This is an interview I did with Kevin Weisman.
Alias fans who already know that Marshall J. Flinkman can do anything will be happy to learn that Kevin Weisman is every bit the multi-tasker Marshall is. Though his first flirtation with fame came at an early age, the L.A. native has worked hard for everything he’s got.
“I was on a game show when I was 9 years old,” he says. “After I did it, my father got a call from an agent who said, ‘I’d love for your son to come in. I think he could be an actor.’ My dad didn’t want to make that decision for me. He wanted me to have a normal childhood, which I really appreciate. I did theatre in high school. I did theatre festivals. I was a theatre major at UCLA. I had such a normal childhood and college life, and I think that has helped me become a better actor and a more grounded person.”
Talking to Kevin isn’t like talking to Marshall, though there are similarities. The personable, articulate actor lacks Marshall’s nervous stutter, but he shares the character’s sense of wonder for his work. “Theatre and acting was always my passion. I always knew I wanted to be an actor.”
His studies eventually took him to New York. “I was acting eight hours a day, which I loved. We did everything from Shakespeare to scene study and movement. I didn’t really have much money, so I would usher plays in order to see them. I saw [Alias co-star] Ron Rifkin in a play and I thought, that guy’s amazing! I told him that story and he thought it was great. He ended up seeing a play that my theatre company did and the cast was thrilled because he’s a theatre icon. It came full circle and it was a really great moment.”
Kevin is a founding member of the acclaimed L.A. theatre company Buffalo Nights. His work in the West Coast premiere of Sophistry was seen by an agent who signed him and a major casting director who helped him land roles in three major television projects almost immediately. One of his first TV appearances was on Frasier. “Kelsey Grammer, John Mahoney and David Hyde Pierce were so friendly and willing to talk to me about my theatre work. Their treatment of me as a professional coming in and doing my job left a lasting impression.”
Kevin appeared in several other sitcoms, as well as dramas like E.R., Roswell, and Buffy. One of his favorite gigs was “Je Souhaite,” a classic X-Files episode about two stupid brothers (Weisman and Will Sasso) who find a genie (Paula Sorge). “It was one of the first shows that I got on that I was a huge fan of,” Kevin says. “I had worked on some shows that I had seen, but I wasn’t a psycho fan. When I walked on the set, I was like, ‘Oh my God! Mulder and Scully!’ I had to forget about that and do my job. [Writer and director] Vince Gilligan was really open to my character choices and making this guy really intense and kind of dumb. The only problem we had was when I had an allergic reaction to the yellow dust. I had to be covered from head to toe and my skin started getting red and it was a total meltdown. The makeup people figured out how to apply it in another fashion so that it wouldn’t irritate my skin. Gillian Anderson said to me, ‘Isn’t it great being an actor?'”
Kevin first worked with Alias creator J.J. Abrams on Felicity, which led to his current Alias gig. Marshall was originally written as an older man whose fashion sense revolved around a ponytail and a Motley Crüe T-shirt. “I read that description and I said, ‘I’m none of these things.’ J.J. was really collaborative. He listened to my ideas and I got the job.”
Two of his favorite episodes are the second season shows “The Abduction” and “A Higher Echelon,” which found Marshall in the field with Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner). “Those were two really good ones for me. I was tortured! I got to jump out of a building 175 feet up!” Marshall’s take on a classic Luke Skywalker line in that episode is one of the all-time greatest Alias moments.
This season has seen Marshall become a husband (to fellow agent Carrie Bowman) and father. Kevin wrote Marshall’s drum-and-vocal proposal song to Carrie (Amanda Foreman) with his real-life girlfriend, and was excited about the storyline. “It’s another level of three dimensionality to the character, and it’s calmed him down a little bit because now he has this relationship and this kid and it’s really kind of matured him. I’ve made subtle changes as the years have gone on. His clothes are a little bit nicer and he’s wearing ties more often. He’s not such a mess. When you play a character over a long period of time, you can make subtle changes as opposed to a play or a movie; I’m in my 60-somethingth hour of playing the same character and it’s kind of neat.”
The changes in Marshall’s life are nothing compared to what happened to Sydney, who lost two years of her life in a bold and controversial move. “Part of the reason why the show works so well is that the writers and J.J. are not afraid to keep things moving. This show has accomplished in three years what most shows do in seven or eight years, constantly keeping the audience on their toes. There’s always going to be an inherent concern that people aren’t going to respond, but I think taking those risks makes the show what it is. ”
The changes have given Marshall more to do. “J.J. had always said that it’s tough with your character because we’re serving the CIA, we’re serving SD6, and we’re not having an opportunity to get to you as much because we’re not in SD6 as much. Towards the end of season two they really kept cutting back and forth. Once they blended the two worlds, my role expanded because I was able to do more things for the CIA. We joked that Marshall is everywhere! He never sleeps! He’s diffusing a bomb, he’s creating a gadget, and he’s helping Sydney with a problem and he’s just kind of omnipresent, which is great.”
Kevin is just as fond of the character as the fans are. “There’s a lot of people out there who have a difficulty in dealing with other people, myself included sometimes. I’m definitely a lot more confident than Marshall is in real life, but of course I have my insecurities, too, so it’s nice to be able to play that vulnerability. It’s a very serious show, and it’s nice that Marshall can often lighten the mood or cut the tension or make an observation that maybe the audience is thinking.”
He notes that he and Victor Garber surprise the fans they meet. “Victor and I are probably the most opposite of our characters when you meet us in real life. Victor is very outgoing and friendly and welcoming, and Jack Bristow certainly isn’t. I’m certainly not as nervous as Marshall. And David Anders is certainly not English. He’s from Oregon!”
In addition to all of his acting work, Kevin still finds time to play drums for the popular L.A. band Trainwreck, which also features Tenacious D’s Kyle Gass. Though they dress in hillbilly costumes and sport fake names, the members are accomplished musicians with a growing fanbase. A studio album with producer John King (of the Dust Brothers) is in the works and a concert CD is already available at www.trainwreckbootlegs.com.
Kevin is also excited about his involvement in two upcoming films. The first is The Illusion, an adaptation of the French novel L’illusion Comique. Kevin produced the film for fellow Buffalo Nights member Michael Goorjian, who directs and also stars. Goorjian plays a man who never met his father, who is played by Kirk Douglas. At the end of his own life, the father is given a chance to see glimpses of the life of the son he has never known. What he discovers gives him a chance to change both their lives.
Financing the film independently took some creative planning. “These three visions end up making up the majority of the film and take place over 25 years. We shot it over two years, and the good thing about that was we were able to raise money, shoot, raise money, shoot, and then take everything we had shot, show it to Kirk Douglas, and say, ‘This is what we have. Would you play the father?’ We shot his scenes last. We’re submitting it to festivals now. Hopefully we’ll get a distribution deal and we’ll all make our money back.” Kevin also has a supporting role in the film.
He will also be seen in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming project The Terminal, starring Tom Hanks. “I play a sleazy immigration attorney who is a chameleon, dressing as different characters to avoid airport police and help these numerous would-be immigrants like Tom’s character become citizens of the United States. Steven knew my work from Alias and hired me without an audition. It was truly an honor. When I got there, he said, ‘Thank you so much for doing this.’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding?!'”
Kevin enjoyed working with Hanks. “He’s an actor’s actor. I had the run of the dialogue in the scene while his character just sits and listens. He was very present, very supportive, and had some great ideas for me. He’s a pro through and through.”
Working with Spielberg was its own dream come true. “Spielberg kind of reminds me of J.J. He’s kind of this grown-up child in terms of his fascination and his excitement about the work. That energy trickles down to the rest of the cast and crew. I had to get over the fact that I was working with Steven Spielberg and just get to work. Just think of him as another challenging director who’s guiding me along, and not try to put any pressure on myself and hope that it comes out well. I think it did. I’m excited about it.”
Kevin is grateful to be fulfilling his dream. “Life is a balance,” he explains. “You have to satisfy various aspects of your life. You can’t disregard work from a financial place but you also have to make sure you focus on satisfying your artistic needs and your spiritual needs and create a balance. I want to keep working with good people.” And that is certainly something he has done, augmenting his mainstream acting roles with his music and constant stage work.
Kevin’s work has also allowed him to fight for a cause he believes in. “There is a charity organization I work with called the Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy Fund. My little cousin is afflicted with the disease. It only affects boys, and they generally don’t live past 20 years old. They’re making a lot of strides in terms of research. There’s a fund that I started if people are interested in checking it out or donating. That’s really important to me.”