Stephen Wozniak – actor, writer, producer and artist for more than half of his life – guest stars on NCIS Los Angeles episode “Three Hearts” as ‘outlandish and erratic drug lord, Tyler Brunson’. NCISLA Magazine had the opportunity to speak with him about his time on NCIS Los Angeles and his other – former and future – projects.
You have been in the television and motion picture business for quite some time now. What drew you into writing, acting and producing originally? What keeps you going?
I started off with a keen interest in unusual films and interesting performers when I was in college at the Maryland Institute College of Art and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. I went to see a lot of art house feature films at The Charles Theater, like Linklater’s SLACKER, Franklin’s ONE FALSE MOVE and Soderbergh’s SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE. I also watched a lot of international films in video making classes to simply understand visual storytelling – especially since I didn’t know the foreign languages that were spoken. So, I paid attention to how actors behaved and reacted, regardless of what they said. Compared to the creation of more traditional fine art, like sculpting – which I still do – acting seemed so much more immediate and collaborative, which I love.
Later, I made small video art pieces for a few fine art exhibitions in the 1990s in Baltimore and New York City. I later wrote screenplays and directed music videos and short-form videos. This process helped me stay connected to the storytelling aspect of the work and is quite satisfying to put together, even though it takes a lot of work.
One of the things that keeps me going is the wonderful and inspiring work that’s being done today – especially on TV. This includes series like AMC’s THE KILLING, HBO’s THE WIRE, AMC’s BREAKING BAD, HBO’s LUCK and even a big network television series like CBS’s NCIS: LOS ANGELES. I love to see small stories on TV unfold into bigger stories while characters are revealed over time. All of the creators of these shows understand story and character and great visual storytelling. That’s very appealing to a once-an-art-student-always-an-artist kinda’ guy like me.
In this week’s NCIS: LA episode, “Three Hearts,” you play an ‘outlandish and erratic drug lord, Tyler Brunson’. What can you tell us about your character? Who did you work with on screen? Are there any stories that you can share…without giving any of the storyline away?
Well, without giving away too much about my character and the episode, ‘Tyler Brunson’ is sort of one of those slick, manic, coke-addled, dangerous drug lords from the northeastern area of the U.S. who has a high opinion of himself to make up for the lack of power he may have had in the past. Now, he’s ready to take on bigger “projects,” but that causes big problems, as you’ll see on the show.
On screen, I worked with the one-and-only LL COOL J and Chris O’Donnell. They were a lot of fun to work with. They are remarkably easygoing dudes, considering the high volume and variety of work they do almost every single day on the series. They’re also pretty funny guys. I’ll tell you more about that a little later.
Did you participate in the table reading for the episode? What was that experience like?
Yes, I participated in the table read with the cast, crew, producers, director, writers and other guest stars, as well as a small audience. It was tons of fun. I know, in some cases, the table read can get to be a routine for the regulars on series with long runs, but everyone pitched in and read and filled the words with life. I have a pretty out-there role, so that was fun for me to mix up the tone in the room with ‘Brunson’ and his outrageous lines and delivery. I liked it a great deal. I don’t always get to do table readings or cast rehearsals on TV series or in features that I work on. Everyone on the show is really warm and fun and talented. I think they’re pretty darn cool. I met them all, which was really nice. I was especially glad to meet Linda Hunt, whose work I’ve followed since her amazing performance in THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY.
Was it difficult to mix with the main stars of the show? Are there any differences in the working style and acting methods of the main cast? What is it like to be a guest star on NCISLA?
It wasn’t difficult to mix with the series stars on the show. They are pretty accommodating and Diana Valentine, the director of the episode, is really good making it all work – with a pinch of concise direction here and there to keep actors enlivened and on track. Everyone does work differently, though. LL COOL J warms up the scene with a very low-key and straightforward approach and delivery. Then, a few takes in, he ramps it up. Since my character is pretty erratic, I had to keep the energy very high most of the time. So, I took quiet breaks between takes to think through the scene and dialogue, etc.
Being a guest star on NCIS: LOS ANGELES is pretty damn cool, I must say. The writing is stellar and I love the dialogue for my character. Actors love fun material like that. The best thing about being a guest star is being able to help mix things up on a basic level. The regulars are faced with new issues each week that they must tackle and I got to play the guy who caused some very big issues.
It is well known that the cast has a great sense of humor. Did any of the cast members play any pranks on you?
Yes, they are really very, very funny. From Chris to LL COOL J to Eric – all of them are super cool and funny. Some of the funniest people are the smartest and most engaged in life. That’s inspiring when working. Anyhow, indeed, I got pranked when we were doing a scene! LL COOL J pulled a fast one on me during a take when I reach to hit him (yeah, a bad choice for anyone to make!) and he didn’t let me out of the position for the entire take, which cracked him up. We both laughed. It gets silly between all of the gunplay sometime. Helps to ease the rapid-fire shooting schedule and heavy camera coverage.
Your IMDB page says that you are writing a screenplay based on the life of renowned rock musician David Bowie, entitled ‘And Ziggy Played Guitar: The Sound And Vision Of David Bowie’. Is this up-to-date? What can you share about this project?
Yes, I wrote a feature screenplay about the life and work of David Bowie during his most important period during the 1970s. He’s a fascinating dude with high art aspirations and amazing output. His life was as important as his work in many ways. He tested boundaries that hadn’t been even looked at during that time. But acquiring life rights and song rights for a very well-known living artist is, well, challenging. So, I have since put it on hold, while I develop another project – a fictional comedy TV series about a heavy metal band in L.A. during the early 80s, called SAVAGE JAW – that I just wrote the pilot script for with my writing partner, Shay Peyote. She was there on the scene at the tail end when it all went down and has an insider’s scoop to provide dense reality and high comedy.
What’s up next for you?
I’m in the middle of playing the role of ‘The White Rider’ in a crazy, surreal, supernatural biker feature called SATAN’S CHILDREN, directed by Simon Chan, who previously directed two features, including a comedy SHARKPROOF, starring Jon Lovitz. My character’s a pretty crazy, Bible-quoting, meth amphetamine-taking biker gang member who is sort of the mouthpiece for the whole gang. It is gonna’ be epic. Its sort of a grandiose spaghetti western-style feature – like none I’ve seen in the genre ever.
Also, I’m writing a feature screenplay for a client about love and loss and rock and roll. I can’t say much more than that right now, other than it’s got lots of heart and very real moments that we all share, but don’t always talk about. Even though it’s steeped in music, it isn’t a music-themed feature, so to speak. It’s more about that unusual thing called life.
Well, thank you, Stephen for this great insight into your work!!
If YOU want to be up-to-date about Stephen’s projects all the time make sure to follow his twitter (https://twitter.com/thewozzer), check his official website (http://www.stephenwozniak.com/) and like his IMDB page (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0941966/).