Recently we were able to speak Tobias Mehler about his experience playing Alex Glasser in the season two episode, ‘Luminary’. Along with a number of entries to the franchise, Luminary is often cited by fans as an example of the show at its creative zenith so it was pleasure to be able to nip behind the scenes of this particular episode. As you will shortly discover, this is a stellar read and we thank Tobias for the warmth and enthusiasm he has shown us and, as always, our contact with the cast and crew continues to delight and amaze us. Before you dip into the interview I would like to dedicate this to my dear friend Erin, a staff member at TIWWA, tireless admirer of all things Millennium and a supporter of the campaign. Luminary is ’her’ episode so I take great pleasure in making this ‘her’ interview. That said, enjoy it folks!
BACKTOFRANKBLACK.COM: Millennium along with its sister franchise, The X-Files, is often considered one of the forerunners in filmic TV. Its dark and feature-esque cinematography has been tirelessly emulated but rarely surpassed and I recently read an interview with Frank Spotnitz where he commented on the ground breaking and experimental nature of many of the episodes. At the time of filming were you aware that this show was unique and unconventional in its approach to creating teevee?
TOBIAS MEHLER: Yes. I remember seeing the pilot for Millennium quite early on and recognized the excellence right away. Just like the X-Files, there was a tone of quality that applied not only to the look and feel, but also the content. The production of the show was very well organized and moved along with a pleasant efficiency. Millennium was a show that I wanted to “check off the list” and the entire experience of doing so was very gratifying, from people to things to places. Heck, even the audition was a cut above.
BTFB: In ‘Luminary’, Alex Glaser’s story parallels Frank’s in that both men disregard accepted wisdom to pursue something intangible but powerful in its lure. Did you and Lance discuss the shared aspects of the characters you were portraying and how do recall the experience of working with him?
TM: We did speak about the story in terms of characters and theme. Lance was a real leader amidst the hustle and bustle of the production. What really sticks with me are the conversations we had about the craft of acting; Lance was very generous in his sharing of information and experience. He was the first person to express to me that “acting is listening”, which is now a foundational aspect of my own craft. I very much enjoyed meeting and working with him, definitely a highlight.
BTFB: ‘Luminary’ makes use of a number of events to inform its narrative namely, Petrarch’s ‘Ascent of Mont Ventoux’ and the tragic story of Chris McCandless. As the script contains references to the both of these did you research these in order to add to your understanding of Alex’s motivations?
TM: I did not research either of these works, although I was aware that the story related to Chris McCandless’ experience. When the writers are as good as the crew that worked on Millennium, there is often enough information right there on the page to be able to mentally understand the character’s journey. For me, it is then a matter of holding that understanding and expressing the character through that space.
BTFB: One of the most discussed aspects of ‘Luminary’ concerns Frank’s discovery of the floater and his subsequent rejection of the opinion that this is Alex Glaser. Fans have debated, endlessly, as to the identity of the body. Some believe it an nameless individual simply used to highlight Frank’s convictions regarding his abilities but other subscribe to the theory that this is the husk of Alex Glaser with Alex Ventoux emerging from it, reborn. Was this particular scene discussed with you with regards to its narrative intention?
TM: No, this scene was not discussed with me. I think this is another reason Millennium resonates with so many people; there are layers and degrees to its storytelling that open new avenues of exploration. I tip my hat to the producers that held the overall vision and ensured that all the parts came together in the right direction. Obviously, their plan worked out!
BTFB: It is very much a hallmark of Millennium’s storytelling that the narrative doesn’t supply an all pervasive truth regarding the story the audience is invested in. During the course of fandom I witnessed a number of responses to Alex’s tale, some consider it fruitless, almost nihilistic, whilst others appreciate the liberation and freedom he is seeking. What was your own reaction to your characters story and did that opinion remain constant throughout the production?
TM: It didn’t take me long to relate to the character of Alex and his quest for purity. In my life I understand the strong desire to connect to nature and bypass the myriad systems and “overlays” that we as humanity have created. I always had a sense that Alex was motivated to take it to a much deeper place than myself and that was the departure point for my investigation. What does it mean to lay down one’s life in the pursuit of one’s idea of authenticity and how does that change when not done in relationship to another? I thought a lot about the story of this young man and his fierce dedication to independence and a solo path. I will say my ideas shifted a little during shooting when the Director used the term “angel” to describe Alex. That is definitely a new can off worms!
BTFB: More so than most episodes Luminary makes use of metaphor and ambiguity to allow for multiple conclusions to be drawn by the viewer as to what story is being told, what motivates the characters, what deeper mythology is being suggested etc. Is it challenging as an actor to work on an episode that deals with so much intangibility and do you have to form your own view of the beginning, middle and end of the story in order to build your performance?
TM: I like to keep tabs on the various fronts of a story; being a mentally focussed person it is always rewarding to have an overall understanding of the big picture. Having said that, one of the most rewarding aspects of my work is the collaborative nature. Especially on a television show with its fast schedules, so many different components go into telling a story through the filmic arts that it is really only at the end that the final shape is realized. I think the challenge is to find the heart of the story and stay true to it while weathering the storms of creation. If one has a sense of the story’s heart, there is always a right way to proceed.
BTFB: As 1013 Productions frequently cast the same actors in multiple roles would you be interested in contributing to a Millennium Movie and why do you believe such passion to see it has endured for over a decade?
TM: I would definitely choose to be a part of a Millenium movie for the very reasons that the fan’s passion for it has endured: quality, sophistication, fierceness and authenticity of narrative voice.
BTFB: On behalf of the fans and BackToFrankBlack,com thank you, so much, Tobias for taking the time to talk to us and best wishes for the future.