Interview Date: 01/26/2011
Run Date: 01/28/2011
Luke Perry is a man who knows his way around a horse, so it’s no real surprise to find him tackling a project for the Hallmark Movie Channel which takes place in the old west. “Goodnight for Justice,” which premieres on January 29th, stars Perry as John Goodnight, a man who – I think I can say without fear of being accused of offering spoilers – spends a great deal of his time roaming the west, spreading his unique brand of justice. In addition to putting Perry literally back in the saddle, the production also reunited him with his old “Beverly Hills 90210” co-star Jason Priestley, though the latter remained behind the camera this go-round, serving as director. I’d tried like crazy to get in-person interviews with both Perry and Priestley during the 2011 Winter TCA Press Tour, but despite everyone’s best intentions, the timing just never seem to work out. Fortunately, the fine folks at the Hallmark Movie Channel came through in the clutch, putting me on the phone with Mr. Perry just in the nick of time. We only had 15 minutes, but in that time, we touched on as many moments from his career as we possibly could, including “John from Cincinnati,” “Jeremiah,” his stint on “Oz,” and the short-lived “Windfall.” We also got his feelings on the Joss Whedon-less “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” movie…and, yes, of course, we got in at least a couple of questions about the zip code that brought him his biggest fame.
Luke Perry: Hey!
Bullz-Eye: Hey, Luke, how’s it going?
LP: It’s going. It’s colder than hell here. Where are you?
BE: I’m in Virginia, and it’s not much warmer.
LP: Oh, man!
BE: You know, you and I met on my very first TCA tour. It was at the HBO party, when you were there for “John in Cincinnati.”
LP: Oh, at the W Hotel there.
LP: Oh, there was some drinking that night, boy.
BE: Yes. Yes, there was. I was fully indoctrinated into the organization.
LP: Excellent! Glad to have you aboard!
BE: (Laughs) Thank you! Well, I checked out “Goodnight for Justice,” and I’m a western fan courtesy of my father, so I really enjoyed it. It’s a very nice old-school throwback.
LP: Absolutely. That’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I was going for. A lot of folks are going to say, “Yeah, but it’s not this and it’s not that.” No, it’s not any of those things. It’s a throwback. To the old ones.
BE: So what’s your personal history with the western genre?
LP: There was a time when you weren’t allowed to watch any TV in my house that wasn’t “Gunsmoke.” But, you know, I’ve made no secret of the fact that the western genre is one I love. I love westerns, I always have. There’s just something about them that, when they’re done well and are at their best, they’re as good as any movie out there. You know what I mean? If someone’s, like, “Oh, it’s a western, so it’s going to be less,” well, it’s not going to be less. It’s not going to be less of anything. It can be equally compelling, equally exciting, just as romantic. We can see that they can be just as profane or any of those things. That’s just not the choices that we made for this picture. We went for more of a traditional kind of feel.
BE: Obviously, this isn’t your first time in the saddle, as it were…
LP: Not my first rodeo, partner!
BE: A-ha! I would’ve gone for the “8 Seconds” joke, too, had I thought about it.
LP: Yeah! (Laughs)
BE: …but it’s also not your first time working with Jason Priestley.
LP: Yeah, I’ve seen that guy around.
BE: Did you enjoy re-teaming with him?
LP: I did, I did. It was really good. You know, he absolved me of a lot of things that I’m usually concerned about in making a western…like, y’know, “This director doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, he’s not going to listen to me.” A lot of times you get directors who think of these sequences on a horse, and they’re, like, “And then you ride him up that way, and then…” And I’m, like, “Horses won’t do that!” And then they’ll try to get their way, and I’ll spend two hours explaining to them, “The animal won’t do it, sir, and even if I can get him to do it once, I’ll never be able to get him to do it twice.” And with Jason, there was none of that. He’d say to me, “Can you do that?” “Yeah.” “How fast? How hard?” “This I can’t do. This I can.” “Great, that’s what we do.
BE: I heard you during the TCA panel for the movie when you said you could tell pretty much from the first time you met him that he enjoyed telling other people what to do.
LP: (Laughs) Yeah! I was saying that I think I was the first one Jason ever shot on the show. When he started directing, I may have been his very first shot. I wasn’t in the pilot of the show, but I remember showing up to do the first episode, and he was already wanting to direct, telling the old man. Gotta love that.
BE: Now, I saw the film, and I know you ride off at the end, though I can’t recall if it’s actually into the sunset or not.
LP: You know what? Couldn’t get a sunset. They said they could put it in in post-production, but we said, “No! We have to get a real sunset, or we don’t do it.”
BE: Still, the end is left open for another adventure of Mr. Goodnight.
LP: Yeah, I’d like to think so. I mean, one of the things about TV is that you get to have a character for a long time, so I’ll hang onto this guy for a minute. We’ll see.
BE: You’ve got an executive-production credit on the film, but didn’t I read that you also had a hand in creating the character of John Goodnight?
LP: Yeah, I came up with the idea for the screenplay, which was written by a couple of other folks based on an idea that I had and an outline that I had written. You know, it’s not ordinarily my trade, it’s not the thing I do best or something I even do well, but it was something that needed to be done this time in order to get the movie made. So I’m happy to do it.
BE: Given that you didn’t write it per se, were you still able to bring a significant amount to the table as far as character traits and whatnot?
LP: Yeah, they were great. Neal and Tippi Dobrofsky wrote the movie, and they allowed me to come to them with all the pages I had written, all the outline I had made. I had to show them certain pieces of film because I just couldn’t describe in words what I was looking to have happen. And it was a combination of that sort of mish-mosh of material that I presented before them that they were able to pound into a screenplay, and then I would go back and polish the dialogue and put in a line here and there.
BE: As far as the rest of the cast goes, you work with Lara Gilchrist predominantly.
LP: Yes. The lovely and talented Lara Gilchrist.
BE: Indeed. Did you guys find a good chemistry pretty quickly?
LP: You know, I got so lucky. I was blessed by having Lara in the movie. Not only was she far and away the best actress that came in to read, she had just a grace and a generosity of spirit that she brought to work every day. Everybody liked her, she was very low-maintenance…it was wonderful. And she was pretttttttty.
BE: (Laughs) Were you at all a “Battlestar Galactica” fan?
LP: No. I was of the original. I didn’t see any of the new stuff.
BE: I didn’t know if you’d known her work from there or not.
LP: No, I wasn’t familiar. Why, was she, like, some sexy outer space thing on that?
BE: Well, you know, I think she’s pretty much sexy by default…
LP: True, true. Well, you know, her name, Gilchrist, means “body of Christ.”
BE: See, there you go.
LP: And, Christ, what a body…
BE: (Laughs) So you’ve done a fair amount in the TV-movie genre. Are there any in particular that you’re fond of that people might not have caught when they were on originally?
LP: What do you mean?
BE: Well, I mean, like, you did “A Gunfighter’s Pledge,” and…
LP: Oh, I think “Johnson County War” was the last one I did with these guys, or maybe something in between “A Gunfighter’s Pledge.” The thing I love about the Hallmark Movie Channel is that they’re in the western business in a consistent way. They don’t just make one a year. They make a few. And if they give me a shot to do one every year…? I like that.
BE: I know you were in a new take on “Angel and the Bad Man” a bit ago.
LP: Yes. What a new take. There’s only one role for me in that, and that’s the Bad Man…and I told them as much when they called me about it. They said, “No, no, no, we’ve got Lou (Diamond Phillips) for the other part.” I said, “Great, ‘cause there’s only one part for me in that movie…and I’m playing the Bad Man.”
BE: Were you intimidated at all, given that you know your westerns?
LP: I wasn’t intimidated. I knew the original, I knew what it was about, and I told the producer as much. “Are you sure you want to go biting off a remake of the Duke?” And he was, like, “Yeah, yeah…” But having said that, it’s definitely one of the relatively lesser-known titles, you know? You think John Wayne movies, “Angel and the Bad Man” isn’t the one that jumps right out at you. And it seemed to me a good idea, y’know. They couldn’t shoot ‘em back then like we can shoot ‘em now, so we ain’t writing ‘em now like they wrote ‘em back then. So if you can get a good combination of the two, I think it makes for a good project.
BE: I’m curious: what would you say is your favorite project that you’ve worked on over the years that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
LP: “John from Cincinnati.” And, in some ways, “8 Seconds.” I loved “8 Seconds,” and in the world of rodeo, where it’s a known commodity, “8 Seconds” is a great film. At the box office and in terms of Hollywood and their perception of it, they saw it as a failure. And they were wrong.
BE: As far as “John” goes, how did you come onto that project originally?
LP: Dave Milch called me up, said, “You want to go have breakfast?” I went to go have breakfast. By the time breakfast was over, I had agreed to do another television series. Because David’s writing is just so compelling, you know? And the way he tells you the story, you just feel like it’s a story you want to be a part of.
BE: Now, the question is, did you have any idea what was going on? Or was he really the only one who had any idea?
LP: You know, I don’t need to have an idea what goes on. I just need to do my scenes. A lot of actors, they do. They get really hung up on that and need to know the far overreaching arc of stuff. I’m a little more improvisational with my style. I don’t need to know any of that. I take it one scene at a time, then we get what we want out of that scene, and…I always had a great deal of trust that David knew what the overlying, overreaching story arcs were. And I’d sign up again to do it tomorrow. Even still knowing it would get canceled, I’d do it all over again.
BE: What did you think about the experience of doing “Windfall”?
LP: Great concept, very timidly executed. Because, you know, it was on a network that didn’t want to take the chances and show the things. The thing that I tried to explain to them was that if someone won, say, a hundred million dollars in the lottery… (Hesitates) ’Cause I said, “I want an elephant.” And they’re, like, “What do you mean?” I’m, like, “I want an elephant on the show.” They’re, like, “We can’t have an elephant!” I said, “See, you’re missing it. You don’t get it. If you have a hundred million dollars, here’s your thought process: “I. Want. An. Elephant. Where’s my elephant? Somebody better get me a goddamned elephant!” That’s how you think when you’ve got a hundred million dollars…and they missed that. They’re, like, “No, no, they’re still going to be the same people…” I’m, like, “No, no, they’re not going to be the same people. Nobody’s the same person on Wednesday when they just got a hundred million dollars on Monday. No matter who you are, that’s gonna fuck with you.” And they didn’t want to give in to that. I said, “There would be hookers, there would be cocaine, there would be fire trucks and firearms and drugs and all kinds of stuff.” And they said, “No, no, no!” And I said, “Okay…” So I thought they were too timid with their execution of it. But it was a great idea. People are stupid! They do all that stuff with money! You hear all the time about people who win all this money in the lottery, and then their life is hell from then on out. That’s what I wanted to explore.
BE: That begs a question about the difference between network and cable. Would you be ready to jump into another cable series, provided the premise and show runner were right?
LP: Premise and show runner! You know the big ones! (Laughs) Yeah, those are the two things that you’re looking to have be good in a series. You know, the interesting thing about cable is a lot of times they’ll only do 13, and that makes for a full season for them. I love that. That gives me time to have a lot of other life going on, maybe play another part. When we did “90210,” we did 32 episodes a year. That’s almost like doing three cable seasons in a year! So I’m used to the heavy workload. That doesn’t bother me. I’d like to find a premise that I like with some show runners that I can really throw down with.
BE: As far as doing cable shows, in addition to “John from Cincinnati,” you also did “Jeremiah,” where you had the advantage of being an executive producer.
LP: Yes, and so I know what cable allows and…it doesn’t fix everything, by the way. Just because a show’s on cable doesn’t mean that you can do all the things you need to do to make a great show. It still has to be written well, the characters need to be based in a reality that people will accept, and they need to be characters that people will want to watch. You don’t necessarily have to like them, but you’ve got to be willing to watch them. I thought that, with “Jeremiah,” we had a really great opportunity there. I felt that one got snuffed out too early, too. Malcolm (Jamal Warner) and I were having a great time, we were doing some really great action, and...I enjoyed that show. I just wish… (Hesitates) You know, MGM, it’s such a cluster over there. It’s tough to get anything done long-term with those guys.
BE: It’s probably obvious at this point that I’m working backwards chronologically here, but…when you made the transition from “90210” to “Oz,” was that a conscious decision to step about as far out of the role of Dylan McKay as you could?
LP: No, actually, you know what it was? It started out as a favor to a friend, Tom Fontana, and he was going to cast another actor in the part. That guy got stuck on a movie and couldn’t get off, and they needed an actor right away. I was on my way to New York. And it was only supposed to be one episode…and then it worked out good. I liked it and he liked it, and he said, “What if I just write some more?” And then before you know it, I was offered a whole season.
BE: Did you enjoy the experience? Was it a whole new world for you?
LP: Yeah, it was wild. It was very different, I mean, from where I had been and from the kind of work that I’d been doing. It was great to get in with an ensemble of actors who, clearly, with everybody making scale, nobody was there for the money, so everybody just wanted to do the scenes as well as we could do them. And when you’ve got a situation like that, that’s good for me.
BE: So with “90210,” you obviously built some long-running friendships, but what else would you say was your favorite part about doing that show?
LP: Training. In technique and camera. I mean, we shot so much film for so many years. I know all the equipment, what everything is. It gives you just a tremendous sense of awareness that you can have on the set if you choose to. If you choose to pay attention to it. Jason always did. I always did. It made good sense to me. I could learn a lot there. It was like going to college twice.
BE: Do you have a favorite completely ridiculous storyline that you remember, one that just made you raise your eyebrows at the time you had to deal with it?
LP: Yeah, I remember there was this one story we did where, like, this lesbian girl hit on Jenny (Garth), and then later on the house caught on fire, and she got burned up. And I always call that Super Fire Lesbian Episode. (Laughs) I’m, like, “So if you’re a girl and you hit on Jenny, that’s what happens? You burn up…? Jesus!”
BE: I’ll go ahead and start wrapping up, and I’m sure everyone’s already asked you this, but…what are your thoughts on the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” movie without Joss?
LP: No Joss, no go. They’d be fools to try to do it without him. They were fools to not include him as the director the first time. You know what I mean? I mean, how many times can we… (Trails off) But you know what? Joss…I hope he doesn’t feel bad about what they’re doing to his franchise, but clearly it’s not going to be the same thing without him.
BE: Had there ever been any talk of bringing your character, Pike, onto the series?
LP: No, I think he’s pissed at me…and I’m not sure why. But I think he’s pissed off at me.
BE: Well, hopefully, these words you’ve just said will help your cause.
LP: I hope so! I’d prefer that he not be pissed off at me.
BE: Plus, you know, he’s directing “The Avengers.” You don’t want a guy with that kind of power mad at you.
LP: Oh, I don’t give a shit about that. It’s not like he’s going to call me up and say, “Hey, Luke, you want to be one of the Avengers?”
BE: Oh, I didn’t mean that.
LP: Yeah, I just…I’d just like to think that everybody I’ve worked with had a good time. Potentially, Joss did not, and I don’t know if they treated him that well on that movie.
BE: Well, I know you’ve got to get moving, but I’m glad I finally got to catch up with you.
LP: Me, too, brother! I appreciate your time. Next time, pull me aside, we’ll have one.
BE: I’ll do it. And I’ll also tell you that my daughter, who’s five, is a huge “Simpsons” fan, and she’ll be thrilled that I talked to Sideshow Luke Perry.LP: Oh, yes! You know what? I’m gonna pass that along to Krusty the next time I see him. (Laughs) Thanks again, brother!