The actor: Although he got his first big break playing a singing Savior in Godspell, Victor Garber is arguably best known to TV viewers for his work as Jack Bristow on ABC’s Alias. Since he stopped spending time as a secret agent, Garber has since found steady—if short-lived—work on Fox’s Justice and ABC’s Eli Stone, most recently pulling a recurring role on Showtime’s Web Therapy, playing husband to Lisa Kudrow, but The A.V. Club spoke with the actor in connection with a more regal role: playing His Royal Highness Prince Charles in the Hallmark Movie Channel’s original movie William & Catherine: A Royal Romance, which premieres on August 27.
William & Catherine: A Royal Romance (2011)—“HRH Prince Charles”
Victor Garber: It was challenging to play this part. I wasn’t sure at the beginning if I even wanted to do it, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought, “You should do this,” because I have an innate sense of him somewhere—I don’t know where—and I also have respect for him. And the way he’s written… Really, it’s about the writing. Always. It’s about the writing, and there’s some risky, bold things that [writer Linda Yellen] put in, and I thought, “That appeals to me.” So it was a challenge. And I like a challenge.
The A.V. Club: You mentioned during the TCA panel for the film that you have not had the opportunity to meet Prince Charles.
VG: No, I’ve never met Prince Charles, and I doubt that I will. But I do only have three degrees of separation from him. I do know somebody who knows somebody who’s spent weekends with them and thinks that they’re very delightful people to be with. That’s the sense I get when I see them now. I think time has given them a perspective that is much more positive than it was, and I’m glad of that. I mean, it doesn’t affect my life, but I do think that they were vilified unfairly.
AVC: Should a copy of the film land in Prince Charles’ lap, do you think he’d be comfortable with your portrayal of him?
VG: I honestly could never answer that question. I mean, I really don’t know. I can’t imagine, first of all, that he’d ever watch this… although he could have a curiosity that we don’t know about, in that way that people sometimes do about show business. But, you know, I wonder if Elizabeth ever watched Helen Mirren in The Queen. I hope so, because it was a very good film, and she was great. But, you know, I don’t know what their interest is in that. I haven’t really seen the film altogether, so I don’t know what the effect is, but my sense is that it’s a very respectful and kind of loving portrayal of this family, and it attempts to tell a story that is universal and yet specific, because it’s them. But I think it’s a nice script. I really do.
VG: [Laughs.] From Prince Charles to Jesus. It was a time in my life where… It was really more about the experience than the role. It was really about the Godspell experience, which is still with me and is a major part of my life, because I have friends from that time that are still very close to me. It was seminal and life-changing, because it brought me to New York to do the movie. I did it originally onstage in Toronto, and then was cast in the movie and came to New York, and so that changed my life, because that’s when I realized, “Oh, this is where I want to be, it’s where I want to live,” and, you know, I feel like… I’m proud of it because it really affected so many people. I mean, I still get people who stop me, and now that they’re reviving it on Broadway, there’s been renewed interest. There was a Godspell reunion about a month ago. So it was a big deal. A life-changing experience.
AVC: There are some pretty surprising names involved with that original stage production.
VG: Yes, it’s quite well known…and well-documented. [Laughs.] But, you know, Marty Short, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner: It was an amazing cast. I was just talking about the auditions the other day, the time I saw Gilda Radner sing “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” across the stage at the final callback. That experience was unforgettable.
Alias (2001-2006)—“Jack Bristow”
VG: Oh, well, that’s another life-changing role. [Laughs.] I’ve had a lot of life-changing roles, but that’s definitely one of them, on so many levels. I mean, J.J. Abrams… that I was cast in a television series playing a double spy, you know, was only due to him. It would never have happened if I lived in L.A. and auditioned for the role. It was just that he’d seen me in New York and knew of my work. I auditioned on Skype—well, no, it was before Skype was around, but it was in a room, over a computer, and he was in L.A. and I was in New York. But I got the role, and there I was. I was then in L.A. for nine years. Alias was five years, but I ended up being here for nine years total. So that was a big change. I met Jennifer Garner, who is one of my closest and dearest friends, and I’m very close to their family. That was great.
AVC: Were you happy with the way the show played out over the course of its run?
VG: Well, you know, it kind of lost its way, and then it found its way again. But I thought the first two seasons were kind of stellar, and I think it’s influenced almost every show of its kind that’s come out in the last 10 years, and I don’t think any of them are as good, frankly, as Alias. And I think Jennifer was definitive in that kind of role. I don’t think anyone has ever come close to her. If people look back on it and screen some of those early episodes, her performances are really strong for someone who hadn’t done all that much.
Star Trek (2009)—“Klingon Interrogator” (scenes deleted)
VG: Oh, why? [Laughs.] Why even talk about it? It came about because of J.J., of course. It was a case of “no good deed goes unpunished.” Of course I’d do anything for him, so I said, “Yes,” and I spent hours learning Klingon. I mean, the whole thing was spoken in Klingon, and I’d never seen Star Trek! I mean, honestly, I don’t know anything about Star Trek other than things I’ve seen clips of, so I had to sort of get educated quickly. I got there, and it was, like, two and a half hours of makeup, and then a long night, and it was really a chance to hang out with J.J., and that was fun. But then the whole sequence was cut. Not just my scene, but the whole sequence, which was disappointing, because it would’ve been fun to be part of that movie.
Titanic (1997)—“Thomas Andrews”
VR: Wow. You know, I’ve done some amazing work. [Laughs.] I’m kidding. Well, you know, that was a big one. I was the last person cast in that movie, and I almost wasn’t cast, because [casting director] Mali Finn, who is no longer with us, I went on tape for her when they had already started photography in Rosarito, Mexico, and they had not cast that major role. I went in, and she called Jim [Cameron] and said, “I think I’ve found the guy.” And he said, “Send me the tape.” But somehow someone in the office sent the wrong tape, and Jim said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. This isn’t the guy. I don’t think this guy’s right.” And she didn’t realize ’til she got back to the office on Monday that they’d sent the wrong tape. I didn’t find that out ’til afterwards, and I thought the whole thing was bizarre. But, anyway, I was playing Macbeth in San Diego, I closed on a Saturday night, I think. Maybe a Sunday. I got into a van on Monday, was driven down to Rosarito, which was an hour and a half down the road, down the coast, and there I was for five and a half months. Yeah, that was…well, again, life-changing. But very difficult. Very hard shoot. And, you know, it was very challenging. Again, great people. The cast, we bonded. But it was an isolated, odd kind of world that we were inhabiting. And we were shooting nights most of the time, so you lost all sense of perspective.
AVC: How was James Cameron to work with as a director?
VG: He was actually great with me. You know, he’s extremely demanding. All those things are true that you read or hear. He literally directed every moment I was on screen. He loved that character. I think he saw himself as that character in some sense. He was the architect of that movie, and he was very specific. And was very helpful. I think that what everyone thinks of my performance, a lot of it is due to him. And I thought it was… well, you know, that movie is very poignant and has affected a lot of people. Obviously. [Laughs.]
I Had Three Wives (1985)—“Jackson Beaudine”
VG: [Witheringly] Really? Oh, no, you can’t bring that up. [Sighs.] First of all, I’m, like, “Jackson…? Who the hell is that?” You know, I was so young. It was my first series. Bill Bixby, God rest his soul, directed that, and I loved him. He was a fantastic guy, and he made it all okay for me. I was cast out of a play. I was doing a play in L.A.—Noises Off—and I went in and auditioned, and Marc Merson, I think, was one of the producers, and some others whose names I can’t remember. You know, what was really the biggest surprise was that I thought, “I don’t know if it’s really worth it. The work, it’s too hard.” I was paid… well, by today’s standards, not a lot of money, but it was certainly more money than I’d ever made. But I thought, “I’m too tired to spend this money. I’m literally exhausted.” I didn’t know what it was like to be the star of an hour-long comedy-drama, as it was. I couldn’t believe how hard it was.
Legally Blonde (2001)—“Professor Callahan”
VG: That was a good experience, really, because Reese [Witherspoon] was an angel to work with, and it was a fun role. It was really in my wheelhouse because, you know, playing egotistical pricks is one of my specialties. [Laughs.] I don’t know why. I don’t know why people cast me that way, but for some reason, I seem to be good at it! I love those kind of roles. I love playing those kinds of people that you just love to hate. It’s the most fun for me. And, obviously, that movie did very well. So it was a good experience.
Annie (1999) – “Oliver Warbucks” / The Music Man (2003) – “Mayor Shinn”
VG: Well, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan produced both those, and they also produced Cinderella, so you might as well put all three together. They were all under their auspices. Neil and Craig gave me the opportunity to do all those roles, and I loved doing all of them, but particularly Warbucks, because that’s first of all the best show of three, but also the best part. Also, it was directed by Rob Marshall, who was my good friend, and it was the first movie directed and choreographed by Rob. Obviously, he changed the face of musical cinema. That was a great experience working for him.
AVC: Were The Music Man and Cinderella not as enjoyable?
VG: No. [Laughs.] I mean, for different reasons. I didn’t think I was a very good Mayor Shinn, frankly, and there’s no song. When I see Paul Ford do it in the movie version [of The Music Man], I just think, “Well, that’s definitive. It doesn’t get better than that.” That, and I just really thought I wasn’t very good.
Eli Stone (2008-2009)—“Jordan Wethersby”
VG: Great, great part. I loved it. I loved that experience. I’m sorry it didn’t go further. I felt like it should’ve. It wasn’t popular in certain areas of the network, but people still say, “Is that going to come back?” Seriously. I’m, like, “Uh, no, it’s gone.” But it’s a special piece. Considering what else was on television, I thought it really deserved to find its audience, and I thought it could’ve. I just didn’t think it was well-handled, frankly. But, you know, I suppose it’s like any series. I didn’t feel like the second season they were really writing in the way they had in the first season. I thought it kind of lost its way. But I still think even as it was losing its way, it was more entertaining and more worthwhile than most of what was on television—and I loved Jonny Lee Miller. He’s the greatest.
Glee (2009)—“Will’s Father”
VG: A non-event. [Shrugs.] I love Matt Morrison. I was very happy to do it. I was hoping to come back, but… [Trails off.]
AVC: So there’s been no talk of it?
VG: No. So it was ultimately just like guesting on any show. It was pleasant, people were nice, and I loved Matt. He’s a friend. I was hoping that there was more to build. I mean, the reason I did it was because I was told it would be something more, and it wasn’t. That happens. I don’t blame anybody. That’s just the way it is, basically. But I think the show is fabulous, and I love watching it. I don’t watch it all the time, but I love it when I do. I just enjoy the craziness of it, and I think they’re so talented that it blows my mind. I think Zach Woodlee, who does the choreography, is just a genius. He did Eli Stone, too.
The Legendary Life Of Ernest Hemingway (1988)—“Ernest Hemingway”
VG: Oh, my God. [Shaking his head.] I have a line in this play I’m doing where I say to a journalist, “You have really done your research!” It’s, uh, a terrible movie. It’s unwatchable. And yet it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
AVC: How so?
VG: I loved the director, and I played Hemingway from 19 to the end of his life, and I guess I was in my 30s by that time, but the makeup was genius. If I showed you pictures of the makeup stages, you would say, “That is unbelievable.” I mean, it was really was. That was the best thing about it, frankly, and I loved the makeup man. I only spoke English, and there was Italian and Serbian and Serbo-Croatian, so it was a very disorienting experience. I was away for months, shooting in—well, at that time, it was called Yugoslavia, which no longer exists. But we also shot in Belgrade, Paris, Venice, Spain, and Cuba. It’s too bad it wasn’t any good. [Laughs.] It was called an “international cast,” which means that nobody speaks English, and it really doesn’t make any sense at all. I think it eventually the whole thing had to be looped. It was unwatchable. But there were some great moments in it, and it was a fantastic experience.
Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)—“Sinestro” / Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)—“Master Rhino”
VG: It was an afternoon with Chris Meloni. What could be better? [Laughs.] I love him, and I love doing voice work. I’d like to do more. I have four lines in Kung Fu Panda 2, so I did that, and I do documentaries and stuff like that. I actually did a series of children’s books where I played something like 50 different characters, and that’s exhausting! But I’d love to do more animated films. I’m good at it. I’d love to do a musical. That would be really fun.
Exotica (1994)—“Harold Brown”
VG: Was that my character’s name? It’s been so long that I forgot. It was a really great experience because Atom Egoyan, I loved working with him. He surprised me so much because he was so accessible and warm and funny. I thought I wouldn’t know what to say to him or how to relate to him, and he was just fantastic to work with. I’d love to work with him again. I really would.
Love And Murder (2000) / Deadly Appearances (2000) / The Wandering Soul Murders (2001) / A Colder Kind Of Death (2001)—“Inspector Philip Milard”
VG: Oh, yes. That was a series of Canadian TV movies, and here’s the thing about those: the reason I loved doing them was because of Wendy Crewson, who played Joanne Kilbourn. Working with Wendy was the reason. I didn’t think they were particularly great pieces of writing. I thought the writing was just not as good as it should’ve been. But I loved doing them, and I loved working in Canada with Wendy. I had a great time. I thought we were good together. And there were other great people on them, too. I just didn’t think the scripts were as strong as they could’ve been.
Web Therapy (2009-present) – “Kip Wallice”
VG: Oh, just too much fun for words. It’s one of those things where… Well, I’m sort of still doing it, so it’s still recent. [Co-creators] Don Roos and Dan Bucatinsky are, I think, the greatest. They’re geniuses, and Lisa Kudrow is… there’s nobody like her. I miss her, and I long to be back in front of the computer with her. [Laughs.] I love her. She’s great. And we had a great time together. It was really unlike anything I’ve ever done, and I was really nervous. I didn’t know if I could even do that, because a lot of it is improvised, and, you know, I’m working with a master. But I found that I was actually okay. I could come up with stuff. And, also, Don and Dan are very much saying, “Okay, bring up this, don’t bring up that, focus on this,” so you’re guided. But it’s still hit or miss. I hope it finds an audience. I think it might.
AVC: So you still enjoy getting to do comedy once in awhile, then?
VG: Oh, I live for it.