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Peter Weller on Fringe’s time travel episode and the new Robocop

This week’s episode of Fringe has a special guest star, particularly in the sci-fi world. Peter Weller, Robocop and Buckaroo Bonzai himself, is the subject of Thursday night’s episode “White Tulip,” playing a time traveler who Walter Bishop (John Noble) and his Fringe team investigate.

“The thing that really turned me on about it is, it’s a romantic,” Weller said in a conference call with the media. “It’s a guy who is going back in time and he’s making some serious sacrifices in terms of other people’s livelihood and well being, to get back and save his wife from dying in a ridiculous moment, a mistake that he made. He’s trying to find redemption and go back to the only person that really means anything to him. It’s just tremendously romantic and very moving. That alone was enough to make me want to jump in it.” 

Time travel is a popular concept in science fiction so it will be exciting for viewers to see how Fringe deals with it. “Also, particularly the way they’re handling time travel, what the electrical field does around the person who’s time traveling, it’s sucking the energy out of the physical space where one lands so the energy gets rerouted, is just fabulous to me,” Weller said. “I don’t understand science that much but science fiction is an extraordinarily imaginative trope. The great science fiction is sort of like an autobiography of the world. If you follow history, you have a linear sort of record of the great events in the world. Then you have intersecting it vertically or thematically science fiction, the what ifs. What if we did this? The whole thing outside of our sort of linear experience, that’s the great gift of science fiction. It’s fun. If you have any kind of inventive mind at all, you go racing with it.”

Fringe doesn’t just take Weller back to his sci-fi roots though. It also puts demands on his acting muscles like the best of his theater work. “There are scenes that are four pages of explanation and dialogue but really well written. They’re not just expository but they’re dramatic scenes to justify love and need and family. Those were challenges. Those are challenges to make come alive. The thing is predicated on losing the person you love so I come from the method. I come from Elia Kazan and Uta Hagen. You’ve got to plug in your personal life to that stuff and it’s upsetting stuff. I have to imagine what it would be like if I lost my wife. This guy lost his fiancé and that’s hard stuff to tap into. At 60-years-old you want to sit by the sea and not take a look at those possible horrors. That’s the biggest challenge, how to access the sorrow of losing the dearest person in the world to you.”

It didn’t really occur to Weller until talking to a bunch of sci-fi fans that his Fringe episode connected back to his previous work. While he was making it, he was just focusing on the man he played. 

“When I was doing Odyssey 5, in the midst of Odyssey 5 or the midst of ‘White Tulip,’ you’ve got to make it real. I don’t have a propensity to stand outside and talk about it. You’re in the middle of it, you’re in the foxhole of making the thing. It’s really hard to stand outside of it and be objective. I never had a conversation with Manny Coto about sci-fi. We only had conversations about the human relationships. I’ve never sat on a movie set talking about the genre of the film that I’m in. That’s fascinating.”

The Fringe team certainly supported Weller’s acting techniques too. Sharing scenes with Noble, you’ll recognize the Peter Weller-isms he adds to his scenes. “John and I got to invent and John’s a very inventive actor. John is a workhorse. John has been around the block. He’s done theater and everything. John is so in tune to a physical space and movement within a room, so one of the things that I am good at is physically inventing in a room. Some people say I’m prop heavy but I don’t call those things props. I call them physical life. The director really gave me a lot of leeway to work with stuff.”

We haven’t seen Weller for a while because he’s been busy working on a PhD in Italian Renaissance History. Fringe called him while he was studying. “It’s the usual stuff. They called my agent and said, ‘We’d really like him to do this.’ I’d seen a little bit of the show. My wife’s a big fan of it so I said, ‘Listen, honey, we’ve got this offer. What do you think?’ I have to tell you honestly I’m very discerning about prime time television guest stars. A lot of it is entertaining but hamstrung stuff. Fringe is unique. It’s the best that science fiction can be. It’s fantastic and entertaining but has a humanist thing to it of people, places and things and relationships. My wife said, ‘I think this is brilliant.’ So I read it and it was brilliant. So I said, ‘I’m in. I don’t care what the money is, it’s fantastic.’”

Now that he’s worked with the crew Weller is not only a fan of the show, but of the team that produces it. “One of the most fabulous crews, on the ball. The cast is egoless which is sometimes and many times not the case. I’ve been in the movie business for many years and I’m sure when I was a younger man I threw my own hissy fits. After a while you just want to get the work done, particularly when it’s a great part in a great show. You really want to get the best work out and the way to get the best work out is everybody puts their ego on hold. Even though a movie set is not a democracy, it’s essentially an oligarchy. If everyone’s receptive to ideas then you really get something done. That said, and I’m not saying this just because I was on the show because after 60-70 pieces of work, that show has this fantastic egalitarian accessibility of everyone on it. It’s magic. They say in the mafia, the fish stinks at the head, which means if you’ve got a son of a bitch running the thing everyone feels like a son of a bitch. That show is the antithesis of that. The writers were available to me on the phone. The directors were available night and day. The crew was extraordinarily helpful. The cast was gems, three gifted people. I just had a ball.” 

Hollywood is getting ready to remake Weller’s most famous role, Robocop, with Darren Aronofsky writing and directing. Weller had some thoughts about that too. “I wish him well, he’s a gifted director. I was happy to do it and happy to leave it. Like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, they were happy to get together and happy to go on their way. I was very grateful to everything that Robocop brought me, particularly a large listening amongst young people in terms of education and making some sort of contribution to education because young people will listen to me because of that film. The movie is probably going to be good but I just have to say Robocop 1 is hard to beat. You got that director Verhoeven and you got those writers Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner and the combination of action and myth and humanity and humor, all those things wrapped into one in a perfectly constructed script, I don’t think they’re going to do anything better but I certainly wish them well to do something as good.”

For now, Weller is happy with the message his episode of Fringe imparts to the world. “Anything that can help somebody break bread instead of pick up a gun with somebody else is worthwhile. Communicating a particular experience like in ‘White Tulip’ which is about love, that’s all it is. The whole episode is about love and the desire for love and the loss of people you love. If I can communicate that, I get reinfused with it and I can be nicer to the people next to me.” 

Fringe airs Thursday nights on Fox.


About Fred Topel

Fred Topel has been an entertainment journalist in Los Angeles since 1999, for websites like Daily Radar, About.com, Crave Online and Sci Fi Wire. Follow his celebrity encounters on Twitter @FredTopel.

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One Comment

  • April 14, 2010 | Permalink |

    love this show, cannot wait to watch this episode

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