Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
UNT alumnus Peter Weller (ROBOCOP, 1987) has been on a hot streak lately, directing some of the latest and greatest episodes of shows on television– having recently directed episodes of SALEM, HAWAII FIVE-O and JUSTIFIED. Most notably, Weller directed and starred in a few of the strongest episodes of SONS OF ANARCHY. However, Weller took off the directing hat to co-star alongside his friend Dolph Lundgren in SKIN TRADE.
SKIN TRADE, co-written by Lundgren, focuses on human trafficking, Serbian gangsters and the police officers aiming to take them all down. In the film, Weller portrays Costello, a New Jersey police captain.
Fresh Fiction caught up Dr. Weller to talk about his role in the film, working with Lundgren and Michael Jai White, and his upcoming directing projects.
You directed Ron Perlman in SONS OF ANARCHY, and I know you were friends with Dolph Lundgren prior. Who got you attached to this particular project?
Peter Weller: “It was my manager, Craig Baumgarten. I’ve always liked Dolph Lundgren. He’s a very smart guy. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for engineering, man. He’s smart dude. I think it was at [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] or something, where he started as a security guy and an actor. He’s a very quiet guy, but very, very bright. He belies the muscle-bound action-hero outlook.”
Yeah. Actually, there’s an article in Time Magazine that talks about how both you and him are two of the most intelligent talents in the business.
Weller: “Oh, really?”
Yeah. I believe it was called “Top 10 Wicked Smart Actors.”
Weller: “Yeah, he’s really smart. I would also have to say there are two other actors whom I believe to be brilliant. One is Richard Dreyfuss and the other is James Woods. Dreyfuss is more of a humanist, while Woods is more politically smart. They’re bright guys.
Michael Jai White is a gifted cat, too. He’s a guy I really respect. All of those guys are really smart guys who brought themselves up from nothing. Just humble guys. But Michael Jai White showed up as this karate kid one day– just a great dude.
But anyway, I got in the film because my manager is a producer on the film. I was offered– well, they were looking at both me and Ron [Perlman] for these two different parts that were interchangeable: the head cop or the bad guy. But, I just couldn’t commit to the time to play the villain, so I played the cop. Ron was great in it, though. It was great to act with Ron since I’ve only directed him in SONS OF ANARCHY. Great guy.”
I was actually going to bring Ron’s character up because there’s a line in the film I was drawn to. When we first meet Ron’s character he speaks of legacy and immortality living in your genes. You have a child who is three or four now, right?
Weller: “Three, almost four, yes.”
How important is legacy to you– passing down the work you’ve done to your boy? What’s maybe that movie you’re most excited to share with him one day?
Weller: “I don’t know, man. You know, if he think his old man is a good dude and is kind to people that’s all I care about. I don’t really think of a movie legacy for him. If he enjoys it, fine. I don’t take this seriously by any means. I’ve been very blessed by having this very goofy career.
If all this is, is a blue collar gig and the service of entertainment– this is not the cure to cancer, man. It’s not about solving the world’s problems. Movies are entertainment. The best they can do is educate. I don’t think of any movie as a legacy for my kid. If he enjoys it, fine, but mostly what I want to leave is an impression of a kind and generous human being.”
Yeah. Well, I think movies are important and can create awareness. This movie, for example: it’s a hard-driving action movie– a 70s/80s throwback. This is one of those movies that gets you looking at the world differently. I feel like for most people, they are aware of sex trafficking and things like that– much like people are aware of slavery or whathaveyou. But it takes movies like this to really get people’s attention.
Weller: “Yeah. I agree with you! This movie does say something, like SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993) or THE LIVES OF OTHERS (2006). It heightens the awareness of repression and marginalized people. It can really function as education; although, it’s really rare. Most of the time, the education is an emotional education. I’ve seen movies that have moved me. I’ve seen performances that have moved me. They are just as much a contribution to me as the social statement of SCHINDLER’S LIST or THE LIVES OF OTHERS.
I’ve seen a couple of Marlon Brando performances, a couple of Gene Hackman performances– I just watched Ingmar Bergman’s PERSONA (1966). I can’t believe people had a problem with that movie when it came out. I look at the genius of the images, of a woman deciding to withdraw from a commercial world that is essentially, metaphorically eating its young. And in exchange of personalization with a nurse, the patient becomes the nurse and the nurse becomes the patient– there are interchangeable roles there. I look at that, man– that movie is genius! The performances are shockingly, polarizing real. What that movie says about the advent of commercialization of information– way before its time. It makes you want to go to a mountain to never speak again. That is as educational to me as SCHINDLER’S LIST or THE LIVES OF OTHERS. You know what I’m saying?”
Yeah, man. Absolutely!
Weller: “See RICHARD III (1955) with Laurence Olivier or ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) with Brando. I just watched a movie called SHOOT THE MOON (1982) with Albert Finney and Diane Keaton. The emotional courage of an actor can many times be just as educational. They can be just as educational as a movie that informs you about a social problem.”
Can’t agree more. Yeah. I can remember in high school, learning about slavery. It was all very text book and learn more about the events. You don’t get that full grasp until you see a movie like 12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013) or Steven Spielberg’s AMISTAD (1997). So as film fan, I appreciate movies like that, or this that educate you on the matter while also giving you that emotional awareness, as you were saying.
Weller: “Yeah. Yeah. It’s horrible, man. It’s all going on, and Georgia has a big problem with it! We have kidnapping and trading going on in the state of Georgia!”
Yeah! It’s unbelievable. On our home turf.
Weller: “Louisiana, too. I was shocked when I watched TRUE DETECTIVE and its visceral reality.”
Oh yeah! I remember us talking about that last time.
Weller: “Yeah. Yeah.”
I could discuss this all day, but what’s your upcoming project MARCH OF THE HOLLOWS about?
Weller: “MARCH OF THE HOLLOWS? I don’t know what you’re talking about, man.”
It’s some fantasy project that you’re supposedly attached to with Malcolm McDowell, according to IMDB.
Weller: “Don’t ever believe everything on IMDB.”
Weller: “They got my name wrong. Look at the name.”
It says “Peter Frederick Weller.”
Weller: “Yeah. That’s not my name. Maybe you can write in a note and fix it.”
I could do that. I could do that. Yeah, it says you’re currently filming this project titled YAMASONG: MARCH OF THE HOLLOWS.”
Weller: “Oh! YAMASONG is a voice-over for a Japanese feature.”
Weller: “Ah, man. They’re such dipsh*ts. I mean, good Lord.”
[Laughs]. Yeah. Your episode of SALEM aired a couple Sundays ago, right?
Weller: “Yeah, man! It got a resounding response, I got to say. I’ve never got that much of a response, outside some of the episodes of SONS OF ANARCHY. It got a resounding response from WGN, FOX 21, the producers, the writers, and on.
I’ve been slotted to do the OUTSIDERS, a new show in Pittsburg about an Appalachian family. Do you know about that?”
Weller: “Yeah. Are you listening to me, man? Because if you’re doing something else–“
No! I’m all ears, man. I just was confused for a sec about the title of the show. I thought you were talking about a televised adaptation of the S.E. Hinton novel for a second there, until you mention the Appalachians.
Weller: “So you haven’t heard of it?”
Honestly, no. Too much content out there to keep up with. Tell me about it.
Weller: “Yeah. It’s an upcoming WGN series that follows this Appalachian family who live off the grid and above the law on a mountaintop homestead.”
That’s new. I’m in.
Weller: “Yeah. They want me to shoot the finale of it.”
Sounds like you’re locking down some cool stuff.
Have you seen this ROBOCOP parody short titled SCENE 27 on Vimeo.
Weller: “No. It’s called SCENE 27? Never even heard of it.”
I can send it to you, but it’s an expansion of the scene in ROBOCOP, where you shoot that dude who is trying to rape that girl. You shoot him in the crotch through the lady’s dress.
Weller: “Oh, yes.”
Yeah, that scene. But in the video clip, instead of shooting one guy in the crotch, you shoot 50 guys.
Weller: “Look, so what?”
Weller: “I mean, who cares? That movie was so brilliant, but to overplay it and make a joke out of it. So, if they shoot 50 guys in the d*ck, who cares?”
[Laughs] What about this new ROBOCOP series that’s coming out– heard of it?
Weller: “No. I haven’t heard about that! A new series for ROBOCOP?”
Weller: “I mean, I hope so, because I want a piece of it.”
Yeah. Machinima, the Warner Bros.-backed digital media company, announced a couple of sci-fi and game-inspired, including a new show based on ROBOCOP. It’s being developed by the writer of STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (which you’re in)– Roberto Orci.
Weller: “Orci is doing ROBOCOP?”
Apparently so. According to recent reports.
Weller: “Oh, that’s fun. He’s gifted guy. Love him.”
For sure. Are you directing any episodes of THE STRAIN this year?
Weller: “No. I’m not. THE STRAIN was a great and challenging show with a terrific cast. I can’t speak highly enough of Guillermo del Toro, FX and the cast– they’re great. Filming that was a dark, bad time for me. My brother was dying and all sorts of sh*t was going on. It was the coldest winter they’ve ever had. It would be a tough thing to revisit. I’m glad I did it. I love that show. There’s just other shows I want to do. I’m doing the second season of TYRANT for FX, though.”
Yeah. I remember you saying that, and HAWAII FIVE-0.
Weller: “Yeah. People ask me why I do HAWAII FIVE-0, because I do a bunch of them. It’s because HAWAII FIVE-0— Peter Lenkov lets you reinvent the wheel. Yeah, maybe they call me a lightweight or shallow, but the great thing about the show is all the freedom you have. You can do stuff in handheld, there’s a lot of action– it’s a lot, a lot of fun.”
Weller: “How’s Denton?”
Denton is great. We’ve got all these new bars, restaurants, and apartments. It’s really grown to be a mini-Austin of sorts.
Weller: “I hear that downtown area is really popping.”
It sure is.
SKIN TRADE is available on DVD/Blu-ray.