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LAist Interview: Damages' Peter Facinelli

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Peter Facinelli is known for a lot of things: his various roles (Touch the Top of the World, Six Feet Under, Babel, the Scorpion King, etc.); looking somewhat like Tom Cruise; being married to Jennie Garth (the lucky fellow) - but what we didn't know was that he worked hard to lose a hardcore Queens accent and that he actively courts paranoia. LAist had the chance to talk to Facinelli last week to ask him about his work on Damages [Tuesdays, 10pm, FX] and learned a lot more than that:

LAist: Great to talk to you Peter. So you’re from Queens, New York. Are you able to call forth that accent if you need to for certain parts because you sound very accent neutral right now?

P. Facinelli: I try not to because I’m afraid it would get stuck. I had a really thick accent, a My Cousin Vinny kind of accent and I went to NYU. It was fantastic because they taught you speech and they taught you movement and all the tools that an actor needs. And my speech teacher I hated because she was so hard on me, but she beat my accent out of me. I could play it if I needed to, but I try not to go there because when I go back to New York, it starts to come out of me.

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LAist: You could end up doing it too well, have it end up being a calling card.

P. Facinelli: Yes, I would have to call my speech teacher to come whip me again.

LAist: Yes, you don't want to be like a young Chazz Palminteri or something for the rest of your career.

P. Facinelli: Yes, you know Chaz is great, but I like doing different projects and playing different people. What I'm proud of in my career is being able to play all of the characters that I've played like the business man in the Big Kahuna, and the slick cop in Fast Lane and the blind mountain climber in Touch the Top of the World. And if I only had one accent, that New York accent, I wouldn't be able to play all those people. And the great thing about that speech class was once you learn neutral speech, you can play any accent. I've gotten to play a Texas accents and experiment with different ones.

LAist: This project, Damages, is one among several that I think has been celebrated as part of what FX has been doing over the last couple years. How does it feel on your side, as a talent, about projects coming from FX as compared to other sources for other projects you might be presented with?

P. Facinelli: Well, I think it just broadens everything. It used to be three big networks, and that's what you go up for and everything else is 'cable,' or HBO and Showtime, which were a step above everything else. But I think everything is changing now. There's some really good shows on the three networks and then you have HBO and Showtime, which are still phenomenal and now other cable channels like FX. And there's some shows on USA that are starting to become really popular and really high quality. I talked to somebody once who said, "Nowadays there's almost better quality on television than in some film," which is kind of interesting.

LAist: Definitely, I mean the kind of situations and dialog that are presented in shows like Damages are a lot more in your face and engaging than a lot of your typical 85 minute Hollywood film. And you're able to--

P. Facinelli: I think you're able to explore the characters and depth more in television.

LAist: So my feeling in watching what's happened over the last few episodes is that we know the Noah Bean's character is dead. We see that a couple times per episode, all bloody in the bathtub. But your character is the one that has had the most ongoing violence and pressure for weeks now. You've gotten beaten up. There was almost an assassination last week and Peter Riegert comes in once per episode with some kind of veiled threat or overt threat to you. There are these moments when you do relax and your character does have that hook-up at the pub, but what are you doing to kind of prepare for the paranoia? How do you build it up? I mean you go in the street and there's a threat in every shadow--

P. Facinelli: Yes, I know what you're saying. The stakes are very high for my character at all times and I try to make sure that I remember that when I'm working. As far as the paranoia, I just get into a mindset, and sometimes it's hard to shut off. There have been a couple of times I've gone to New York and spent the day in my hotel room, as me not even as Greg, just kind of not going outside.

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And I think that kind of helps prepare you, too. It helps me get prepared, too, because then when I go to work the next day. I'm completely paranoid because I haven't left my hotel room in a day. I actually had the security guard knock on my door twice while I was there because I hadn't left my room all day, and they were worried about me. And the room I'm staying in is a tiny little room. So when you spend 24 hours locked up in a room and then you go to the set, it kind of plays on your nerves a little bit. So that's a little secret that I use to help with the paranoia. But it kind of blurs the lines a little bit because then I go home and I'm a little paranoid.

I remember text-ing one of the writers going, "I'm having a really good time on this show. I hope you're not killing me off anytime soon." Because I'm totally like Greg, I'm worried that I'm going to die at any second.

LAist: That's great, I think you engender that very well in the show so far. We're enjoying it very much.

P. Facinelli: Thank you.

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