Perhaps the trickiest decision facing any Ray Wise fan is choosing from the overwhelming number of fantastic movie and television roles he's got under his belt. I've always leaned toward his unhinged portrayal of the lunatic just below the surface dad of the year, Leland Palmer, but his range and skill set outstrip the average person's ability to sit and watch for the months it would take to see everything he's been in. During a career that has spanned four decades, his uncanny ability to remain a character actor that cannot be typecast is a quality that many envy and most will never be able to achieve.
Ray took a few minutes out of his busy day recently to chat with us about his upcoming GMC movie Brother White and some of his most famous roles.
What do you say we start out talking about the GMC original TV movie that's coming out, Brother White?
Sounds like a great place to start.
This is a feature length comedy where you are playing a larger than life Los Angeles TV evangelist and you have one of your associate pastors leave to head up a church in Atlanta. I have seen you in so many roles but I don't think I've ever seen you play a pastor. How did it feel to be behind the pulpit?
Well, it was great. I don't believe I've ever played a pastor character, I'm trying to think back now over the past forty three years and I don't believe I have.
Yeah, I've played some characters who are maybe sort of pastor-like, but never a pastor and playing pastor Johnny Kingman who has this large church in Los Angeles where there was 30,000 in the congregation was a lot of fun and a real pleasure to do. We were at the Angelus Temple in downtown Los Angeles, which is a very large auditorium with a big stage and they brought in a lot of extras and they were all acting like people do in that kind of a situation. We had a great band onstage, lots of colored lights, and a slideshow so it was just a wonderful experience.
Did it make you pause and think maybe you might want to change professions there for a moment?
Ah, no. Not really. I think I should probably stick with what I'm doing.
You also played Satan himself in 2007's Reaper.
Imagine what all my Reaper fans would think if I became a pastor?
I think they could accept this if they understood your range.
How about that, huh? From the Prince Of Darkness to a Man Of Light! Both sides of the same coin, by the way.
Did you look to any particular televangelists for inspiration? I always am inclined to say Jim Bakker but maybe that's not the best example as he went down in flames so badly. There are so many of them out there.
Interesting story, Kelly. You know I was talking about this movie in Pasadena to some television journalists and I talked about when I was a kid back in Akron, Ohio and I went to this church a couple of times called The Cathedral Of Tomorrow. The pastor there was a guy by the name of Rex Humbard and he had his own television show that went worldwide. So I went and watched him a couple of times and found him fascinating, he was a great preacher. So then I find out that the executive producer of this film Brother White is a fella by the name of Rex Humbard.
Get out. Really?
He's the grandson of Rex Humbard. Or at least I'm pretty sure it's not his son. But I didn't get a chance to meet him but I want to and I thought to myself that this was too much of a coincidence.
It's almost as if you were meant to be in the movie.
I was meant to be in this movie. Yes.
You are one of the busiest actors alive and I've got to say that your IMDb page alone takes forty five minutes to get through. You've been working nonstop. What's interesting about you is that you can seemingly slip into any role. Do you consider yourself one of the very rare and very fortunate character actors that don't get stereotyped?
Yeah, I think I am kind of unique in that way I suppose. I'm in that group of actors who kind of keep things on an even keel. A few highs, not too many lows, just keep a good solid career going while playing a variety of characters. That's what I like the best and I like things just the way they are now!
I don't know if it's that 2011 and 2012 were your busiest years on earth but the amount of stuff that you've got in the pipeline coming up is unreal.
Yeah , I thought about it the other day and it's like in the last couple of years I've done like eighteen movies and I've played recurring characters on several television shows. And of course the stuff I've been doing for Funny Or Die.
I know! Another Brat sent me the link to the "Women's Health Experts Speak Out" short and I was rolling on the floor. How did you get involved? I know you've played presidents and men in office, but you really nailed the middle aged guy in a suit who knows what's best for the ladies.
Well, I've played the President and the Vice-President and Senators and Congressmen and judges and all manner of authoritative characters. I started doing this Funny Or Die stuff a couple of years ago. They asked me to do some things and I did a very funny version of "The Midnight Ride Of Paul Revere." So they called me up the other day to do this thing about women's reproductive health. I thought well yeah, it's so timely in the news right now and it would be great to do a little spoof on that. We had a great time doing it. And what makes me an expert on women's reproductive health?
Wait, this is a quiz isn't it? I know the answer.
You've been in some of my all time favorites: Swamp Thing, RoboCop, Twin Peaksm, etc. When I went through your list of films, it was like a trip down memory lane. I'd forgotten some of the oldies like The Colbys and Dallas and 24. It's a possibility that you may have been in nearly 80% of all things I've ever seen but I have to ask you about Swamp Thing. Wes Craven, Adrienne Barbeau, do you have any memories of that shoot?
We had a blast filming this. We were at the Magnolia Plantation which is a swamp right outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Of course, we were there in the summer so it was very hot and humid and I was wearing some monster appliance. I originally did all the close-ups for this film and then they scrapped them all. I guess I didn't match so well with the six-foot-five Durock who played the stuntman Thing. I had a really beautiful appliance from the waist up and they would shoot me in close up. I had the head and the arms and everything and I actually did all the scenes with Adrienne and they were much more effective. Sadly, they didn't use them. The experience with Adrienne and Wes Craven and Louis Jourdan, that debonair devil-may-care guy, it was really great. Our dinners in Charleston were just marvelous.
This would have made a great "making of" DVD extra for collectors . The outtakes, the bloopers, the eating. I wonder if someone documented this? Or at least kept your parts that ended up on the cutting room floor.
I don't think Wes did but the extras might have been more interesting than the film!
The film is a classic though, you've got to love it.
Oh no, I love that film, I don't ever talk down about that film at all. They play it out here every year in Los Angeles and it's really become a cult classic.
Another show you were in that people are absolutely fanatical about is Twin Peaks. Was that as surreal an experience to work as it was to watch?
Yes it was. It was the greatest experience ever. We just knew that we were doing something really special. I know it's a cliché when they talk about it, but the whole group of actors on that show were like a family. That's what we were and we kept it together week after week knowing that we were doing something great and hoping that the rest of the world would catch on and they did.
You scared the crap out of me on that show. I was keeping close tabs on my dad, wondering if he was really who he said he was.
Yeah, I was on another planet when I did that show, I'll tell you. The writing was so multi-layered. Every line had three or four different meanings and subtext all over the place. The writing was incredible and we had great movie directors doing each episode and David [Lynch] did about four episodes himself. It was a once in a lifetime experience and it was very special.
I'm so excited you talked to me about Twin Peaks, my life is complete.
Absolutely. That show was fantastic, it will probably be on my gravestone.
All these great roles, you'll have your choice of words I'm sure.
I know, and all of these fantastic roles come together in this mishmash to be what I am today and playing Johnny Kingman in Brother White. All those influences, they are all there.
This was primarily filmed in LA but your associate pastor that leaves goes to Atlanta. Any scenes shot in Georgia?
I'm not 100% sure but I'm pretty sure they didn't shoot in Atlanta. I think they used a location here for that small church.
I only ask because I lived in Atlanta and loved it.
I love Atlanta, too. I was there for a couple of years when I did the show Savannah and it was based in Atlanta.
We've interviewed a couple of other actors who have done GMC movies. Kristy Swanson for one.
Kristy played my daughter in The Chase with Charlie Sheen.
She says she loved working on her movie and would love to do another with GMC.
Originally I wasn't all that aware of the GMC network but boy what a wonderful group of people. Lovely people and they're great to work with. Very, very creative and exciting and pleasurable experience. I would go back and work for them in a second.
Let's get to the Culture Brats 3. Thriller or Purple Rain?
Wow. I like Purple Rain. I like Clarence Williams III in it. Oh and I like Morris Day and The Time.
In school, were you a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, or a criminal?
Well, I'll tell you what I was. I was the only football player lineman who blocked with his brain instead of his body. That's what my coach once told me. I wasn't a big guy so I had to use my brain to create the proper leverage to be able to move those big guys out of the way. I was an academic and in fact when they were recruiting me for football, Ohio State didn't come but Columbia University and Brown University came after me. Although I wish I hadn't done the football at all because I still feel a couple of those injuries that I sustained back then.
You are in charge of a musical festival. You can have any five artists, living or dead, on the bill. What artists do you choose and what song to they perform for the final jam?
Oh my. First of all I'd have the Beatles with John Lennon. I'd have Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull and I would have Jimi Hendrix and perhaps Janis Joplin singing with them also. I'd want them to jam on anything that they wanted and felt like doing.
I happen to think music had its apex around 1968/69. The most creative period for contemporary music and the same can be said politically, socially, movies. You know movies were great back then.
I hate to say the best is behind us so I'll keep my fingers crossed. Ray, thank you so much for talking to us and good luck with Brother White and all the movies you have coming up this year!
Great talking with you!
Brother White debuts on GMC on March 11th at 7:00 PM