seen what happens. You want me to tell you? Well, don't tell anyone, but what happens is Arnaud sort of tricks them. It's really interesting; Craig Silverstein wrote the script; what's funny is it all plays out real, but it's still contrived and funny at the same time but yet there's a real reality to it. But he double crosses them and gets away; Chrysalis wanted him because he has the gland and they want to get the gland out, but he escapes from them and then it's left for him and I to end our relationship so to speak.

How did you feel Brandy Ledford (Alex Monroe) altered the set-up in season two?
Yes, I thought it was awkward. I thought it was contrived, I thought it was obvious. I think she's a great actress and I think she did everything she could. I think the idea was to create an internal antagonist but to do that it has to sort of pay off, and the way they tried to pay it off, it just felt false to me and I didn't like it and I think it turned a lot of people off. I think she had a couple of episodes where she really, really elevated the material and made it seem organic for her to be in this world, but for the most part it sort of went against the grain. What did you feel?

I got the impression that she was being deliberately written out of episodes because it wasn't working.
She wasn't deliberately being written out, they just didn't know how to write her in. I think they had the right idea, they just didn't know how to implement it.

The strength comes from the Hobbes/Fawkes partnership.
Right, and I think there were some people involved with the show, they didn't like that aspect of the show. And I think it is in fact the turning point that hurt the show.

She forces the partnership apart.
It diluted the chemistry between Hobbes and Darien and it didn't make sense, it didn't feel real. I know it's strange to talk about the reality of a show called The Invisible Man, but that's what made the show unique, is though it was sort of a Fantasy-based show, there was a certain humane reality to the relationships of these characters and the characters were very well fleshed out and it was this dysfunctional family that fit together and suddenly this new character was imposed on this family. And it was interesting and jarring enough that I took a look at it and it seemed like it could be interesting, but then it never paid off and it never felt organic and it felt ultimately like an obvious choice, to just add a hot chick to the show. And once again, this is not about me and Brandy Ledford, I think she did great and elevated the material as much as she could and I loved working with her, but I don't think you can fool audiences. I think audiences are smart and I don't know what they were trying to fix. I don't think anything was broken. That was the problem. I think they were trying to fix something that wasn't broken.

Did you know any of the cast before starting work on the show?
I knew Shannon Kenny really well. I'm very good friends with her husband, Nestor Carbonell. Shannon and my wife, Diane, are very good friends. So I knew Shannon but that's it.

How long did it take to build the chemistry between the cast?
I would watch them and there was the chemistry. Paul started taking that and he developed that relationship with The Keeper and then I started taking that energy and sort of building it with the Keeper and then Paul started doing it with Eberts and then Eberts started doing it with The Official.

Did you meet any of the others in the casting stages?
Yes, I got my job as Darien about 20 minutes before Paul got his job. They brought in four other guys to read for Paul's part, Paul came in last and I read with all of them. And Paul literally put down his script and then improv-ed the whole audition, I mean, kind of staying on the words but he got up in my face and I started crying, I was laughing so much. And his commitment was just hysterical. He was this agent who'd been screwed his whole life and suddenly he has this hot shot guy with a bunch of hair in his face. It sounds clichéd, when you read in all those articles and people say, 'I really had something when that happened, I knew when we hired Paul that we were gonna have a good show.' And then as far as the part of Shannon was concerned, I read with a bunch of people for the Keeper too, and I wasn't there when she tested because my wife was pregnant or something, but I had chemistry with her immediately too.

Do you have a background in improvization?
I have none and I don't know where Paul learned how to act; he told me some guy in the valley taught him. But Paul comes from this world where I wasn't, and I would always be thinking and Paul would say, 'Let me cut your head off', the idea of 'Don't think about it too much'. He would just really play the circumstances of the scene. He hates talking about the arc or what happens, he just plays the moment. He plays what's going on in that scene and that's it. And it works. Working with Paul Ben-Victor was like taking an acting class. Consequently he really helped me develop my job as an actor.

Did guest actors find the improvization difficult to get round?
A few of them did, yes. You know, it was real interesting because it's how we did it, we just developed a way of working. And either you came in and were part of it or you came in and you fought it. And it was interesting to see how actors would respond, but the positive ones went along for the ride and the ones who were a little more insecure, they fought it. Yeah, it pissed a couple of people off.

I wouldn't mention them. No. I mean, in the second season we started getting some really, really good guest stars and Paul and I would be very sensitive to how they worked and then we'd play the scene and if how they were doing it worked, we wouldn't mess with them. The only time we would really improvize was when we felt like the scene wasn't working.

How was Armin Shimerman (Tommy in several season two stories) to work with?
Armin was genius. I still think about some of the things he taught me as an actor. He's such a well of advice and he just knows what he's doing. I think [Sci-Fi]'s the hardest genre in the world because you have to commit to the circumstances and it's very easy to say, 'This is ridiculous, how can it be?' but you're dead if you do that. You've gotta believe it and he had this speech and the circumstances were just completely ridiculous, yet he committed to them with absolute conviction and the truth came out of his mouth and hopefully that is what made the stories compelling.

Had you worked with Joel Bissonnette (Arnaud) before?
No, but Joel's just a great actor. He did it perfect on the show; I wish he'd been in every episode. We all just sort of committed to this quirky world that had its own language and vibe, and once you found it it was very refreshing to be there. It wasn't artificial either, it was suspended somehow. Hopefully that's what you're doing anyway because you're making an episode of TV, but there was something unique about it. It was as if any moment one of us could break character and start laughing and I loved the tension of that, even in dramatic scenes.

Was it difficult to act around the invisibility?
Yeah, but it was fun! I mean, the invisibility was sort of the star of the show. Honestly, the only frustrating thing is it was very time-consuming; it would take a lot of time to do the invisibility part just because it was so technically based, but as far as acting against it, I found it really challenging and creative in a different way, just finding a way to make it more believable.

Presumably when bits of Darien were invisible you'd wear green cloth over the appropriate part.
That's right. And then we'd shoot it twice and they'd put the character together.

Do you know why Darien's first love interest was written out?
I think we were gonna get back to even maybe revisiting Casey [in season three].

Plus there was the semi-romance between Darien and The Keeper.
Yeah, I loved that. It was great, I loved it. I thought it was really interesting. But everything is awkward for me, and the thing about acting is you try to find a way to make it not awkward and hopefully get there, but for the most part I was really happy with where we got.

Will you be coming to the UK any time soon?
At one point we were going to come over between the seasons, but my wife's pregnant now but I'm sure I'll be there within the next year or so.

Tell me a little bit about some of the other things you've worked on: Fresh Prince, Diagnosis Murder
Diagnosis Murder I was working with Dick Van Dyke, and you see these people that bring so much dignity to their work and realize that it ain't easy. My work on them, I was pretty bad!

What about Romy and Michele's High School Reunion? After all, you got to work with Lisa Kudrow again.
I think she's a genius and I thought she quietly sort of stole that movie. Everybody suspected that Mira [Sorvino] would be so great, and Mira was awesome, but you watch that movie and some of the moments, the more emotional elements that Lisa had… Not that it was a contest, but she really surprised me in that movie.

One last question: you have 10 brothers and sisters. Was acting a way of trying to get yourself noticed in the crowd?
Yeah, kind of! To oversimplify it, yeah, that's exactly what it was. I was the youngest, so I was the centre of attention for a long time, but I think that really is why I did go into acting. You know, when you're in the centre of attention you sort of yearn for that and any actor that says they don't want to be the centre of attention isn't true, because when you're being filmed, you're truly the centre of attention. But I think a lot of the instincts came from being the youngest of 11.