Interview with Jasper Cole
by Jessica Machen
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Jasper Cole has been working in Hollywood as an actor for over 20 years with roles in both television and film. His latest role is in the upcoming action comedy film MacGruber that stems from the Saturday Night Live skit of the same name. Cole plays Zeke Pleshette, a villainous sidekick to Val Kilmer’s character Dieter Von Cunth.
FilmMonthly: When did you first decide that you wanted to become an actor?
Jasper Cole: Well, I probably wanted to be one when I was younger. I didn’t actually make anything happen ‘til after high school, first couple years of college. I ended up going to Atlanta to study at the Alliance Theater which had a full on acting program and that was, um, I dropped out of college, yea I have to remind myself. (laugh) Yea unfortunately I dropped out of college my second year to pursue the acting.
FM: You’ve been in the business a long time—how did you break in?
JC: Well, let’s see. With a girlfriend in Atlanta, we co-wrote, we co-created a, her name’s Becky Canidy, we created a play called Willow Springs Now, and it was done in Atlanta, and in ’87 we brought it out to los Angeles. It was produced and it ran for I guess off and on for two years as a late night comedy and from that, you know, we got agents and started getting commercial and TV spots and stuff like that. I would say Willow Springs Now was really what brought me into the business.
FM: Which do you prefer more? Acting for TV or Film?
JC: Well, I just prefer to work. The truth is I like them all. TV, the one hour shows are so similar to film, you know the way they’re shot. It’s just shot a lot faster. Sitcoms I love because it’s sort of like doing theater and TV, but I would say I really like them both. I kind of like the pace of television. You know, I would love to have a series that you know, a little security and an ongoing job. But I’m grateful to work so either one, it’s all good.
FM: When you go into auditions, what do you do to set yourself apart from other actors?
JC: Well, over the years you go through some stages. I’ve gotten to the point in my career where I kind of look at the audition as if I’m actually shooting it that day. I try to make it like I’m ready to go, people are going to shoot it right now so I sort of go in as if I’m already shooting the part. And that’s why I kind of actually like auditioning, I kind of like it I am, it’s a chance to act. So I sort of look at it sort of like I’ve always gotten the job and I guess they just decided not to use it. (laugh) If they don’t cast me, they just decided to cut it out. (laugh) Yea, I mean it’s called positive denial.
FM: Do you enjoy being a character actor—bad guy?
JC: Oh yea, so much fun. I think playing the bad guy is just so much more fun than the nice guy and you get to act out all your aggressions. (laugh) But it just seems like at this point there’s a lot of, a lot more roles actually, you know, in that genre, with the bad guy, the homeless guy and the creepy guys. And also it seems like there’s a lot more longevity as I get older for playing these character parts, hopefully.
FM: Do you ever feel like you are competing with yourself and your previous bad guy roles?
JC: Well, I mean obviously, that’s a good point, I mean, I think most actors, we should just realize probably we’re only competing with ourselves not other actors, but I think what tends to happen is one role kind of leads to the other, so I have no problem if I play the same part for next 30 years That’d be fine with me. I’ve been so lucky and all these other things. I’m just fortunate to even still be working. So I’m just happy to get on that list of villains and bad guys.
FM: What process do you go through to get into character?
JC: Well, I think especially for TV and film, so much of it starts with the look of the character, obviously, and then, you’ve got to be true to the writing, what’s already on the page cause it’s the old adage, if it’s not on the page, not on the stage. I think it’s a matter of just putting yourself in that situation, you know, I think all good acting is reacting and listening, so pretty much if you trust the material and your instincts it’s pretty much there, usually, don’t over think it I think.
FM: How did you get involved in MacGruber? What drew you to the role of Zeke Pleshette?
JC: You know honestly, it was just another audition, the same casting director cast the series Entourage, and I had been in for that show before and it was just another series, another week of auditioning. But I am actually, I am a fan of Saturday Night Live and was a fan of the MacGruber skits on the show so that was a nice positive thing on the plus side and I’ve wanted to do more and more comedies because there’s a lot of times you tend to do a lot of dramas when you’re the bad guy so it was perfect to get me in on the comedy action movie.
FM: What do you think fans of the SNL skits, from which the film originated, will think of the expanded version?
JC: Oh I think they’re going to be really, really pleased. I was so impressed with the script in just the way the entire arc of the story, I mean they took. Basically MacGruber is on this huge adventures trying to take down Val Kilmer’s character, Cunth, so it’s amazing how they did take this and make it into a huge—it’s sort of like a 80s/90s action movie and there’s a lot of explosions, you know high action and then you got the comedy that’s in there as well. So I think Jorma Taccone, the director, did an amazing job putting it all together.
FM: What was your favorite moment on the set of MacGruber?
JC: Probably, I think, probably the big, there’s a lot of action shoot out scenes, especially with my character, one day in particular where we’re just, a lot of sort of Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs kind of action stuff all day long with the duds, it’s kid’s playing cops and robbers again.
FM: Being on a comedy set, what’s it like when the camera isn’t rolling? Any particular funny moments?
JC: Oh yea, this whole team of people, Seth Meyers, who is one of the producers, and Lorne Michaels, I mean Kristen Wiig, I mean they all, Will Forte is brilliant first of all, I mean, he’s like the nicest guy ever. It was so much fun and they were all really, really excited about being there. There were no egos. Everybody was having a blast. It was a lot of fun.
FM: What was it like working with Val Kilmer?
JC: Val was terrific. I thought he was great he was really, really funny in this part, in sort of a wry delivery, but he’s very gracious, I thought it was terrific I enjoyed it, He was a really nice guy.
FM: What would you say was the highlight of your career so far?
JC: The highlight so far, well, I would like to think maybe, I don’t know if I’ve had that yet, but probably, some of the theater work I’ve done, but you know what, I think I would like to just say I’m gonna see what the future holds. Maybe the highlight is coming It’s gonna get better from here on out. It’s all been great but I think it’s I think it’s just gonna get better
FM: Surviving in Hollywood, do you think you need to just keep that positive attitude that it’s all going to get better?
JC: Yea, I mean it’s you know as you get older you obviously I think you tend to relax more, you get to a point where you realize there’s roles for everybody and like we said earlier you’re only competing with yourself so you have to sort of let it go and realize that work begets more work and just trust that your work speaks for itself and your reputation and if you hang in there long enough you’ll just keep getting work. That’s the key I think, it’s just don’t give up. Persevere.
FM: Where do you see your career taking you over the next 10 or 20 years?
JC: Well I would like to just keep obviously working, I would love to be on a TV series with some really good quality writing, and doing a lot more theater. Ultimately I wanna do a Broadway play that’s still a big, big goal of mine, I mean I’ve been in theater for 20 plus years, but I would still like to do a play in New York. But yea, I would love to be on a TV series and doing film as well and hopefully just keep acting. No retirement.
FM: What do you look for in a really good script?
JC: A good paycheck. (laugh) Well, I always think you can be good even in a bad script. My whole thing is just obviously a good, a fun director, a good group of actors. The truth is, it’s such a crapshoot. You can be working on an amazing script and somehow it doesn’t all turn out right. I think it’s more about the experience of making the project and making sure that’s a wonderful time. Everything else is out of your hands you know after that, the editing, the marketing.
FM: Any advice for aspiring actors?
JC: Well, I would say, just act, do as much as you can early on, do student films, grad films, short films, get as much experience as you possibly can and get more tape on yourself for your reel, but also do theater, I think theater is the best training and then just live a really, really productive life, because the more productive and happy your life is the more you’re going to bring to your acting anyway, so. And don’t let people in the industry tell you what you have to change about yourself, just be true to yourself?
JC: Yes, absolutely, I think again, it’s about getting that experience, building a resume and the connections, I mean so many times you work with people in the beginning that you’re all working for free and then five years later, somebody has a studio deal and you’re back together again, so I think it’s about building those relationships and just getting the experience and I always say, you know what if you’re doing what you love, eventually the money will come I think you’ll find a way to survive with the money situation but it’s more about getting the experience. There will come appoint when you won’t work for free. (laugh) You definitely won’t work for free. (laugh) But in the beginning I think it’s definitely something you should think about.
You can see Jasper Cole in MacGruber on May 21st.
Jessica Machen is a writer and filmmaker currently living in Chicago.
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