From his work in cult films like “Heathers,” “Pump Up the Volume” and “True Romance;” big studio movies like “Broken Arrow,” “Interview With The Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles,” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves;” and serious dramas like “Murder in the First” and “The Contender,” Christian Slater has made a career of playing unique and diverse characters. The actor continues his pattern of choosing unusual parts with his duel role as Henry Spivey and Edward Albright in the new spy-thriller “My Own Worst Enemy,” premiering tonight on NBC.
Henry is a middle-class efficiency expert living a normal life in the suburbs with his wife, Angie (MÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒ‘€šÃ‚Â¤dchen Amick, “Twin Peaks”), their two kids, and a dog. Edward, on the other hand, is an operative who speaks 13 languages, runs a four-minute mile, and is trained to kill. Henry and Edward are polar opposites who share only one thing in common: the same body. When the carefully constructed wall between them breaks down, Henry and Edward are thrust into unfamiliar territory where each man is dangerously out of his element.
Along with Slater, the show boasts a cast that includes Mike O’Malley (“Yes, Dear”), Saffron Burrows (“The Bank Job,” “Boston Legal”) and Academy Award Nominees Alfre Woodard (“Desperate Housewives,” ”Star Trek: First Contact”) and James Cromwell (“Spider-Man 3,” “24”).
CBR News spoke with Slater about the new series, what it’s like to play two different characters that share the same body, and why “Pump Up the Volume” is one of the films he’s most proud of.
CBR: “My Own Worst Enemy” has a very theatrical feel to it. Was that an important factor in your decision to do a TV series at this point in your career?
Christian Slater: Well, it’s always a risk and a gamble whatever project you get involved with. But I can honestly say is [NBC] really kept up their end of the agreement. They told me that each week they were going to try and put a movie on TV. As far as I can tell, the production value and the things we’ve been able to do have been extraordinary. The crew and the team that is assembled are beyond first class. So to show up to work everyday is a phenomenal pleasure.
What was it that you liked about the script for the pilot that attracted you to doing the show?
I think the dual personality aspect was certainly something that I enjoyed about this particular script. I thought the title was great fun. I thought taking the “Jekyll and Hyde” type of premise, putting that with a sort of “angel and devil on your shoulder” theme and blowing it out into such an extreme way was something that was very identifiable and very interesting.
“My Own Worst Enemy” is going to be airing on Monday nights after fan-favorites “Heroes” and “Chuck.” What would you say to that audience to convince them to stick around and check out your show? Also, what do you think your show offers to fans of that genre?
Well this show has so many phenomenal twists and turns. I think we’ll continue to keep audiences guessing. You know, we have continual storylines and I think some characters that are very well developed and are in the process of being developed, and some really great actors. I mean, James Cromwell, Alfre Woodard, Saffron Burrows, and Madchen Amick; they’re all just very interesting actors. And I hope people enjoy it as much as I’m enjoying making it.
How do see the differences between Henry and Edward?
There are subtle differences and, I think, certainly some specific emotional differences between the characters. As we’ve gone along we’ve discovered a lot of ways, I think, to in a very subtle fashion make some clear distinctions between the two characters. But I think Henry is certainly a character who is much more in touch with his heart and certainly a much more compassionate character. I mean Edward is without a doubt the opposite end of that spectrum.
You know, we come to discover Henry is in a way specifically created, not that I want to give anything away about why he was specifically created, but as we delve deeper into the story, you will see what the purpose and reasoning for Henry’s existence is. It has been an interesting process I think for everybody discovering how to make the characters transition and how to make them switch.
I’ve done and continue to do my part in trying to make it as clear and distinctive, and relatable as possible. So it’s a challenge, you know. It’s a challenge to be coming into a scene one way and exiting another. Seeing the differences in how I carry myself, how I behave and how I identify with things emotionally.
Henry and Edward don’t really know that one another exists, will they discover clues along the way that something is not quite right with them?
I think the first episode is called “Breakdown” and the microchip that is implanted into Edward’s brain has started to break down. The two personalities are beginning to merge and a lot of chaos starts to ensue. You know, they do find different ways to communicate with each other. Writing signs on each other’s hands so when they do wake up they can see what they’ve been up doing. As the show develops they find much more technological ways to stay informed.
As a longtime move actor, what are some of the storytelling differences between working on television and working on a film?
Well, it’s a phenomenal experience to come in every eight days and be handed a new script. You know, to see the direction that things are going in and the questions that are being answered. For me as an actor having done theater and having done movies, it’s like you show up and you get to tell that one whole complete story within two hours or over a certain period of time. With this it is a continual unfolding journey. It really is up to the writers and how creative, clever, and interesting they’re feeling and willing to be. It’s fun to sit in the table-reads and hear the other actors go, “oh my goodness” because they haven’t read the scripts yet. So it’s fun to hear that they’re genuinely surprised.
You’ve had a long and successful film career. Looking back, are there any projects that you’re especially proud of?
For me, I go way back probably to a film I did called “Pump up the Volume” that I enjoyed a great deal and I loved playing that character. And he kind of had a bit of a dual-split-personality thing going on as well. And so I think with this particular show it is reminiscent in some ways of that. In ”Pump up the Volume” I think I played, pretty specifically, a very shy kind of high school kid who by night was this guy who had this other personality that he only felt comfortable being in the privacy of his own room. So I like the duality of that. I like sort of the Clark Kent/Superman aspects of that particular film.
You’ve appeared in several films that have stood the test of time like “Pump up the Volume” and “True Romance.” Do you feel like a TV show can have that same sort of impact and staying power?
I think so. I mean there are certain shows that have been quite historic. A lot of the shows that I grew up with, well I mean come on, “Star Trek” certainly is a show that had staying power. I was a huge fan of shows with integrity and that had interesting characters that people can relate to. Shows like that certainly have the ability to stand the test of time. If people are putting their heart and souls into them, then it comes across.
Finally, there is a “brain-washing” aspect to “My Own Worst Enemy” that is similar to Josh Whedon’s new show, “Dollhouse.” Have the producers had any concerns about that and how do you feel about the comparison?
I haven’t specifically heard anything in regards to that but I think if you look at entertainment, [everything’s] always a version of something else. Even when I was doing “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” they were making another Robin Hood movie, in another forest somewhere else in London. So there are always scenarios like that. I mean this particular scenario is a “Jekyll and Hyde” type of story or a “Hyde and Jekyll” kind of story. So, it takes a particular genre or scenario, tries to update it, dealing with a similar premise and make it its own.
“My Own Worst Enemy” premiers tonight and airs Mondays on NBC.