IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Currie Graham Talks 'Cabin Fever: Patient Zero' and 'Murder in the First'

Monday, 04 August 2014 22:05 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Currie Graham Talks 'Cabin Fever: Patient Zero' and 'Murder in the First'

Here at IAR, we are very proud of the long list of brilliant character actors that we’ve been able to spotlight over the years. Actors that you’ve loved on television or film but might not know by name such as Titus Welliver (The Town), William Atherton (Ghostbusters), Leland Orser (Taken), Ron Eldard (Sleepers), Jeff Fahey (Silverado), and Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride). We can now add the great Currie Graham to that illustrious list of supporting actors. 

Graham has had recurring roles on several popular TV programs including House, The Mentalist, 24, Boston Legal, Desperate Housewives, and Arrow. But he is probably best known for playing Lt. Thomas Bale on Steven Bochco’s NYPD Blue. He would eventually go on to appear in Bochco’s next series Raising the Bar, and can be seen on the executive producer’s current TNT series Murder in the First. But the actor is also no stranger to the big screen having appeared in such films as Assault on Precinct 13, Total Recall, Hitchcock, and Pompeii. Now Graham can be seen in the new film Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, which opens in theaters and will be available on iTunes beginning August 13th. 

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is the third film in the horror franchise but the first prequel in the series. The film follows a group of friends enjoying a bachelor cruise in the Caribbean that stumble upon a research facility on a remote island when a deadly virus is unleashed. The group must find a way to survive before the flesh-eating virus consumes them all. Graham plays Dr. Edwards, who holds the key to stopping the outbreak. The movie is directed by Kaare Andrews, and also stars Sean Astin (The Goonies). 

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Currie Graham about Cabin Fever: Patient Zero and Murder in the First. The accomplished actor discussed his new movie, not being familiar with the Cabin Fever franchise, making his first horror film, playing a villain, working with Sean Astin, director Kaare Andrews, his time on NYPD Blue, reuniting with Steven Bochco for Murder in the First, acting opposite James Cromwell (Spider-Man 3), and the performance that he is most proud of. 

Here is what Currie Graham had to say about Cabin Fever: Patient Zero and Murder in the First:

IAR: To begin with, while Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is a stand-alone film, it’s obviously part of a bigger franchise.  Were you familiar with the previous Cabin Fever movies when you agreed to do this project?

Currie Graham: No, not at all. I never really heard of it before. Honestly, when I was a kid I was kind of a horror guy. I liked horror films as a kid. Then as I got older I just stopped watching them. So as an actor I had never done a horror film until this came along and I thought, let’s try it. Let’s see what the horror genre is all about. So I dove into this picture not knowing anything about the franchise.  

As an actor, what is it like working on a horror film? Is there a different approach that you have to take on a movie like this, as apposed to working on a drama or action film?

Graham: I think the level of intensity in a horror film and the level of reality and acting is all the same. It’s the ability to suspend disbelief and make whatever’s happening in the script seem and feel real to the audience. One thing I liked about this particular movie is that the plot seemed plausible to me. It seemed like a virus could have this effect on people. There could be something like this and indeed if we look at it historically it has happened. So I found that believable in that sense. I really enjoyed it. I don’t think as an actor there’s a different approach for me. Maybe it’s a little more of a heightened reality. 

Can you talk about your motivation as an actor playing Dr. Edwards? Do you see him as someone who is trying to make the situation better, or for his own selfish reasons is making it worse?

Graham: Everyone while we were shooting would be like, “Hey, you’re a bad dude.” I don’t see how I’m a bad guy. I really believed in my heart of hearts like I was trying to facilitate some king of cure. It never really dawned on me until people started telling me that I was an asshole that I was. I really felt like I’m a good guy. I’m serving a greater cause, I believe in what I’m doing, and I’m here to help. 

Even when you’re playing a bad guy in a film, as an actor you can never approach it that way, correct? You always have to look at it as if you’re the hero in your own movie, is that right?   

Graham: Yes! I don’t think that even in life, if we look at people, I don’t think that anyone even the worst people we know or have heard about, I don’t think they see themselves as being bad. So I never approach a bad guy with the idea that I’m going to make him a bad guy. I try to serve the character and make him as human as possible. It’s a question of morality, it’s a question of judgment, and it’s a question of what’s going on in his own mind, but I don’t think people really believe that they’re horrible people through and through.

So is a part of your job really to justify the actions that your character is going to make according to the demands of the script?

Graham: Yes and that’s what makes that guy scary, the justification of such behavior. The ability to justify in a real manner so the audience can go, “Oh my God, this guy’s really bad, this guy’s really off because what he’s saying is so crazy and yet he is so convinced that he’s right.” I think that’s the joy in playing bad guys is that you’re allowed to take that jump. You’re allowed to take that darker approach so I am able to convince myself that whatever bad guy I’m playing that killing people is okay because A, B and C. It just makes it so creepy. 

I’ve heard a lot of actors say that it is more fun to play a villain than a hero. Do you agree with that?

Graham: I think so. For me anyways, I think that the choices that I get to make playing bad guys are much more fun. I think they’re much bigger, they’re much broader, and I think they can be much more intense. I think the spectrum of emotion that you get to play is much bigger. I enjoy that. I enjoy having more color. I remember I was on a series a few years ago, NYPD Blue, and at the beginning of the series my character was really not a great guy. I got fan mail that was just horrible. I didn’t quite get it. I was like people really hate me! I remember producer Steven Bochco said to me, “It’s great when you have an actor who’s not afraid to be hated.” See all actors want to be liked. I hope people liked me. I hope the audience liked me. It’s funny because as an actor I never approach it that way. I never say I hope they liked me. I don’t care if they liked me. I hope they feel something. That is my real intention. If people are mad, if people get angry watching me then I must be doing something right. Then people would say, “Aren’t you worried that everyone’s going to hate you?” I’d say, no, I’m happy they feel anything. How many characters do we see on TV that people are completely ambivalent or ambiguous towards and don’t feel anything about? I got to play a character that people absolutely despised and then the writers were smart enough to find a way to help me through that and then make him at the end almost likeable. People almost cared about him by the end. 

Yeah, I loved your role on NYPD Blue. Actually, I totally hated him at first, but by the end of the series he was one of my favorite characters on the show! 

Graham: Exactly. That’s the whole point is that if you’re not willing to start in a place and allow the character to grow, if you just want to be liked all the time then you don’t ever get that character arc. It was a great arc.

Can you talk about working with actor Sean Astin on Cabin Fever: Patient Zero?

Graham: Oh, we had a great time. What a great guy. We just had a blast. He’s a smart guy. He’s one of those guys that didn’t have to try to be likeable. He just has this thing about him that the audience sees on screen and they automatically like this guy. He doesn’t try and make them do that. He plays the reality of the script, he plays what’s going on and yet you still fucking like this guy.

Since we all grew up with him in a way, in The Goonies and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, do you think that adds to his likability factor as well? 

Graham: Yeah. But just in person, I mean I met the guy and I’m like, oh my God, could you be any more likeable? He’s just a super, nice, smart guy. We had a great time working together. He was very collaborative. The director (Kaare Andrews), Sean and myself pieced together all our scenes. It was really fun to get the chance to be collaborative like that with another actor and a director.

What was it like for you working with director Kaare Andrews on this project, and as an actor, what exactly are you looking for from a director when on set?

Graham: I think overall the director has to have a vision of what he wants and I think that he has to have the language to be able to explain that. I think that a lot of directors have a vision and are not able to express it, or can’t get explain it to the actors in a way that they can understand it and visualize it as well. I think that the director has to be able to be a manager, a great manager of crew, a great manager of personalities, a great manager of technicians, and it’s a very hard job. I talked to a director once and he told me that he gets asked a thousand questions a day. He said that he knows he’s doing a good job if he can answer 80% of them properly. I thought that was really kind of interesting because that’s what a director is. All day long people are coming over going, “What about this? What about that? Can I do this? Is this okay? Is that going to work? What should I do here?” Those are certain things I like about directors. I like directors that know how to talk to actors. It’s interesting because when you work with directors you sort of know very quickly if we can speak the same language. I feel like with Kaare that we got to a short hand very quickly, which is nice. We didn’t have to have long discussions about what was needed or what wasn’t needed. I think in seeing the film there are times where I look at what I’ve done and thought I could’ve gone a little bigger, I could’ve made it a little looser. But there was that sort of tension that the character brings to the scene, how uptight he seems that I kind of like. I’m not sure, but I think if it serves the script, then I think that it serves the movie too. 

You are very much a journeyman actor and have really gone from one project to another on both television and film throughout your career. As a working actor, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced moving from one series or movie to the next?

Graham: I always kind of liked it. I’ve been doing series television for the last 10 to 12 years, a couple years here, and a couple years there. I’m on another one now, Murder in the First, but I enjoy playing different characters. In the last year I’ve been able to play a gladiator in Pompeii, and in Murder in the First I play a chief prosecutor for the district attorney’s office. Right after we wrapped our season I did another horror film. I get a chance to play all kinds of different characters, which I really enjoy. 

I’ve really enjoyed seeing you on Murder in the First this season. What has it been like for you to be a part of that show?

Graham: I started in episode two and then by episode five and six it really became about James Cromwell and my characters. He and I got to really go at it hard in the court for a few episodes. It got really quite ugly. 

Can you talk about acting with James Cromwell and the rest of the excellent Murder in the First cast?

Graham: It’s an unbelievable cast. It’s such a great cast. I think that’s a testament to Bochco because if you interview any one in the cast they’d say what brought them to the show is Steven. Working with James Cromwell is just great. He’s so dedicated, so professional, and so fun. He lives such a great life. He and I got very close shooting this thing. I love Richard Schiff. He’s just so funny and charming. He’s great. He and I did a scene together, I think it might be in episode four, and it was just so fun. It was just so great to work with him. He’s so creative and talented. It’s a great cast, man. I think if people stick around the show, it’s the kind of show that will really suck you in. 

What has it been like for you reuniting with Steven Bochco all these years after NYPD Blue?

Graham: Steven’s one of those guys who’s been incredibly loyal to me. I worked for him before NYPD Blue and he always liked me. He always offered me great stuff. Then since I got NYPD Blue he’s put me in his unofficial acting repertoire company and I’m just so grateful that he is such a fan.   

Finally, is there one project in particular you’ve done that you’re especially proud of and think maybe is the best work of your career? 

Graham: I would say Murder in the First. Another network was very complimentary about what I did in episode six. I think I was very good in Pompeii, although the role wasn’t huge but it was such a character transformation for me that most people don’t even recognize me in the film. But NYPD Blue was sort of my first foray into what I call “Big Boy” acting. It’s the idea that I’m no longer going to play kids, I’m not playing thugs, I’m not playing teenagers, and I’m not playing in my twenties. I’m being a man. I’m dealing with big boy actors who have won many Emmys. It’s stepping up to the plate, putting on a suit, acting like an adult, being creative, responsible and professional. It was my first foray into that and it made me realize the level of commitment that it takes and how much I love it. I remember working on Boston Legal with James Spader and it was the same kind of thing. If you want to go to work with James Spader, you’ve got to put your big boy pants on. You can’t fuck around with these guys. These guys are the tops of the acting business in the TV world. You can’t mess around with them. Being cast opposite Dennis Franz, it was very flattering for me because he’s incredibly talented. Being cast opposite James Spader and getting to work with him a lot on that show was very flattering too because he’s really good.  

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero opens in theaters and will be available on iTunes beginning August 1st.

Murder the First airs Monday nights on TNT.        

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