By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
He’s the man who almost took over the Star Trek universe, he’s been to the Harte of Dixie and written a brand new book. But to millions of fans around the world he will always be George, the lovable Newcomer from Alien Nation. The Time Warriors are proud to talk exclusively to Eric Pierpoint. Here Eric tells us what happened the day the show was cancelled, how he made his George different to the movie version and exactly how he would have played the captain in Star Trek. Oh and who is exactly is Caleb O’Toole?
TW: How did you land the role of George in Alien Nation?
EP: Hello Irish Friends!
First, I have to say, it is always terrific to hear from fans of Alien Nation. The show stands out in my career as one of the highlights. As I reflect on it, it was the best combination of producers/writers/crew/actors in my experience in over 35 years in the business. Though it certainly was a challenge in terms of how hard we worked (plus the make up… itchy all day!), it was ultimately the most satisfying television role of all. Ken Johnson, the executive producer and a friend for years, called me one day back in 1989 and asked me if I would be interested in doing AN. I looked at the film and thought, well, James Caan was pretty good as Sikes… so I told Ken I was interested in the role. He said, “No! I want you to play George!” So, I looked at the film again. Light bulbs went off.
TW: How did you try to make George different to the movie version? It must have been a pleasure to go to work every day given the quality of the scripts?
EP: I tried to give George a softness and humor that would work well with the gruffness of the Sikes character. I also wanted to make him even more “human” that the humans in a way. He had two big hearts. I think that worked well for those who can relate to someone who has so much to overcome, who try so hard to fit into a new world. Those new to the United States, who speak a different language, must try all the more to gain a foothold, to overcome prejudice. I also wanted him to be incredibly strong in his character, so you knew he would succeed in the end. I wanted him to be totally reliable and honest. I loved what the writers did with AN. It was a challenge every day to create new culture on the set. We had to be on our toes and inventive. I mean, just how do you stage a man having a baby? Or celebrate the fertilization through a third party as in Three To Tango? When you get material like that, it makes those 4am make up calls every day ok. We did push the envelope as far as societal issues are concerned. I think that is what made the show. Prejudice was in every episode and portrayed without stigmatizing anyone. That is the luxury of doing this with alien characters. It is a mirror that we held up to society. I can’t tell you how many times I have been recognized, stopped in the street or a grocery store, by fans who were minorities. They loved the show and got the challenge of George and the Francisco family. I rode the subway at 3am in NY one time way past my stop because folks in the car recognized me and wanted to talk about the show. THAT was a huge highlight. And there were many, whether it was the birth episode, the GAME face off, or trying to play George playing baseball. Mostly, it was the cast and crew, the everyday laughs that made it great.
TW: Had you any idea the show was going to be cancelled? What was it like on the set that day and do you keep in touch with the others?
EP: We had no idea the show was going to be cancelled. After the first year, we were literally on our way to New York to do publicity. I got the call not to get on the plane, that they were shutting us down due to costs and also the head of the network who simply did not get the show. Of course, later we came back for five television movies. I think it was best as a series, though it was great to go back and do the films. Getting that phone call was great. We had no idea were were coming back. The outcry from the fans, coupled with Ken Johnson’s passion for the project and several network fans of the show, made it happen. As sad as it was the day we were cancelled, we were that happy we got to give it another try. So, letting it go after five films was not as difficult. We still get together to this day and most of us have remained great friends. I am in touch with Ken, some of the writers, Gary Graham, Terri Treas, Michele Scarabelli quite often. My house for barbecues!
TW: How did you get into acting?
EP: I got the itch to act when I was graduating from The University of Redlands. It seemed like a natural fit. It was discouraging at first when I tried to get my foot into the door. I felt I needed more training, so I went for a MFA acting degree at The Catholic University of America, which had a great drama department. I studied classical and modern theater for several years before I hit the streets of New York. My big break came in the form of a small film called Windy City. It ultimately didn’t do much, but it got Hollywood interested. They flew me out to test me for various projects. Until then, it took over 80 auditions to get my first job in New York. My first television series came about in the early 1980’s. It was called Hot Pursuit, and Alien Nation producer Ken Johnson was the Executive Producer. It was because of that show that we became friends and ended up in AN together. Of course, I have done so many different shows to date, but his stand out.
TW: You’ve almost been cast as the Star Trek captain on a number of occasions. What would your Captain have been like?
EP: I was considered several times for captain roles in Star Trek. Those did not pan out as the producers went with either a female or an African American lead. But, I still had a blast doing several alien parts. I did manage one captain role on Deep Space Nine. I think had I been cast as the main captain in one of the series I would have given him a level of authority and laced the part with enough humor to add the other side. I figure if you’re going to watch these characters every week, humor goes a long way. The original Star Trek had that with Kirk and Spock.
TW: What have you been working on lately?
EP: Lately, I have been working as a recurring character on Hart of Dixie, Parks and Recreation and some other projects. The latest one is called Farmed and Dangerous, a comedy about the genetically modified food business. It is coming out next month. I play a rich rancher who has developed food made out of oil to feed his cattle…things go HORRIBLY WRONG! You will see. Stay tuned. I’ll post on my website where to find it.
On what he would have brought to Star Trek as a captain: ‘I figure if you’re going to watch these characters every week, humor goes a long way. The original Star Trek had that with Kirk and Spock.’
TW: Tell us about your new book Caleb O’Toole. Have you always had a passion for writing? Where did you get the inspiration from for it?
EP: I have been writing a lot in recent years. My first novel, The Last Ride of Caleb O’Toole is coming out this September. It is historical fiction for middle readers (9-14) about Caleb and his two sisters who must survive a dangerous journey on the Oregon Trail in 1877. Right now you can preorder it on many sites including Amazon.com. The best thing it to go to my website. You can also join me on my Eric Pierpoint Connection Facebook page and ask questions about the book or showbiz. This is set up now in anticipation of the book’s release. Alien Nation fans especially welcome! Go to: www.ericpierpoint.net and hit the Author button, scroll around and read about it.
There is also a button you can hit that will take you to various book sites and you can order there. I’m, of course, really proud of this novel. And amazed that I actually had the discipline to sit and do it, research it. I took my dog, Joey, on my own great adventure (you can find photos of our trip on the website). We learned tons about the Western Migration and the challenges of pioneer survival. But, really, it is just a bloody good western and I hope you enjoy it. The inspiration to write it came from my own pioneer family history. My ancestors came across the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails in 1848. Many of the women were so called Prairie doctors…tough pioneer women who could tend to the wounded and sick along the way. This led the way for the menfolk to become doctors down the road. Much of this comes out in the book. I also have done a lot of work with children, so I wanted this book to appeal to them. I believe there is a hero locked inside every one of them. This book speaks to that.
Bye for now!