When Marcus Giamatti found out that LL Cool J would be tossing him around in the Pacific surf, his first reaction was: You’ve got to be kidding! But Giamatti survived the ordeal and is back again this week to play CIA Agent, Michael Snyder in the follow up episode to Rude Awakening. From soaps to a series regular in Judging Amy, Giamatti is an accomplished television, film and stage actor, on and off Broadway. Marcus is also a professional guitarist and for the past 30 years has been a member of various Los Angeles bands. He has lent his talents to live and session work with the likes of Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan, and Dwight Yoakum. In this exclusive interview with NCISLA Magazine, we sat down with Marcus to talk specifically about his recurring role on the episode Wanted and how he enjoyed being directed by Chris O’Donnell.
What was it like to return to NCISLA as the CIA agent we all love to hate, Michael Snyder?
First of all, from an actor stand point, it’s a great part. When you do bad guys like this or guys you love to hate, although I wouldn’t call him a bad guy…he’s a little unsavory but they are always fun to play. You can really sink your teeth into something within him and it’s really cool doing those kind of parts on this show. So from an actor’s stand point, to be able to go back and play him again is terrific as opposed to just a onetime guest spot which is also great but then you get into the character and for an actor it’s fantastic. Also as an actor who supports his family, it’s always wonderful to get a couple of episodes to be earning money and I’m very appreciative having all those things.
I love the show too and the guys are all fantastic. Chris O’Donnell directed this episode and he was just really, really a quality person and a really good director and it was the first episode he ever directed and I didn’t know that and he was excellent. He is a great guy and fun and he has a wonderful attitude…they all do. And all those things coming together made it a great job.
Did you find that being an actor really helped O’Donnell as a director?
It always does because of the language that we speak but as an actor he knows what it is totally like on the other side. He was easy to communicate with…very clear and like I said, he had a great attitude about it and he was so relaxed for first time ever directing. That makes me more relaxed when there is a confidence coming from the director and a good attitude and we know we’re not reinventing the wheel and we’re having fun and you can feel it throughout the entire set, crew and the actors. I can’t say enough about what a wonderful person he is…very down to earth…just a great guy.
You had a lot of pivotal scenes with LL Cool J in Rude Awakening. What was it like to be thrown around in the Pacific surf by this guy?
First of all, he’s a great guy and he takes his work very seriously. He is very focused and is very present for you to work with and he is another really good guy and so prepared. He was great to work with. In terms of the fight scene, from a cynical stand point I was like…”You got to be kidding!” It’s like grabbing on to a rock face of a cliff. He’s a big guy but he is like a rock. When you are with someone like that who you are fighting with (and I’ve done martial arts)…with a guy like that you just let him run the show and you don’t try to push back. He was very respectful and controlled and excellent at the physicality of fighting which is a tricky thing especially on television because you got to make it look like it’s real. So you got to go for it. It’s my job to let him do that, because you can’t really fight back against a guy like that…I was never worried or scared because he was so good and so in control and respectful. It was easy. I had to go into the water a lot with a tie and shoes which was interesting and we did that for a couple of hours. But hey! It’s a job and a good pay check and you do what you got to do but it was fun.
What was it like to choreograph that whole scene?
We kind of set what we were going to do once we were in the ocean and how he was going to throw me around but once we were in the water it all goes out the window because the waves kept tossing me around like a rag doll. Then of course, you move for the close up on stuff and he’s got me by the scruff of the collar and he’s holding me under water and he did that to me for a couple of hours and my shoes filled with sand and my pockets were filled with sand and of course when you see that on TV it goes by so fast and it took six or seven hours to shoot.
Giamatti as CIA Agent Michael Snyder
Did you do any specific preparation in preparing for this role?
I was really, really excited to have the audition for this kind of character and I’ve been doing more and more of those types of guys so I was really excited when I got the opportunity to do it. I think the wonderful thing in playing a guy like this, he is incredibly confident and he is arrogant, but you can’t really play the arrogance. He’s so really confident that he knows what he’s doing in his job with his intimidation of people and how he pushes people around. He’s kind of pathological in that sense. He does what he has to do to win. It’s so great to know I have free range to play this guy like he’s a James Bond who is so confident and focused…and has no doubt in his mind at all and that’s how I approach him. It’s really cool to play someone like that who is that sure of himself.
In Wanted, who do you share the screen with?
On this one I was with Eric Christian Olsen and Danielle Ruah who are wonderful and really easy to work with. I have a scene with Eric in a car and he’s a very loose, funny guy so most of my stuff was with them.
What was it like working on the set of NCISLA?
They are all really different. This one is great because I worked on NCIS with Mark Harmon too and it’s similar in that you have very successful shows and everybody is very relaxed. There’s a confidence and relaxation throughout the entire place because we all have a job. It’s also successful and popular and you can smell it when you walk in within 10 seconds and it’s a great vibe to have. No one is worried that they have to prove too much because it’s already done. It puts you at ease and there’s no worry about it. For me, I’ve already gotten the job and I know I have a couple of episodes. So it’s just a relaxed environment as opposed to ones where you go on and you’re not sure if you are going to be picked up or what’s going to happen next week. But this one’s a dream gig and it’s all about the confidence knowing that it’s just going to keep going.
Did you know in the first episode you were going to be returning?
Yes, I did. You often go on auditions and you don’t know if it’s possible and in this one they told me right away and they gave me dates and put me on hold which was fantastic…and to be on one that is such a good show and a popular one is really great!
You are an actor and professional musician. Was it hard to decide what career track to pursue?
I’m also a writer, I write features for a couple of baseball magazines. So there are a bunch of things I do. But these are all things I’ve always done. I started playing music when I was seven with the classical guitar and kept playing music. Then there was acting and there was no other thing I ever wanted to do. I went to drama school and you hope your life will go a certain way that you envision and it really doesn’t go that way but to keep your life creative I fell back on something else to do. Whether it was music or whether it was writing, 25 years later I’m still doing it and I’ve gotten work doing all those things which is great because I’m blessed being able to work doing all three. There wasn’t any question that it was what I wanted to do…not that it hasn’t been a struggle because it’s very difficult. But I was lucky and when things weren’t going as well, I was able to do more music and when that dipped I was able to do more acting.
I love doing it all. I come from the theater world and I loved doing plays like Shakespeare, and I thought that when I got out of school I would be doing that and movies and then it turns out that you find the business dictates where you are going to find your work. I got work in television which is fantastic because I’m a character actor and I get to play all different parts. I’m just as fulfilled doing that as I would have been doing theatre. With music it’s the same thing. I’m classically trained as a musician on the guitar and again, you think you are going to be doing that kind of stuff but I wound up doing more country and western which led to rock and roll which I love.
What are you working on next?
I’m doing a film in the next couple of weeks called the Curse of Elmers Grove. It’s an independent film. I’m doing another guest spot soon that I’m really excited about too. Eddie Murphy is doing a pilot of Beverly Hills Cop. They are making a TV show of it so I’m excited to get to work with all those guys. I just did another episode of Bunheads with ABC Family and it’s a different part in that I’m playing the uptight Jewish dad….it’s a teenage comedy kind of thing and very different and a recurring role. I also have written a piece for MLB.com for spring training. In terms of music I was just sent something from a girl by the name of Robin O’Brien and her producer from Chicago is doing her records so I’ll be doing some session work on her music.
Would you enjoy getting back into a full time series like Judging Amy?
Sure. I would love to. I was on Judging Amy for six seasons and it was an incredible experience working with Tyne Daily and it was a great cast. After a couple of years you know you are going to keep having a job and it helps your pocket book obviously, and you have a place to go all the time and when you get to play a character for six years like that there are so many things you can do with it and there is nothing else like it.
Thanks go out to Marcus for taking the time to sit down and chat about his return visit to NCISLA. You can follow Marcus on his web site: www.marcusgiamatti.net