Interview with actor Derek Magyar of ‘Phantom’

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Derek Magyar is well established in the world of prime-time television, shifting effortlessly from shows as diverse in theme as the supernatural (Charmed; Medium), legal dramas (Criminal Minds; CSI) and even sci-fi (Star Trek Enterprise).

A strapping, handsome guy with brilliant acting chops that have seen him move on to the big screen to play everything from a gay hustler (lead character ‘X’ in Boy Culture) to a submarine officer (in the forthcoming Phantom opposite Ed Harris and David Duchovny), this is one method actor you can expect great things from over the coming 12 months.

Interview by Antonino Tati.

 

Did you always aspire to get into acting as a kid?

Yes I did, and I was lucky there was a playhouse up the street that all of us went to. I went to a very liberal school for artists and that’s where it all began for me. It went from kindergarten through to eighth grade, and it was a fun place to explore the theatre, have rehearsals a couple of days a week, and eventually put on a show. I fell in love with acting then and it never really stopped.

 

It seems as though you’ve kept yourself busy with all other facets of filmmaking. I believe you’ve been tagged a quadruple threat in Hollywood in that you write, act, direct and produce!

Yeah, that term does feel very intense, but I did just finish producing and directing my first feature film, Flying Lessons, that I’m very excited about. It’s due for release in theatres December 7.

 

And are you acting in that, too?

No I’m not. Just producer and director. I was thinking about appearing in it myself but then decided that as my first time as director I better start slow. I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew.

 

Your acting CV boasts quite a variety of roles. Let’s start up with the feature film Boy Culture in which you play a sensitive gay hustler. Was there much research involved for a role like that?

There was. I spent about a week to 10 days in Seattle to understand the [gay] nightlife. I even went to do some research in Los Angeles to understand the scene in West Hollywood. I was able to feel the energy and kind of build a foundation of my character from that.

 

It is indeed quite a heavy scene, especially the porn circuit of West Hollywood. A lot of guys who end up in it ironically started out wanting to be actors, but end up hustling instead…

Yeah, and I can understand why it’s easy to get into, if the money is big. And that’s played on in the film, that’s for sure. I was taking a character from a story from a very successful book and did my very best to bring it to life. Being straight [but playing gay] didn’t matter. What mattered was that I could find something that I could connect to, and let it blossom from there.

 

On that note, Derek, do you feel times have changed given that once upon a time it was taboo to play a gay character but these days a straight actor playing a gay lead can do the job, and then move on to the next role?

I would say that I’m one to just go on my gut impulse. I don’t care what the role requires; if I can find a way to connect to it and I’m getting to really press my chops and dig deep, then I’m going to do it. I think that methodology came from training at the California Institute of the Arts which was based on a very experimental approach to theatre that made me feel a certain freedom with myself that I don’t think I would have discovered otherwise.

 

You’ve featured in a lot of television: from Charmed to Criminal Minds, JAG to Star Trek Enterprise. Do you think you can be just as experimental in your roles for TV?

No. As I’m sure you know, television is a ship that runs itself. If you’re on certain cable shows, you have much more freedom, and depending on what the show is, within it you might have even more freedom. But in terms of network television – forget about it.

 

Just focusing on Star Trek Enterprise, you played a major character in Commander Kelby, who virtually ran the ship, didn’t he?

I came in and was the replacement for the chief engineer. I enjoyed doing it, but I wasn’t much of a Trekkie growing up as a kid. I was a lot more into sports and the theatre. I didn’t even watch that much television. If anything I was watching a lot of movies.

 

And what actors were you admiring on the big screen?

I don’t know where to begin, my friend; I mean how far back are we talking?

 

At a very early age; who were you looking up to?

I would say Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman and Marlon Brando were all very inspirational. I liked seeing the transformation they would go through for each character; connecting to that and letting go and just being able to love a story. That’s ultimately what it’s all about.

 

You have an action thriller Phantom coming out soon in which Ed Harris and David Duchovny both feature.

Yes, I’m very excited for that film. It was an all-male cast. There were only two women in it who worked for about two days. The rest were 30 guys who needed to be a cohesive unit, all working together on submarines. It was a really intense experience; very tiring; challenging; but amazing. For me, getting to work with those guys was a dream come true. Ed Harris graduated from the same school I did and he’s somebody that I admire in the same vein as Daniel Day-Lewis, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and other guys that will still take material, swallow it whole, and let it embody them.

 

Great. You’re also soon to feature in a new film by X-Files director, Chris Carter, called Fence Walker, I believe…

Yes, and while I’m not going to give anything away – Chris is very private – I will say it has nothing to do with sci-fi. It’s a character drama based on his youth and it’s a wonderful, wonderful film. I got to play a very challenging character, but you’ll have to wait and see.

 

In your off-time between shooting for any given film, do you switch off or stay in character?

I don’t switch off.

 

So you pretty much stay in character even on your way home and coming back to the studio, until the film’s finished?

That’s correct.

 

What does that do to your family and friends? Do they realise that this is not the real Derek right now?

Yes, I think there’s a certain sense of understanding. They know what I’m doing; they’ve experienced it enough times now and have a pretty clear understanding of how it operates.

 

Some people would argue that you could be treading dangerous turf if it’s an intense character you’re playing. If you take someone like Heath Ledger – when he was playing The Joker in The Dark Knight – he maintained it for so long that it allegedly interrupted his sleep. What do you to do relax?

Nothing. I come home and I sleep. In terms of filmmaking, I’ve been able to have a lot of freedom. One recent film was pretty much all night shooting. So I’d come home at 7 in the morning, get into bed, get up at 5pm and go to the set. So I really got to eat, sleep, and do everything the way this character would.

 

When you’re reviewing a TV show or movie that you’re in, is there a lot of self-critique?

There’s a ton of critique so I try to refrain from re-watching them!

 

For more on Derek’s first directed feature Flying Lessons visit www.flyinglessonsthemovie.com. And for more about Derek the man himself visit www.derekmagyar.com.

Phantom will screen early 2013. View the trailer here.